Every off-season, I make the big dig. That is, I empty my blind bags to clean them up and assess the status of my equipment. Doing so reveals much about seemingly inconsequential but essential gear that keeps me warm, safe and successful afield.
In that spirit, here’s a quick peek at the stuff in my blind bags. I don’t use every item daily. In fact, I might only use some once a season. Still, I wouldn’t hit the marsh or timber without these critical accouterments.
Actually, I carry four pairs of gloves in every blind bag: one set of rubber decoy gloves and three insulated pairs, from light shooting gloves to heavy-duty models. The reason is simple: Gloves get wet, and wet hands get cold. And frozen hands make shooting and decoy pickup miserable.
Whether it’s a light cap in my marsh bag or a heavy-duty bomber-style hat in my big-water pack, I always have extra headwear. Stocking caps can get soaked with perspiration during long walks or paddles to secluded spots, and a fresh hat lets you hunt comfortably. On miserably cold, breezy days on big water, an ultra-heavy hat provides added warmth and protection from wind.
I use this more on big water than in marshes, but it helps anywhere. Range-finders are especially useful when you must check the precise distance from shore or buildings to remain legal and safe. You could also use them much to identify your effective shooting range.
Typically, I carry binos in my truck for scouting, a pair in my big-water pack for observing birds and locating cripples, and a compact pair in my marsh bag for watching flocks or quick walk-in scouting forays. It’s amazing how much insight they provide.
Yeah, I always have a headlamp, but I carry an extra light because lamps can get wet, and batteries die. And if you’ve tried to repair a shotgun or switch a boat battery in the dark, you know how essential light is.
Canine First-Aid Kit
I hope I never use this … but I often do. Working dogs can suffer all sorts of injuries afield, including broken nails, cut pads, barbed-wire lacerations or even hypothermia. A small pack with gauze, antibacterial gel, EMT gel and other items can keep an injured pup safe until you get to the vet.
On big water, I carry a separate box of loads with smaller steel shot — typically No. 6s — to dispatch cripples. These shells maximize pellet count, increasing the odds of lethal headshots at swimming cripples. Also, it lets me save more expensive loads for the heavier work of downing high-flying birds.
I’ve learned from tough experience that a sturdy knife, needle-nosed pliers and a multi-purpose gun tool can be indispensable. Guns malfunction. Lines tangle. Boat plugs break. Outboard motors fail. The list continues. Bottom line: A few simple tools let you make quick in-the-field repairs instead of turning back toward the boat ramp.
Phone with Online Mapping App
Yeah, everyone carries a cell phone nowadays. Duh. They’re great for texting buddies or checking the weather. More important to me, though, are the online mapping apps I access through my phone. Simply, these have change the way I hunt, letting me check my precise location and clearly delineating property boundaries. They also let me e-scout afield. If flock after flock disappears somewhere over the horizon, I can check maps to find the water or a field they’re using.
That’s just a small sample of the stuff I lug afield every day. You’ve probably identified other essential tools. Sure, it can be a pain to keep all that gear ready and accessible. Those thoughts quickly fade when you dig deep into your bag to find a hunt-saving item.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.