As the saying goes, “If the only tool you carry is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail!” I’m sure most everyone has heard this saying and I have found over my three decades of service, it holds a lot of truth.
As hunters, we face many challenges pursuing our way of life. Much of society today values the well-being and actions of animals over the safety and legal rights of hunters. Large predator attacks on humans continue to rise as their numbers increase through protection and re-introduction into historic ranges.
I will spare you the dull subject of modern forensics and investigative techniques employed by law enforcement agencies. Be it to say, you do not want to be the guy who puts a bullet into an animal un-justifiably killing or wounding it, using an unauthorized weapon or not immediately reporting the action to officials. All sorts of trouble will likely find you; the least of which being the loss of your hunting privileges.
I have carried firearms daily my entire adult life, both open and concealed. In no way am I suggesting for you to be unprepared to exercise your legal right to self defense against all comers, be it animals or humans. My intent here is to share some gear and philosophy ideas not readily found in traditional hunting articles.
Obviously as hunters, we always carry at least one capable weapon while hunting. I have continually struggled with the pros & cons and oftentimes, legality of carrying additional weapons, e.g. handgun for self-defense while hunting. Just as importantly is how to carry additional weapons along with all my critical gear so as to have it readily available when most needed.
I have a garage full of handgun holsters, rifle packs, backpacks, binocular chest rigs, load carrying vest configuration and even various leg packs I have used professionally and ultimately experimented with while hunting. The problem lies with wearing most of this gear for extended periods of time. While performing great for a few hours and generally looking pretty bad ass, they really don’t ride well against your body or work well with traditional hunting gear for extended periods of time and/or miles. Additionally, the vast majority of weapon support gear is very socially awkward to wear in public and draws unwanted attention. I am a firm believer in the “Grey Man” mentality. Move through society carrying weapons unnoticed by the good guys and bad. This is obviously much easier to do with a concealed carry permit, which I highly encourage putting the effort into obtaining.
Before I completely lose some of my readers believing I may be a tree hugging pacifist, I will cover a few thoughts on the full-size handguns I carry while hunting in bear country. My main large bore hunting handgun is a Smith & Wesson model 629, in .44 Rem. Magnum. I load with Federal Premium, 300 grain solid hard cast flat nose lead bullets. When hunting south of the 44th parallel, I pack my every day carry handgun, a Springfield XD-45. I load with Buffalo Bore 45 ACP +P, 255gr solid hard cast flat nose lead bullets. A note of caution, these high performance rounds can push the tolerances of handguns, so I recommend not shooting them for practice. Because of the weight and size of these handguns, my holster placement of choice is on my backpack hip belt on my right side. This location is where my brain knows from a lifetime of carry to find my weapon. I use secure holsters that also provide good protection from the elements while still being reasonably quick to draw from. This setup works well with one real drawback being my handgun leaves my body when I drop my backpack. Whatever you choose to carry, I strongly urge you to practice often and with the setup you will use in the field. Muscle memory is critical in stressful situations.
Okay, with the grunting’s of approval for my choice in large caliper handgun carry out of the way, I will get onto my RIBZ Front Pack kit. I have worn my basic RIBZ Front Pack configuration for 900+ miles backpacking the PCT, multiple mountain climbs and many hunting seasons. The following is a list of the primary gear I carry in my RIBZ Front pack while hunting. Obviously, some adjustments are made based on primary weapon, season, terrain, state laws, etcetera. Additionally, I am not sponsored by any of the following products nor am I receiving compensation for including them in this article.
- RIBZ Front Pack. The latest version of RIBZ Front Packs is one size fits all. Capacity is 7 liters and weighs 11 oz. RIBZ Front Packs are great for carrying everything I want for my immediate use. I own three colors of the latest production RIBZ packs. I have modified my RIBZ Packs by shortening the straps to my build and lengthening the pull tabs. I have also integrated a small padded nylon holster to securely hold small framed handguns from moving and rubbing. When carrying full size handguns in my RIBZ Front Pack, I place the weapon top down with the grip facing inboard. I mitigate the rubbing and printing by sandwiching the handgun in a light flexible leather. This works extremely well and no one is the wiser of what I carry. Only do this if you are legally able to conceal carry a weapon!
- Smith & Wesson Model 317 Kit Gun. The 317 Kit Gun is an eight shot, 22 LR caliber, aluminum alloy J-frame revolver that weighs in at 11.7 oz. The 317 Kit Gun is extremely well made and will fire the majority of all the 22 caliber line up of ammunition with little chance of failure. The versatility of the 22 LR caliber is well known for taking small game, dispatching large game when done properly, audibly signaling location, etcetera. Best of all is the light weight and small size of the ammunition.
