Editor’s Note: Often hunters will find the keys for successful deer hunting in the packs that the hunter carries into the field with him, and such is the case with Jack Brittingham. This week he’ll tell us what he carries in the different packs he hunts with and why this equipment makes him one of the nation’s most-successful whitetail hunters. No company sponsors Jack Brittingham. The products he mentions and recommends are based solely on his personal experiences, after having tested a wide variety of products, to determine what works best for him.
Packs, Rain Gear, & Communication
I have a variety of packs I take with me hunting. The size and type of pack I carry is determined by where I plan to hunt and how long I’ll be gone. If I’m only hunting for a few hours on land I know, I’ll often carry just a fanny pack. However, if I’m on an extended hunt all day or for several days, I’ll carry a full backpack. My favorite backpack to carry is a Bad Lands Backpack made by the Bad Lands Company. These packs are extremely comfortable, very durable and rugged and come in a variety of sizes. I can carry as much as 100 pounds of meat out of a wilderness area with one of these packs. Bad Lands Backpacks have been designed and developed by hunters, and they enable a hunter to better distribute and center the load. By that, I mean the weight in the packs is mainly carried on the hips rather than on the shoulders. Another feature I like about the Bad Lands Backpacks is that all the pockets are designed to fit the type of gear and located in the right places a hunter needs the pockets to be.
Regardless of where I’m hunting, in the bottom of each one of my packs, I have some lightweight rain gear. This way, if the weather turns bad, I can get into my backpack, pull out my rain gear and put it on, even if I’m in a tree. By carrying my rain gear in a pack I keep in the tree, I don’t have to climb down out of the tree, put on the rain gear, climb back up in the tree and start my hunt again. I like hunting during the rain. When I’m whitetail hunting during the rut, I’ve found that a light drizzling rain is one of the best conditions you can have for taking white-tailed deer.
I also carry either a cell phone or a walkie-talkie so I have some type of two-way communication. Tree-stand hunting can be hazardous. A friend’s son’s life was saved this past year because he carried a cell phone with him. Luckily, this young man had taken his cell phone out of his pack and put it in his pocket while he was in the tree stand. When he fell, he was able to get his cell phone out of his pocket and call for help. Even if you’re hunting on your own property near home, if you are hunting from a tree stand or in the woods alone, I strongly recommend that you carry some type of communication. I have instructed my children to never go into the woods without a cell phone.
For more information on The Bad Lands Company, write 1414 South 700 West, Salt Lake City, UT 84101, or call (801) 978-2207, or visit www.badlandspacks.com.
Flashlights, Grunt Calls and Field Photos
For a variety of reasons, I keep at least two flashlights in my pack at all times. First, I like the LED type flashlight because it has a long battery life. These little lights have hundreds of hours of operation. The last thing you want is for your batteries to go dead after dark. Secondly, I primarily use the lights for going into a tree stand or for blood trailing after dark. Thirdly, I like to have some very high-intensity flashlights that operate off C-size batteries. I like the kind of light I can attach to my head, which I use for tracking. I want a flashlight that will produce enough bright light to allow me to see a hog I’m tracking in the dark 10-20 yards away. If I need to get a second arrow in him, I can with the light from this headlight. I also have extra batteries for my flashlights just in case the batteries do go out.
I always have a grunt call in my pack, especially when deer hunting. I think there is a wide variety of effective grunt calls, and I don’t know of any grunt call superior to any other grunt call. I look for a call that will let me make several deer sounds on the same call. I want to be able to make at least a buck grunt, a fawn bleat and a doe-in-estrous bleat. I believe you are better off to have one call that will allow you to make a variety of deer sounds rather than several calls that will only permit you to make one type of deer vocalization.
