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Junk on the Bunk: Defensive Hunter Gear

I’d like to do a layout for the equipment I used deer hunting this year. I’ve been working on a concept I’ve come to think of as the “defensive hunter”, and I wanted to use equipment that I felt was appropriate to the concept. While I plan on writing a more thorough article to detail the concept, for now think of a cross between a modern back country hunter and a light infantryman.

1) Game bags 2) Hunter’s orange vest and beanie 3) HPG kit bag 4) HPG Decker pack frame and Junction pack with Line pocket 5) Line 1 belt, 3×5 rite in the rain notepad, Leatherman Rebar, Watch 6) Badlands Hunter knife 7) Rifle cleaning gear 8) UTG Pro Recon bipod 9) MC2 compass and topo map 10) Team leader book and hunting tags 11) Sniper veil 12) Water kit: 1 liter Hunersdorf bottle, titanium cup, 1 liter Pathfinder stainless bottle, Chlorine Dioxide tablets and Electrolytes 13) 2x 1 gallon ziplocks for heart and liver 14) Emergency ration and coffee 15) Thermal glove liners, goretex glove shells, gaiters 16) 2x 6’ hanks of 550 cord, folded Mylar blanket, Bic lighter with tinder 17) Kuiu wool beanie and thermal glove liners 18) spare wool blend socks and foot powder 19) Hygiene kit: sunscreen, towelettes, bug spray, wet wipes 20) Tool kit: spare batteries, head lamp, tapes, lighter, whistle, 30’ ridgeline 21) Emergency kit: orange bandana, air horn, orange glow stick, orange signal panel, orange engineer tape, Signal mirror, bag of tinder, Exotac candletin nano, folded Mylar blanket 22) Helikon Wolfhound jacket and USGI poncho Not pictured: Collapsible trekking pole, Bahco Laplander, kip mat

Most of the gear is the same as I advocate packing in a day pack as 3A gear with the addition of a few items more specific to hunting. I still packed as if I’m planning to spend an uncomfortable night out in the bush, with just enough layers and equipment to get by. This gives me just enough emergency gear to have in case I need it, without going overboard. The idea is core body temperature preservation, so my clothing consisted of good wicking base and insulation layers with a breathable but wind proof shell top in the form of my Helikon Pilgrim Anorak. For pants I wore my trusty Tru-Spec 24-7 pants. My socks were Smart Wool hiking socks inside my Lowa Z8 goretex boots. Combined with my gaiters this setup performed very well in the snow and mud. My feet were never sweaty, wet or cold, although when I was working hard to climb tall hills they did get pretty hot. For more detail on my clothing system see this article.

Pilgrim Anorak, Tru-Spec 24-7 pants and Lowa Z8’s
When I’m not wearing my hunting clothes they are stored in a plastic tote with a few drops of pine oil sprinkled in. This seems to work well as an effective cover scent.

In case I were to get stuck out over night shelter and fire would be paramount. As part of my line 1 gear I carried a Bic lighter with a pill capsule of tinder quick inside a small waterproof baggie in my front right pants pocket. This is to ensure it’s always on me as well as kept warm enough to use should I need it. I also keep a 1/2”x6” ferro rod dummy corded in the pouch on my Badlands Drifter sheath. In my tool kit I carried an additional Bic as well as an Exotac Candletin nano. The nano is basically a beeswax tea candle with a 4 hour burn time, which is good for drying out tinder as well as using underneath a poncho to warm up in a Scout fire configuration.

My shelter items were very basic, just enough to keep precipitation off of me and block wind. Primarily this would be done with my USGI poncho, and gaiters supplemented by Mylar space blankets and all the natural insulation I could gather if need be. I always bring my goretex glove shells to keep my hands warm in wet and cold weather. Once you lose dexterity you are in very big trouble, so having the right gear to keep your hands dry and warm is important. Being able to quickly make firewood was also the main reason I brought my Bahco Laplander, in my mind it is an essential piece of gear to have with on winter outings and doesn’t weigh much.

