The Best Bang for the Buck: Early-Season Bowhunting Gear


Shopping on a budget doesn’t mean you should settle for junk. If you like making your dollars count, check out this gear, tested and approved for the deer woods this fall’s Brodie Swisher checks out the Xpedition APX. Image by Realtree / Matt Harrison

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1 | Xpedition APX Bow

I’ve shot and tested a bunch of Xpedition bows over the years, and I can vouch for their quality and performance. While I haven’t had the chance to hunt with the APX yet, I did shoot it on the range during Realtree’s Bow Camp media event in early September. The bow has a near flawless draw cycle that’s pretty tough to distinguish from a more expensive flagship-tier model, with flagship speed to boot. The advertised IBO for the APX is 340 fps. Plus, the bow has a rotating module for a wide range of adjustability, fitting shooters with draw lengths of 26 to 30 inches. 

Check it out / $700

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The Element daypack has 1,900 cubic inches of space. Image by Realtree / Matt Harrison

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2 | Insights The Element Day Pack

This is one of the most spacious and thoughtful little daypacks I’ve found, and it’s become my go-to treestand pack for this season. I especially like the front pocket, which can swing open to a shelflike platform that has zippered inner pockets on one side, and a mesh pocket secured at the top with a flexible wire guard on the other. The pack has nearly 1,900 cubic inches of space, beefy shoulder straps, and a lifetime warranty. I’m not sure you can do any better for a Benjamin. 

Check it out / $100

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The Big Branch Sherpa vest has a fleece interior and weather-resistant shell. Image by Habit Outdoors

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3 | Habit Big Branch Sherpa Shell Vest

Even a 65-degree fall evening can feel chilly after a 90-degree summer. There’s nothing I’d rather wear in conditions like that than a lightweight fleece vest. It’ll keep the core warm, without adding bulky, string-catching sleeves to the mix. Plus, a light vest carries nicely in a daypack. This one from Habit has a windproof and rain-resistant exterior shell. Think of all the other nonsense you’ve wasted $40 on, when you could’ve bought one of these instead. 

Check it out / $40

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The Drake Non-Typical 1/4 Zip pullover is perfect for the season’s first frosty morning. Image by Drake Waterfowl

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4 | Non-Typical Endurance Kangaroo 1/4 Zip

There are chilly evenings, and then there are the first genuinely cold mornings of the season — which aren’t far away at all for my buddies up north with Oct. 1 openers. Drake’s quarter-zip pullovers are legendary midlayers among duck hunters, and duck hunters know cold. That the pullovers are quiet, lightweight, and just heavy enough to keep you warm on those mornings near the freezing mark makes the Non-Typical Endurance Kangaroo Pouch just about perfect for bowhunting. It has a vertical chest pouch for your phone, a large kangaroo pocket for your hands, and an adjustable hood. 

Check it out / $110

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You’ll be pressed to find better binos for the money than the Bushnell Engage 10x42. Image by Realtree / Matt Harrison

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5 | Bushnell Engage 10x42 Binos

I don’t think there’s a better pair of budget binoculars made, period. I’ve used the Engage 10x42 binos the last two years in a row myself while hunting whitetails, pigs, antelope, and turkeys, for scouting ducks, and for general-use truck glasses. They have Bushnell’s EXO Barrier along with waterproof construction, making them pretty much impervious to the elements. I’ve had no problems of any sort out of mine. 

Check them out / $130

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The LaCrosse AeroHead Sport has a polyurethane lower shell with a tough neoprene upper. Image by Realtree / Matt Harrison

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6 | LaCrosse AeroHead Sport in Realtree Timber

Golfers wear cleats. Hikers wear lace-ups. And whitetail hunters wear knee boots. Well, maybe not all the time, but knee-high waterproof boots are standard-issue equipment in the Eastern deer woods. They can be worn over layers when it’s cold and rolled down to the ankles when it’s hot. They protect your calves and shins from briers and ticks. And some buck, at some point, is going to lead you through a swampy, watery mess of a thicket that’ll get your feet wet even through the best lace-ups. LaCrosse’s AeroHead Sport series replaces the rubber boot lower with a lightweight, flexible polyurethane shell, and then pairs it with a neoprene upper. You can go with the lightweight 3.5 mm pair for early season (what I usually wear), or double that with a warmer 7 mm pair for later in the season. 

Check them out / $180

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Twice in my life, I’ve worn Crocs during early-season bowhunts, and I killed a deer during one of those sits. I spent the next week treating a collection of seed tick bites that I had on my ankles after dragging her out of the brush. Much as I’m attached to my camo clogs — which did not cost much — they are not good early-season hunting gear. 

But the stuff I’m writing about here, is. It’s late September as I compile this list, and between a few weeks of Kentucky whitetail hunting and another week of chasing Colorado mule deer, I’ve had a chance to try all of this stuff this fall. None of it is too expensive, but it wasn’t chosen purely by the price tag. This is good gear for the money.