Much of the beauty of upland hunting (for me, anyway) is derived from the simplicity of the act itself. If you have a comfortable pair of boots, a vest, a shotgun, and a dog (and for some of us even the dog is optional: My first “dog” was my own pair of legs) then you have everything necessary for a successful upland hunt.
However, that does not mean there isn’t ancillary gear (and sometimes a lot of it...) that will help you tremendously in your upland pursuits. And while there is a dizzying array of gear checklists, gear articles, and gear opinions out there on what is and isn’t necessary, ultimately your own individual gear checklist will evolve as you become more experienced.
But if you haven’t yet reached that point of familiarity, it can be quite confusing to know intuitively what you need to bring with you on a typical upland hunt.
To help you break it down, I will list a few of the items that I carry in the field and feel are necessary and important enough that I never leave the house without them.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, or even a complete list of every single item I bring with me, simply because once you get past a certain point your own unique gear list gets increasingly specialized to your own individual needs, preferences, and tastes. These items, on the other hand, are what I consider the necessary basics regardless of experience level.
I’ve broken them down into the four categories by which I try to organize my gear, said categories being: vest, dog, vehicle, and game & gun. I won’t get into the weeds of camping, food, survival, or zombie apocalypse preparedness, although certainly many of the items on my list do cross over if you ever find yourself fleeing the undead.
Rather, these are items directly related to the process and enjoyment of upland hunting. If you always remember to bring these items, you’ll be covered for most scenarios, situations, and “what have I gotten myself into?” jams that you are likely to encounter in the uplands.
Let’s get started...
We’ll begin with the simplest category first—the vest. I don’t carry a huge amount of gear in the field, but what I do carry has been winnowed down over time to what I believe is necessary.
Here’s what’s always in my vest:
- Water: And lots of it. Two 32oz. bottles in holders on my vest, and up to two extra bottles I keep in the game bag. Whatever system you use; bladders, water bottles, whatever, make sure you have enough water to keep both you and your dog hydrated.
- Shotgun shells: enough to cover my atrocious shooting. If I’m hunting prairie grouse or pheasants I’ll usually carry 10-15 shells. If I’m hunting covey birds like quail or Huns 20 is usually as many as I’ll carry, and for dove I carry as many as humanly possible.
- Cell phone with OnX Maps: This has become a game-changer for me. I consider this an indispensable tool, particularly if you hunt public land and public-access walk-in areas or are hunting new areas. It’s good to know where, exactly, you’re standing in areas where borders are poorly marked or non-existent, and the tracking feature will help keep you from getting lost. Use the code PHEASANTS on the OnX website and save 20%!
- Small first-aid kit: I don’t go overboard with my vest kit, and it serves double-duty for both the dog and me. A few assorted bandages and band-aids, tape, vet wrap, a pair of tweezers (for small thorns and splinters) a tube of EMT Gel, and a small bottle of saline eye wash, and that’s about it.
- Six-foot lead: This serves double duty. You never know when you’ll need to leash your dog in the field, and a stout six-foot lead also serves as a tension-release tool if your dog gets caught in a conibear trap.
- Hearing protection: Extremely important, but often overlooked. SoundGear is the gold standard.
- License/stamps/permits: Always double-check and always have them on you in the field.
- Cable cutters: I’ve never had to use them on a snare, but they don’t do me any good in the truck.
- Multi-tool: They’re indispensable, and at some point you will use the needle-nose pliers to pluck out porcupine quills, sandburs, cactus spines, etc.
And that’s about it, really. Obviously, I will adjust that list to weather conditions, duration of hunt, etc. For example, I’ll dress accordingly and throw in gloves and a neck gaiter when it’s cold, (a lightweight sun-blocking fishing gaiter/buff when it’s hot) a sandwich and a protein bar or two if I plan on a death march, but the items above are the ones that stay in the vest season-long.
There’s no doubt that having dogs exponentially increases the size of my crucial upland gear checklist. From electronics to food to first aid, much of what I carry and pack revolves around them, and as such it is correspondingly easy to forget something. If it’s forgettable, I’ve forgotten it, up to and including the dog itself. Yes, I once set out, my truck packed with everything necessary for a four-day hunting trip, as my three dogs silently watched me drive off (temporarily) without loading them up, so obviously the first item on this list is....
- The dog: Self-explanatory...
The rest of the items are a mix of things I always bring on both single and multi-day trips.
- Crate or kennel: My dogs don’t ride loose in the cab. They’re either in kennels or a dog box when the truck is moving.
- Water: I always keep a six-gallon water container in the truck, even on short, close-to-home trips, and on extended trips I typically carry much more for both the dogs and myself.
- Water bowls: Remember to bring a water bowl for each dog on extended trips, especially if they’re going to be staked out. I’m not a fan of foldable or collapsible water bowls, and much prefer the stout rubber bowls you buy at ag stores.
- Tie-out stakes/chain gang: However you prefer to tie out your dogs, don’t forget tie-out stakes or a hammer or mallet with which to drive them.
- Leads/leashes/check cords: I usually carry three or four in the truck because I’m always losing them. I also use an extended 20-foot check cord to air dogs on long trips.
- Extra collars: I’ve had collars fail in the field, so I carry a couple extra collars with my name and contact info on a brass plate.
- Extra dog boots: Your dog will lose them. Oh, yes, he/she will...
- Food: On longer trips, more than you think you’ll need. And don’t forget the scoop you use to measure food at home.
