Lets talk for a moment about the stuff a modern hunter takes to the field with him.
When I was working as a guide I was continually surprised by the amount of gear a hunter thought he needed to go from the truck to a deer stand. It was normal for the hunter to carry his rifle, at least a box of ammo, a couple of knives, binoculars, spotting scope, compass or GPS, and a large backpack full of who knows what. I usually took my binoculars, pocket knife, hunting knife, and an extra jacket, if it was supposed to get cold. If I was doing the hunting I added a rifle and a small ammo pack on my belt.
Then came the interesting part. When a nice buck showed itself and I picked up my binoculars to see if it was a shooter, the hunter would often start digging in his pack for his video camera.
Listen to me. If the guide grabs his binoculars to look at a buck, you should be grabbing your rifle, not your camera. At the very least you should grab your binoculars to see if the buck is one you would shoot. You may have only a few moments to decide and make the shot, so you need to be ready.
Shot on the run at 350 yards. Photo: Steve LaMascus
Then after the above took place and I had decided the buck was a shooter, the hunter would be digging in his backpack, again, this time looking for his laser rangefinder.
Quite often, when we were hunting from a high-rack vehicle, we would find a nice buck; it would be standing, as they sometimes will, trying to decide which way to run; the hunter would be trying to use his rangefinder to determine if the buck was 150 or 200 yards away. In the meantime I would be whispering, "Shoot! Shoot! Hes not gonna stand there all day, shoot!" A lot of deer are lost because of this scenario.
You as a hunter need to be prepared to take a shot at a seconds notice. If your rifle is properly sighted in, at the right distance, it does not matter if that buck is 150 or even 300 yards away. You only need to use the rangefinder if you have the time and if you think the animal is beyond your point-blank range; point-blank being that distance within which your bullet does not rise or fall more than 4 inches above or below the line of sight.
We have discussed this before, but with the ascendancy of the laser rangefinder, I think it needs to be said again. Your rifle, assuming that it is one that shoots a standard size and weight bullet at somewhere between 2700 and 3200 feet per second, should be sighted in for the longest distance that will not cause you to make mid-range misses. With the standard deer rifle of the.243 Winchester, .25-06, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06-class, and that includes almost everything up to the .300 Winchester magnum, such sighting is 3 inches high at 100 yards. This sighting will allow you to hold dead center on a normal buck deer out to a bit beyond 300 yards and kill it, without needing to resort to a rangefinder. With slower cartridges the range will vary, but the idea is still valid.
Beyond this point-blank range you need to know the ballistic trajectory of your rifle so you can make allowances. This is when that rangefinder comes in handy. However, in all my years of hunting deer, from the deep brush of South Texas to the mountains and high plains of far West Texas, and several Western states, I can only remember 2 Texas deer and one Wyoming pronghorn that I shot beyond 300 yards. I do, however, remember a number of deer that I shot at considerable and unknown ranges by using the above sighting.
100-yard targets Photo: Steve LaMascus
While having all these wonderful high-tech gadgets is a good thing, and in many instances they are almost indispensable, they are not always needed or even helpful. In many instances our dependence on them gets in the way and we end up looking and checking when we should be shooting.
My advice to you is to take only as much gear as you will need, and be as well-prepared as you can possibly be. There is seldom any need to carry a 40-pound pack from the truck to the deer stand. Most of the time a gun, 8 or 10 rounds of ammo, a good binocular, and a well-designed hunting knife, along with appropriate attire and a water bottle, will take care of our needs. First and foremost, sight your gun, carefully, as I have described above, and you are all set. Leave the other stuff in the truck. You can go back for it after the hunt, should you need it.
As for cameras, I have found it almost impossible to both hunt and take photos. This has sometimes caused me grief as a writer, since good photos sell a story. Sadly, I have learned over the years that if you try to do both, neither will be done very well. However, as Elmer Keith said, "I always try to let a man scratch his fleas in his own way."