Get Ahead of The Pack – How to Prep Your “Go-Bag” for Big Game Season

By Mike Marsh

The easiest way to handle your hunting checklist is to have the right pack!

In my business as a full-time hunting and fishing communicator, I occasionally need to grab a firearm and head out for a hunt within hours, even minutes, of a telephone call or hot tip. The backseat of my pickup truck has several hunting packs, each full of all the items I might need to participate in a certain type of hunt.

Ambidextrous hunting pack with a single shoulder strap for deer hunting preparation

Having one shoulder strap that can be adjusted for either shoulder makes this MPI Outdoors backpack ambidextrous. With all the packs out there, it’s surprising that a good pack is hard to find. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

All too frequently, when riding in someone else’s vehicle, I used to arrive at a hunting spot and discover that I had forgotten something important like insect repellent. This would happen again after switching back to my own vehicle and arriving home to find I’d left a map or GPS unit in the other hunter’s truck.

It makes sense to have a “go-bag” with commonly used gear, and that’s why every dedicated shooter I know has a bag like this, full of cleaning tools, hearing protection, shooting glasses, targets and other gear. I carried the concept a step further, applying it to specific hunts. With all the different kinds of equipment out there, practicing good hunting preparation is crucial for those times when opportunity suddenly strikes.

1. Pack Selection – “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag”

If “the hardest workin’ man in show business” needed a brand new bag, I need a good one too. My big game hunting pack is a backpack designed specifically for gun hunters. It’s an MPI Outdoor Products backpack with a single shoulder strap. I’m a right-handed shooter, so I adjust the strap to go over my left shoulder, leaving my right shoulder free to mount a firearm. The best example I can give of perfect pack selection happened while I was hunting black bears in extremely thick cover in eastern North Carolina. I had been sitting on a stool when, with just five minutes of legal shooting time left, I slung my pack and headed out of the swamp along a bear trail. A bear materialized 20 feet away. I simply shouldered my rifle and took the shot. When you select your pack, not only should you think about what you’ll put in it, but also what you’ll do when a shooting opportunity arises.

Single-shoulder hunting pack is essential in deer hunting preparation

A pack with a single-shoulder strap lets you shoulder your rifle quickly and the strap won’t get in the way. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

2. Many Convenient Compartments

Make sure your pack has plenty of variously-sized compartments, inside and out. I hunt deer, bear and hogs with my big game pack, and its side pockets are perfect for calls, flashlights and other long, slender objects. The mesh rear pocket holds a ThermaCELL┬« insect repellent device to keep the vapors out of enclosed pockets when it’s cooling down after a hunt. The mesh exterior pocket also carries bottles of scents. I use a plastic peanut butter jar to hold scent bottles, swabs, scent bombs or anything else that would stink up my pack and the items inside. That idea will pay off, I guarantee.

3. Safety First, Always

My backpack has a camouflaged exterior, so I carry a hunter orange poncho, vest or MPI Outdoors “See Me” backpack cover that fits over the pack because the pack can obscure hunter orange clothing. Other safety items to keep in a dedicated hunting pack include a Space Blanket, fire-making materials, water container, flashlight, spare batteries and a whistle or other signaling device.

4. You’re Gonna Need Spares

Useful items in a well-stocked deer hunting preparation pack

A backpack dedicated to deer hunting preparation carries everything a hunter needs so nothing is forgotten. You’d be surprised how much Mike Marsh’s one-shouldered pack holds: a folding stool, two pairs of gloves, plastic gloves, scent, ThermaCELL┬«, matches, safety vest, watch cap, poncho, compass, cleaning tools, hand and foot warmers, ammo, calls and other items. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

If you’re anything like me, you lose gloves. A lot. Therefore, I always carry an extra pair. If one glove is lost, one from the spare set replaces it. An orange sock cap provides cushioning for other objects, takes little space and is a quick replacement for a lost cap. If you’ve never run out of ammunition or forgotten it completely, you are a rare hunter indeed! Carrying spare ammo in a rattle-proof carrier prevents the problem – but remember to swap it out if you change caliber.

5. Necessities and Nice-To-Haves

In my big game backpack, I also carry toilet tissue, a compass and/or GPS unit, maps, a roll-up jacket, face net or warming mask, dehydrated snacks such as homemade jerky, Sterno canned heat for warming a blind and heating food, and plastic zipper bags and gloves for using hunting scents and cleaning game. A ball Bungee on the pack handle carries a folding stool or seat cushion.

If you hunt a variety of game, invest in enough packs to keep your essentials organized and ready to go. If you properly prepare for your hunt, it will pay off not only in the time you’ll save, but also in having everything you need right at hand.

mike marshAbout Mike Marsh:

Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit

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