A quality day pack is a must for all Kiwi hunters and sorting though the plethora of options on the market can be a headache. Size, colour, features and price-point all come into the equation as well as the terrain and style of hunting you prefer.
For the past couple of months we have been testing the new Huntaway pack from Cactus Outdoor fitted with their new Rifle Scabbard. While Cactus have been well regarded within the hunting community for sometime this is their first foray into more dedicated hunting products. The Cactus reputation has grown around some strong core brand values – quality robust products that are built to last, simplicity of design and NZ made. The first impressions of the Huntaway resonate all of these principles. Simple no frills design with a single access top pocket and bulletproof 12oz canvas construction give the instant feeling that this pack will do all that is required of it and last a very long time, but how does it perform in the field.
The first trip we took the pack on was to a Tahr ballot block in the high alpine of the Adams Range. This was an ideal test arena, with snow on the ground and some serious country to navigate we needed a pack that would perform. At altitude in Winter we needed room for multiple layers of clothing and an ice axe as well as the usual go to bits – rangefinder, camera, food, water, etc. Despite it’s narrow shape the Huntaway easily fitted everything we needed for the day but what if we got lucky and needed to bring home a Tahr skin?
Well we didn’t need to wait long to work this one out as within a km of camp we spotted our first good looking bull and an hour later it was skinned and loaded into the huntaway. It was a squeeze with all the extra gear but fitted nonetheless and the elastic mesh on the front of the pack was the perfect way to attach the head. The carry out was a slog up a steep hill in crampons with 15kgs of Tahr skin on board but the waist and shoulder straps on the huntaway spread the load well and although buggered by the top I was impressed with the pack’s load handling.
The other piece of the package is the rifle scabbard and while it wasn’t available for our Tahr trip, we had the chance to test the pack and scabbard combo shortly after on a deer hunt in the Otago high country. Ever since I took up hunting the conundrum of how to carry your rifle has frustrated me. Yes all the packs I’ve used have had side straps but it’s never easy to attach and un-attach your rifle quickly and without the worry of damaging or knocked your scope or trigger. Step in this simple scabbard from Cactus.
Once attached to your pack via the side straps, you simply fit the butt of your rifle into the butt pocket and then wrap the centre part of your rifle including the scope in the pouch and close up the clips on the compression straps – too easy! The main pouch wrap is made of the usual tough durable 12oz C- Canvas but the inside is lined with a layer of foam and covered with softer material that protects your scope. The scabbard has very quickly become my favourite piece of equipment as it’s changed hunting for me. Gone are the traditional five minutes of cursing as I fumble, unthreading straps and buckles from underneath my scope, now it’s as simple as click, click and my rifle is in my hand ready to go.
The Cactus Scabbard is designed to be used with any pack (with good side straps) and once securely attached and adjusted to your rifles needs, it never needs to be adjusted again. When the rifle is in the scabbard and on the pack its very secure and tucks nicely behind my shoulder.
The Huntaway weighs in at 1.6kg and 45litres with a plus 10L option on the extendable hood. This is a generous size for a day pack and perhaps could be pushed out to an overnighter if you are packing a small sleeping bag and utilising a hut. This pack is not cheap but as with most things in life the old adages of ‘You get what you pay for’ and ‘Quality only hurts once’ ring true. This is the sort of heavy duty pack that lasts a lifetime.
The Gun Scabbard is sold separately from the Huntaway and for me has been a game changer in how I approach my hunting. I’ve tried the scabbard on my large 65L multi-day pack it it works just as well so at $79 I’d recommend this as a must have item for for any Kiwi hunter.
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What we like
Bulletproof build quality - "wears in not out"
Comfortable and good fitting shoulder straps and harness
Elastic mesh on front for easy stowing of gear
Quick and easy access to rifle from the scabbard
What we're not so happy about
Side strap metal buckles are very stiff when new took a couple of weeks to wear in
The thick canvas is quite noisy when moving through scrub
Price - the initial outlay for any quality product is always tough but will pay off in the long run