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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4 Steps to Planning a Pig Hunt

by Gene Wensel

If you’ve been reading outdoor magazines for as long as I have, you probably know who Gene and Barry Wensel are. These guys are two great deer hunters, but lots of people don’t know they’re big on pigs, too. Gene has agreed to tell us how they make the most of every trip south to hunt feral hogs. – Steve Sorensen

Here’s a trophy tusker in anyone’s book.

Here’s a trophy tusker in anyone’s book.

Hunting wild pigs is becoming more popular every year. Not only are licenses inexpensive, but hogs are a very challenging quarry. They’re smart, tough, elusive, and dangerous enough to ratchet up some excitement. And dead ones taste great.

Unlike the similar but smaller javelina, which all essentially look alike, wild hogs come in all sizes and colors. Unchecked populations multiply quickly, and regions infested with them suffer damage to crops, habitat, and game bird eggs, and aggressive rooting causes tremendous soil disturbance which can dramatically change the landscape.

I hope I’ve convinced you that hogs need killing. So, how do you go about planning
a wild hog hunt?

1 – Locating Land with Pig Problems

Hunting near a water source turned this pig into pork.

Hunting near a water source turned this pig into pork.

Feral hogs are wide-spread but concentrated in the south, from Georgia and Florida through Texas. In many states, wild hogs are considered pests and are not listed as game animals. They’re often in direct conflict with the most popular game species – whitetail deer, turkeys, and quail – threatening their habitat and reproduction.

When looking for good places to hunt, target known deer leases or farmers trying to grow crops. In places like Texas, where private land is often leased for deer hunting and deer feeders are used, feral hogs not only aggressively run whitetails off feeders, they also eat tons of expensive deer feed. We hunt several leases where members don’t shoot hogs during deer season under the presumption killing pigs will disrupt their chances for a big whitetail buck.
That makes off-season pig hunters welcome.

A great way to find a place to hunt is to run inexpensive classified ads in rural weekly farming/ranching community newspapers a month or two before you plan to hunt. You might try to sell yourself as a “pig extermination service,” but be prepared to pay reasonable trespass fees because America’s farming economy is under stress these days.

Your trail camera will be as valuable for pigs as it is for deer.

Your trail camera will be as valuable for pigs as it is for deer.

Getting to know locals is a great way to get your foot in the door among landowners who have hog problems. During any pig hunt, whenever you go to town for gas or groceries, make local residents aware that you’re there to hunt pigs. We’ve picked up several new opportunities by simply telling people what we’re doing. Whenever you gain access, make landowners happy and they’ll often invite you to return annually. So, keep in touch.

I’m always fascinated that many Texas ranchers will hire professional hog trappers or even pay top dollar helicopter teams to aerial shoot wild hogs, when it’s a whole lot cheaper to trust responsible hunters looking for recreational opportunities. If you’re honest, reliable, and respect the land, it’s all pros with no cons for the landowner.

2 – When To Go

Anytime is good, but right after deer season is the best time to strike. Southern winters often bring competition for food sources – you can capitalize on that. If you wait until things green up, hogs often utilize green grass and become harder to attract. Texas is one of the few places on earth where the word “corn” is a verb!

3 – Where To Stay

Ranchers sometimes offer ranch cabins, or will recommend nice places to erect tents. If you prefer small town motels, always ask about less expensive weekly rates. You might need four-wheel drive vehicles to get into the ranch, as southern soils are conducive to mud. The good news is that sunny days quickly dry up access roads.

4 – Tips

Even the pigs take a lunch break!

Even the pigs take a lunch break!

Undisturbed hogs move quite a bit during daylight hours, although just before dark is always prime time. Wild pigs are very smart. As soon as they realize they’re being hunted, they become even more nocturnal. Night hunting over baited sites with some sort of light is also popular where legal.

Stalking bedded hogs is also a productive technique, especially along drainages or in heavy bedding cover.

Take trail cameras. They can tell you when and how many pigs are coming to a food source – natural, or ones you provide – or water source. We concentrate our efforts near drainages or other water sources.

Final Thoughts

Pigs are tough animals, and mature boars develop heavy cartilage “shields” over their vitals from fighting. Most hunters prefer a gun or bow suitable for deer – with proper shot placement they work well on most wild hogs.

Pigs might not have the best eyesight, although I personally think they can see better than most hunters give them credit for. Their hearing is superb but their noses are by far their best defense. Always play the wind and try not to let them know they are being hunted by driving around too much.

Off season feral hog hunting opportunities are not only exciting, but are lots of fun!

