Back in May during a turkey hunt, a buddy and I were talking about flashlights. Neither of us routinely use a light to find our way in the dark woods because generally we know where we're going and it's seldom dark enough to need a light.
Still, a hunter is far better off with a flashlight than without one. We agreed that the most common use for a flashlight is to search for something we drop. And using one to alert other hunters to your presence is a good, safe idea.
A light can also reveal where to cross a fenceline or find solid footing at a stream crossing. And if you get caught deeper into the woods than you planned - or have to stay overnight - you'll be glad you have a light.
Flashlight users are well aware of a flashlight's disadvantages. Many flashlights are bulky. Using one can spook game. They get misplaced. They burn batteries. They malfunction. Too often, they fail when you need them most.
20 years ago, the flashlight most hunters carried was probably the Mini-Mag light. Today it has lots of impressive descendants because lighting technology has come a long way. Modern LED bulbs turn more energy into light and less into heat. They're easy on batteries and are almost sure to work long past the time older technology fails.
It seems as though every company with even the smallest niche in the outdoor market has entered the flashlight business. Top end flashlights by Fenix, Streamlight or Surefire will outlast you. In fact, you're far more likely to lose it than break it or wear it out.
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But for lots of hunting, you don't need a light costing $60, $70 or more. A basic light will do just fine. With a few adaptations, you can make a cheap little flashlight into a dutiful tool the everyday hunter won't want to leave behind.
I buy those little 9-bulb LED lights you can get almost anywhere for less than $3. Sometimes only six or seven bulbs work, so check to make sure all nine bulbs shine brightly.
They run on AAA batteries. If you can find one that uses AA batteries, all the better. I'll tell you why later.
Despite everything being dressed up with camo these days, camo is a disadvantage here. Get a light with a brightly colored barrel so that if you drop it into the leaves you can find it easily.
Then, start wrapping it with duct tape. Four feet adds only an eighth of an inch to the light. Next, neatly wrap some para-cord over the tape - you can get about six feet of it in two layers. Now you have some all-purpose tape and an all-important piece of light-duty rope available when you need it. And, when you need to keep both hands free, you have a soft place to grip it in your teeth.
You'll still have some space on the barrel of the flashlight. Wrap some 8-pound monofilament fishing line there. It'll come in handy when you need to tag a deer. Thread a wire or a small split ring through the little hole at the back end of the light, and add a key - the key to your vehicle, your house, your camp or the locks on your trail cameras.
Besides a key (or two), you might have your own idea about what to add - maybe a small Swiss Army knife or a single blade folder. This won't be your main knife, but you'll be glad to have it in an emergency.
Tape, cord, monofilament, key, knife, light you've already wrapped a lot into this little package. And if you can find a slightly larger LED flashlight that uses AA batteries (the most common ones), when you need a couple of semi-fresh batteries for another piece of gear, just swap out the ones in your flashlight.
Finally, losing one of these is no great loss. Just apply the finders-keepers rule - whoever finds it will be a little better off. Then, put another together, and let there be more than light.