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Expedition Essentials: Bowhunting Gear for Michigan Deer Season

Bowhunting season for whitetail deer is in full swing throughout the Detroit region! Here are the five essential bowhunting gear items that you will need to get you off of the couch and into the woods.

In case you missed it, Michigan and Ontario’s bowhunting seasons for whitetail deer kicked off on October 1st, while Ohio has been in-season since September 24th. For us Michigan hunters, the start of bow season is the de facto gateway to fall. Despite any lingering warm weather or mosquitos still reflecting summer, the changing leaves, crisp breezes, and diminishing crowds signal that the best time of the year to get in the woods has finally arrived. You just can’t beat spending a morning in a tree stand followed by watching the Spartans, Wolverines, or Lions in the afternoon (alright, maybe not the Lions…).

If you are considering joining the bowhunting action this season - which we highly recommend, even if it’s just for the exercise, excuse to spend time in nature, or financially support the DNR - there are certain items that you will need to acquire before you step out into the woods. We have prepared the following list of essential bowhunting gear items, although you will also need to purchase the requisite hunting licenses from the DNR, research which public lands are open to hunting, and (most importantly) practice with your bow.

Here are Expedition Detroit’s five essentials for bowhunting gear:

1. Fully-Outfitted Bow with Broadhead Arrows

Regardless of whether you would prefer a compound bow or crossbow, you will need a bow with a draw weight of at least 30 lbs for harvesting a deer. Your bow should include certain technical features that are intended to assist accuracy, stealth, and arrow transport, such as a stabilizer, sight, peep hole, string silencers, D Loop, arrow rest, and detachable quiver. For hunting, your fletched arrows will require broadheads for the infliction of lethal wounds (do not use field points for hunting large game - field points should be used predominantly for target practice).

Bonus Item: Archery Release

Most hunters would consider a trusted archery release mechanism to be a near-essential item, and we whole-heartedly agree. Most hunters carry an “index finger release” into the woods with them, seeing as such releases have a similar feel to pulling the trigger of a firearm, although “thumb releases” and “back tension releases” are also widely used.

2. Camouflaged Clothing.

While it may seem simple enough to drop in to your local sporting goods store and purchase the first set of camouflaged clothing on the rack, there are several nuances that you should consider before pulling out your credit card. One of the most important considerations is purchasing the correct camo clothing items for the temperatures that you will be hunting in. Any experienced hunter can attest to October 1st and January 31st - the beginning and end of the bowhunting season in several Metro Detroit counties - having wildly different temperature ranges. As such, your camo repertoire should consist of items like lightweight shirts, pants, and baseball cap for early season conditions and base layers, a heavier shirt, thicker pants, gloves, beanie, and a warm, insulated jacket for late season. You should also consider the surrounding foliage or terrain of where you will be hunting when deciding on a specific pattern.

Note: Bowhunters are only required to wear blaze orange outerwear during the regular firearm season (November 15th-30th in Michigan).

Bonus Item: Camouflaged Stand

Similar to your clothing, your hunting success will absolutely benefit from any additional actions taken to camouflage your stand. Fortunately, most ladder stands, climbing stands, and other ground blinds are already manufactured with camo patterns. However, using elements from the surrounding environment to further camouflage your stand will greatly enhance the concealment or any movement and likelihood that a deer will notice your stand. Camo netting and other manufactured tree stand camo accessories can also have a similar concealment effect.

Note: Always wear a safety harness in any elevated stand.

3. Hunting Boots

Nothing ends a hunt faster than cold, wet feet, other than perhaps a rolled ankle. A sturdy, waterproof, and well-insulated pair of hunting boots resolves both of these problems before stepping into the field. Comfort is obviously the most important factor when considering which hunting boot to purchase, but you should also review a boot’s ankle support, tread, weight, and weather-specific features like insulation and waterproofing. In other words, a solid pair of hunting boots should make you feel indestructible while in the field.

Bonus Item: Foot and Hand Warmers

Regardless of how warm my hunting clothing and boots are, nothing beats a stash of strategically-placed hand and foot warmers on those bone-chilling mornings. I like to place hand warmers in my gloves (certain gloves have compartments specifically for hand warmers), torso pockets of my jacket, and mid-thigh pockets in my pants. Foot warmers for your boots are also essential on those days when winter decides to crash the fall hunting party. Your toes will thank you as you’re following a bright-red blood trail through the snow.

4. Hunting Knife

Other than your bow and arrows, a dependable hunting knife may be the most useful and versatile item of your bowhunting gear. While almost any knife will get the job done for field dressing, we strongly recommend acquiring a fixed-blade knife with a 3½ to 5-inch sturdy blade and gut-hook. We also recommend a simple knife sharpener to ensure that your blades are always sharp when you need them the most.

Bonus Item: Field Dressing Kit

You have successfully placed a lethal shot, tracked the blood trail, and have finally laid eyes upon the harvested animal. Congrats - but don’t celebrate too early. The closing phase of a glorious hunt is now before you, and you must field dress your harvested deer. We recommend carrying a small kit specifically intended for field dressing a deer into the woods with you (or at least in your car or ATV if nearby). Beyond your hunting knife, this kit should include latex gloves, a bone saw (may be included as a feature of your knife), plastic bags for preserving the heart and liver, paracord or rope for dragging the deer out of the woods (at least 25 ft.), and a gut hook (not necessary but helpful).

Note: Always be sure to hold your knife so its blade faces up to avoid puncturing organs. There are few more disconcerting sounds in the field than the sound of a punctured stomach releasing its methane and other lovely smells directly into your nostrils… Click here with a helpful instructional video from MeatEater regarding how to field dress a deer.

5. Headlamp

Headlamps are an essential item for most camping or backcountry expeditions, but I’d argue that a fully-charged headlamp is especially necessary for hunting. Regardless of what stage of the season you will be primarily hunting within, a full day’s hunt starts long before sunrise and often ends hours after the sun sets. Using a headlamp while loading and unloading your gear, getting in and out of your stand, and tracking wounded game is vital for not only efficient backwoods navigation, but freeing up your hands for the myriad of other tasks associated with a successful hunt.

Bonus Item: Reflective Trail Markers

Once you find your ideal stand locations, be sure to mark a trail in and out from your stand with reflective pins or similar markers. The goal here is that a first-time hunter should be able to find your stand with ease, so feel free to liberally mark your trail as needed to “idiot proof” the trail. Trust me, you do not want to be the guy who can’t find their stand on opening morning… yes, that’s a specific reference to a very specific lesson learned on my first opening day.


In addition to these items, you must always carry identifying documents into the field (e.g., your driver’s license and hunting license), along with a fully-charged cell phone. Backpacks or similar carrying equipment can assist with carrying these essential items - as well as any other accessories that you may acquire in between your hunts - easily and efficiently into the woods.

Best of luck this season!


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