My emergency equipment was based off my emergency plan that I left at home with my wife. This plan detailed the general area where I was going to be hunting, what time I should be home, and what to do if I wasn’t home at that time. It detailed my signal plan with the radio frequencies I had on my radio, as well as day and nighttime visual and audible signals. I also scanned my boot print and included it with the information too. The intent was for my wife to give all this information to either a buddy of mine or the sheriff so they would be able to find me in case I was hurt.

The Kit Bag

Kit Bag Contents
1) HPG Heavy Recon Kit Bag 2) Blue Force Gear 10 speed 3 mag pouch 3) HPG medium bino pouch 4) First Spear GP small pouch 5) North American Rescue elastic CAT tourniquet pouch 6) Vortex Diamondback HD 10×50 binos 7) 3x 15 round 6.5 Grendel mags 8) Baofeng UV5R 9) Combat Gauze and 4” emergency trauma dressing 10) CAT Tourniquet

Hill People Gear has quickly became one of my favorite gear companies because of the quality of the gear as well as the modularity they design into their equipment. Most of their products integrate well with each other in numerous ways so that the end user can create a system that works for them. One of their designs is the “kit bag”, a chest mounted pack that is used to carry essentials as well as a concealed handgun. I’ve had one of their original kit bags for a few years and really like it. For the “defensive hunter” gear I chose to go with one of their heavy Recon kit bags to take advantage of the MOLLE on the front. Many people would automatically assume this is for magazine pouches, but I actually wanted to use it for mounting a bino pouch. I’ve found that having a set of binos handy really helps when scanning the terrain as you are moving. I was afraid that it would make the kit bag too thick to shoot in the prone, but this wasn’t the case at all and the kit bag actually works very good as a rear support under the stock. The Vortex Diamondback HD 10×50’s I used performed really good and having them mounted on my chest was very useful.

Because the defensive hunter concept is about merging the skills and abilities of a modern hunter with the tactical and technical capabilities of a light infantryman, I wanted to utilize the kit bag as a sort of chest rig, carrying the fighting, scouting and hunting essentials. While I wanted it to function similarly to a chest rig, I didn’t want it to look like a chest rig. Part of the defensive hunter concept is not looking overtly tactical while still retaining a lot of tactical capabilities. You will probably notice that there is minimal camouflage patterned gear, instead relying on a mixture of earth tone colors to break up my silhouette.

I chose instead to mount magazine pouches on the inside of the kit bag using a Blue Force Gear 10 Speed triple mag pouch. These are streamlined mag pouches made out of an elastic material, so there’s no flaps or buckles. While I’m not sure I would want to use these on the outside of a chest rig because of the lack of protection for the magazine, I felt they were a good choice to put inside the kit bag’s main compartment. Since my rifle is chambered in 6.5 Grendel, the magazine dimensions are exactly the same as the 5.56 magazines the mag pouch was designed to use. The internal dimensions of the kit bag only allow a magazine up to the size of a 20 round 5.56 magazine, so the 15 round 6.5 mags I use fit very good.

The reload for this setup is still fairly simple. As long as the zippers on the kit bag are staged on the weak hand side, you simply unzip the pouch, reach in and remove a magazine and after inserting the magazine just zip the pouch back shut. Since the defensive hunter is not a direct action type of role, there isn’t much need for the high speed reload necessary in a close quarters battle situation.

Detail of magazine pouches installed inside kit bag. One of the great things about the 6.5 Grendel is that it was designed to have the same overall length as a 5.56 round and as a result the magazines are the same dimensions.

Besides ammunition I also wanted to carry two other critical pieces of equipment, my radio and my trauma gear. The radio pouch I chose is a First Spear GP small pouch, which just fits a UV5R with a stubby antenna. I attached a Grimlock to the side of the pouch for a location to attach my radios dummy cord. Since using radios to assist in hunting is illegal where I live this radio was for emergency use only because cell service is mostly nonexistent where I hunt.

Binos and UV5R

For trauma gear I went somewhat minimal and focused on items to stop rapid blood loss caused by either slipping with a cutting tool or a gun shot wound. For this I picked a combat gauze and 4” emergency trauma dressing. Both of these items fit nicely in one of the pockets on the inside of the kit bag’s main compartment. I also brought along a CAT tourniquet which I stored in a MOLLE pouch underneath the kit bag where it was easy to access with both hands.