- Canned food/broth: If I have a dog that’s an inconsistent eater, I bring along some canned food or chicken broth to entice it to eat in the evenings.
- Purina Fortiflora: I start giving to my dogs a few days before a trip, and it helps with palatability for picky eaters but most importantly keeps all that gastro-intestinal plumbing in good working order.
- Dog medication/vaccine record: This is an easy one to forget on an extended trip. Also, it is a very good idea to have contact info for local vets in the area you’ll be hunting, just in case.
- Shovel/plastic trash bags: For shoveling and disposing of the by-product of all that digested dog food...
- Bark collar: On extended trips, it will prevent the people camping in the next spot from murdering you.
- Chargers for all your canine electronics: This is the upland version of that one annoying person who always forgets their phone charger and asks to borrow yours. Don’t be that person. Remember all your collar/GPS chargers.
- Extension cord/power strip: This is extremely handy to have on long trips if you need to charge multiple collars/transmitters, phones, camera batteries and other devices but don’t have enough outlets for said devices.
- First aid kit: The first aid kit I keep I keep in the truck is multi-use for both dogs and people. Rather than list the entire contents of my kit, I’ll mention a notable items:
- Disposable skin stapler
- Aerosol wound wash spray/saline solution
- Hydrogen peroxide
- Vet wrap
- Nail clippers
- EMT Gel
- Small flashlight
- Pepto Bismol
- Styptic powder
- Antibiotic ointment
- Telfa pads/bandages/wraps
- Athletic tape
- De-skunk kit (hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, dishwashing soap)
It’s what gets you there and then gets you back out. Beyond transport, it serves as a base of operations, a rolling supply closet, and sometimes a hotel. The uplands, however, place some unique demands on our vehicles, and it’s no fun being stranded on a bird hunt.
I’ve gotten myself into just about every off-road vehicular sticky wicket you can imagine while upland hunting, and as such, my truck is now a rolling contingency plan. However, you don’t need an automotive parts store on wheels to cover the bases of the most common issues you’ll run into in the field. This list is a few basic items I carry to extricate myself from the jams I inevitably find myself in while exploring road-challenged upland areas.
- Tow/Recovery Strap: Everyone gets stuck. I use a tow strap, (which doesn’t stretch) when I must winch myself out. I use a recovery strap (which does stretch) when someone else can pull me out with their vehicle. However, learning where the recovery/attachment points are is critical to avoiding damage to your vehicle and/or injury to people.
- Traction mats/boards: Before I resort to the straps, however, I’ll use these first. They’re great for getting unstuck from mud, snow, and sand.
- Shovel: A good shovel is an indispensable tool, not only for around camp, but for digging yourself out of any number of vehicular messes. Never leave home without one.
- Aftermarket jack: The jack that comes with your vehicle is designed to change a tire on level pavement. It may not be suitable or large enough for changing a tire or lifting a vehicle for recovery on the side of a muddy county road or two-track. I carry both a large bottle jack for tire-changing and a Hi-Lift jack for recovery, as well as several 1-foot sections of 2x10 to use as blocks or as a jack base in muddy conditions.
- Portable air compressor: Forget the cheap plastic ones. Buy a good compressor that will fill a truck tire without melting. Mine cost me about $60, and it’s saved me many times.
- Tire plug kit: There are times when it’s faster, safer, or more convenient to temporarily plug a tire rather than change it. Buy a good, all-metal plug kit and learn how to use it.
- Battery jumpstarter: A dead battery is one of the most common ways to get stranded, and jumper cables do you no good when you’re alone. A good portable lithium-ion battery jump-starter is a lifesaver. Just remember to keep it charged.
- Leather gloves: Two or three pair. They’ll save your hands.
- Lights: Flashlights, LED lanterns, headlamps. Yes, I carry all three, and enough extra batteries to start a battery store. That’s not much of an exaggeration. I’m paranoid about light, especially when it’s dark...
- Tarps: You won’t question why this is on my always-carry list once you’re forced to root around in the mud under your vehicle. I always carry a few cheap 5x7 tarps for such scenarios.
- Basic tool kit: You don’t need to have a complete mechanics set, but a basic kit with an assortment of screwdrivers, pliers, sockets, Allen wrenches, etc., will come in handy.
And there you have, the basics that I carry with me in the field. As I said in the beginning, this is by no means a complete or authoritative list on what you need in the uplands. Whether you’re a contingency freak who follows the Rule of Redundancy, or you prefer to go light and live dangerously, the more you hunt, the more you will develop your own set of priority items.
But whatever gear-list path to the uplands you choose, here’s a simple, seemingly self-evident bit of advice, but one a surprisingly large number of people don’t follow: Know how to use the things you carry with you in the field. Become familiar with them; practice until you’re functionally proficient with them in the situations in which you’ll need them.
Because in the end, a checklist is useless unless you know how to utilize the items on it.
About Path to the Uplands
Hunters have always been wildlife habitat’s strongest advocates, wildlife’s staunchest allies, and publicly accessible lands’ steadiest supporters. The world needs more hunter-conservationists, and specifically more upland bird hunters — lovers of pheasants, quail, prairie grouse and more, and defenders of the wild places these magnificent birds call home. The world also needs more pathways to becoming a hunter or taking up hunting again. That’s what Path to the Uplands is all about. Turn to this one-stop content shop for expert help with your journey into — or back to — upland bird hunting.