This is the first of two posts reviewing some of the more important pieces of gear and equipment that Dad and I tested during our Kodiak Island Sitka black-tailed deer hunt in early September. This first post will focus on gear and equipment that I have owned and used for multiple years and on different hunts, but for which Alaska provided a new testing and proving ground. The second will cover new items in my gear repertoire.

Trekking poles are an absolute must for an early season Kodiak Island hunt. One of the only common themes that I assimilated from all the different people I talked to leading up to our adventure was that the bigger deer would be high on the mountains. Correct. On Kodiak Island, where everything is farther, steeper, and wetter than you first think, trekking poles are an absolute must. From helping to secure your footing on steep terrain to testing the ground ahead of you while traversing the drenched pothole dotted tundra valleys, don’t leave your trekking poles at home. Here is a link to our DIY-modified Walmart specials. More than a half decade later and after a whole pile of nasty pack outs, they are still going strong.

I hunted with my Kifaru Mountain Rambler and Dad carried my old batwing-style Badlands 2800. Both packs did everything we asked them to do. That said, the more pack outs that I use my Kifaru, the more my appreciation grows for being able to place the heaviest portion of the load tight against my pack frame and back. While the Kifaru is not the lightest pack on the market, I am more and more convinced that it is as bomb-proof as they advertise, and I doubt I will be parting ways with my Rambler anytime soon. As for the old Badlands 2800, it has gotten a lot of mileage this year between Kodiak Island, and I also adapted it for my mobile Midwestern run-and-gun whitetail hunting style with loc-on stand and sticks. It has a lot of hunts left in it and the versatility of having a pack with the batwing-style is impressive (it makes a GREAT shooting rest!). Speaking of shooting rests, I would not hunt Kodiak Island without a reliable rangefinder. The steepness of the terrain and the deceiving body size of some of the deer made judging distance quite difficult.

For water filters, no other option compares to the Sawyer Mini spliced into a water bladder line. Compact, lightweight, no off-taste, and 100% reliable with a near infinite lifespan, it’s simply the best water purification product on the market.

2 cutlery blades – 1 tiny, 1 huge. The “plain Jane” Havalon is my all-time favorite knife, bar none. I used 4 blades, 1 blade for every deer, and another couple blades back in camp to cape heads and trim up quarters. Even more useful than my Havalon though was my Tramontina machete. In lieu of a second trekking pole, I actually carried my Tramontina non-stop for the entire time we were hunting in Kodiak’s interior. I used it to hold back drenching wet ferns on stalks, I hacked my way through more alder thickets than I could count, and I shaved kindling off of larger chunks of firewood to start fires. I even used it to blaze paths through the navel-high ferns at times, if for no other reason than to be able to spot what limited sure footing existed on some of the steeper slopes. Last but not least, 3 or 4 swift swipes of the machete were all it took to separate each rack of ribs from every deer carcass. Clean and quick. One of the cheapest items on the trip, but definitely one of the most used and effective.

I still have a love affair with my puffy. Now Dad does too. I got him a screaming deal on an Icebreaker puffy last Christmas. Anytime we were at camp (which was a lot!), we each had our puffy to keep us warm and cozy. I think I slept in my puffy all but one or two nights as well. Kodiak’s humid air made for some cold nights even though the thermometer never fell below the mid-30s.

Lastly, I used the same general attire that I have used on all my September archery elk hunts. Lightweight Champion C9 golf pants (Dad now owns several pairs and is also a C9 convert!), light merino wool base layers when the temperature dipped a little bit, a mid-weight merino wool top, and a lightweight shell to shear wind. That sort of a set-up was completely sufficient for all Kodiak Island could throw at us in the early season. I had a set of heavier layers with me, but they were never necessary. I’ll dangle one new item as a transition into my next post. Without it, I am not sure Kodiak Island would be bearable – Helly Hansen Impertech rain jackets! As the old Mastercard commercials used to say…”priceless!”