Raising the Bar: Why hunting gear is becoming a gamechanger

After shooting the same compound for about 16 years, I finally decided to pull the trigger (no pun intended) and buy a new bow. After much searching, shooting, testing, reading and asking my hunting partners for advice, I settled on a Hoyt Maxxis 31. Shooting this bow was like a revelation; my old bow is about 8″ longer, has cams on it the size of Oreo cookies, and, while it has knocked down game over the years, was getting pretty worn. This new bow is short, fast and has zero hand shock. It will put arrows down-range all day, right where I aim it.

So? What is amazing about that? Well, for starters it got me thinking about how far hunting gear and clothing have come. Bows are getting shorter, lighter and faster (and more expensive). We are seeing more carbon fiber and tubing being used in creative and functional ways than ever before. The limbs, cams and cables require an engineering degree to understand. It is really interesting and exciting.

The one area that has gotten a lot of buzz is the constant redesigning and rethinking of “performance” hunting clothing. With brands like Sitka, KUIU, Under Armour and a slew of others putting out hunting clothing that mimics high-end alpine climbing wear more than the typical cheap cotton, military styled 6-pocket pants and long sleeve t-shirts most hunters know, we are seeing thought, science, hype and function all mix together to create a new sub-industry, and, arguably, a sub-set of the hunting community: the high-end, gear-specific athlete hunter.

I have taken a keen interest in this area for several reasons. One, I am a gear junkie. I like to tinker, tweak and refine my gear, whether a backpack, bow, skis, clothing, climbing gear–you name it. Secondly, as a longtime climber (ice, rock, alpine) and skier, I have seen for years what hunters now finally have available–really good clothing designed for the use and abuse, climates, weather and situations many of us get into. Additionally, we as hunters, especially those of us out West who like to spend time in bivi sacks and lusting after titanium cooking pots and chasing sheep and elk have found out, the more you understand mountain hunting, and how you as a hunter thrive or wilt in it, the better off you are. That is where being “woods-wise” pays off more than a sweet jacket. But I digress…

Like many things, there will be those who buy a full set of clothes for over a grand, and maybe never set foot more than a mile from their truck, or don’t venture too far beyond their treestand. That is fine. You want run errands in a Porsche, go for it. Then there is the other group, of varying degree, that really use the gear  as intended. I use my experience as a beginning ice climber as an example: first day out, I had on more layers than most Everest summiters, a jacket that was too heavy, long and didn’t breathe well, and I paid for it. By the time I had pulled up and over the last rise on the approach (not even on a climb yet) I was soaked, cold and had screwed up even before swinging a tool into ice. The reason? The wrong clothes, the wrong system, and not knowing the difference.
Nowadays, I ski backcountry lines or climb in not much more than a thin baselayer, softshell pants and jacket, and keep a warmer layer tucked into my pack, as I work hard to reach the top of a climb or mountain to ski powder back down.

Time in the mountains is no different. We see hunters wearing trail running shoes while hunting elk in September, my sleeping bag weighs less than 2 pounds, and I eat GU for an energy kick, instead of a sandwich and you won’t find a stitch of cotton on me in the later months of the season except for a bandana. The point — with experience comes knowledge, with knowledge comes making good choices. And when you figure out what it is you want to accomplish, really good gear plays an important role. This isn’t rocket science—as you get better, stronger, more skilled, your needs, many times, when it comes to gear change. The difference is that now as mountain hunters, we have choices. And what I like best is that the concept of “less is more” is showing up more frequently, as hunters realize that some crappy backpack in camo with 24 pockets and zippers everywhere, just waiting to fail, is not good design, just hype and marketing. Compare this pack and this pack, and tell me which has design and function behind it. Sure, it is my opinion, but I will go on the record and say that pack #2 will be going strong long after the joke of a pack in #1 is in pieces.

At the end of the day, what does all this mean? I think it is showing us as hunters, we don’t have to settle for junk dressed up in camo, whether boots, packs bows or clothing. Coupled with a real interest and desire to learn more about our wilderness, our abilities and what we really need, not what an ad tells us, may be what counts the most. See what you can do with less, and with the things you choose, select the best you can afford, and only the bare minimum of what you need. Now get out there and hunt.

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