Elk Hunting Gear




What are the really critical things that you need?

This is Bob.

Good Friend, Hunting Buddy, and Gear Competitor.

I think I’ll blame it on Bob.  My oversized collection of elk hunting gear and elk camping gear. 

I’ll admit that my collection started before I met Bob.  Mail order catalogs were gasoline to a fire that already burned within me.  In those days before the internet, the glossy photos on page after page fueled my imagination. 

I could be a more successful hunter… 

I could be so much more comfortable in elk camp…

But after hunting a few years with Bob, gear collection became a competition.  Unpacking and setting up elk camp became a time to strut our stuff.  “I can’t wait for Bob to see what I brought this year!”

Bob passed away a few years ago, so I no longer have a gear competitor.  But now I have an entire storage shed and a whole wall in my garage dedicated to storing my gear.  Not to mention some of the closets inside the house.  Some of it is outdated and should go by the wayside.  But I’ll admit that it’s hard to part with things that have so many great memories associated with them.

Now that I’m older, wiser, and semi-retired (think less money), I ponder my purchases more carefully.  I can go elk hunting for many years with only the gear I have now.

I see many questions from hunters planning their first elk hunt.  They are early in the gear collection phase of their hunting lives, and want to get good stuff.  They are prepared to lay down large sums of cash, or at least give their credit cards a workout.  When they ask for opinions, they get an ear full.  Opinions are like noses.  Most people have one.

I decided to put together a list of my critical gear.  The stuff I won’t go hunting without.

In no particular order…


Obviously, we need a weapon to hunt.  But does it have to be the latest and greatest?  Technology has advanced greatly in the last couple of decades, and it hasn’t missed the archery and firearm industries.

But do you really need a new weapon to go elk hunting?  It might be a great excuse to buy one.  However, if you currently own a weapon that is lethal, and more importantly, that you can shoot accurately, it will probably be fine.

If you do need to buy a new weapon, you don’t necessarily need top of the line.  While it may be a good investment, it won’t make you a better hunter.


My collection of camouflage clothing is quiet diverse.  I have multiple patterns and styles.  My favorite camo pattern is All-Purpose Realtree, but almost any pattern will work.  Avoid very dark patterns, because most of elk country is not dark like eastern hardwoods.

My primary requirement for elk hunting clothing is that it is comfortable and quiet.  I can’t bear anything that swishes when I walk.

You can easily spend $250 on a pair of hunting pants.  But unless you are going on an extended, extreme backcountry hunt and can only take one pair of pants, it may not be worth it.  The same could be said for virtually all your articles of hunting clothing.

One caution about base layers: do not buy cotton!  You will no doubt perspire, and you need a material that will wick the moisture away from your body.  Cotton just retains moisture and conducts heat away from your body.  If I were in the market for a base layer, I would buy merino wool.  It is the top of the line material, and has the added advantage that it doesn’t retain odor.  There are cheaper alternatives that will work almost as well, but if you plan to use them on more than one hunt, it’s probably worth it to go with merino wool.

Here is a link to my web page where I go into more detail on clothing.


Boots may be one of the most critical items of elk hunting gear that you will buy.  This is because you will likely put many hard miles on them in rough country.  They need to fit well, or your hunt may be over before it starts.  Some boots require a break in period as they form to your feet, so take that into account when buying. 

I like to buy uninsulated boots, 1/2 size too big. Then I wear 2 thick pairs of merino wool socks.  This gives me cushion and insulated that is easily changed.  It keeps my feet comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.

So you need $500 boots?  I have done just fine with boots that cost half that.  But with my next pair I may upgrade.  Taking care of your dogs is important.


The pack you choose may depend on the type of hunting you do. 

If you plan on a backpack hunt, you’ll need something that can do triple duty:  Pack your camping and hunting gear in; Pack your daily hunting gear; Pack your elk out.

Some folks prefer a dual duty pack.  Smaller than a full size backpacking pack, but built on a frame.  This type of pack allows you to carry your daily hunting gear, but also gives you the ability to load it down with elk meat.