Combat gauze and ETD in the right pocket, head lamp in the left.
CAT holder mounted to bottom of kit bag.
Even with a Glock 19 with light and a spare mag there is room to spare in the rear pocket of the kit bag. I didn’t carry the pistol while hunting, I just wanted to show it as an option.

The pack

For my pack I chose to carry a HPG Junction Daypack with their Line Pocket attached. This gave me enough room for what I would consider an adequate day load. I could have definitely gone with less stuff, but I felt that because of the remoteness of the locations I’d be going and the possible weather I could encounter I wanted to be fully prepared. I can always stage my pack once I get into a hunting area if I need to move fast and light for a bit.

An element present in Hill People Gear’s design philosophy is the capability to expand a pack’s capacity by adding on what they call “pockets”. This is great for me because in my region a daypack load in July could look very different than one for in December. Typically this is because of the extra layers required during the colder months, but we often don’t want to wear all these layers during peak activity, so having an attachment to store extra layers under when necessary is great. The Line Pocket I’m using (shown in standard multicam in the picture) provides this overflow ability. Of course other items could be stored under the line pocket as well like a water bladder, rolled up tent, etc.

Here the Line Pocket is unhooked at the top to allow access to my Bahco saw, poncho, Wolfhound jacket and Sniper veil. These items are all held in place by a 550 cord compression system, simple but functional.
The interior of the Junction is about 20 liters in capacity, just enough for some essential items and a few snacks.
There are two side bottle sleeves for up to a 1L bottle and cup. One thing I don’t like about this pack is that when bottles are inserted they cut into the space available on the interior of the pack.

Because of the fact that I was going back into areas to hunt that were far away from roads, I also chose to attach my daypack to a HPG Decker Packframe. I’m a big fan of pack frames and the versatility they allow. The reason I did this was so that if I did get a deer, I could quarter it and pack it out versus trying to drag it a couple miles. This setup was easy to carry and I’ve found the HPG Prairie hip belt to be extremely comfortable.

Junction daypack attached to pack frame. Had I got a deer I would have quartered it, placed the quarters in games bags, then put them between the day pack and the pack frame.
Empty Decker Packframe

The rifle

Earlier this year I had planned on carrying my Marlin .30-.30 hunting this year, but I decided at the last minute to carry a different rifle. As I’ve been developing the defensive hunter idea a lot of thought was given to what kind of rifle might work best. The rifle I put together for this project is a compromise between the ideas and my budget, so in other words it isn’t perfect but I do feel it is adequate. It shares many similarities in its expected usage with that of the Scout Rifle concept put forth by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, but since I’m trying to integrate the whole rifle into a man portable system for use in my region and I have the advantage of calibers, rifles, and optics that he didn’t in the early 80’s I’ve chosen to go a different route in the technical aspects.

1) Triad Tactical Stock pack 2) 15 round magazine 3) Primary Arms 2.5 – 10 GLx in Steiner rings 4) Triad Tactical forend wrap 5) UTG Pro Recon 360 bipod 6) Silencerco flash hider and suppressor mount 7) Magpul RLS Sling

The rifle I chose is a Ruger American Ranch in 6.5 Grendel. I’ve got the bigger brother, an American Predator in 6.5 Creedmoor, and I think they are a great value. I wanted something more compact and lighter though. Besides the fact that the barrel is shorter, at 16”, the rifle also helps reduce the carried weight by using a cartridge that is lighter than larger cartridges like a .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor but still offers much better ballistics than a 5.56. This was important to me because the terrain I live in allows for shots at distances that the 5.56 struggles to reach. While this may not seem like a big deal at first, the weight and size reduction is significant when you consider it’s not just the cartridge, but the magazines and rifles themselves and even the pouches that carry the magazines.

I recently compared the ballistics of my 6.5 Grendel to that of a .308 rifle I own. Both of these sets of ballistic data have been trued at distance by me. Both sets are using high BC bullets for their specific calibers.

