By Aaron Farley:

Hi, my name is Aaron and I’m a gearoholic. Shamed to say, I too often buy into the hype that some new piece of kit will change everything for me and be the difference between striking out and having the best season of my life. In case you missed it, I talked about this more a couple weeks ago in this post.

There is a lot of marketing hype out there, and products make promises they can’t fulfill all the time. But is there a time when having the good gear makes all the difference? Maybe everything boils down to just getting better at the skills involved, not worrying about gear? After all, mankind has been hunting since the beginning with much less than our compound bows and high-tech gadgets. Perhaps it is skill that matters most. 

 As I try to weigh the scale between skill and gear I can’t seem to give all the credit to either side. Yes, having better gear will help. No, good gear isn’t worth anything without good skill. Of course, a more skilled hunter will be more successful than a less skilled hunter all things being equal. But could a guy with less skills make up for it with awesome gear? Does one have to win when we compare gear vs skill? I think there is a sweet spot where these two meet in the middle.

The Hypothesis: Better gear will make me a better hunter.

I recently watched a YouTube video where someone was responding to a reader asking whether, or not, to update to a new bow every few years. In the answer, the host told the reader it was worth spending $1,000 on a new bow to gain 13 fps and shed 0.2 lbs because it would make him a better hunter. With his new investment he could shoot further, carry that new bow longer, and be a better hunter. I wanted to smack him a little bit at first, but it got me thinking.

We have to be careful with marketing jargon from companies who make their revenue hoping we’ll grow tired of our gear every year or two. That’s fine. I love the options we have in the hunting industry these days and I enjoy upgrading my own bow. What I question is this pervasive thought: better gear will make me a super-hunter. Too many guys fall for that stuff and end up discouraged. But, all things being equal, would better gear make me a better hunter? I think so. But it will not make me better in spite of my lack of skill.

The bottom line: Gear alone is not enough, but I could probably be more successful with gear better suited to my situation.

The Condition: Unless I am gaining skill, the gear doesn’t matter.

The other extreme is the type of guy who is still wearing red plaid wool shirts and who spends a lot of time on their “we don’t need these new gimmicks” soapbox. They probably have respectable beards and an intimidating posture. These guys pride themselves on having the skills needed to hunt game under the most difficult of circumstances, and having the brains to understand their 1980’s gear “works just fine”.

Some guys use “traditional” equipment and choose to limit their gear. Just to be clear, traditional vs. modern is not what we’re talking about here. If a guy isn’t choosing to use a particular method, there comes a time when gear improvements can make a difference. The same guy, with the same skill, could stand to benefit with certain gear improvements. But can gear make up for a lack of skill? I doubt it would.

Some of this gimmicky new gear actually does help a lot. Think about what a difference having 80-90 % let off can make. How about the difference between shooting a bow at 290fps versus 330 fps? Who could deny the benefits of backpacking a week’s worth of gear in a pack weighing less than 40 lbs? Does any of that give a guy the ability to overcome novice and inexperience? No.  

The bottom line: New gear is great, but that same gear without attention to gaining skill is worthless.

When gear makes the difference:

Reliability. One of the best advancements in new gear is simply the quality of the materials and construction. Carbon arrows don’t bend like aluminum ones did. Some of the new rain gear is just incredibly effective at keeping hunters dry and yet comfortable. Some of the new bows, broadheads, and clothing hitting the market are surprisingly durable and trustworthy. Having equipment you can rely on is worth an upgrade. As gear ages, it tends to lose reliability. New gear may make a big difference in a cold tree at dawn one morning.

Comfort. Hunting clothing, boots, packs, stands, and gear are advancing in comfort at rapid pace. Hunters are demanding function, fit and form from their gear and the market is responding. A quick comparison between the hunting clothing available today and that of even 8-10 years ago is almost shocking. Staying dry, warm and comfortable is easier than it’s ever been. Blaming boots for wet feet or long underwear for lacking warmth is a things of the past. Increasing comfort is one area where some quality gear can truly benefit the hunter.

Limits. There are situations where upgrading gear can improve our confidence to push limits. It’s on the edges of our limits where we’ll notice the difference. A hunter who has confidence in his gear to stay warm & dry may stay out that extra hour that makes all the difference. When upgrading 20-30 fps, bowhunters will notice less drop and make more confident shots. When scouting with the surety of a GPS, hunters will find bedding areas they normally wouldn’t have searched out. When we bump past our normal limitations, that’s when quality gear can make a big difference.

When skill makes the difference:

Situational wisdom. There’s no substitution for experience. Knowing how a deer is likely to react to the shot based on ear flicks and tail twitches takes real-world knowledge. There’s no app for anticipating where a buck is likely to travel based on terrain in your hunting spot. Deciding when it’s time to pack it in or push through is a highly valuable skill that isn’t available in any gear. Discerning when not to shoot, when to get down or move, and when to stay put only comes with time. Gut reactions and split second decisions are often the difference maker during the hunt – that is definitely a skill to seek, and no gear can do that for us.

Gear failure. It’s going to happen. That epic new piece of kit is going to fail at some point. Having the skill to improvise and still get it done is necessary for regular success. A quick wit, technical understanding of your gear, and proficiency with alternatives can be the difference in a ruined hunt and a great story for many campfires to come.

Endurance. No gear is going to make up for the mental fortitude that is sometimes needed to endure. At times, hunters will have to hunker down, and push through. That is a skill that comes without a dollar sign. It comes from deep within a man dedicated to an outcome. What good is the best gear on earth if we pack it up prematurely? More than anything, sticking with the hunt and putting that gear to hard use requires skill.

In the end, gear matters. Gear in skilled hands matters more. We can buy the latest and greatest gear, but we must not trust it to transform our season. The balance point between quality gear and skill is the sweet spot we’re aiming for. 

What do you think? Is it more important to have great gear, or to have great skill? Without skills, we would never find the animals to begin with. But without quality gear, we may not be able to follow through. Do you have any advice for anyone who finds themselves caught in this internal debate? How can we have both?  Let’s hear from you below in the comments section.

 – By Aaron Farley,