Gene Wensel, Hunter & Outdoor WriterGene Wensel is a widely known and universally respected hunter who is dedicated to traditional archery equipment. He specializes in whitetail deer but he’ll shoot anything, from Iowa to Africa. He has written for just about every bowhunting and whitetail periodical. Gene, his brother Barry, and their buddy Mike Mitten, are known as “Brothers of the Bow.” Their website is


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An Elephant Gun For Hog Hunting – Why Not?

By Max Prasac

A hog hunting expert answers questions about the proper firearm for a big ol’ pig.

Max Prasac with his hog trophy.I have to admit that I harbor dreams of Africa. What hunter doesn’t? A number of years ago I was determined to hunt Africa, so the first logical step was to acquire a rifle that was up to the task of taking the biggest and most dangerous animals Africa has to offer. I bought a custom-built Mauser bolt-action rifle in .416 Remington Magnum. Not a gun for plinking, no fun off of the bench, and even less fun to feed (on the wallet, that is). But I would get to Africa… eventually!

Fast forward a number of years, a mortgage, a family, bills to pay, mouths to feed, and African dreams get filed away to a corner of the mind you rarely visit. But that elephant gun? You can still use it on hogs! OK, the outfitter will look at you funny when you start loading cigar-sized rounds into your rifle. But my outfitter already thinks I’m crazy – particularly when I showed up in camp with a rifle, when he knows me primarily as a handgun hunter.

Why such a big gun?

Isn’t a .416 a bit much? Isn’t it overkill? Isn’t it TOO MUCH gun? Why use such a big caliber on hogs? Well, why not? Yes, it kills on both ends, but it makes for really potent hog medicine. Is it necessary to hunt hogs with such a large caliber rifle? Nope, they don’t wear Kevlar vests—at least not yet—and are a bit smaller in stature than elephants and Cape buffalo.

What ammo for a big gun?

Before I booked my hunt with Hog Heaven Outfitters of Johnston County, North Carolina, I contacted Mike McNett, president and CEO of Double Tap Ammunition and talked to him about my upcoming hunt. He loads the .416 Remington in a number of different flavors, and I settled on the lightest loads, throwing a 300 grain Barnes TSX at a scorching 2,920 fps. Should be enough for hogs… so I ordered up a box. Why not? Do you see a pattern here? Light load? In a big gun, doesn’t matter!

We settled on Double Tap’s lightest load for the .416 Remington Magnum.

We settled on Double Tap’s lightest load for the .416 Remington Magnum, loaded with a 300 grain Barnes TSX at an advertised 2,920 feet per second. We sighted our old Mauser in at 100 yards and headed out to Hog Heaven Outfitters of North Carolina for real-world testing. (Photo by Max Prasac)

What gear for a big gun?

First I mounted an Ultradot 30 red dot on Warne scope bases, using the supplied rings from Ultradot. After a morning range session to get reacquainted with my rifle, I was ready for the hunt.

Arriving in camp an hour before dark, outfitter Milt Turnage handed me a flashlight and told me to strap it on to my red dot sight. The light came with a contoured base and a Velcro strap, and is called a “Kill Light,” produced by Elusive Wildlife Technologies, a company out of Texas. The red light purportedly doesn’t spook the hogs, enabling you to hunt in the dark. I was skeptical, but I mounted the light and headed out to my stand for the evening.

Too big for a pig?

All was quiet till about 9:15 when I heard slight rustling of the brush about 50 yards to my left. The movement seemed too careful and quiet for a hog, but you never know. So, I cranked up my Ultradot, flipped the switch on the Kill Light, and bathed in the red light was a big boar hog. I took the shot that was offered me, a less than perfect shoulder shot with the animal quartering towards me. When .416 barked, the hog crashed off into the North Carolina swamp. My ensuing investigation revealed no blood, and no hog. Did I miss?

We mounted this XLR 100 red light onto our Ultradot sight.

We mounted this XLR 100 red light onto our Ultradot sight with the supplied mount and Velcro strap. Produced by Elusive Wildlife Technologies, this little gem made hunting in the dark possible without the cost associated with military-style night-vision equipment. (Photo by Max Prasac)

After turning up no evidence of a hit, I headed back up to my stand. Maybe the hog would come back knowing I’m evidently no great shot with a rifle. Boy, I was never going to hear the end of this back at camp. Milt and his crew came to pick me up and with our flashlights we searched the area. Nothing. That’s when the teasing started. I swallowed my pride, went to bed, and got up at the crack of dawn. The stand I was sitting on in the morning was about 100 yards from last night’s scene of embarrassment. When no pigs made an appearance (they must not have heard about my shooting prowess), I climbed down and went back to where I hunted the night before. It took all of ten minutes for me to find one large, and very dead boar, with a .416 caliber hole through him. He made it only about 25 yards from where I shot him. Guess I’m not so bad with a rifle after all.