If we compare the two sets of data we can see that the 6.5 bullet out of a 16” barrel is nipping right at the heels of the .308 match load, only dropping 9 more inches at 700 yards and drifting 5 more inches at that distance in a 10MPH full value wind. This is pretty impressive considering the significant difference in appearance of the two rounds. While the numbers above clearly prove that the .308 in this instance is ballistically better, the compact nature and lighter weight of the 6.5 makes it more practical for carrying. It’s also worth noting that both rounds go transonic (under 1200 feet per second) somewhere between 700 and 800 yards as indicated by the red data rows in the tables.

Left to right: 5.56/.223, 6.5 Grendel, .308
Magazine size comparison left to right: 15 round 6.5 Grendel, 5 round .308, 20 round .308, 10 round AI style .308. While the picture doesn’t quite show it, the 6.5 magazines are the same width as a 5.56 AR magazine.

As an interesting data point I weighed three round samples of 5.56, 6.5 Grendel and .308 and this was what I found:

  • 6.5 Grendel, factory Hornady 123 grain SST: 17.6 Grams each
  • .223 Remington, 65 grain Sierra Gameking hand load for AR-15: 12 grams each
  • .308 Winchester, M118LR clone hand load: 25.8 grams each

As we can see, there’s a significant weight difference between the 6.5 Grendel and the .308. In fact, the particular .308 rounds I weighed were 46.5% heavier than the 6.5 Grendel rounds. Despite being a match load, they don’t deliver 46.5% better ballistics though. And since 28 grams equals an ounce, we can safely say that we are cutting a lot of weight by switching to the 6.5 Grendel from the .308. In just the first 20 rounds you would be saving nearly 6 ounces. That’s a lot of weight, and in the world of “ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain” that’s much less pain. People spend a lot of money to shave ounces with titanium and carbon fiber equipment. As an interesting note, the percent increase of weight from my .223 load to the 6.5 Grendel is almost the same as it was to go from 6.5 to .308, but in this instance I feel the improved ballistic juice is worth the squeeze.

All these weight numbers really don’t matter much if you’re only carrying a handful of rounds like a guy that is only out deer hunting, but since we are trying to blend the capabilities of a hunter and a light infantryman we need to be able to carry more ammunition than a regular hunter, but probably not as much as someone in a combat zone. For myself I felt 60 rounds (4x 15 round mags) was adequate.

The Ruger American rifles come with a polymer stock that works, but could be better. The main problem I have is that it isn’t a very ergonomic stock, being a bit on the slender side for me. But, because of it’s light weight and the fact that it isn’t hard to improve on I chose to keep it rather than change it out for a heavier but more ergonomic stock. The biggest improvement to make was to add a stock pack to it. This not only gives me a place to store items specific to the rifle but it also helps to raise the comb of the stock to give me a very good check weld. The suede material that Triad Tactical uses on their also provides good grip against my cheek and isn’t cold to the touch in cold weather. On the forend of the rifle I used one of Triad’s Hypalon forend wraps, this gives a nice padded contact point when shooting off a rest as well as a nice place to grip the rifle with gloves on.

The optic of a rifle is an important decision, often setting the stage for what kind of uses the rifle will be best at, and should be chosen carefully. Not only should magnification and reticle choice be of concern, but so should weight, turret style as well as overall size. A rifle in this role needs to have good practical accuracy at distances that are common in the region it’s being used in, as long as overall weight of the rifle is kept low. I once had a different .308 bolt gun, set up in a similar fashion to this one that could reach 1000 yards easily, but because of poor choices I made in setting it up it weighed 14 pounds loaded. This rifle weighs 7.25 pounds loaded and is very easy to handle and carry.

I also wanted the rifle to be quick handling at shorter range as well, like what might be encountered in the forests where I live. I’ve been a fan of the Primary Arms line of optics for a long time and they are usually my first stop when I’m researching an optic. After skimming through the available options I felt the best balance of weight and performance would be their 2.5-10x GLx rifle scope with the Griffin Mil reticle. The ACSS line of optics offer good features that make the rifle useful at long distance as well as close distance.