I carry a pair of Swarovski binoculars and two different cameras. I like a small, compact 35 mm camera for taking photos in the field. I have a small digital camera that allows me to photograph wildlife by putting the lens of the camera up to the eyepiece of the binocular and photographing through the binocular. I have taken some really great pictures of wildlife this way. The digital camera I use is a Sony DECT9 — a 4-megapixel digital camera with a 3X optical zoom. The clarity on this camera is excellent, and the lens on this camera fits almost perfectly with my Swarovski binoculars. Holding the camera up to the binocular can be a tad awkward at first, but once you master this trick, you’ll be surprised and amazed at the quality of wildlife photos you can take while you’re hunting. I have found that the best way to accomplish this task is to sit the binoculars on the edge of a blind or the edge of a tree limb and then hold the camera right against the eyepiece of the binocular.
To learn more about Swarovski, go to www.swarovskioptik.com, or call (401) 734-1800.
Surviving in the Woods
You will always find a handheld GPS receiver in my hunting pack. I prefer the Garmin Rhino because it also has a two-way communicator built in to the GPS unit. I log in all my tree stands and hunting blinds as waypoints in the GPS for the properties I hunt regularly. When I am hunting property I’ve never hunted before, I always log in my starting point so I can get back to the place where I’ve started. With this system, I never get lost. The Garmin Rhino also has a tracking feature that allows you to see where you’ve started from, the route you’ve traveled, and allows you to backtrack the same route, if you so choose. I have two of these units because not only can I communicate back and forth with my hunting partner, but each GPS shows the hunter the exact location of his hunting buddy. This one feature allows me to always know where my hunting partner is and allows him to always know where I am, which I believe is a real advantage, as well as a safety precaution.
Limb Saw And Pruning Shears
I always carry a small limb saw and a pair of pruning shears. Regardless of how well you maintain your tree stand site, there always seems to be a branch or a limb in the way or that may get in the way of a shot. For this reason, I want to keep pruning shears and a limb saw handy to solve this problem. Also, you may need to change stands or relocate a stand when you are out hunting. If so, these two pieces of equipment can be tremendously beneficial.
I have a small survival kit in my hunting pack at all times. No one ever expects to be in a survival situation, and everyone always hopes he will never have to use his survival gear. However, you need to always carry it with you in the event the unexpected happens. My survival kit includes: fire-starting equipment, pain medication, antibiotic medication, a tightly-packed sheet of plastic for making a shelter and a few other survival tools. Good hunters need to develop the habit of having survival gear with them anytime they leave their vehicle and go into the woods. I’ve carried survival gear with me on every hunt for the past 25 years.
To learn more about Garmin GPS, call (913) 397-0206, or visit www.garmin.com.
From Halloween until the end of deer season, you’ll always find a set of rattling antlers either in my pack or tied on to my pack. I usually rattle in the mornings because that’s when I’ve had the best luck with rattling antlers where I hunt. I typically won’t rattle in the afternoon. However, I keep the rattling antlers with me just in case I decide that I need them.
Even if I don’t have a cameraman with me, I always carry a video camera in my pack. You never know when you will have the opportunity to video a big buck or video yourself taking a big buck. I also carry an arm that attaches to my tree stand to hold the video camera. This way, if I don’t have a cameraman with me, I still can video my own hunt. I really enjoy videoing my hunts because watching the video allows me to relive the hunt.
Today, there are a variety of different types of equipment that allow you to video your own hunt. Much of this equipment will allow you to set up a video camera, whether you are hunting from a ground blind or a tree stand. For instance, you can take a standard tripod that you can carry on or in your pack, set it up inside your ground blind and film the animal as it comes in and as you take the shot.
Tree pods allow you to mount your video camera on the side of a tree or to the side of your tree stand. I prefer an extension arm manufactured for professional photographers and used primarily for still photography. This arm is designed to attach to a corner of a table or to a round piece of metal to hold the camera still. I’ve adapted this arm so it will hold a fluid head, which is more appropriate for video photography. Now, when I hunt by myself, I can video the hunt.
Because I use a swivel seat on my tree stand, as I turn the seat to prepare for the shot, I also turn the camera at the same time. Because the newer video cameras have a flip-out screen allowing you to see what the camera is seeing, I can take my right hand and move the camera, showing the animal as it comes in before I get ready to take the shot.
