OPEN SEASON—TOP 10 GEAR PICKS FOR 2021’S EARLY-SEASON BIG-GAME HUNTS
It’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here! It’s September, the time of year of every hunter in America that kicks off “hunting season.” It doesn’t even matter if you didn’t actually have a hunting season open on September 1, though that certainly makes that day that much better. What does matter is that we can put the long hot summer behind us and focus on doves swooping across cut sunflower fields, greenwing teal dropping into secret honey holes, a first shot at an archery buck just out of velvet, or fine-tuning plans for a coveted elk tag draw and a hunt you have scheduled eight weeks from now.
In this first of several columns to come, we’re focusing on gear for early big-game seasons and prepping for big-game hunts taking place in the months ahead. No matter what you’re hunting or where you’re hunting it, and whether archery, muzzleloader, shotgun, or rifle, these picks are destined to give you an edge—and put wild game on your dinner table.
1. Bushnell's Prime 1800 Laser Rangefinder with ActivSync
Whether the last time you bought a rangefinder was 10 years ago or you treat yourself to a new one every year, the Prime 1800 with ActivSync is the rangefinder to beat all others. It has all the things you’d expect from Bushnell: 6X magnification, fully coated optics, our EXO Barrier protection that means you’ll always have a clear view regardless the weather conditions, ARC, Brush, Bullseye, Rifle, Bow, and Scan modes … The list goes on, but among all the top-end technology included in this rangefinder, the one that stands out the most is the ActivSync display that transitions from red to black depending on the background you’re scanning and the available light. That means on days with nothing but sunlight, you don’t have a readout in red that’s too bright to read accurately. Likewise, you don’t have to struggle to view a black readout when it’s raining and that big, dark, wet buck pokes his head out of the woods.
Between the two, the display automatically and gradually morphs between red and black, optimizing its readability against the background as you scan—yes, it’s that good. And because we know you’ve never seen anything like it, once you have this technology in your hand, no other rangefinder will ever do.
2. Prime Low Glow Trail Camera
Where one trail camera is good, two, three, or four are certainly better. The problem with deploying multiple trail cams for many, though, is the cost of the camera itself. Go bare bones and dirt cheap, and disappointment is in your future. Narrow it down to one super-expensive cam with all the bells and whistles on the other hand, and you may never know what’s on your property.
There is a solution: Bushnell’s Prime Low Glow Trail Camera. This is one piece of gear in which you get more than what you pay for. Just a few of the features include a .4-second trigger speed, 100 feet of night range thanks to 36 Low Glow LED lights, full-color images available in 3MP, 12MP, or 20 MP, 60-second video capability, 32GB of storage, and a date/time/temp stamp on every photo. It also runs from -5º to 140º Fahrenheit with up to 12 months of battery life from just six AA batteries, and it’s compatible with the Master Lock Python lock. With a budget-friendly price point, even the most frugal hunters can install multiple trail cams across their hunting grounds.
3. Primos Mossy Oak Bottomland Soft Bow Case
If you’re going to make a shot that counts, you need to protect the gear from which the shot is made. The Mossy Oak Bottomland Soft Bow Case from Primos does just that, fitting almost any hunting bow out there without having to remove your sight. A built-in string and cam cover provides needed coverage of delicate areas while adjustable straps keep your bow from shifting around. On the outside, you get a full-length exterior pocket for arrow storage and three zippered compartments for smaller gear like flashlights, bug dope, and knives.
Those compartments are mirrored on the inside, but these are topped with mesh for easy viewing. Add in a pair of D-rings that let you hang the case just about anywhere, including the canopy bars of an ATV/UTV, and backpack straps that make carrying a breeze, and you’ll never again just toss your bow in the backseat of your pickup and hope it survives the trip to the treestand.
4. Hidesight Hunting Blind
Early-season hunts demand a smartly designed ground blind. The Hidesight Hunting Blind from Primos gets an A+ in that respect, with seven Max View windows, a roomy 56X56-inch footprint, and a generous interior height of 67 inches. That’s ample room for two hunters and their gear, and the full-length top-to-bottom zipper at the rear provides an opening wide enough for entry by mobility-impaired hunters in wheelchairs. The blind weighs just 20 pounds and comes with its shoulder-strapped carry bag, but perhaps the best part of this blind is its low-sheen exterior in Primos Ground Swat camouflage, an ingenious pattern that all but disappears into just about any terrain, from hardwood stands to sagebrush flats.