- Bear Spray. Based on studies from big bear country, bear spray is your best defense against anything large, dangerous and charging you. In my experience, it is difficult in the best of circumstances to make accurate shots on moving targets, even with extensive training. Bear spray is easy to use, legal to carry and you can walk the spray cloud into your aggressor. Luckily, I have never had to use bear spray on an aggressive animal in the wild, though I do have extensive experience with similar products professionally. I currently have a new canister of Frontiersman bear spray. As soon as the expiration date draws near on my bear spray canisters, I practice drawing and deploying the contents in a safe down wind manner.
- Bear spray holster by Mystery Ranch. Mystery Ranch’s bear spray holster has been an absolute game changer in efficiently carrying bear spray. The Mystery Ranch holster nests securely to the middle of the latest version of the RIBZ Front Pack, making deploying easily with either hand. The one modification I have made to my Mystery Ranch bear spray holster is to add a small lightweight carabiner clipping the top of the holster to a ring on my RIBZ Pack strap. The carabiner keeps the bear spray holster attached to my RIBZ Pack when the two halves of the pack are unzipped.
- Slingshot. The Simple Shot, Scout Gen 2 hunting slingshot is small, lightweight and virtually indestructible. Before you start laughing and dismiss the idea of a slingshot outright; having a slingshot with you hunting is a lot of fun and can be useful in many ways. I use my slingshot to accurately create noise where I direct, encouraging game to break cover, rise from beds and sometimes move in a desired direction. Additionally, I use my slingshot with great success dissuading range cattle, black bears, and nuisance critters from getting in my business. With practice, you can confidently use a slingshot to quietly harvest small game.
- Camera. Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX80. I am currently using the Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-HX80 because of it’s 18.2 Mega pixel quality photos, 30x optical zoom, size, weight and most of all Bluetooth capability to send photos and videos to my smart phone. My smart phone automatically backs up my photos and videos to the cloud for multiple layers of protective redundancy.
- Binoculars. Leupold 10 X 42, BX-3 Mojave Pro Guide HD, are my most often used binoculars for general Western States hunting. My advice here is to spend as much as you can justify on binoculars. Secondly, find a way to hold your binoculars steady and securely for extended periods of glassing. I am currently using a Primos Gen 3 short Trigger Stick for my glassing and shooting platform. I accomplish this with an easily made aluminum binocular cradle, attached to a Trigger Stick camera mount. I find this dual purpose set up works exceptionally well.
- inReach Explorer by Garmin. The ability to stay in touch with family, friends and call for emergency rescue from anywhere cannot be overstated. I have used my inReach satellite communicator extensively for the past several years without problems. When combined with Garmin Earthmate app, communicating anywhere is quick and easy.
- Two Way Radio. Midland Xtra Talk GXT. The value of two-way radios is well known. I recommend using water-resistant two-way radios along with quality earbuds for quiet communications. My hunting companions all carry two way radios and we have established safety check in schedules. I also recommend understanding the different power output levels between GRMS and FRS channels.
- Range finder. Leica Rangemaster 1200. Leica products are great quality and have never let me down. Knowing the range to your target is critical for accurate shots.
- Headlamp. Streamlight Enduro. I like this particular model because it is small, powerful, simple to use and very reliable. I recommend always keeping a headlamp or flashlight on your person.
- Ammunition. When hunting with a muzzleloader, I always carry two pre-weighed charges, bullets and extra 209 primers in easy to use plastic tubes in my RIBZ Front Pack.
- Hiking poles. Though not carried in my RIBZ Front Pack, hiking poles fulfill an important safety roll in my kit deserving a mention. Hiking poles are probably the number one item that will keep you from getting seriously injured in the field from a fall at the very worst possible time. Hiking poles are a great defense against poisonous snakes and make you look much more formable to all animals. Many call using hiking poles, “four-wheel drive hiking”. Hiking poles will increase your hiking stamina and relieve stress on all your joints, especially your knees. I personally prefer Black Diamond carbon hiking poles and use them almost always in the field.
During my outdoorsman’s life and professional career, I have had confrontations with a brown bear, several black bears, a mountain lion, several range cattle and many aggressive dogs. First and foremost, understand your mind is the true weapon! Any traditional weapons or non-lethal deterrents used are nothing more than tools. With less than lethal options added to your kit, this enables you to use an escalation of force (if deemed safe and appropriate), and perhaps a more desirable outcome in the long run.
My friends I will leave you with this; the most dangerous predator on this planet is you. Own it! Stay safe and good hunting. ~ Old School
Old School Hunter is an accomplished outdoor writer, home builder, mountain climber, long distance hiker, certified farrier, certified packer, and a devoted husband, father and grandfather. “Old School” as given by his trail family on the Pacific Crest Trail, retired from one of the largest west coast law enforcement agencies where he dedicated 35 years of his life.