The Ultimate Bowhunting Fanny Pack

Every hunter has an idea about what gear is essential for the limited space in a fanny pack. You might want to add or subtract from your list after reading about these 20 must-have items.

By Mike Zlotnicki

More than one hunter's wife has called the fanny pack "a man's purse." In fact, if you empty the contents of 10 different ladies' purses, you'll find something different in each one. Empty the contents of 10 different hunters' fanny packs, and much of the gear will look the same, especially among bowhunters' fanny packs. There are some "essentials" that almost everyone carries.

But dig a little deeper in the pile, and you'll probably find something that you can adopt for your own use. The following list of items includes both basics and perhaps some items you haven't thought of before. They are listed in no particular order, and most can be used by gun hunters as well as archers. Costs shown are a rough entry-level price for each item and prove that you don't have to break the bank to become a better bowhunter.

No list of contents would be complete without some information on the container. Fanny packs come in many different sizes, configurations, camo patterns and materials. Most of these are a matter of personal preference and intended use, but look for a model that has somewhere around 500 cubic inches of capacity. Some have auxiliary holders for water bottles or GPS units.

One overriding concern in choosing a fanny pack is whether it's waterproof or not. All things being equal, a waterproof pack will do a better job of protecting your equipment than a non-waterproof model will. Some equipment is of little use or can be ruined by a sudden downpour or a slip while fording a stream.

Cost: $25.

No other piece of equipment is as basic and useful as a good knife. But what kind of knife? Forget the Rambo-style Bowie knife with polished bevels and a saw back. It's hard to argue with a folding knife that has a locking blade that is 4 to 5 inches long. Why is it in a fanny pack when it comes with a nice sheath for your belt? That's simple: The fewer things outside the pack, the fewer things there are to snag while you are climbing or moving in your stand. Silence is golden in the deer woods.

Cost: $40.

The "ultimate" bowhunting fanny pack carries some fundamental items and some that are a matter of taste -- thing that have been useful in the past. Photo by Mike Zlotnicki

A handy piece of equipment for any hunter is a 50-foot length of parachute cord with a dull, bungee-cord-style hook tied to one end. Many hunters already use a length of cord to pull their weapon up into the stand once positioned, but tying a blunt hook allows the careless hunter to retrieve a dropped bow or hat without climbing down the tree and creating a ruckus. Spare rope is just plain handy for dealing with a number of unanticipated problems. Parachute cord is also constructed of nylon threads, which can be pulled out of the cord jacket and used as shoelaces or other applications in a pinch.

Cost: $5.

Toilet paper, stored in a quart-sized zip-lock bag, has other uses besides the obvious. Fogged up or dirty lenses can be wiped clean in the stand. When tracking an animal, toilet paper makes an excellent biodegradable visual trail marker.

Storing it in a zip-lock bag serves two purposes: It keeps the paper dry, and the zip-lock bag makes an excellent urinal or trash bag while you are in the tree.

Cost: $3.

A bottle of doe-in-estrus or dominant buck urine is a staple in many hunters' fanny packs, especially during the pre-rut and rut. Cover scents like fox or raccoon urine are also popular for some. Store these in a zip-lock bag to avoid smelling like an incontinent animal traipsing around your stand; the zip-lock bag will keep your other gear safe in case of a spill.

Cost: $10.

Grunt tubes have steadily grown in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. It's hard to spook a deer while calling, and you never know when an unseen buck may be lured into range. Savvy hunters also use calls replicating a doe's bleat to lure bucks and does within range.

Be careful hanging any call around your neck while bowhunting. A neck lanyard can tangle in a drawn bowstring, causing serious injury. While in the tree, store the call tucked in your jacket or shirt or in the breast pocket of your shirt or jacket opposite of your draw hand.

Cost: $10.

Experienced hunters can field dress a deer with nary a drop of blood spilled. Those that aren't as adept with a knife can carry a pair of latex surgical gloves to use when wielding the blade. After field dressing, simply put the gloves in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag.

Your gear will stay cleaner, and you can stop worrying about touching your steering wheel or sandwich with soiled hands. The larger zip-locks are good for packing out the heart or liver cleanly after field dressing an animal.

Cost: Pennies per pair.

While deer hunting is typically a solitary endeavor on the stand, many hunters take to the woods with a regular hunting buddy. Two-way radios certainly have a place in the fanny packs of those who share a hunting area.

Most of the lower-power models have a 2-mile range, which is adequate for most situations. Hunters can alert each other about deer movements, call after a shot or summon help in the event of mishap. Radios can be especially effective when you are tracking deer or conducting drives. Radios can be real time-savers when you are coordinating entry and egress or summoning a vehicle to carry out an animal.

Many radios have call buttons that trigger an audible signal when pressed. Make sure you know how it operates, and be sure to carry your radio in such a way as to avoid accidentally activating it when you are on the stand. Also check your channel setting and volume before entering a hunting area.

Cost: $75 a pair.

Cellular (and d

igital) phones have soared in popularity in recent years. Those who are taking to the woods solo should strongly consider carrying one of those phones in their fanny packs, switched off until needed.

Statistics have shown that 40 percent of hunting accidents involve tree stands, which is reason enough for the deer hunter to carry one. With a cellular phone, help is but a phone call away. Without one, the deer woods become a whole lot bigger and much more foreboding. A cell phone can save your life or the life of someone else.

Cost: It depends on the phone and calling plan but doesn't really matter; get one and carry it with you. The day you need it, it will be worth any amount of money.

A folding pruning saw is high on the list of fanny pack must-haves. A saw will do any job pruning shears can do and more, especially the more expensive saws that are available with interchangeable blades. Limbing out a tree is only the start.

