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Get more game?! Go backpacking, go self-sufficient

By Nik Maxwell

When I look back on all the hunting trips I have shared with both readers of the mag and the watchers of the videos on the NZGUNS YouTube channel, the main question I kept getting asked was, “What gear do you take on these kinds of trips?”

  

To these hunters, the idea of being near the game at the golden hours of hunting was very appealing not to mention the extra ground it allows you to cover, and the lack of backtracking involved. It is a great way to hunt and has been my primary hunting style for many years.

  

In this article, we take a look at some of the gear I have used over the years. Some of which is time-proven and some that is new. If you compare one hunter’s gear to another’s you will see many similarities. This is due to the fact that there’s a list of fundamental items that any self-sufficient hunter requires.

 

As a predominantly solo hunter, and someone who likes to camp on the deer’s doorstep, my gear is specfically tailored for fly camping - I want to be able to camp wherever I want, whenever I want and in (almost...) any kind of weather.

 

“To keep weight down, I will almost always sacrifice comfort and luxuries for a lighter pack. My primary objective is to hunt, so a few days away from the comforts of home life aren’t an issue.

 

THE GEAR

In no particular order, let’s run through the main items you need to hunt in this manner. To keep weight down, I will almost always sacrifice comfort and luxuries for a lighter pack. My primary objective is to hunt, so a few days away from the comforts of home life aren’t an issue.

 

Tent:

For many years I used a single nylon fly that, while extremely lightweight and compact, never really provided that full-on protection from the elements that an enclosed tent can offer. It was retired some time ago.

 

My current tent is an older model MSR Hubba NX. It is a one-man tent that packs down to about the size of a loaf of bread. Along with the tent I also have the MSR Footprint which is an extra but necessary addition to the NX. The footprint takes up almost no space and together with the poles the whole setup weighs just over 1.5kgs.

 

The MSR Hubba NX tent is an excellent option for the solo hunter.

 

The NX has performed extremely well. I have had two separate occasions where the poles have snapped but I would argue that both times it was due to me not taking care when erecting and dismantling the tent. Poles can only bend so far!

 

Water resistance is surprisingly good. Many a night and day has been spent tucked away warm and dry sheletered from the adverse weather, including a couple of South Island, West Coast belters. I have not experienced any leaks and the only moisture I’ve noticed is a small amount of condensation build up.

 

“My hunts normally run for three nights/four days and the 42 litre VORN Deer provides just enough space to hold all my gear.

 

Sleeping Bag/Sleeping Pad:

I use a MacPac Escapade 500 which I would describe as an ideal three season bag. It will handle below zero temps relatively well and if things begin to really cool, I’ll chuck on an extra layer or two. A foot zipper allows me to open up the base of the bag during the warmer months, while opening the main side zipper allows the bag to act as a quilt.

 

The stuff bag has three nylon straps that squash the sleeping bag down to about the size of a small loaf of bread. Total weight is 1160g. Current RRP is NZD$479 which is great value for money.

 

For the sleeping pad, I splashed out and purchased a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XTherm (Regular Size) which is an awesome bit of kit. It packs down extremely small, about the size of a standard school pencil case and weighs only 430g. The XTherm isn’t cheap but well worth the price. 

 

When inflated, the bag is about 65mm thick and offers amazing insulation. It is so comfortable that it makes it difficult to get up early on an icy mid-winter morning...

 

Therm-A-Rest and MSR products are imported and distributed by Ampro Sales Ltd.

 

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Packs:

Due to the privilege of reviewing gear supplied from various importers and distributors (shout out to Gun City and Vaughan Sports!), I have a couple of packs that I swap between, depending on the mood!

 

The current go-to is a VORN Deer 42L Realtree Camo backpack. It's standout feature is the quick rifle release (QRR) scabbard, allowing the hunter to walk hands-free yet access his rifle in a matter of seconds.

 

My hunts normally run for three nights/four days and the 42 litre VORN Deer provides just enough space to hold all my gear. Things do get a bit tight if I harvest an animal, but I can generally fit in both the boned out back legs and back steaks.

 

To the left is the VORN Deer 42L backpack. It features the Quick Rifle Release (QRR) rifle scabbard that aloows the hunter to remain hands free when required. On the right is the Markhor ELK MTN 45.

 

I also have a Markhor ELK MTN 45 pack. Of lighter weight then the VORN Deer, the ELK also has a rifle scabbard located in the outward side of the pack. The VORN QRR system has the rifle positioned directly behind the wearers back and I have found this to be a much better setup when carrying the rifle in this manner.

 

My first proper pack was a K2 Hunter 85l with an external frame. This pack is over 27 years old, has done some serious miles and is still in fairly good condition, that is kiwi made quality for ya! It is semi-retired now due primarily to the extra comfort of the internally framed packs.

 

Boots:

I’ve been hunting in Meindl footwear since I was 16. They are reliable, extremely comfortable and with good insulation properties. Over the last few years I have been in a pair of Meindl Bhutan MFS (Memory Foam System). These are a B/C category boot suitable for the exact type of sub-alpine terrain you’ll often find in sika country, in particular the Southern Kaimanawa and central Kaweka Ranges.

