Prepare These 20 Pieces of Deer Gear Now for Success Next Fall

February 14, 2024 By: Nick Pinizzotto

I’m a tinkerer, particularly when it comes to my hunting gear. Sometimes I think I like tinkering with my gear as much as the act of hunting itself. As a fly fisherman, I also enjoy tying flies as much as I enjoy going fishing.

You might be nodding your head as you read this because you know exactly where I’m coming from. Let’s face it. As hunters, we love gear, and we often have way more than we’ll ever need.

Deer hunting gear laid out on a kitchen table.

So why is it that hunters, or most people for that matter, love gear the way we do? Let’s take a look at the science.

This topic was covered well in an article by Regan A. R. Gurung, PhD, in the Psychology Today blog titled, “Want Stuff? Why We Are Driven to Buy More.” The short of it is, we just can’t help it. The key takeaway is buying things releases pleasure chemicals in the brain, and owning certain items can make a person feel special while also allowing them to flaunt it to their friends.

Let’s be honest. We love showing a hunting buddy our new bow or rifle, or any other new gear we recently purchased for that matter.  

The reality is it doesn’t take much gear to harvest a deer if we’re just looking for any deer to fill the freezer. An accurate rifle and a little luck can get that done quite efficiently, but that doesn’t seem like much fun.

I joked to my wife that venison was going to be about $100 per pound this year after calculating what I spent on gear, food plots, habitat improvements, licenses, and gas money to get to and from my hunting land. I’ve never actually done that calculation because I’m afraid to know the truth, or worse, I’m afraid of the truth getting out and ruining it for all of us when we use the old line of “needing to do our part to put dinner on the table.”

The good news is, keeping gear in the field and the challenge of getting it to outlive its typical life span is something most of us also enjoy. It’s not always in the budget to buy new gear, so taking the time to maintain what we have is good for the wallet.

Be sure to check the tag on your treestand safety harness, as they all have an expiration date. This particular harness was manufactured in 2015, so it should have been taken out of use in 2020.

In that vein, I put together a list of 20 things deer hunters can tinker with that will help alleviate cabin fever this winter and set us on the right path for a successful fall. Don’t skip the bonus item, as it might be the most important of them all!

1. Tree Stands 

Safety first, so let’s start with tree stands. Stands should be examined for damage annually. Stands that are left out between seasons should receive extra care, even if that means taking them down temporarily to get a closer look. Pay extra close attention to straps or chains that connect the stand to the tree. Aside from safety, this is a great time to apply a fresh coat of paint or replace a worn or damaged seat or other parts.

2. Straps, Harnesses, Saddles, and Safety Lines

Did you know safety harnesses have an expiration date? Even if not expired, harnesses and saddles should be gone over before every hunt, but the offseason is a great time to do a thorough inspection.

Ladders or steps and associated straps should also be closely examined. What I like to do is lay out every piece of gear associated with getting me into a tree so I can make any needed repairs or replacements without forgetting something.

3. Blinds

Fabric blinds should be brought in from the field and thoroughly washed and dried before being packed away. Trust me, they will last longer if you do this. I like to reconnect all window screens, zip all openings closed, and make sure stakes and ropes are in a sack so everything is in its place when I dig it out in a few months.

Hard-sided blinds can also benefit from washing, particularly the interior where you’ve undoubtedly drug in mud, leaves, and probably a few Little Debbie wrappers. Be sure to add a lubricant to doors and windows and seal the unit up to keep critters and insects out to the extent possible.

It’s a good practice to pull your portable blinds down after the season, clean them up, and store them in a dry area until next season to prevent mold and mildew, UV damage, and unwanted critters living in them.

4. Trimmers and Saws

Shortly after a season ends is typically the best time to get into the heavy cutting of habitat work. Just be sure to spend time servicing saws, blades, and chains throughout the process and especially before putting them away for several months.

