As I placed my IKEA sheepskin on the saddle, I felt the entire camp turn their heads to look.
I doubt the sheep was ever as white as the piece that now draped my pony.
It glared in the sun. And I wasn't sure if the other hunters and guides gave me looks of appreciation or disbelief.
I might have looked like a fool to my fellow hunters. They all brought small, practical lambskins.
The item was on the hunting gear list to help minimize the effect of sitting in a saddle for a whole week. That's important for folks who rarely go anywhere near a horse.
Fortunately, we soon left camp to hunt for ibex.
And it turned out that my Kazakh guides thought the sheepskin was the coolest thing they'd ever seen.
So I quickly settled into the role of king of pony bling.
It wasn't a critical error.
But it demonstrated that a 3rd party gear list can be full of pitfalls.
And as I'll share later, optimization is not just about what's on the list.
Whether you work on your own hunting gear list or start with one you got from an outfitter.
Hunting gear lists - double-edged swords
I don't know what it is about hunting gear lists, but I love them.
At a practical level, they provide a ton of value.
By helping me structure and organize my gear.
But there's also a kind of daydreaming aspect.
Reading a gear list is a surefire way to help me visualize a potential hunting trip.
I'll even google gear lists for trips that are nowhere near being planned.
It's better than Netflix.
But one day, as I worked on my efficient hunter framework (where lists are a critical component), an unpleasant realization hit me.
I'd failed miserably on some hunting trips.
Even though I thought I'd refined my gear to perfection.
One time I was too slow to take a shot on a Kudu in South Africa. And the same thing happened on that ibex hunting trip to Kazakhstan.
On reflection, it was clear that lists are useless on their own.
They might even work against you.
By giving you a false sense of security.
That's a big problem for me.
I want to make the most of my hunting time and budget.
And I definitely want to avoid looking like a fool in front of a guide, PH, or hunting buddy.
Maybe you're the same?
At least, that IKEA sheepskin provided extra comfort when combined with my sleeping mat. And in general, despite the challenges, I was still sure about the value of gear lists. I just needed to figure out how to unlock it.
Here's a summary view of my roadmap to the solution.
When you've read the articles, you will have more than three steps.
You will have an understanding of why they're essential.
And hopefully, inspiration to explore other ideas that can help you improve as a hunter.
"Own" your hunting gear list
After some reflection, I realized the root cause of the problem was how I used the lists.
When I'd used them without questioning each item, the lists got in the way of proper planning and preparation.
Yes. I'd seen the hunting gear list from my outfitter as an endpoint. And I now realized that it was just a starting point.
Without afterthought and implementation, a gear list can make you complacent.
That false sense of security I talked about earlier.
A gear list from an outfitter or fellow hunter is only valuable when you have evaluated it and integrated it. Heck, that even goes for lists you build from scratch yourself.
Here's a key point.
When reviewing the list, you might not make any changes at all.
But your understanding of the list will improve dramatically.
That's a simple idea.
But finding a solid solution took me years.
How could I evaluate and implement any given hunting list to make it my own?
Borrowing tools from the masters of optimization
Long story short, I ended up defining a process to help me prepare for hunting trips.
And optimizing my gear list is a central part of that process.
As a matter of fact, the process will give you a gear list on steroids.
More on that later.
It all started as a quest to become a more efficient hunter.
To get there, I created a framework based on tools from LEAN Manufacturing.
LEAN is derived from the system the folks at Toyota use to make their manufacturing processes more efficient.
I was LEAN certified at General Electric, where I saw how the system provides a first-class structure for optimization.
Two concepts from LEAN will help you optimize your hunting gear list.
On a practical level, they inform the three steps I'll share below.
On a conceptual level, they will help you see your hunting gear, and how you use it, in a new light.
The concepts are the Japanese terms Muda and Nagara.
- Muda - to remove waste
- Nagara - to create flow.
