7 Must Haves for DIY Big Game Hunters on a Budget

Hunter with downed elk

If you want to go western big game hunting but must stick to a budget, the following tips will help you stay comfortable and hopefully fill your freezer.

hunter scouting big game
Don’t skimp on hunting optics. These days, you can stay within budget and still get good glass.

From a budget perspective, it’s important to have a long-term focus on your gear needs.  It can take years to get outfitted in quality equipment, and finding the best gear is part of the fun. Take the time to read gear reviews, talk with fellow hunters and determine what works best for you.  I would rather buy quality now and have it working well a decade from now.

If you looked at the items in my “don’t leave home without it” pile, it would be pretty small.  Yet, those items would get a lot of use.  In addition to your bow or rifle, below is the absolute minimum for my kind of hunting: self-guided public land western hunting. 

Learn How to Make Your Western Dream Hunt a Reality With the Right Gear

Vortex Diamondback HD Binoculars
Vortex Diamondback HD Binoculars

Hunting Optics & Scopes

Buy the best hunting optics and scopes you can afford is good advice, whether you’re shopping for binoculars, rifle scopes, or whatever.  I see many guys who have no binos or binos that cost less than the gas they put in their $8,000 ATV.  No need to break the bank, but there is a lot of good value in optics these days. Every rifle I have ever owned was, and is, topped with a Leupold riflescope.

Tip:  The Leupold VX-R rifle scope provides the enhanced light transmission, resolution, and color fidelity of Leupold's Quantum Optical System for razor sharp imaging across the typical light conditions experienced on any hunt.

hunting with elk
Randy Newberg is a hunter and host of his popular hunting TV show.

Tip: The Vortex Diamondback Binoculars has an HD optical system that improves resolution plus the multiple anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces and multi-layer prism coatings enhance light transmission.

Hunting Boots

Like all things, get the best you can afford.  I don’t use insulated boots. My hunting is very active.  Plus, I grew up in northern Minnesota, so cold is not an issue for me.

A non-insulated boot is lighter.  Using a good sock system will keep your feet dry and well cushioned.  Don’t wear your boots while driving to the trailhead. Your feet will sweat, causing cold feet in even the best boot.

Primos Hoochie Mama Cow Elk Push Call
Primos Hoochie Mama
Cow Elk Push Call

For mountain hunting, get a stiff boot so your ankles don’t roll when sidehilling.  If you’re lucky, you will be carrying heavy loads, so the more support your boots provide, the less energy your body will expend. I use Kenetrek Hunting Boots.

Backcountry Hunting Requires a Well Designed Hunting Pack

Badlands 2200 Hunting Pack
Badlands 2200 Hunting Pack

I’ll have anywhere from 15-20 pounds in my pack.  It will include water, survival gear, knives, game bags and extra clothing layers.  And when I get something down, I want to be able to carry a load out with me. So, I use an internal frame pack that is an effective daypack, yet can expand to a load hauler when needed. 

A good pack will support the load on your hips, not your shoulders.  It will have great padding on the waist belt and shoulder harness.  Too many packs sold to hunters are not made for hauling loads.  Many of them are better suited for schoolbooks.

Tip: The Badlands 2200 Hunting Pack has been around for more than 25 years. This pack has a removable rifle/bow carrier keeps your hands free for stability in rugged terrain, and a tighter fit lowers the center of gravity, further enhancing your agility when hiking with a heavy load. The 8 pockets let you keep everything organized and within easy reach, including a zippered back-panel access, hip-belt pouches, and a dedicated spotting-scope pocket. The hypervent suspension eases the wear and tear on your back while offering ample breathability. You'll get a lot of us with the integrated meat shelf and hip-belt pistol holster.

Layered Clothing for Hunting

My dad was a “dyed in the wool” fan of layers.  I have continued that; though I have invested in new high performance fabrics. However, my base layer is always a good Merino wool top and bottom.

Tip: Sitka's Men's Merino Core Lightweight Bottoms deliver all the performance benefits of merino wool along with backcountry-ready durability.

Garmin Oregon 750t Handheld GPS Unit
Garmin Oregon 750t Handheld
GPS Unit

Layers are perfect for active hunters because they allow the sweat to wick so you can stay warm, dry, and comfortable. Invest wisely in clothing, and you will have them for years to come. I use the Sitka hunting clothing system.

Trekking Poles for Hunting

With all the steep or rugged terrain for mountain hunting and carrying modest loads all day, you can save energy by using trekking poles.  They help you stay balanced going uphill and help put on the brakes when going downhill. When sidehilling, the additional points of balance are invaluable.

Tip: You won't have to take the easy trail when you have Black Diamond's Trail Back Trekking Poles in your hands.

Must Have GPS and Map Chip

I was slow to come around to the GPS idea.  I was always a map-and-compass kind of guy.  Yet, many places I hunt have a mix of public and private land, so it is not always possible to tell how close you are to private land with just a compass.

onXmaps HUNT State Maps Micro SD Card
onXmaps HUNT State
Maps Micro SD Card

A few years back I bought a GPS and started using the HuntingGPSMap chips by OnXMaps.  It is hard to explain how much that changed my hunting and my strategy for tag applications.  Those units I previously avoided due to private land are now at the top of my list.

I use a Garmin GPS.  I have every map chip from OnXMaps for every state I hunt

Tip: onXmaps HUNT State Maps provides hunters with maps of a specific state to ultimately enhance your hunting success. You can use the card with a smartphone, computer, or handheld Garmin GPS unit. onXmaps displays 24K topo, color-coded public lands, landowner names and boundaries, state hunting units, roads, trails, streams, and more.

Hunting Game Bags Play a Huge Role in Keep Meat Clean

Alaska Game Bags
Alaska Game Bags

The end goal for hunting is to acquire great food.  You need to know how to convert a 700-pound elk into manageable pieces that you can get to the trailhead.  And when you get there, you want your meat to be clean and unspoiled. Good synthetic game bags like the Alaska Hunting Game Bag are key.  Some use cotton.  I don’t.  If cotton gets wet, it does not dry like synthetics.  Wet meat in wet bags means bacteria, which equals spoilage.

Tip: The Alaska Game Bags are heavy-duty, form-fitting bags that protect meat against insects, dirt and harsh weather. They're virtually tear-resistant, extremely breathable and odor-free.


About Randy Newberg: Randy is the voice of the public land hunter in America. Decades of chasing all species across public lands has provided both experience and perspective that has allowed Randy to become the leading advocate for the self-guided hunter; hunters dependent upon public lands for hunting access.