OK, so why the .416?

You don’t have to have a good reason to use a particular firearm for wild hog hunting. If you have a rifle that gets little use, collecting dust in your safe until you are able to realize your African, Alaskan, or fill-in-the-blank dream, why not use it to knock over a pig? You might as well clean it up, order up some ammo, get reacquainted with it and then put some pork chops in your freezer. No reason is as good a reason as any. When asked why, simply reply: Why not?

Five things to remember when hog hunting.


Author, Max Prasac

Max Prasac is an outdoor writer with columns in Bear Hunter’s Online magazine. He’s a regular contributor to the NRA’s American Hunter as well as a frequent contributor to Gun Digest magazine. He is also the author of Gun Digest’s Big-Bore Revolvers and the Gun Digest Book of Ruger Revolvers.


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Whitetail Hunting: The Freelance Bowhunter

By Bernie Barringer

Planning an out-of-state hunt?
Here’s a how-to for the traveling archer.

Review by Steve Sorensen

the-freelance-bowhunter-by-bernie-barringerI’ve been saying for a while now that the Internet has made deer hunting in other states more accessible than ever before. But if you’re really trying to zero in on specifics for hunting whitetails, the Internet may not be the best source for all the how-to angles the traveling hunter needs to know.

Havalon writer Bernie Barringer has recently come out with a book called The Freelance Bowhunter: DIY Strategies for the Traveling Whitetail Hunter. If you aspire to do an out-of-state deer hunt, this book is a goldmine of information. Bernie has made all the mistakes, conquered all the learning curves, and offers all his bowhunting expertise in this essential book.

Seven Reasons you need The Freelance Bowhunter

  1. OK, a book is “old technology” – but Barringer mixes in new technology by adding “QR Codes” you can scan with your smartphone. They’ll take you to videos he has made that explain in visual detail what he’s talking about. This is the first book I’ve seen to do that. Most books merely integrate photos with text. This one integrates videos with text—a real value-added feature!
  1. About technology—Barringer tells you how to use today’s technology for mapping applications, how to use trail cameras while you hunt instead of before you hunt, and how to capitalize on the science you can get from local biologists.
  1. This is the book that will raise your odds of success in bowhunting. You won’t find any other place where you can get expert real-life mentoring on how to select your hunting partner, how to choose prime hunting areas, when to go, how to scout, what kinds of tree stands you’ll need, options for getting meat home, and many other proven ideas that will insure the experience of a lifetime.
  1. It will save you money. Without the information in this book, you’ll spend a lot more than you need to spend. Barringer has explicit instructions on how to maximize limited dollars. A few things are a fixed price—hunting licenses, gas, etc. But you’ll save many times the price of this book if you use his ideas on where to stay, how to split costs with another deer hunter, how to plan easy and inexpensive meals, and other bowhunting secrets you’d otherwise learn mostly through mistakes.

Barringer shot this mature buck on a hunt in Iowa. His antlers weren’t built to score well, but when you can outsmart an old deer like this on a public land DIY hunt in another state, you’ve accomplished something special.

  1. Bonus features are full of details, details, details! What your expectations should be. The lost art of getting permission. Weighing whether you should try new places or go back to a place you’ve been to. Why to be aggressive, and more important, how to be aggressive when you’re up against a deadline.
  1. Destinations. Barringer outlines the top 16 whitetail states, with an honest assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of each one. He tells you what you should know, wherever you choose to go. What’s the best? Your choice depends on a variety of factors including where you live, how you’ll travel, and what kind of hunting pressure each state has.
  1. It’s a keeper. Here’s a book that will become dog-eared, because you’ll return to it again and again. While some of the equipment he talks about may become outdated (it always does), the meat of this book draws from the lifetime of experience of one of the nation’s top traveling bowhunters, so it will be relevant year after year after year.

Don’t underestimate the value of The Freelance Bowhunter—it covers everything you can think of about mobile bowhunting, and much that you won’t. Even if you’re already in the planning stages for a deer hunt this fall, you can learn a lot from Bernie Barringer. It’s on-target, and I’m betting a lot of hunters will credit some great bucks to what they learn from this book. Buy it from the author’s own website at, or from, where it’s also available for Kindle.

steve-sorensen-head-shotOutdoor writer and speaker Steve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content on the Havalon Sportsman’s Post. He has also published articles in Deer & Deer Hunting, Outdoor Life, and many other top magazines across the USA. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at

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Coyote Hunting: 8 Essentials for Outsmarting Coyotes

By Tracy Breen


Al Morris of Fox Pro Game Calls is one of the best coyote hunters in the country today, and one of the
best sources of advice.