I actually have two packs.  One is my daypack that carries my daily hunting gear.  It’s actually a large fanny pack with shoulder straps and a waist belt that is as good as any backpacking pack.  My second pack is a large frame pack with a shelf and a bag specifically to pack out meat.  Since I typically hunt no more than a few miles from a road, I leave the frame pack at camp or in the vehicle and go back to get it if and when I need it.


“Buy the best optics you can afford.”  That advice is commonly repeated.  But the same advice could be given for all of your elk hunting gear.  Good quality optics can make a huge difference in your hunt.  I’ve learned that lesson the hard way more than once.  However, is there that much difference between binoculars that cost several thousand dollars versus those that cost several hundred dollars?  Since I have never spent thousands for optics, I guess you know my opinion.

What about a spotting scope?  To be honest with you, I don’t even own one.  Yes, there have been situations where I wished for one.  But there is no way I am going to lug all of that extra weight around with me hunting each day.  If you are a trophy hunter looking for something specific, then you’ll need a spotting scope.  This is one item that has never floated above my “Must Have” line.


I hunted for years with a compass and a map.  I still carry them and I recommend that all hunters carry them and know how to use them.  However, since I bought my first GPS, it has become one of my critical list items.  It makes navigation so much easier, and has saved me many miles of walking.

My GPS is a very basic model without the bells and whistles.  It does most everything I want to do, and then some.  I installed an SD card with a state specific a state specific map that shows roads, trails, and property boundaries.  This is extremely useful, especially when hunting areas near private land.


If I’m hunting solo, I don’t carry a radio, but any time I’m hunting with buddies we carry 2-way radios.  If you have never been to elk country you may not realize what a challenge communication can be.  Cell phones don’t work in most places.  It’s really nice to be able to keep track of your buddies so you can call for help if you need it, or make arranges to meet.  Connection distances are limited based on radio power and terrain, but they can be very handy.  These devices are not expensive, and don’t add a lot of weight to your pack.


I usually hunt during the rut, so I carry a variety of calls.  Calling elk is one of the most exciting hunting tactics there is.  But even if I am hunting outside the rut, I still carry a diaphragm call.  I can make virtually any elk sound with this type of call, and you never know when you will need one.

Well, there you have it.  My take on critical elk hunting gear.  Yes there are many other accessories that may be nice to have, and many that I do have.  However, if I had to boil it down to a critical list, this would be it.

What I didn’t include is the contents of my pack.  In general, I have a kill kit, first aid kit, emergency kit, water and snacks.  In cold weather I’ll carry extra socks, gloves and a beanie.  I’ll likely go into more details at a later time.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any brand names.  That was intentional.  Each one of these categories of elk hunting gear merits much deeper discussion of features, brands, etc.  And those discussions will bring out opinions.  It sounds like topics for future posts.

What About You?

What do you think of my list of critical elk hunting gear?  Is there anything you would add to or subtract from the list?  Take a few minutes and let me know what you think in the comment section below.


  1. Carl

    I like your post! You can have all the best gear in the world and be a pretty unsuccessful elk Hunter. You can also be like me and use a 1945 sporterized Enfield 30-06 and other old gear and kill a 6 point like I did last year. But you gotta have the critical items. I like your list!

    • Jimmie Norris

      Carl, Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your 6 point. Your rifle sounds like a tried and true classic. My dad used to hunt with one when I was a kid.

  2. Ray

    I’ll loan you the pair of binos I bought from Bob’s widow and let you see if you think there is a difference.

    • Jimmie Norris

      Ray, I’d love to use Bob’s binoculars, for sentimental reasons if for nothing else. I don’t doubt that they are better than mine (Bob usually did win our competition). My point is that some people feel that they can’t go elk hunting unless they spend thousands of dollars on top of the line gear. For my kind of hunting, my $200 on sale binoculars do what I need.

      I feel like Bob is still competing with me from the grave. Ha Ha! I miss that guy!

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Jimmie is a retired high tech engineer who now spends his time writing about elk hunting, selling Real Estate, and doing DIY projects.

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