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Big Game Hunting Checklist: Everything You Need To Know Before Hitting the Woods

Big Game Hunting Checklist: Everything You Need To Know Before Hitting the Woods

You’ve decided to go on a big game hunt, researched the best location, and made plans to go. Now what? It’s time to plan the details of your trip! You have waited for this big game hunt all year, so make sure you are prepared. 

Plan early and make a list of what you need to prepare and prepare when the time comes to leave for your hunt.

Early Planning

There are a few things you should do before your hunt. Understanding the rules and regulations, preparing yourself, and breaking in your equipment are essential first steps. 

Know the Rules

There are different requirements depending on the state and species you are hunting. Some states have application deadlines, lotteries or a draw system for nonresidents, or other requirements that you need to understand before you go.

License, Tags and Permits

A month or two before the hunt, buy your license and obtain any permits and tags required. You will definitely need a hunting license in the state where you plan to hunt.

Rules and Regulations

In addition to licenses, tags, and permits, each state has different rules and regulations. Deer, elk, and other big game hunters need species tags for the animals they are hunting. It is important to check with the state’s fish and game department to determine the necessary permits, etc.

Requirements for residents versus out-of-state hunters are also different, so don’t assume what is required for your buddy living in Montana will be the same as what is required for you. For example, hunting in California often uses a draw system for hunting big game. Knowing about these types of requirements can help you make the most of your trip. The worst thing that can happen is you get to your hunting location and don’t have the proper licenses, permits, courses, and/or tags to hunt.

Alaska has different requirements compared to Colorado and so on for every state where you hunt. Some states also have training requirements like hunter safety courses, or species-specific courses, and even exams for game like mountain lions.

Montana requires a class and certification for wolf trapping. Just make sure you know what is required, and you will be ready. 

Seasons

Are you hunting with a muzzleloader, bow, or rifle? The particular hunting season influences the weapon you carry.

What species are you hunting? Each species has a season, so make sure you know the dates and bag limits for the specific weapon you plan to use and which species you will hunt. Check the rules every year because season dates, bag limits, permits, and more can change from year to year.

Prepare Equipment and Yourself

Practice, Practice, Practice. You want a successful big game hunt, so make sure you have honed your skills before taking that shot in the field. The more you shoot, the better shot you will be.

First, make sure your weapon is properly sighted in. If the gun or bow is not sighted in, no amount of practice will ensure a successful hunt. Then, practice with your weapon until it becomes second nature. You want to feel comfortable in the field and sure of your capabilities and weapons. Practice until loading/unloading, setting and releasing the safety, cycle the action, and pull the trigger until you can do everything with your eyes closed.

Anticipate the distance you will be shooting. We often practice shooting a rifle 100 yards or a bow at 20 yards. Are these the distances you will be shooting in the field? Probably not. Do your research and practice at the distances you will be shooting on your big game hunt.  

Practice the way you will be shooting in the field. Will you be lying down? Sitting in a stand or on the ground? Think ahead and anticipate the possible position or positions you could be shooting from when on your big game hunt, and practice shooting from those positions. 

When you are ready to fire in the field, every aspect of your weapon should be second nature so that you can focus on the task at hand -- a successful shot and a successful hunt.

Prepare Your Body

Hunting can be hard work. You may be walking or riding horseback to your location in remote areas. Are you ready for that? Are you prepared to hike miles while carrying your gear or ride a horse over rough terrain for miles? 

You don’t have to be a triathlete or in “gym rat” shape but get in the best shape you can. Walking is a great way to prepare for a hunt. Carry a backpack while walking to increase your endurance and prepare to pack your animal out of the woods. 

Go ahead and pack your bag as you would for the hunt (minus the weapon) and walk. Practice walking with your fully loaded pack. If it is too heavy, reconsider what you are taking, but don’t skim on the necessities. 

Break In and Prepare Your Gear

Shoes are one of the most important parts of your gear. Wear comfortable shoes/boots that keep your feet warm and dry. Break them in before you go. Never, ever buy new shoes right before a hunt. You will not have a good time if your feet hurt, period. 

Waterproof your weapon. There are products available from GunSkins that 100% waterproof our weapon with killer patterns to choose from.

Gear

Get quality gear that is suitable for the climate and weather you will experience on your hunt. Hunting in Alaska is different from hunting in Montana. Consider everything, clothes, shoes, rain gear, backpack, sleeping bag, tent, headlamp, cooking set, food, etc. 

You don’t want to get to the field and then realize your clothing is too heavy or light for the temperature. Is rain possible? Make sure you have good rain gear suitable for the climate where you will hunt. 

Gear should be camouflaged to match the area where you are hunting. Choosing the right camo pattern could make a difference. GunSkins let you match the wrap on your gun to your clothing to ensure a consistent camouflage pattern. 

Pack Your Stuff

A week or so before the hunt, make sure you check the weather, sharpen your knives, and begin organizing and putting your gear together. Don’t forget safety gear. If you will be out of cell phone service for all or part of your hunt. Consider taking a traceable GPS or satellite phone and flare gun. Always have a flashlight with good batteries. If you are camping, take a tent or tarp, rope, matches/lighter, knife, hatchet, map and a first aid kit. 

Let someone know where you are going and how long you’ll be gone. 

Enough of the what’s and why’s; here is a basic list you can use to organize and pack what you need: 

  • Hunting license/tags
  • Weapon and ammunition with a case
  • Personal items like toothpaste and toothbrush, soap, toilet paper, towel, and washcloth
  • Backpack and waterproof pack cover
  • Binoculars
  • Map/GPS/Satellite phone
  • Calls and scents
  • Camo face paint
  • First aid kit
  • Hunter orange (required in many states)

Camping Essentials

Make sure to bring the following items when camping:

  • Tent and sleeping bag
  • Stove, fuel, matches, pots, plates, and utensils
  • Food – keep it simple
  • Water or water filter

Essentials for Processing Your Animal

Processing your animal? Make sure to bring these:

  • Knives and sharpening steel
  • Folding saw
  • Gloves
  • Zip ties
  • Game bags

On the Hunt 

With the right preparation, you will have the best chance at a successful hunt. Understanding the rules and regulations ensures you have the right license, permits, tags, and training for the state where you plan to hunt. 

Practicing with your weapon and preparing your body for the hunt helps ensure you have a good time while out in the woods. Packing the right gear will make you comfortable, dry, and even well-fed. Lastly, think about safety before you prepare for any situation that happens. 

 

Sources:

10 Ways to Prep for Your Next Western Big-Game Hunt | NRA American Hunter

Alaska's Hunting Regulations Overview | Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Mountain Lion Exam Introduction | Colorado Parks & Wildlife

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