The same goes for small hand saws and trimmers used for shooting lanes and stand setups. Pro tip: give your hand saw and trimmer blades a quick squirt of cooking spray to keep surface rust at bay. 

5. Gun Cleaning

It should go without saying that a gun should be cleaned, or at least wiped down, after each trip to the woods. Being realistic, I know that’s not always the case for most of us, but you can cover your tracks by breaking down and thoroughly cleaning firearms before putting them back in the case after the season.

I keep an oil rag in my safe to make it easy to polish up my guns a time or two during the off season as well. 

6. Mounting Scopes

Thinking about getting a new scope for your rifle? Deciding to take on that project a week before the season, like I did last year, isn’t ideal. Don’t be like me. Take your time to find the right scope for your needs and have it mounted and zeroed in well before the season starts. 

7. Checking Ammo Stock

You would think most of us have learned our lesson about this due to ammo shortages in recent years. Shortly after the season, take an inventory of your hunting ammo and have a plan for replenishing depleted stock during the spring and summer months when demand for hunting ammo is lower. If you have a round you love, it doesn’t hurt to pick up an extra box or two in case it becomes scarce later.

8. Optics Cleaning and Care

I’ve gotten better at this in recent years, and the lifespan of my optics has benefitted. Take part of a day and make it an optics cleaning party. You’ll find that you’ll do a more thorough job if your full focus on the task and you’ll thank yourself when the next season starts and your optics are primed for action.

The off-season is a great time to clean up your firearms and oil them up for storage until it’s time to prepare for next deer season.

9. Bow and Crossbow Maintenance

Admittedly, this is the item on my list I’m probably best at. With the amount of energy today’s bows and crossbows produce, they should be gone over before every hunt. Once the season is over though, it’s important to do a thorough inspection of the limbs, cams, and other moving parts to make sure everything is in order. Don’t forget to lubricate that crossbow rail! 

10. Bow Tuning

Experienced archers know that the closer it gets to hunting season, the harder it is to get an appointment at the pro shop for bow tuning or repairs. While I encourage archers to learn to do these things for themselves (YouTube is your friend), I know that’s not realistic for everyone.

Tuning your bow immediately following the hunting season and then again in late summer will improve your bow’s performance and your shooting results.

11. String Repairs or Replacement

I really enjoy tinkering with bow strings and components. Now is the time to be replacing worn serving and D loops and making any equipment changes like switching peep sights or adding a kisser button or string vibration dampeners.

A good bow string will last a few years if properly maintained, but inevitably it will need to be replaced. String replacements are best done at least a month before the hunting season to allow for a break-in and stretching period. Don’t wait until a week before the season to realize your string needs to be replaced.

12. Broadhead Sharpening

I’m not sure why, but there’s nothing more satisfying to me than sharpening a broadhead to the point at which it could cut you just by looking at it. I like keeping all my broadheads razor sharp and ready to go. I also like to try different ways of sharpening to keep it interesting. Countless resources can be found on the web for this task.

13. Broadhead Stock

Just like ammo, some brands of broadheads can get scarce come hunting season. My rule of thumb is to never go into a season with less than six of a particular model, and I don’t care to share how I know three might not be enough! You can often get good deals on broadheads after hunting season so stock up. They won’t go bad.

14. Arrow Stock and Maintenance

Of all the items on my list, I probably enjoy tinkering with arrows the best. There are as many size, length, spine, and weight configurations as you can dream up, and I have an active imagination! As for the arrows I’m hunting with, like broadheads I want to have at least six.

That said, I stock up on shafts and components of several sizes to support my tinkering habit and to ensure I’ll always have options on hand. Arrows should be inspected often for cracks, bends, or other flaws for safety and accuracy’s sake.

As someone who shoots both compound and traditional bows, I’ll admit my collection is probably a little oversized and it’s to the point where I have my inventory on a spreadsheet. There are worse addictions I suppose.

If you haven’t already, it’s a great time to wash and put away your hunting clothes for the season in a safe, dry area, whether that be a closet, a storage tote, or air-tight bag.

