Christmas is just around the corner, and if you’re a deer hunter you’ve got to have a plan. Otherwise, you’ll get gloves or a deer-themed jigsaw puzzle or a little plastic buck that stands on top of your dashboard and makes a rub whenever you hit a bump. So, here’s your plan: Look through this list of serious deer hunting gear, pick a favorite, pull up the Amazon link on the family laptop—be sure to select full-screen—and walk away. Then repeat from now until Christmas Eve.
Many of the items on this list are already my go-to deer hunting tools, and most of the others soon will be. So as long as your loved ones are paying attention, you’re going to have a happy holiday.
I’m currently running seven or eight different types of non-cellular trail cameras—and this is my favorite. It does everything well. It’s fast; it has an 80-foot detection range and 120-foot IR flash range; it takes very good photos and video; the battery life is off the charts; and it all comes in a smartly designed sub-micro package with a convenient interface, including a 1.5-inch screen that lets you do a quick card check and aim the camera during setup. It also has a handy bracket on the back to instantly adjust camera angle—so no more wedging sticks between the camera and the tree. That should all be enough, but the price is also unbeatable. Really, it may be the perfect trail camera.
If you’re looking to get someone a first deer rifle this year—something affordable but not cheap—look no further than the XPR. You don’t need to take just my word for it (although I’ve shot it a bunch and recommend it highly). Of all the inexpensive-but-accurate rifles that have come down the pike in recent years, none has earned more praise from F&S rifles editor David E. Petzal than the XPR. And if you know Petzal, you know that he generally doesn’t care for inexpensive rifles, and doesn’t offer praise lightly. The XPR has a button-rifled barrel, heavy three-lug bolt, stiff synthetic stock, and an excellent M.O.A. trigger. Unlike many inexpensive bolts, everything on the XPR is tight and runs smoothly—and the gun shoots as well as anything in its class.
Who isn’t hoping to find doe pee in their stocking on Christmas morning? I know I am, as long as it’s Tink’s Hot Shot Gel Stream. I had actually gotten away from using urine-based scents until this stuff came along, because with most brands the pee ends up dribbling down the side of the bottle and onto your hands and your clothing, and pretty soon you and all your gear smells like the bathrooms of hell. But Tink’s Hot Shot Gel Stream spray bottle keeps it all tidy and contained. When you’re ready to apply, it neatly shoots a stream of stink up to 10 feet away, which means you can spray it into a scrape or onto a trail without contaminating the sign with your own odor.
There comes a time in a deer hunter’s life when you shouldn’t have to bust your butt—or pull a muscle or risk a coronary—to hang up a deer. With this hoist, you press a button and it’ll lift the heaviest buck (up to 440 pounds) as high as you want it (up to 40 feet). And when the job is done, you can stand back, rest your button-pushing finger, and appreciate the joy of working smarter, not harder. For any hunter who is, say, a little past their physical prime, this will be a very welcome gift, and it costs only around $90.
For decades I didn’t understand why anyone would pay more than $50 for a deer hunting knife. They are simple tools, and ones that I tend to mistakenly leave in gut piles, anyway. But then I was given a Benchmade Saddle Mountain Hunter—and suddenly understood the whole perfect-marriage-of-form-and-function thing. Since then, I’ve gotten my hands on the new Pardue Hunter, a collaboration between Benchmade and Alabama custom knifemaker Mel Pardue, and I like it even better. It’s a full-tang drop-point made of CPM-S30V powdered stainless steel, which takes a scary edge and holds it well. The handle is Micarta with the look of wood grain. The lines are classic and graceful. Just shy of 8 inches long, with a 3.5-inch blade, the Pardue Hunter is not too big for deer hunting and big enough for larger game should the need arise. All told, it’s simple, gorgeous, and made for serious work.