Building ground blinds is a snap. A small length of sapling, cut about 2 feet long and inserted into a slit in a doe's hocks, makes it a whole lot easier to drag a rackless deer back to the truck. Larger animals can be quartered with a bone blade. The bone blade can also be used to remove a skullcap for a rack mount.

A pruning saw is safer, cheaper and more versatile than hatchets, machetes or shears. Choose a model with a blade that only cuts when pulled (not pushed). This is a great feature when you are trying to maintain balance in a stand.

Cost: About $15.

Once you've used a clip-on flashlight, you'll never want to be without one. The better models have a swivel head for added versatility. Big multi-cell flashlights and Q-beams have their place, but not in a fanny pack.

A small flashlight clipped on the bill of a cap makes carrying a slingless bow easier when getting to or from a stand, and the clip-on light allows for hands-free field dressing in the dark. Having two hands free when you are prepping a climber for ascent is also more convenient, and you won't be drooling and grinding your teeth to nubs with a light clenched in your mouth.

Cost: $10.

Nothing will ruin a bowhunt quicker than leaving your mechanical release in the truck or at home. Releases can also break or fail in the field. Simply leave a spare in your fanny pack and never worry about it again. When choosing a release, remember that those that have a buckle fastener are far quieter than the Velcro models.

Cost: $50.

Both gun hunters and bowhunters can benefit from having a multi-tool in their fanny packs. Gun hunters will find the tool sufficient for tightening scope mounts, slings and the like. Bowhunters can rubber-band some Allen-head wrenches and a broadhead wrench to the tool and have all of their fastener needs taken care of.

The tool will see use back at the truck or camp so often that you'll wonder why you didn't have one sooner. Just make sure it doesn't get permanently "borrowed." These things grow legs.

Cost: $50.

A pair of 7- or 8-power compact binoculars always has a place in a serious hunter's fanny pack, including a bowhunter's. Certainly, a bowhunter will rely on the eyeball over the objective lens at close range, but glassing distant cover can alert an archer to approaching animals and help judge an animal long before it nears and when movement is at a premium.

Mind the neck strap when bowhunting. Storing the optics inside a zipped jacket or buttoned shirt will keep the strap out of your bowstring and keep them from swinging into your bow or stand.

Cost: $100

A small spool of dental tape, a form of dental floss, is the perfect field first aid for an unraveling string service. Check your bowstring around the cams and nocking area periodically, and wrap any loose material before you shoot.

A small length of dental tape tied around your bow stabilizer makes an excellent wind indicator and obviates the need for commercial powder (talc) indicators and the movement needed to use them.

Cost: $3.

Although pendulum sights have negated the need for a range finder for many bowhunters, it still doesn't hurt to tag landmarks at the "magic" 30-yard end range that most pendulums have. Archers who use sight pins can mark trees in accordance with how they set their pins. Eliminating guesswork makes for more confidence when Bullwinkle strolls into range.

Gun hunters, especially those hunting fields, cutovers and other open areas, can increase their chances of venison by memorizing the ballistics of their favorite loads and using a range finder to survey their stand sites.

Cost: $50 for bow (optical focus); $170 for gun (laser).

How many times have you been around a great "photo op" and had no camera to record the moment? A decent point-and-shoot doesn't take up much room in a fanny pack. Today's "disposable" cameras take passable photos and are even smaller. Keeping a camera with you all season and mounting the pictures in a photo album is a great way to relive the memories of seasons long after they're gone.

A couple of tips for better pictures: Always use your flash (even in bright sun); fill up the frame with the subject; and take some vertical shots as well as horizontals.

Cost: $10 for disposable; $100 for point-and-shoot.

That's right, tampons. You can't buy a better scent wick than a tampon. They are super-absorbent, have a handy string for hanging on twigs and limbs and store easily in a zip-lock after a hunt. Seal the bag with the strings hanging out for easiest (cleanest) use.

The types that don't have plastic applicators are simplest, but you can use the applicator-type by removing the tampon before use. When applying scent to a tampon, do not shove the tampon down the neck of a scent bottle. You'll never get it out. Instead, hold it flush with the opening and tip the bottle.

Cost: $3 for 20.

If you are hunting in an area where screw-in tree steps are permitted, carrying a spare means you'll always have a place to hang your bow, binoculars or fanny pack, whether you're using a cli

mbing stand or a fixed (chain-on) stand. A bow hung with the riser at hand level can be retrieved with almost no perceptible movement.

Commercial bow hangers that look like miniature tree steps are available, but why not use something stronger that can support your weight should you need to replace a step at a chain-on stand? Choose a model with both a folding screw and a folding step for compact storage.

Cost: $3.

Carrying a reliable source of fire, such form of waterproof matches or a lighter, is always a good idea when you are in the woods. Waterproof matches can be stored in a zip-lock bag. A rubber band around the ends will keep the box from spilling.

Choose a lighter with a flip-up cap or at least a childproof lock on the gas trigger. Lighters with an exposed gas trigger can be emptied inadvertently when the trigger is depressed by other gear shifting in your fanny pack.

Cost: $2.

* * *
The purpose of this article was not to burden the hunter with a 50-pound fanny pack, and certainly many items were not discussed. Treat this list like a new chili recipe; add some items, delete some items, and don't be afraid to try something new. Other than perhaps the knife, there are no absolutes here, just some ideas to make your time afield more enjoyable and more efficient. Your pack's contents will be dictated by various factors affecting your individual hunting style, tactics and terrain. For example, a compass is a very handy piece of gear to have with you.

Part of the allure of a well-thought-out fanny pack lies in the satisfaction of knowing that no matter what Lady Luck throws at you in the field, help is on your hip.

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