Tip: Add in the Double Bull Ground Blind Tri Stool. You’ll have a comfy place to sit when you need to put in the hours, and at just 6½ pounds, you won’t have any trouble hauling it in and out of the field.
5. Bushnell's Bone Collector 10X42 Powerview Binocular
If you’re using a ground blind or spot and stalking at eye level with the game you’re after, you and your gear need to blend in to the extreme. The Bone Collector 10X42 Powerview Binocular, covered in Realtree Edge, makes an intelligent choice for close-encounter viewing of antelope, whitetails, and elk, with fully coated optics for an exceptionally clear and fringe-free picture.
This bino has a super-smooth focus ring that’s both oversized and diamond-cut—it’s easy to feel even with gloves on—and the soft-touch rubber housing includes diamond-cut texturing on the sides so you won’t drop this one as you belly crawl and duck walk to close the distance. A close focus of under 10 feet and a built-in tripod adaptor mean this bino is suitable not just for hunting but for year-round wildlife viewing.
6. Advanced Titanium Tripod
Western big-game hunts are as much a game of glassing as anything else. But long hours holding a bino to your face can wear on a hunter, and that’s why the Advanced Titanium Tripod from Bushnell can be an invaluable tool on these kinds of hunts. Standing, sitting, or kneeling behind this three-legged support, you’ll never miss the antlers you’re looking for, thanks to a three-way pan head and dual tilt handles. Use it for binoculars or spotting scopes, and once you have that bad boy on the ground, secure your camera on top for the photo to go next to the taxidermy over the mantle.
7. Featherlight Bino Case
A better way to carry your binocular has been a long time coming, and Butler Creek is first to get it right with the Featherlight Bino Case. Not only does this super-smart bino holder take the weight and strain off your neck and eliminate the glass from swinging around by its strap, it completely protects your glass while providing instant access when needed via the case lid’s silent magnetic closure. A second magnet keeps the lid open as needed. You also have the benefit of MOLLE webbing to attach other gear, several mesh pockets to hold your hunting license, a lens cloth, and other small must-haves, and the harness straps are quick-detach for safety’s sake. The flexible harness was designed to keep the case close to your center mass and, therefore, out of the way of your gun mount or bow draw. Available in three sizes to fit roof-prism binos from 10X42 to 15X56.
8. Butler Creek Comfort Stretch Alaskan Magnum Rifle Sling with Swivels
Lucky enough to be heading to America’s Last Frontier for a grizzly, caribou, moose, mountain goat, or other big game? Then you know you need to be prepared for rough country and often rougher weather. The right clothing and footwear top the “be-prepared” list, but smaller things, like the sling on your rifle, matter too. The Comfort Stretch Alaskan Magnum Rifle Sling from Butler Creek was explicitly designed to more comfortably and securely carry larger, heavier, magnum-caliber rifles needed in big-bear country, reducing the felt weight by up to 50 percent.
That can be a huge bonus when you’re putting in the miles over spongy tundra, and when the going gets really tough, this sling stays in place thanks to its Non-Slip Grippers. The Alaskan Magnum Rifle Sling is also equipped with four spare cartridge holders and a pair of sling swivels, and it’s adjustable in length from 26 to 46 inches. Available in black and Mossy Oak Break Up Country, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades, and Muddy Girl camos.
9. Visicolor Real Life Targets
A well-placed shot on heart and lungs with either arrow or bullet is the fastest way to effect an ethical kill on big-game, but that vital zone varies from species to species. Champion helps refine where to aim on big-game and enhances practice time on the range with its Visicolor Real Life Targets. Available in a 12-pack mix of black bear, whitetail, and pronghorn antelope, these targets have a pair of bull’s-eyes for sighting in and group assessment, plus a set of high-visibility heart/lung vital zone outlines on each full-color game photo that work to perfect your shots.
10. Hoppe’s Elite Gun Tune-Up Kit
While it’s mostly archery and early muzzleloader seasons that are open now, firearm seasons aren’t that far away. Now’s the time to take the opportunity and give your rifles some extra TLC with the Hoppe’s Elite Gun Tune-Up Kit. The four-pack includes three different cleaners to tackle whatever fouling troubles you most—lead, copper, or carbon—while the bottle of Elite Gun Oil puts your firearms back in smooth-as-silk working order and ready for whatever elements find you during your hunt. All are low-odor, and the Elite Gun Cleaner and Elite Foaming Bore Cleaner are ammonia-free.