 

I also have a pair of Scarpa Delta GTXs which are bloody good boots as well. This model has lower ankle cuffs, although I prefer a higher cut for that extra ankle support.

 

Currently, I am wearing a pair of Alpina Nepal boots which are available from Gun City. These have already spent time in the Kaimanawas, Kawekas and Kaimais and are proving to be very good boots. A short intro about the Nepals can be found here.

 

Outer Shell Jackets:

The most important garment you will need. Keeping dry (or as dry as possible...) on the hill is essential and a decent rain coat can make the all the difference.

 

Fleeced” outer jackets were once all the rage because they are very quiet when pushing through scrub etc., however in my experience they are generally heavy, bulky and difficult to dry due to the water-holding properties of the fleece material. They are typically warmer, but that doesn’t outweigh the disadvantages outlined above.

 

These days many hunters, including myself, have moved on to the soft-shell styled jacket. These are lightweight, pack away well and dry very quickly.

 

The Manitoba Souris jacket worn by the author during a mid-winter hunt in the Central Kawekas.

 

Over the last few years I have worn several different jackets. I began with the Ridgeline Deluge Anorak (NZG&H #151 Nov/Dec 2015) which is a lightweight and compact jacket. The Deluge is now discontinued however Ridgeline still offer their flagship outer shell, the Monsoon II Anorak.

 

Following on from that saw me in the Manitoba Souris (NZG&H #163 Nov/Dec 2017), a new brand to the market. The Souris is a similar jacket to the Deluge and once again provides all the same properties as the Deluge Anorak but in a different design. Both jackets performed well.

 

At the moment I am wearing a SWAZI Apparel Tahr Ultralite Jacket. The Tahr Ultralite as of similar design to the Tahr Anorak but with an emphasis on weight reduction.

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Shirts/Pants/Socks/Gaiters/Thermals:

Having accumulated an array of shirts, socks and pants, I’ll pretty much wear whatever is hanging on the rack! I’m not at all fussed about branding so long as it is comfortable.

 

For the most part I wear a simple Olive nylon t-shirt, Bridgedale socks, Huntech Rugaz shorts, and Markhor gaiters, however, I do have some SWAZI Poley shorts, Hunter socks and a pair of Ali-Gaiter gaiters which will replace the current set up. The above-mentioned items are all good products and in particular the Bridgedale socks are some of the best I have worn.

 

Thermals are an important item as they offer that extra level of insulation when the mercury drops. I have some Lamellar pants and a long-sleeved top that I wear in the tent, around camp and sometimes when glassing for extended periods during the colder months.

 

Miscellaneous:

A good knife is an obvious requirement, but the style is whatever suits your personal preference. I like the traditional design and right now I’m using a Von Gruff Knives Hunter Skinner (NZG&H #170 Jan/Feb 2019). You can view the full review here.

 

A decent camera is, in my opinion, an absolute must. Photographing and filming your hunts is the ultimate way to record your adventures to share with your friends and family. I use a Canon SX60 HS (my second one!) which offers all the features I need, with the bonus of being lightweight and compact.

 

Some decent binos to help you locate the game paired with a good camera to film or photograph them.

 

If you are hunting open country, of which there is plenty in the Kawekas and Southern Kaimanawas, you’ll certainly need some binos and a good pair of 10x42s will have you covered. In this market, budget will be your deciding factor.

 

Fortunately, here in NZ we enjoy a wide range of quality optic brands (Swarovski, Vortex, GPO, SIG SAUER and Zeiss) and you should have no problem sourcing a pair that suits both your purpose and your wallet. I carry an old pair of Swarovski SL 10x42s which, as you would expect, are brilliant.

 

For cooking I use the reputable Jetboil brand who design and manufacture excellent gas stoves. On these short hunts I take food that doesn’t need to be cooked; ie, plenty of snack type food to eat during the day, and Back Country Cuisine meals for dinner. The BCB meals only require hot water to prepare, and they’re lightweight and compact.

 

Rounding out the gear list are a few other items I consider essential - water bag, PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) first aid kit, cheese cloth (for your meat), woollen hat and buff, rifle bi-pod and camera tripod. Adding any luxury items (someone say chocolate...?!) is up to you and what you’re prepared to carry. My one luxury item is a small bottle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce as it greatly enhances the Back Country meals flavour.

 

“It is an excellent way to hunt and will increase both your opportunities and success rate. You can expect to encounter more game, and gain extra time to explore new country.

 

IN SUMMARY

Hopefully this article has provided a little detail on what you need to consider if you’re looking at becoming a self-sufficient, backpack hunter. It is an excellent way to hunt and will increase both your opportunities and success rate. You can expect to encounter more game, and gain extra time to explore new country.

 

For me, it is the only way to hunt and I can confidently say that it has benefited and improved the time spent when hunting. Nothing beats reaching an area that “screams” deer or offers a breathtaking view, so being able to park up for the night and enjoy the moment as it unfolds is something I think every keen hunter should get to experience.

 

Nik

 

Note: All the items discussed in this article are available in a variety of brands, models and pricing, so take the time to research and select the gear that suits you and your budget. Personal preferences and your own knowledge and experience will play a part in your selection, and don’t be afraid to ask an experienced mate for some guidance.

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