Removing waste is probably what you thought about when you read the headline of this article. Ensuring you bring an optimal selection of gear.
Nagara is the bonus that will help you "own" your list.
Waste: the hunting gear that doesn't add value
To me, removing waste is about organizing your gear.
And you do that in two main steps:
- Selecting the right equipment (removing "gear waste").
- And figuring out how to carry each piece of equipment (removing "movement waste").
I assume you start with a list. More on starting from scratch later.
A big question for me was how to identify waste.
Long story short, my main reference point is the hunting process.
At a high level, the process is about defining how you will hunt.
It means establishing the steps you will take to find and shoot the animal.
- Will you hunt on foot or from a fixed position?
- Will the terrain be flat or hilly? Will you shoot far or at short ranges?
- Will you hunt in warm weather or cold weather?
You don't have to map the process (although it helps). But you must be able to describe the overall activities.
That way, you make sure you understand what role each piece of gear will play.
The process will also help you decide how to carry your equipment. And that's all about priority.
You need to make sure you have easy access to critical items. That's the equipment you use regularly or need in a hurry.
I appreciate that planning how to carry your gear might seem like a detour from a gear list. Then, when you think about it, a gear list is useless if you can't use the gear. A little like that phone call in the Matrix...
In summary, the first two steps to help you optimize your gear list are to determine if each piece adds value. And decide how you will carry gear for optimal access.
Flow - arrange activities in a smooth sequence.
When you have removed waste, it is time to create flow.
In LEAN terminology, flow is about arranging work in a tight sequence.
And the objective is efficiency, higher throughput, and low effort.
Two concepts help me adapt "flow" to hunting:
- My hunting principles and
- The "four levels of competence" model.
Long story short, I view hunting as managing the window of opportunity.
You create the window. And you use the window.
To use the window of opportunity, you need to be able to act fast.
Yes, there's a whole lot of other things going on. But to me, things like adequate accuracy are basic standards any hunter must meet.
You never know how much time you have.
So you need to be able to deploy your gear before that deer decides to go elsewhere.
Using gear is about skill.
And the highest level of the "four levels of competence" model is "unconscious competence".
It means you use your gear without thinking about it.
There's a whole lot of benefits to that.
For now, we'll focus on the fact that you won't have to pause to use your gear.
Which means a tighter sequence.
And improved flow.
So, for your gear list to be supercharged. If you want to "own" it. You need to be able to use each piece of gear unconsciously. And transition between several pieces of equipment seamlessly.
3 steps to optimize your hunting gear list
In reality, optimizing your list is also about optimizing what you do.
And the three steps to get there are:
- Remove unnecessary gear (ask why it's on the list)
- Decide how to carry your gear (ensure you have adequate access)
- Make sure you can use your gear unconsciously (individually and several pieces of equipment in concert)
Considering the examples from South Africa and Kazakhstan, the root cause issue wasn't unnecessary gear (equipment waste).
The problem was my lack of speed when getting into position under field conditions (a lack of flow).
And in my experience, that's where most folks struggle and make mistakes.
The three steps help address that.
I still love gear lists. And I think they are essential.
These days, I know not to let a 3rd-party list lull me into a false sense of security.
I encourage you to look for gear lists. It's entertaining to revisit them, and it will help you reflect on hunting.
When you need a list for a hunting trip. Or, when you're getting ready for a new season, consider the three steps above.
They will help you make the list your own. They will help you own the list.
Not just the content, but how well you put the gear to use.
From 3 to 6 steps
As much as the three steps are good pointers, I personally wanted a little more structure.
I wanted a step-by-step process to help me assess each item I'd need. And develop a plan for carrying and using them.
As mentioned above, I based the three steps on optimizing an existing list.
For the extended process, my starting point is an empty list. And 3rd party gear lists count as sources of input.
If you want to hedge your bets when hunting, and I think you might find the process fascinating.
Thanks for reading.
All the best,