The whitetail deer is the most popular game animal in the continental United States. Millions of hunters take to the field each autumn to enjoy the fine sport that the whitetail offers. All that good sport requires good gear, so let’s have a look at some must-have items for your whitetail hunt.
- A Good Firearm or Bow—All the best luck in the world will have little effect if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at. The myriad choices may be overwhelming, but I would offer the following advice: no matter what method you choose to hunt your whitetail—rifles, shotgun, handgun, bow or crossbow—make sure is reliable and that you can use it effectively. I’ve made do on a budget before, but even the entry-level stuff made today, especially in firearms, is better than it ever has been. You certainly don’t need the fanciest rifle or bow, but you do need a piece of gear that will shoot straight time and time again—and it helps if it’s a gun or bow that you enjoy shooting, and that’s one that fits you well, including when wearing heavy clothing.
- Good Ammunition—I’ve seen it more times than I care to remember. A hunter will have a fine firearm and feed the thing a diet of the cheapest ammunition he or she can find. “Well, I don’t want to spend all that money on premium ammo!” Please realize, it is your bullet (or broadhead) that does all the work when you’re hunting—no other gear touches the animal. A whitetail isn’t exactly a thick-skinned animal, but should you hit one wrong, you can have quite the mess on your hands. Worse, now you’ve got a wounded animal. We all owe it to the deer to make a clean kill, so let’s start by using the best ammunition or breadheads we can afford. Should you want to practice with cheaper fodder, I totally understand, but when it comes to hunting, modern bullet and broadhead technology has made our lives easier, so let’s take full advantage of it.
- Binocular—Whitetails love the thick patches of woods and brushy thickets, as well as the open fields. A good binocular will definitely allow you to see more deer, as well as to better evaluate those bucks that are candidates for your hunt.I know too many hunters who admit to using their riflescope during their hunt to see if a bit of movement was a deer—and that’s a big no-no. You’re scope is for aiming only. Using it to “glass” is simply not safe hunting. A binocular will allow you to safely view anything, including other hunters, without waving a loaded firearm around unnecessarily.
Optics are one of those purchases in which you truly do get what you pay for, and a good binocular will end up becoming an old friend. They’ll accompany you on your scouting trips and join you for each and every day in the field. There have been several bucks I’ve taken that I never would have seen had it not been for a binocular. Scanning the brush while sitting on stand most definitely will help to alleviate the boredom when activity is at a lull—and it can help keep you from getting snuck up on, unprepared, by “the big one.” Buy the best you can afford, as some inexpensive models can cause eye strain and actually give you a headache after extended glassing periods.
- A Good, Sharp Knife—You don’t need a saber to eviscerate a deer, but a good sharp knife is a must. You can get away with a pocket folding-knife, and it’s equally fine if you prefer a fixed-blade knife, however a poor-quality knife of any length is no good. Knife and steel technology has most definitely improved over the years, and good steel can be had without breaking the bank.I’ve used many different types over the years and have usually carried a spare in the form of my day-to-day pocket knife, as there have been many phone calls from a hunting buddy who has forgotten their knife and downed a buck. I also like to carry a small knife sharpener with me, as a sharp knife requires less pressure to work with and actually reduces the chances of cutting yourself.
- Good Clothing and Boots—This is an important subject to me. Hunting whitetails, especially in the thick woods of the Eastern U.S. where I live, usually requires sitting still for extended periods of time. If you’re uncomfortable, it won’t be easy to stay on stand, which equates to missed opportunities. In my youth, I hunted in the hand-me-downs and hodgepodge of hunting gear and can absolutely testify to the fact that it sucked.
Whitetail hunting encompasses a wide variety of terrain, so recommendations will be area-specific. The Northeast tends to cover both the warm fall days during archery season to the downright bitter winter weather of the late post-rut, where the temperatures don’t get above freezing. To sit for hours in all sorts of inclement weather, including wind, rain and snow, requires good gear. I like traditional wool clothing, as it’s warm—even when wet—and quiet, but there are many good synthetics and advanced technical fabrics available, and in many different camo patterns.
Likewise, a good pair of hunting boots will make for a much better hunting experience. A rubber-bottom pac boot will keep you dry and reduce scent, while perhaps a good pair of leather boots will serve for warmer weather. No matter your choice, make sure they’re well worn in, as dragging a deer a half-mile back to the truck on blistered feet is something you won’t soon forget.
Phil Massaro’s expertise both with firearm and sentence has quickly given him a hard-earned reputation in the outdoor industry. Hunting in his native New York state since the age of 14, Massaro now travels the world, pursuing everything from the whitetails and black bears of New England to red stag in Scotland, Cape buffalo in Zambia and Mozambique, elephant in Zimbabwe and water buffalo in Australia. His work appears regularly in the NRA’s American Hunter and Shooting Illustrated, Gun Digest, Guns & Ammo and Dallas Safari Club’s Game Trails Magazine, often accompanied by the photography of his wife, Suzie, also an avid hunter. When not writing or hunting, he works as a professional land surveyor alongside his father, and he also manages to squeeze in time at the reloading bench of Massaro Ballistic Laboratories, the custom ammunition company he founded. No, he doesn’t sleep.