Hunting out west, a rather broad term including the possibility of sheep, mountain goats, elk, pronghorn, deer, and bears. All these big game species offer a different type of hunt, with vastly different terrain and elevation, which often calls for specific shooting equipment. Sheep and goat hunts are greatly different than elk, deer, and bear. Then you have pronghorn and plains deer on the opposite end of the spectrum. Not to mention, the black hills of South Dakota and badlands of eastern Montana are vastly different terrain than the high Rockies in central Colorado or desert to its west.
Since backcountry elk and mule deer hunts seem to be on every hunter's bucket list. We thought we would help you by outlining the shooting tools you will need to maximize your accuracy and efficiency so you can focus on the daunting tasks of researching sleep gear, food, packs, and especially E-scouting. That way you'll have more success once you have spotted your target animal!
Personally, most of my gear doesn't change from hunt to hunt. Hunting gear can be spendy, so I like to utilize everything I have invested in for as many big game hunts as possible. Sometimes this means having a little heavier pack than others, but I do not mind the weight. If you are here to shave as many ounces as possible, you might cringe at a few of these gear choices, but once at the top of the mountain you will reap the benefits!
My Vortex Fury 5000s never get left at the house. Optical technology has advanced vastly over the last few years, with better features offered in budget friendlier optics. Range finding binoculars are something I've grown accustomed to, and I'm not sure there is any going back now.
You hear others talk about needing Swaros or Leicas to ensure you aren't straining your eyes, but I haven't run into any of those issues with the Vortex Fury's. I wear glasses and the eye relief on the Fury's are very accommodating making it so I don't have to push the glasses into my face to get a full field of view.
My Fury's are the pre applied ballistics model, which I would like to upgrade at some point. Having a ballistics solver at the click of a button would come in handy during stressful situations.
My Kestrel 5700, another tool that I take with me everywhere. Getting a ballistic solution is slower than having them built into your binoculars, but the Kestrel gives you the ability to read the wind. This is essential in the mountains where the winds change throughout the day.
I would rather spend the extra 5 or 10 seconds and know that I have an accurate wind reading than the check and guess method and end up wounding an animal. People always argue that you don't need to know what the wind is doing at the target (which is correct), but I would rather have a good starting point and then take some observations than just rely 100% on feel.
Another important tool is a good shooting tripod. This is one of the most important parts of the package because a good tripod allows you to pick apart country with your binos. You can then you can attach your spotting scope and confirm that it is the trophy that you are after. Then, swap out your spotter for your rifle and have a rock-solid shooting platform.
I personally run a Two Vets Recon with a RRS BH-55 ball head. This tripod has large enough legs to give you a solid shooting platform, with a super smooth ball-head for scanning while glassing. Make sure when you order a tripod head, you have all the correct adapters for your binos, spotter and rifle. ARCA rails have many different variations, so I recommend converting everything to a 1.5 inch RRS Dovetail spec which is the spec most of the shooting community is following!
One of the most discussed tools is your rifle scope. In my opinion, a shooters #1 goal here is to find a durable scope that will hold zero. I have seen everything from rifles hitting scopes and trees, to me losing my footing and falling on my rifle. A scope that holds zero is only going to increase your confidence in the field when the time comes to take the shot.
At this moment, I am running a Nightforce ATACR and have put it through the paces. These rifle scopes have a strong reputation for being one of the most durable scopes on the market.
Don't forget, a good scope is useless without good rings. Hawkins is a perfect balance point for durability and weight. If weight is not a factor, a Spuhr one piece scope mount is built like a tank. Those are the two I would stick to but there are a lot of other ring manufacturers out there.
Hunting out west is going to test your gear. Traveling bumpy roads, bouncing rifles in packs, and hitting rifles off rocks and trees can allow screws to come loose. It is a must to have proper tools to get you back up and running so you are not coming off the mountain.
This is one area that is hard to pick and choose what to bring! If you are in rough terrain or hiking deep into the backcountry, you want to cut as much weight as possible. At the same time though this makes you want to prevent having to go back to the truck for something as silly as a scope ring screw.
A good middle ground for me is the Fix it sticks All In One Torque Driver Kit in my pack paired with the long range Fix It Sticks kit as a backup in the truck. The torque driver kit is small and compact and has all the tools you should need to tighten anything on your rifle. If you are using a good chassis, rings, and base you should be able to minimize any POI shift if anything comes loose. From the testing I have done, I am confident that I could take my entire rifle apart, put it back together, and still be within ½ moa of my zero.
You must be very particular about torque specs when you are originally putting your rifle together so you can replicate that torque when you are on the mountain.
While there are other things one could think to bring, this walk through of the rifle gear is what I recommend to any hunters when they come out west. Some of the ultralight backcountry hunters might cringe at some of the listed equipment, but that's because they are cutting as many ounces as possible.
To me, it is more important to have reliable gear that can take a beating, rather than lighter gear that is prone to breaking. I am not afraid to carry another 5-10 lbs if I know nothing is going down on top of the mountain.
Hopefully this helps you a little bit on what you are planning to take on your next hunt out west. If you ever have questions about the tools or equipment I use, feel free to reach out to us at 970-241-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jaden Miller