If I am bow hunting, I try and make sure that before I release the arrow, the animal is in the middle of the screen. Then I go ahead and take the shot. I have found that by having the video camera, I stay much calmer because I can focus my attention on photographing the animal up until the time I have to take the shot.
I use the Sony PD 150. This is a 3-chip digital camera in DV Cam format. This camera has good light-gathering abilities. The images are clear and sharp. I like the DVD format because it makes taking out glitches and mistakes easier. I believe this to be the most-versatile camera with the highest-quality image of any camera I use in the fields.
Common Camera Mistakes
One of the worst mistakes I’ve made over the years is having the camera set up and ready to record then forgetting to hit the record button when the deer arrived. Everyone makes this mistake. I would like to think I have made this mistake for the last time. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that it could happen again. I know I get this sinking feeling right after I take a shot at an animal. “Did I hit the record button on the camera?” I think everyone is prone to make this mistake especially when you get really excited as an animal comes in for the shot.
Turn Off The Auto Focus
Another common mistake I see most often on non-professional videos is the hunter relying too much on auto focus. If you start off shooting a video of a deer coming in through a clearing at 50 yards and the camera is focused on the deer on auto focus, many times the deer will step in front of a tree or some brush half way between you and the deer. Then the camera automatically focuses on the closest object to the lens, which is usually the tree or brush between the camera and the deer. So, you’ll have a sharp and clear picture of the brush and a blurry deer in the background. I agree manual focus is not as easy to deal with as auto focus, and manual focus does require more personal attention from the hunter than auto focus does. However, if you’ll start using your manual focus more and your auto focus less, you’ll find that you get much better videos much more frequently.
Why Have A Camera
If you want to get really good videos of your hunt, take a cameraman with you. When you are hunting, you should have your undivided attention on the animal you are trying to take and the spot where you want to take shot. When you have someone else videoing you, the person running the video camera can concentrate on getting a good video. They don’t have to worry so much about where the animal is and when to take the shot. The person running the video camera can concentrate his attention on photographing you, the game and the shot.
I think some of the best video comes when the videographer has a real close tight shot of the deer and then pulls the lens back from the deer and shows the hunter in the tree and the deer on the ground. Then he/she shows the shot of the deer running off and pulls the camera lens back and shows the excitement and expression of the hunter, without any edits between those sequences. The viewer knows the hunter and the deer were at the same place at the same time, and the hunter did actually take the shot. You get all the excitement that a hunter can express after the shot.
The Making Of A Good Cameraman
If you have someone else film your hunt as I do, there are two qualities to look for in the person you choose. He or she must be a good hunter. Next, he must have good skills with the camera. I believe having a person who is decent with the camera and a very good hunter is more important than having a person with very good camera skills and little or no hunting skills. The person with a lot of camera skills and little hunting skills will often cause you not to get the shot on the animal you wanted to take when a deer is in close.
From my early days of hunting, I remember my dad and my uncle making movies of all of our hunts. Getting the movie of the hunt was often as important, if not more important, than the hunt itself. From a very young age, I learned how to capture the hunt with some type of motion picture camera, movie camera, CD or most recently, DVD camera. I was pretty much self-taught. Often you’ll find that you have as much fun videoing each other as you do actually taking the shot. If you use this system, you can still hunt, get videos of your hunt and learn how to shoot videos of your hunt.
There are seminars you can go to that teach the art of shooting hunting videos. I recommend the seminar conducted by Dan Vertalan — an outdoor writer in Michigan — and his daughter Tara. They teach hunters how to be videographers. I know we started off the week talking about what I keep in my pack and finished the week with how to do your own hunting videos, but I always keep video equipment in my pack. And as we stated the first of the week, I not only wanted to explain what was in my pack, but how and why I use it. I hope you have enjoyed this week and I look forward to getting together with you next week.