While I normally like one of their ACSS BDC reticles, they didn’t have one I really felt was a good fit for this rifle in an optic I was interested in. That’s OK though, there’s definitely more than one way to skin a cat and I know a thing or two. Like I’ve discussed in my classes, there’s different ways to zero a rifle for different uses. If I don’t have a BDC reticle in my optic I prefer to use a Max Point Blank Range (MPBR) zero. A MPBR zero sets up the rifle with the best zero to keep the impact of the round within a certain sized vital zone for as long of a distance as possible without having to hold over. It gives us a great point of aim – point of impact zero so that no math or calculation for distance is needed, within the range that it is good for. In other words, when a target at closer range (under 300 yards) comes into view we may not have the time to worry about holding over for elevation, we may only have a couple seconds, so being able to put the crosshairs on the target and fire quickly is important. On the flip side, if we detect a target at further distance we most likely will have the time necessary to dial or hold over. The beauty of using a MPBR zero with a milling reticle is that we can do both.

This is very easy to calculate with a good ballistic calculator like Strelok Pro. After getting my initial 100 yard zero and gathering my initial muzzle velocity data I fired up Strelok’s MRD calculator:

I set it up for a 4” vital zone radius, giving me an 8” vital zone, which is a good size for a deer. After inputting the vital zone radius I hit calculate and it outputs specific data to my rifle based on the bullet, it’s speed and the weather I’ve put in. For these initial setups I stick with 60 degrees. As we can see the calculator gave me a recommended zero of 238 yards. We can also see that with a 238 yard zero we should be able to hit within that 8” vital zone out to 276 yards.

My next task was to go into the reticle view. Since I’ve told Strelok what scope I’m specifically using it has the exact reticle I’m using. This view gives us all of our yardage holdovers in red numbers. We can see with 0 clicks dialed onto the elevation turret the top of the chevron aiming point is where we would aim for a 99 yard shot. This makes sense since I just zeroed the rifle at 100 yards to this aiming point.

Now this is just a standard initial 100 yard zero, which is a good place to start. But I really want my rifle to be able to take advantage of a MPBR zero. In the calculator above we can see that we need to zero the rifle at 238 yards to set this up. While I could try and setup a target at exactly 238 yards and zero it by shooting at it, it’s much easier for me to just rezero the scope using data I already have. While I’m in the reticle view of Strelok I can start adding clicks of elevation until my zero point at the top of the chevron is close to what the calculator told me for a MPBR. 10 clicks later I’m as close as I can get.

Now all that is left was to reset my zero stop turrets and confirm my zero at distance, which I did the day I was at the range on some steel targets I have.

After dialing in the 10 clicks of elevation I reset my turrets to zero to give me a 235 yard zero, which is very close to what the calculator suggested.
One of the great features of Strelok Pro is the capability to produce a visual reference of all your holdovers. Here we can see what the holdovers are with my 235 yard zero for every 1/2 Mil out to 15 Mils. The pink lines on the left are the windage holds for a full value 10 MPH wind blowing left to right. I printed this off with a spreadsheet of my adjustments and laminated it, this rides in my stock pack.

Accuracy for this particular rifle is good with the right rounds. Using Hornady Match 123 grain BTHP produced very accurate groups around 1/2 MOA. Using Hornady Black 123 grain ELD and Hornady Custom 123 grain SST’s both produced groups around 2 1/2 MOA. Although 2 1/2 MOA doesn’t sound good, it’s still accurate enough to stay within my 8” vital zone out to about 350 yards, which is probably all the further I should attempt a shot on a deer anyways. As time goes on this rifle will most likely be getting a carbon fiber barrel, so this barrel will do until then.

Conclusion

While I didn’t get a deer this year, mainly because I was initially being picky and I held myself to higher “rules of engagement” than many hunters probably would, I was very happy with how this setup performed. I would consider the kit bag as set up ideal, while the Junction Daypack on the other hand did its job but I don’t know if I would suggest getting it over the LJK Daypack, simply because they both do the same thing equally well and the Junction as configured with the line pocket is much more expensive. I was able to carry all the equipment comfortably through rough and slick terrain easily and was able to get into positions where had I chosen to kill a deer I easily could have on numerous occasions. I feel that if circumstances were different and there were more threats than just wildlife and weather I also don’t feel I would be outgunned in most circumstances, and I was prepared to handle any logical emergencies and would have been able to survive had I gotten stuck out in the bush.

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