As hunters, we tend to make hunting more complicated than it has to be. For hundreds of years, deer hunters got by with just a bow, some arrows in their quiver and a good, sharp knife. That’s all they needed to put fresh venison on the table. Fast forward to 2019, and many of us — myself included — carry a whole pack full of gear and gadgets along on every hunt. Items like treestands, rangefinders, GPS units, binoculars, Thermacells, flashlights, knives and saws, hangers for our gear, and a whole assortment of snacks have become common cargo for the whitetail hunter. And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable or taking advantage of some of the technology to make you a more efficient hunter, it’s certainly not necessary to be successful. My fear is that this perceived need for a lot of expensive equipment keeps a fair number of interested individuals from trying their hand at hunting, and with hunter numbers declining, the last thing we need is additional barriers to entry.
So, if you’re considering giving deer hunting a try but worry about expense, or maybe you’re a seasoned hunter who can no longer justify all the new gear purchases, this article is for you. Let’s take a look at what you truly need to successfully hunt white-tailed deer this fall.
While it doesn’t fall into the “equipment” category, one of the most important things you’ll need to start hunting is the required license or permit from your state wildlife agency. If you head afield without those, hunting will get very expensive for sure! The cost of these licenses and permits varies greatly depending on which state you reside and hunt in, as well as whether you will be hunting private or public land.
Typically, hunting in your home state is a much more affordable endeavor than traveling out-of-state to hunt. If you happen to own the property where you plan to hunt, you may not need to buy a license at all, or you may be eligible for a reduced-priced license. Check with your state wildlife agency to see exactly what you’ll need for your specific circumstances. This information should be readily available from their website, or you can give them a call and talk to them directly.
Something to Hunt With
With the proper licenses and permits in hand, the key piece of equipment you’ll need to get started is your hunting weapon of choice, whether that be a bow, crossbow or firearm. Which you choose is really a matter of personal preference. All three can be acquired affordably, however bowhunting requires more accessories to go along with the bow itself – arrows, broadheads, a quiver, sights, and possibly a release — as well as more practice to become proficient with the weapon. Also keep in mind that bow (and sometimes crossbow) hunting often provides for a longer season, more opportunities on public land, and the possibility to hunt places where firearms are not be permitted, such as in an urban or suburban setting.
It is beyond the scope of this article to narrow down exactly what bow, crossbow or firearm you should choose, but you should certainly be able to find one in the $300-400 range that will get the job done. You may be able to go even cheaper if you pick something up used, but be sure to check it over well or have someone help you look it over to ensure it is safe and functioning as it should. If you’ll be hunting with a firearm, check your state’s restrictions on which ones are legal for deer before you begin your search so you don’t end up with something you can’t use.
While there is a seemingly endless supply of hunting gear available to make deer hunting easier and more comfortable, little of it is actually required to get out and enjoy the deer hunting tradition.
Since a bow has adjustments that need to be tailored to its user, I would recommend that someone interested in bowhunting visit their local archery pro shop prior to purchasing a bow. A pro shop will be able to measure you for proper draw length and find a draw weight that you can comfortably handle, and you’ll be able to shoot a variety of bows to see which one fits you best. Keep in mind that you don’t need the most expensive or fastest model to kill deer. Most any modern bow will do the job. Find one within your budget that is comfortable to shoot. Shopping at a pro shop will also allow them to help with selecting the right accessories and arrows to accompany your bow.
For much more detailed information on finding the right firearm or bow, check out NDA’s free eBook, NDA’s Guide to Successful Deer Hunting.
Remember when deer hunters wore plaid shirts and jeans and still managed to kill deer? That’s not to say that a good camouflage pattern won’t help you blend in. And knowing what we know about how deer perceive color, there are certainly better pant options than blue jeans. But you don’t have to have the latest and greatest in hunting clothing to fill your deer tags. The science behind deer vision tells us that the best way to remain undetected by white-tailed deer is to be still, as deer eyes have evolved to readily detect movement.
When choosing your hunting clothes, find something that is comfortable and affordable in a camo pattern that breaks up your outline, and you’ll be in good shape for most whitetail hunting opportunities. There may be a few exceptions if you live in an area where the temperatures get extremely low, or if you are hunting the backcountry where weather conditions can quickly change. In those cases, it may be necessary to splurge on a layering system so you can stay both warm and dry in a variety of conditions.
For more information on choosing the right hunting clothes, check out NDA’s free eBook, NDA’s Guide to Successful Deer Hunting.
A Hunting Knife
Hunting gear is the area where many hunters — myself included — tend to get carried away and pack more things in than are truly needed. It’s also an area where you can start out very minimal and add items as the need arises and your budget permits. The main item, aside from your weapon-of-choice, will be a good, sharp knife. Don’t fall into the rookie trap of buying way more knife than you need. A good, sharp, folding pocket knife with a 3- to 4-inch blade should be more than capable of handling field dressing and skinning a deer.
Extra Hunting Gear
One big-ticket item that many deer hunters purchase once they have the necessities is a treestand or commercial ground blind. And while hunting elevated or concealed in a blind will certainly increase your odds of success, neither is absolutely necessary. If you’re hunting with a firearm, then you have the option of simply sitting on the ground leaning against a tree in an area with a good vantage point. If you are bowhunting, you can always build a makeshift blind out of natural materials like downed logs, branches, and leaves. Not only will this save you money, but some of my most exciting deer encounters came prior to me buying my first treestand. There is something about hunting them at eye level that really gets the heart pounding!
Beyond the items already discussed, I would recommend simply spending time in the woods hunting and letting your experiences dictate future purchases. You will undoubtedly run into difficulties as you hunt that could be alleviated by purchasing certain gear. It will then be up to you to weigh whether the added expense and having to carry that additional gear makes it worth having.
For more information on gear that may make your hunting efforts easier, check out our free eBook, NDA’s Guide to Successful Deer Hunting.
A Place to Hunt
Other than having the necessary licenses and permits, something to shoot a deer with, something to wear, and a good, sharp knife, the only real necessity left is a place to go. And while a lot of hunters these days spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on hunting leases, there are alternatives for a budget-minded hunter. Fortunately most states offer a variety of public hunting opportunities in the form of Wildlife Management Areas, state and national forests, military bases, and even walk-in areas (private land leased by the state for public hunting). In some cases, hunting this public land is completely free with the purchase of your state hunting licenses and permits. Other states may charge a nominal fee for an additional public land permit. But even a fee will still be much cheaper than a hunting lease and may provide you with access to thousands of acres of hunting land. Check out some of these other articles on the QDMA website to help you with hunting public land:
- The Trick to Finding Quality Public Hunting Land
- I Left Private Land Behind for the Public Land Challenge
- 5 Steps to Better Public Land Deer Hunting
- Finding and Hunting Public Land Sanctuaries
While there is a seemingly endless supply of hunting gear available to make deer hunting easier and more comfortable, little of it is actually required to get out and enjoy the deer-hunting tradition. All you truly need is your licenses and permits, a weapon to hunt with, something to wear, and a knife. If you take your time and shop around, you could probably get out in the field hunting for under $500. That number could be even lower if you borrow some gear or get a good deal on used equipment. And once you have the equipment you need, you’ll be set for years to come. So, if the perceived high cost of hunting has been holding you back, or has you thinking about giving it up, make this the fall you give “minimalist” deer hunting a try. It may just change your life!