15. Hunting Clothing Care

Considering the price of quality hunting clothing these days, there’s a chance what you’re wearing may be the most expensive thing you’re taking to the deer woods. With that in mind, treat it that way by washing, folding or hanging, and storing your clothing after the season.

Make note of items that need to be replaced and maybe buy an item or two at a time throughout the summer to help diffuse the cost. I have an oversized tote where all of my hunting clothing is stored throughout the year, and I find that works well for me. 

16. Backpack Care

I hunt hard and demand a lot from my backpacks that I trust with my hunting and filming gear. I recommend a thorough cleaning of your packs after the season as well as an inspection of straps, buckles, and zippers.

Taking care of your packs can result in extra years of service. My good buddy and Coffee and Deer podcast co-host, “The Doctor,” Mike Groman, has a pack that we figure is at least 12 years old. Other than being a little faded, it’s still in great condition.

17. Boot Care or Replacement

While boots have come a long way in recent years in terms of wearability out of the box, don’t be the person who decides to get new ones the week before the season starts. Even boots that might feel great when trying them on may not perform well in the field or may require a breaking-in period.

If you plan to carry your existing boots into the following season, take care of any needed repairs or preventative maintenance well ahead of the fall.

18. Trail Camera Care

Most hunters are using trail cameras these days, and many of us are using multiple cameras. They’re not cheap, and they’re also sensitive technology that can succumb to the elements or be damaged because of leaking batteries, insects, and even wildlife attacks.

It’s worth taking a few hours to go over all your cameras thoroughly by cleaning them and removing batteries when the unit isn’t in use. You might also need to make some simple repairs, such as replacing Fresnel lenses or fixing wires.

Solar panels should be cleaned and even charged on occasion during the offseason. I have a few cameras from 2012 that still work fine because they have been taken care of. For cellular camera users, don’t forget to end your data subscriptions if your cameras are no longer in the woods.

Winter can be a great time for trail-camera and SD card maintenance. Clean up your cameras, put any good batteries away in a cool, dry place, and format your SD cards so everything is ready to go this summer.

19. SD Card Inspections

This is probably one you haven’t thought about, but it has bitten me a few times. Be sure to check SD cards for functionality. Reformat each card and then add and remove test data to make sure it’s working.

The time to find out your SD card went bad isn’t the next time you check your camera that you specifically set to find your target buck. I’ve had this happen on a few occasions.

Now I write the date of purchase on my memory cards and replace them every five years depending on how much they have been used. According to the SD Association, cards should have a lifespan of up to 10 years, but given the rigors of being deployed in a trail camera I cut that time in half. 

20. Trail Camera Photo Organization

If you’re running cameras, then you’re probably like me and have thousands of images stored that you’ll never look at again. While the best approach is to manage photos as they come in, that takes a lot of discipline and I’m just not good at it.

Once the season is over though it’s a good time to organize photos and delete the ones that aren’t relevant. Set up a file management system that works for you and stick to it. I’m certain I have photos from at least three years ago that I haven’t filed yet, and that’s not helpful.

And don’t forget, if you see great candidates for “Age This!”, send them to us!

Bonus: Keeping Up with Responsibilities at Home

I’m guessing most of us are guilty of not keeping up with projects at home or doing as well as we could to maintain relationships during hunting season. Trying to squeeze hunts in between work and other responsibilities is hard enough, let alone trying to take on additional projects.

Regardless of your personal circumstances, it’s inevitable that you have responsibilities, or someone is counting on you for something. There’s no better time than now to make up for lost time and move those projects or relationship needs to the front burner.

About Nick Pinizzotto:

Nick Pinizzotto is NDA’s President and CEO. He has been a member of the NDA team for eight years starting with the former National Deer Alliance. He is a Level II Deer Steward and active wildlife habitat manager on his Pennsylvania property. His more than 25 year professional career has been dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental geography and a master’s degree in psychology.