I’ve traveled across the country to hunt whitetails everywhere from Ohio to Montana, Idaho to Indiana, and most points in between. Every time I embark on one of these trips, I receive dozens of messages asking about what clothing, gear, or camping equipment I’m taking with me.
About five years ago, I took a stab at writing up my packing list for one of these trips. I wrote that list for a September Montana whitetail hunt which I happened to stumble on again recently. While there were plenty of items on that list that I still use today, I was shocked at just how much has changed in only half a decade. So, it seems an update is in order.
I want to share a rundown of the equipment I use on these types of hunts. I don’t use all of this gear on every single trip as each location and adventure is different, but this list encompasses just about everything I can think of that might make it into the back of my pickup.
While gear certainly is not the end-all-be-all of any hunting trip, I’ve certainly had my share of experiences where equipment significantly impacted my enjoyment or success. I hope you find a few of these suggestions helpful.
Camping I don’t camp on all of my out-of-state whitetail hunts, but it’s one of my favorite options when possible. Camping, of course, will save you money for lodging. But it also makes for a more unique and connected-to-the-landscape experience. Nothing beats climbing into a tent or truck bed at the end of a long hard hunt and peering out at a sky full of stars.
I’ve used two camping styles for most of my whitetail hunts: in a tent or the back of my pickup truck. For convenience and portability, truck bed camping is my preferred style. I added an A.R.E topper to my truck, which fully encloses the bed while offering sliding and full open windows for ventilation and access. With a topper like this and a sleeping pad and bag, truck bed sleeping is as comfortable as any option, but with the added bonus of being able to move camp as quickly and easily as simply driving to the next access point. One other point of note with my truck set-up is the use of an in-bed drawer system. I use the DECKED system which provides built-in drawers to store and easily access the majority of my camping and hunting equipment without taking up all my “living space” on top of the bed. I’ll never go without one of these systems again.
Here’s the rest of the gear I’ve used on recent camping hunts/trips:
Hunting The hunting equipment I take on a DIY whitetail hunt varies based on the terrain I’ll be exploring and style of hunt I’m employing, but eight out of 10 times these days I’m using some variation of a run-n-gun hunting technique. When hunting new areas of public or by-permission ground, having a bunch of pre-set stands is simply not an option. For these reasons, a mobile option like the climbing sticks and saddle setup I use is optimal.
There’s an endless array of lightweight treestands, saddles, and climbing sticks for the mobile deer hunter to choose from today. For example, the Tethrd Phantom saddle, paired with a Predator platform, and the Timber Ninja C1 sticks is my go-to. These three items are ultra-lightweight, super quiet, and comfortable to use when set in the tree. I’ve packed in more than two miles, twice a day, with this set-up on my back (which only weighs about 6 pounds) and stayed comfortable and energized enough to keep at it for days on end. This wouldn’t have been realistic or enjoyable 10 years ago with the heavier and bulkier tools I used at that time.
I also get a lot of questions about what kind of optics I use and how I run them when hunting in this mobile fashion. I prefer 10x42 binos like those in the Vortex Viper HD line, as they’re compact and lightweight but still provide enough magnification for most whitetail situations. With a medium- to small-bodied binocular I can fit them into a pretty compact binocular harness, like the medium sized FHF Pro-M, which is low-profile and rides tight and high on my chest. With this setup I have little to no problems with the bridge of my saddle or string of my bow being interfered with by the chest rig.
Here’s the rest of the hunting gear I most often have with me on these trips:
Other Hunting Gear ● Nose Jammer ● Hand saw ● Pack Saw
Clothing (for early to mid-season trip) One of the biggest differences between traveling to hunt versus hunting from home is that access to scent-free storage and a laundry machine is much harder to come by. There’s usually not means to de-stink your clothing other than the possibility of an in-field ozone bag or handheld sprays. For that reason, I depend on the natural odor resistance of wool to help minimize my scent profile. All of my base and near-to-skin layers for DIY whitetail trips are wool, with First Lite’s aerowool being my fabric of choice.
Below is a rundown of the specific items I wear on early to mid-season whitetail trips, all of these being in the First Lite Specter whitetail camo pattern: