By: John Eberhart.
Proper location preparation can make the difference in whether or not you have success stories to tell. While your on-foot scouting only required the use of maps and or a notebook, location preparation requires specific tools and a great amount of physical labor. I finished drywall for 14 years and like any trade job, the more prepared you are concerning tools, more thorough and expedient the job will be done.
The ideal scenario is to be able to pack in and carry the necessary tools to totally prepare a location yet be mobile enough to walk, wade, or crawl through any type of cover. Please note that I didn’t say comfortably. Location preparation is a necessity that should be treated as a labor of love and while you can dress at the vehicle for comfort your preparation ventures will likely not be.
Listed is the gear and tools required for properly and expediently preparing hunting locations during post season through May.
Clothing and boots:
While scent control should be a factor when preparing locations during pre-season, one of the beauties of preparing locations during post season is you don’t have to be concerned about leaving odor.
Military surplus pants are perfect because there permeable, durable and have several large pockets for carrying items up trees.
A long sleeve cotton T’s and a lightweight permeable jacket will keep you from getting poked and scratched when busting through brush and pricker bushes. A billed ball cap is advised to aid in blocking branches from poking your eyes and face.
Always wear leather gloves as every preparation application is tough on the hands.
If it’s raining or is in the forecast, wear or carry a lightweight durable rain suit. If it’s raining, once the labor begins you’ll rapidly overheat and likely take it off and work without it as the cool rain will feel good.
Wear an uninsulated pair of knee high rubber or neoprene upper boots because in spring there will usually be areas of standing water. If you’ll need hip boots or waders, carry them with you until needed.
I keep an old watch in my pack to have access to the time. I’ve lost several when I used to wear them on my wrist by having them break off when working without knowing it.
Gear and Tools
Over the years I’ve owned and used about every conceivable location preparation item and tool and have found that some brands simply perform better than others. The poor performing brands either sit idle or have been given away or sold and this list has been narrowed down to necessary items and to save you money and time I will mention favorite brands and an explanation of why they are. They will also be listed in order of quality and performance.
Let it be perfectly clear that unlike so many hunters in the media that get paid to endorse things they actually don’t use, I don’t and never have been paid to endorse anything, so I have no horse in the race when mentioning brands.
When it comes to saw blades the cutting edge teeth on them make all the difference in the world in cutting time and sierra toothed blades, hands down, outperform all others. I will never look at a saw without a sierra toothed blade and every saw mentioned has them. The length of the saw blade also makes a huge difference in cutting time due to the length of each cutting stroke.
Extendable pole saws:
As far as I’m concerned, it’s impossible to properly prepare a location without an extendable pole saw of at least 12-feet in length when extended. You must be able to reach and cut high branches in shooting lanes that protrude into and potentially block a potential shot opportunities. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a hunter say they hit a branch, I’d be at least $50 richer. That’s an average of 10 times a year for over 50 seasons and $50 may be on the light side.
Some saws come with rope pruners and they’re a huge plus for quickly nipping limp limbs up to an inch-and-a-half in diameter. When the saws totally extended, oftentimes it’s tough to keep the blade in the same cutting groove because the limb is limp and sways and the pruner simply snips them off.
Silky makes the best and most expensive extension saws on the market and if you can afford them, they’re worth every dime. They have heavy aluminum frames with excellent extension locks and extra-long sierra toothed blades that offer longer cutting strokes and due to their cost Silky saws are rarely found in sporting goods or hardware stores but rather at specialty Stihl chain saw shops or their on-line website. Jay’s Sporting Goods is the only sporting goods store I know of that carries Silky saws.
I have a 14 ($200) and a 21 foot ($300) extendable Silky saw and neither has a rope pruner. They have 17” long blades making each cutting stroke very effective.
Corunna offers a couple extendable saws and the one I use is 14-foot long when extended, has a tubular fiberglass pole, a chain driven rope pruner, and a 14” blade. Corunna saws can be found or ordered at most independent hardware stores for around $50.
Hooyman offers a 5 and 10 foot aluminum I-beam framed extendable saw and are commonly found in sporting goods stores. The upside of Hooyman saws is they collapse very short with the 5 footer being 12 inches and the 10 footer 28 inches when collapsed. Their downside is they don’t come with a rope pruner and only have a 7 inch blade or working stroke.
Sheathed camp or handsaw:
There is never a time when just scouting or preparing locations that I don’t have a sheathed camp saw strapped to my belt. These saws typically have 13 inch long blades and scrape bark, cut trees, saplings, branches and tall stick-weeds much faster than the short folding hand saws that are sold everywhere. I use camp saws so much that I’ll burn the teeth out of a couple each year.
Because they’re much faster, these saws have replaced the machetes and sickles I carried in the past for slashing tall weeds.
Silky offers several sizes of sheathed saws ($70 to $100) and they are hands down the best, however because I go through a couple a year, I’ve never bought one.
Corunna offers an excellent saw ($18) with a slightly bowed blade and while it’s my favorite as an affordable saw, it doesn’t come with a sheath. I’ve altered a Coglans camp saw sheath to fit a Corunna saw. These are sold in or can be ordered at independent hardware stores.
Coglans offers an excellent sheathed saw ($18) and you can purchase replacement blades. These were the first sheathed saws I used and I purchase blades by the dozens directly from the manufacturer. Many large sporting goods stores carry Coglans.
“On a typical location preparation venture I carry everything other than my extension saw and sheathed saw in my backpack and like anything else you get what you pay for when purchasing a backpack. A well-made, well-designed pack with well-padded shoulder straps and padded waist strap will aid in overall weight distribution and comfort when loaded,” John Eberhart.
For sheer comfort and the ability to take serious abuse, Bad Lands packs are the best and they offer many styles and sizes and come with a lifetime unconditional warranty. I have used the same Bad Lands daypack for over 20 years and carry pointed tools, hatchet, 20 or more sharp threaded edged steps and oftentimes a cordless drill with extra batteries and have yet to wear it out beyond use. It’s getting close however.
All the major stress point straps are carried through to a second stitch point and are reinforced stitched with Kevlar thread. My favorites are their Super Day and Recon (both in the $150 to $200 range).
Look at pack models that are at least 1800 cu. inches and tall enough to contain a hatchet and extra sheathed saw.
A military pack would be my second option as they are durable whereas most inexpensive hunting packs would wear out in a year or two.
Side note: My Bad Lands location preparation pack is used exclusively for that purpose as I use a Scent Lok carbon lined backpack for hunting.
The following is a list of location preparation tools and items carried within my backpack:
There are many brands of folding handsaws and as long as they have sierra-toothed blades they all work well with the major differences being; the strength of the locking mechanism, quality of steel in the blade and teeth, and length of blade.
My brand preferences in order are; Corunna (has a longer blade), Wicked, Gerber, Hooyman, Browning, Coglans, HME. These hand saws run anywhere from $12 to $20.
When I began using ratchet pruners ($10 to $20) they were only available in the lawn & garden section at hardware stores.
They work great for snipping flimsy branches, brush, pricker bushes, and stick weeds. Cutting any of these with a saw usually requires both hands, one to hold it in place and the other to make the cut. With pruners that job can be done much faster and with one hand.
The original Florian pruners are my favorites but all brands work about equally as well and are now found in nearly every sporting goods store.
Hatchet and belt holder:
On severely rough barked trees (white oak, hickory, choke cherry, cottonwood, etc.) I use a hatchet instead of my sheathed saw to chop and scrape off bark as it that job dulls the teeth of a saw down too quickly. I carry a hatchet in a leather hammer loop holder (found in hardware stores) and slide it on my belt next to my sheathed saw.
No brand preference here but do prefer a hatchet with a wide chopping blade and good handle grip.
For large public land areas you may want to mark your locations on a hand-held GPS. For me this is just a precaution in areas I don’t hunt very often where there is always the possibility that someone removed my entry reflective tacks.
In dense timber and swamps far from the sound of road traffic, it’s easy to get turned around and I always carry a good compass for such occasions. It’s also used when finished preparing a location to get a direct line to the road for making and marking entry and exit routes.
A military style belt is used to attach the sheath saw and hatchet to because they can be adjusted (no gapped adjustment holes) to any length, they’re strong, and can quickly be adjusted when in awkward positions while in trees.
Tree steps, sticks, and stands:
The vast majority of hunters use climbers, hang-ons, climbing sticks, and ladder stands and I feel sorry for those that have to lug that cumbersome, awkward, heavy stuff around.
So-called TV and video hunting experts are commonly seen walking down a nice clean 2-track or through an open woodlot with a climber, or hang-on with sticks on their back, and that’s fine for the managed areas they hunt in, but it simply doesn’t mesh with hunting in heavily pressured areas where you typically have to traverse through brush or heavy cover to access your hunting location.
Since 1981 I’ve exclusively hunted from a self-designed harness (arborist) style system that rolls up to the size of a softball, weighs a pound-and-a-half, and easily fits in my hunting pack with all my other layer garments and gear and I use the same harness for every tree I have prepared.
While I can’t intelligently talk about strap-on sticks, I do have several brands of them that have been given to me. While I don’t use them, I loan them out to my kids for bear hunting and they say the Lone Wolf’s are the lightest and best.
I use steps and while a bit more expensive, Cranford makes the absolute best steps from a strength and ease of use perspective, in every category. Cranford’s conventional rod step ($5 ea.), single fold deluxe step ($5 ea.), and double fold folding steps ($5.50 ea.) are all simple to start and screw-in, and their folding steps have hardened pivot pins.
I’ve used every brand of steps over the years and while they’re much less expensive ($2 to $3 per rod step) they’ve all been very difficult to start into trees because they paint or coat the threads.
Cranford’s folding strap-on rope steps ($10 ea.) are what I use on state and federal lands as screw-ins are illegal. Climbing sticks also strap-on and can be used anywhere as well.
Cranford offers the best in this category as well as the threads on all their products screw in easier than the competition. Since I face the tree when hunting, I use Cranford’s bow and gun holder ($4 ea.) as they start and screw in easily, don’t bend in hard trees, and are made of premium steel. HME also offers a decent bow holder (1.49 ea.) with easy to screw in tapered threads.
A rope is used to pull my extendable saw up into the tree for cutting out of reach branches in the tree that could interfere with shooting lanes and it can also be used for hoisting hang-on stands.
I carry a 40-foot, 3/8-inch diameter solid nylon rope (not poly core). The large diameter rope is strong and doesn’t get tangled up as easily as small diameter ropes do.
Reflective tacks, ties, and trail markers:
At no time and especially in the dark do I want to take one step off course when using entry and exit routes that traverse through timber, brush, marshes, or along difficult to follow routes and use reflective markers to mark routes. In the 70’s I bought thumb tacks and put reflective fishing lure tape over them.
White reflective tacks are offered by many companies (around $5 for 50) and HME offers brown, and orange tacks as well, and HME’s are the best because they use stronger pins on their tacks and they rarely bend when pushing into hard trees as many of the other companies do. HME, Allen, Eastman Outdoors, and Primo’s offer white tacks and Hunters Specialty offers white tacks and white reflective bread ties.
The reflection from a white tack can be seen from farther distances than a brown or orange tack so they are what I use most often.
Wherever trees, hard brush, or hard-stemmed stickweeds are available I use reflective tacks and on limp brush, tall weeds, marsh grass or cattails I use reflective bread style ties.
Hang-on reflective markers have a much larger reflective area but due to their cost and how easily they are for other hunters to see, I don’t use them.
I shy away from using flagging tape for anything other than blood trailing as it’s an eye sore in the woods and an easy way for other hunters to find and possibly set-up near a location.
Water or energy drinks:
Always carry water or a quenching energy replenishing drink and let the weather conditions and approximate time you plan on spending in the field dictate how much you take.
You never know when you may need a knife.
While this needs no explanation, it’s definitely better than using leaves.
This is the most important tool I carry because when preparing trees my life is supported by it. A climbing harness has to be safe, comfortable and allow you to have both hands free for installing steps, cutting branches, scraping bark, hanging sticks and stands.
There used to be several climbing harnesses on the market but due to lawsuits likely from user error, liability insurance rates have skyrocketed and hunting companies opted out of the business. You can’t fix stupid and it only takes a few morons to destroy a category for everyone.
The climbing harnesses I use were made by API and they came with zippered side pockets for holding steps and tools. I suggest Googling arborist harnesses and choose one that’s easy to adjust. A company named New Tribe makes a nice one called Aero Hunter Evolution (is also a hunting harness) and you can read some user testimonials on the talk forum site: saddlehunter.com
If needed side pockets can be sewn onto any harness system at any canvas or awning shop.
This completes my list of basic tool requirements for location preparation but there are a few other items I carry in my van just in case they’re needed.
Some private property owners allow using a chainsaw and I carry a 14-inch Stihl for those occasions. When cutting shooting lanes a chainsaw can save a ton of time and energy. When tall trees are cut they have to be cut into manageable lengths in order to move them away from the immediate area and a chainsaw will make that job much faster and easier.
Neoprene hip boots and waders:
Your aerial maps can often show if you’re going to have to cross a river or creek and you need hip boots or waders to do it.
Canoe or boat:
On several occasions I’ve used a canoe or boat to access remote areas. The best one person canoe is Radison’s foam-lined, lightweight aluminum canoe and my 15-footer only weighs a manageable 44 pounds and came with oars and oar locks.
Editors note: John Eberhart is an accomplished big-buck bow-hunter that specializes in heavy consequential hunting pressure areas with 28 bucks listed in CBM’s recordbook from 19 different properties in 10 different counties. John produced a 3 volume instructional DVD series titled “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails” and co-authored the books, “Bowhunting Pressured Whitetails”, “Precision Bowhunting”, and “Bowhunting Whitetails The Eberhart Way”. They are available at: www.deer-john.net