Hunters hate coyotes. Coyotes are blamed for everything. If we don’t see deer in the fall, it must be because of coyotes. If turkey numbers are down, coyotes are at fault. If a group of buddies is complaining about how good grouse hunting used to be compared to now, by the end of the conversation coyotes are often blamed. Animosity toward wily coyote runs so deep among hunters that if the barn cat comes up missing, we blame the coyote – and often we’re right.

Many hunters hate coyotes because they regularly outsmart us. Coyote are canines and, like your dog, they’re quick learners. As a result, they often die of old age instead of our preferred method of death: lead poisoning. If you hate the coyote or want to help other animal species, now is a great time to try hunting yodel dogs.

A lot has been learned about the coyote during the last decade and hunters can enter the woods armed with that knowledge. Al Morris, for example, knows a few things about coyote hunting. Morris works for Fox Pro Game Calls ( and has spent his entire adult life chasing coyotes. He has won more coyote hunting titles than almost anyone and knows how to hunt and talk coyote.

Morris says one of the first things new hunters must realize about coyotes is they are extremely intelligent. “You can’t make a mistake when coyote hunting. If you make a mistake, it often costs you that coyote. Chances are good that you won’t call that coyote in again,” Morris said. Like a domesticated dog, coyotes learn when to come and when to run. If you beat a dog every day, it quickly learns not to come near you. If you call in a coyote and give it a bad experience because it smelled you, saw you, or got shot at, it won’t come to a call the next time.

1.  Hunt the Wind


Big Al with a couple unlucky coyotes.

Morris says one of the most important things to remember is that coyotes have an amazing sense of smell. “If a coyote winds you, it is over; you will not get a second chance,” Morris explained. “Hunt the wind the same way you would a whitetail. Spray down in a scent eliminating spray and regularly check the wind when hunting.

2.  Understand Their Language

Next, learn the vocalizations of the coyote so you know when to say what to them. With all the electronic calls available today, mastering calls is easier than ever.

3.  Have Several Hunting Areas

Don’t over-hunt your areas. “As with any style of hunting, the more you scout, the better chance you have of taking home an animal,” Morris says. “Out west where I live, many hunters hunt from the same mountain top week after week. As a result, the coyotes quickly become educated and avoid those areas. Regardless of where you live, you need to be aware of several locations where coyotes live.”

4.  Hunt the Thick Stuff

Learn to hunt the brush and hard-to-get to areas. “Everyone loves hunting in open terrain where they can see a coyote coming a half mile away. Lots of coyotes live in the thick brush where few hunters go and where food is plentiful.” Morris continued, “Rabbits, mice, deer and a variety of animals live in the brush and in hard-to-get-to areas. Hunting these areas can pay off because they never get hunted so the coyotes aren’t educated.”

5.  Hunt the Right Time of Year

Often the best time to hunt coyotes is in the late winter or early spring when they are hungry and need food for themselves and their newborn pups. Calling during this time of year produces better results than hunting during the fall and early winter when food is plentiful.


Knowing the anatomy of the coyote can also help you put more fur in the freezer. Master Target
( makes great lifelike durable targets for both bow and gun hunters.

Call and scout during the night. Coyotes are very vocal at night. This is a great time to figure out where they live. Once you know where they live, you can go back at daybreak armed with your favorite boom stick.

7.  Use a Shotgun

Don’t worry about owning a long range rifle. Morris kills many yodel dogs up close and personal. “I love hunting coyotes with a shotgun in the brush. I call them into my lap and lay them out. In the thick brush, they must come in close to investigate a call so they are often within shotgun range,” Morris noted.

8.  Gain Access

Knock on doors. Since everyone hates coyotes, gaining permission to hunt on a farmers’ land isn’t very difficult, especially in the middle of winter when most people hunt them. Your chance for success increases every time a farmer says yes.

Coyotes are one of the smartest animals we hunt, but by working hard, scouting often and having a little luck, you’ll probably find yourself at the local fur auction at the end of season.

For more articles on Coyote Hunting, click here.

tracy-breen-outdoor-writerTracy Breen is a full-time outdoor writer and consultant in the outdoor industry. He works with a variety of outdoor brands and television shows including Havalon Knives. Learn more at


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