Anyone that knows me, knows I love to hunt.
In fact my wife, Lynn, gets a little irritated with me sometimes. “Can’t you talk about something else? Don’t you think other people might not be interested?” Well, I could. But what would be the point in that? Everyone loves hunting. Right? Why wouldn’t they want to talk about it?
In my defense, I grew up outdoors. The outdoors, in Vermont, where lakes are lakes and forests are forests. Where we lived there were no movie theatres, no shopping malls and no arcades. (“And we walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways!” I just realized this sounds like somebody’s grandpa.) My dad was also my Scout leader, so my friends and I spent all our free time outdoors; fishing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, and of course, hunting. When I was younger, hunting with my dad meant us tromping somewhat randomly around the woods, me with my old rifle and a hand-me-down factory knife, both of us hoping we’d get lucky enough to actually surprise a deer. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it gets really cold in Vermont, it snows a lot, and bears and wildcats are common. But somehow, it was still infinitely better than being stuck at home with my two sisters. Go figure.
With age comes wisdom, and also better hunting techniques. I’ve picked up a lot of tricks, figured out what works for me and what doesn’t, experimented with tons of gear. Some things you can get away with cheaping out on, but I’ve found there’s some equipment you can’t afford to compromise on, that can make or break you when you’re out in the woods. Accept no substitutions.
A Good Knife
Come on, you knew this one was going first, didn’t you? But seriously, my knife gets used for everything, from cutting open my MRE dinner to dressing out an elk. Nobody wants to lug around a 100lb pack, so make sure you choose a well-made, versatile design that’s ready to work and work hard, not just look pretty. I strongly prefer a fixed blade, full-tang knife for my forays into the great outdoors. In my humble opinion, there’s just no comparison in strength and durability (not to mention the danger of it accidentally closing on your fingers) between a fixed blade and a folder. I don’t leave home without my Field Guide. It’s small, lightweight, rugged, and the blade is just the right length for skinning. The Huntsman is another personal favorite that’s large enough to handle bushcrafting as well. For sentimental reasons, the honorary “first cut” is always performed by an antique Solingen knife, made in Germany. My grandpa hunted with it, then my dad, and now me. Hopefully it will be passed on to my kids as well.
Choosing a dependable rifle that you’ve personally put some significant rounds through and feel comfortable handling is extremely important to a successful hunt. The individual weight, balance, trigger pull and recoil of your firearm are just a few of the things any hunter worth their salt should be well accustomed to before ever tucking their hunting license into a water proof pouch and heading out.
Notice I mention both a rifle and a sidearm in the title. I carry both, and I know many guys who do the same, but it comes down to a personal preference and what your local gun carry laws allow for. Sometimes a young, sick or startled predator can see the clawless, fangless pink thing wandering through its territory as an easy snack. In my experience, it’s always good to have backup.
I’ve used several good rifles and handguns throughout the years, but I think my personal favorites are my Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum for sidearm carry, and a .308 AR-10 for hunting. Dean over at Primary Weapons Systems helped me customize my .308 rig to fit my needs, and I love it. I chose a pistol grip and collapsible stock, and carry it on a two-point system in front of me. I find this makes it easier to carry, faster to pull up, and quieter. I’m not a long-distance kind of guy, I like to track and move when I hunt, so stealth is always a top priority for me. I’d highly recommend Dean and his crew when you’re in the market for a premium quality firearm. They’re great guys and they sure know their stuff.
I feel like good shoes are something I appreciate more and more the older I get. I’m tempted from time to time to buy the “Walmart special”, or the sale bin shoes at the local sports store. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. I use Walmart shoes for mowing my lawn and cleaning my chicken coop all the time. But when I’m going to be depending on my feet as much as I do during hunts, I want a sturdy, supportive, comfortable shoe. What that looks like to you may be different than what it does for me. But some qualities are universal. Let me share with you a few things I’ve learned that really make or break a good hunting shoe.
- Thick sole: Arizona terrain is rocky, sandy, silty, you name it. Where I’m at, the ground is also littered in places with sharp, ankle-cracking volcanic rock. Fun. You want a nice thick sole on your shoes to cushion and protect from sharp rocks and sticks, poison ivy and unfriendly critters.
- Ankle support/cover: See Arizona terrain again, and then add venomous snakes, Gila monsters and scorpions. I broke my ankle in a motorcycle accident many eons ago, (good job, me!) so my achy old guy joint appreciates all the support it can get.
- Lightweight as possible: They aren’t meant to be running shoes, but if you can find a good quality boot that is also lightweight, you’ve got it made. And don’t forget moisture-wicking socks, a clean pair for every day you’ll be out. Your feet will probably be tired and sore after a long day in the bush even with the best preparation, so you’ll be thankful you spent a few extra bucks to avoid blisters and chafing into the bargain.
My personal favorite brand is Lowa Boots. I wear the Zephyr Desert Mid TF. My buddy Phil over at Shooters World got me turned onto them years ago, and I’ve never looked back. They’re well-made and give me everything I’m looking for in a hunting boot. I got an Elk with my dad one year, and had to pack out three loads of meat, 100lbs each time. After making the trip to the truck 3 times, I was REALLY grateful to my Zephyrs.
Kryptek camo. Guys, it’s the best I’ve found. My wife, Lynn, accuses me from time to time of being an equipment snob, but really, I go to gun/knife/sporting shows every week. I have the opportunity to see pretty much everything that’s out there, from prestigious old companies to the new, “latest and greatest” offerings. I can see, feel and test the quality of the product offerings first hand, and it allows me to compare right there at the show.
I was excited when we made the decision to begin using Kryptek-patterned Kydex for our sheaths. They’ve been one of my favorite companies for years now and just make a top-quality product. Because of where I live, I chose the Highlander pattern for my gear and clothing. I’ve tried other camos, but Kryptek consistently gets me closer to the animal for a good shot. I was downwind from a huge cow elk after a long, sweaty day hunting. She had no idea I was there, and I couldn’t have been more than 10-15 feet away. It happens all the time when I wear Kryptec. Of course, I had a deer tag that year. :(
So I’ve done a lot of research on this particular item, and have found a really great product that is actually pretty affordable. You’re welcome. I own and love Vortex Optics binoculars. Don’t get me wrong, I like Leopold and Bushnell, great companies, great scopes. However for the money, I feel Vortex provides really top notch, crystal clear vision in a rugged package. I have the Diamondback 8x32, and carry it in a chest rig so it stays close to my body. The last thing you want is binoculars swinging around and getting tangled with your rifle sling when you’ve spotted your buck. Unless you’re hoping to get your 15 seconds of fame via FailArmy, that is.
I’m especially looking forward to my hunt this fall. It’s my first year taking my daughter out hunting, and my dad will be visiting from Vermont to come with us. Three generations of Cook hunters will be roaming the high Arizona mountainsides, so keep your eyes peeled for us. We might need help packing out some meat!
Dennis Cook is a professional custom knife and sword maker, one of three generations at Dawson Knives. He's an avid outdoorsman and hunter and lives in Arizona with his beautiful wife Lynn and their four little rednecks.