Knives make such great gifts, I can’t let it go at just one. And I can’t leave out the classic deer knife. If you are someone who still doesn’t want to spend more than $50 on a hunting blade, the Buck 110 Folder is a great choice and an American-made icon. When it was introduced in 1964, the 110 was unlike anything that had come before it; it had the strength of a fixed blade, the convenience of a folder, and it was handsome as all get out. Today’s model is trimmer than the original (a good thing) but still as elegant and indestructible as ever, and the 3.75-inch stainless-steel blade takes a keen edge and requires little maintenance. Since 1964, Buck has sold over 15 million 110s. I think it’s safe to say that no knife has unzipped more deer, or made its way under more Christmas trees.
Lone Wolf Hand Climber Combo II & Summit Viper SD
This is a twofer because what a deer hunter wants in a climbing stand depends on who they are and how they hunt.
As mostly a bowhunter, my favorite climbing stand—and I’ve tried them all—is the Lone Wolf Hand Climber Combo. It’s just 17.5 pounds and folds down as skinny as a pizza box. The traction-belt-and-lever attachment system is the best there is, period. It’s rock-solid on the tree and built to last. While the open front is perfect for bowhunting, it does make climbing a little more demanding compared to a sit-and-climb. The Hand Climber is not made for all-day comfort and is a bit pricey, too, but for hit-and-run bowhunting, there’s nothing better.
The Summit Viper SD, on the other hand, is probably the most popular climbing stand in the deer woods because it is made for all day comfort, it is easy to climb with, and the price is fair. It’s not as packable and lightweight as the Lone Wolf, nor is the attachment system as simple or precise, but it’s a great all-around stand that works for bowhunters and gun hunters alike.
I know you’ve never been shaking too hard to get a range on a big buck, but I have, and that’s why the Monarch 3000 is on my list. Even when you’re trembling, the unit holds the image still, letting you get the reticle on target for a precise range. It’s as handy for up-close bowhunting buck fever as it is for long-range rifle hunting when magnification and distance make it hard to hold steady. I used the original version on a Colorado mule deer hunt a couple years back and was amazed at how well it worked. This latest version has an improved hi-vis red display with five brightness levels and extends the unit’s range to almost two miles on reflective surfaces. The 3000 also features Incline/Decline Technology for true horizontal distance and is both waterproof and fogproof.
There’s a paragraph’s worth of technical jargon that describes this over-engineered bib, but all you need to know is that it’s PrimaLoft and WindStopper wrapped in thick, water-resistant Berber fleece—and it is the warmest late-season garment out there (that isn’t a sleeping bag). It’s also super-quiet, loaded with handy pockets, and, with its full-length two-way zippers, easy to put on over pants and boots after you’ve hiked to your stand or blind. At around $400, it is crazy expensive—but worth every penny. This bib will get you in the woods on days when you wouldn’t go otherwise, and it’ll keep you there longer. (There’s a matching jacket that is just as good and just as pricey, but if you’re going to buy one or the other, get the bib.)
I’m going to go ahead and guess that the person buying for you isn’t going to spend $2,300. (Otherwise, a pair of Swarovski SLC HD 15x56s would be a Wow! gift.) Probably not a $1,000 either, right? (Nikon’s Monarch HG 10x42s would be awfully nice, too.) That’s not a problem. Because these days, it only takes a few hundred bucks to get a darn good deer hunting binocular, and Bushnell’s new Nitro 10×42 is exactly that. The company’s optics are known for their weather-resistance and durability, and with ED Prime glass, the Nitro is sharper and clearer than it has any right to be for $350 (street price).
For more Holiday Gift Ideas, see our Holiday Gift Guide.
The best gifts are the ones you can put to use right away, and with late-muzzleloader seasons opening now, who wouldn’t want to unwrap a new smokepole? The break-action Accura V2 features a Bergara 416 stainless-steel barrel, available in a variety of lengths up to 30 inches, with or without Nitride rust-proofing. Every rifle in the line has CVA’s excellent Quick Release Breech Plug (which you can easily remove with just your fingers) and one-screw disassembly for easy cleaning. You also get a sling, fiber-optic sights or installed scope mount, and the company’s “Best Muzzleloader You’ve Ever Shot Guarantee,” which means you can shoot it for up to two weeks and send it back if you don’t love it. Starting at just $450, the Accura V2 is a whole lot of muzzleloader for the money. Unwrap it Christmas morning and take it hunting Christmas afternoon.