Merry Christmas, One And All!

December 24, 2015

So this is Christmas…

Well, Christmas eve, at any rate, and it’s hopping along.  With temps already around 70 degrees this morning (the sun’s not even up yet), it promises to be a balmy holiday here in NC.  Balmy and wet, since this is reportedly the second wettest holiday season in this region since the mid 1800s.  I believe it too, as the ground is absolutely saturated and it’s still drizzling out there.  Southern snow, I guess… or that’s the old joke.  Ho ho ho.

But grey skies and warm temps aren’t doing anything to dampen my spirits, as we’re preparing to go spend the evening with my family and friends with our traditional Christmas eve celebration.  It sometimes takes me a while to get excited about the holiday, but I’m feeling it now and I hope you all are as well.

So, merry Christmas to all of you, and my best wishes for the holiday and the new year.  As always, enjoy the time however you do, but if you get a second to pause, give some thought to the service men and women stationed far away from their own friends and family this season.

If We Make It Through December

December 16, 2015

Sorry, Mr. Haggard, but I had to borrow that.

It’s not cold here, actually (c’mon, the point isn’t literal), but I’ve got to say this month is dragging on and flying by all at the same time.

The big thing is this new house.  Pulling it all together, getting all the moving parts aligned, and actually figuring out when it’s going to happen has been a killer.  It’s mostly the waiting.

To begin with, there were the soybeans in the field where I wanted to put the house.  Due to the ridiculous amount of rain we’ve had this fall, the soybean harvest has been delayed all across the state.  That, of course, didn’t jibe with our timing.  We’d expected the beans to be gone by the first or second week of November.  We’d planned on getting the house in place (it’s a modular) probably near the beginning of December.  Things pushed on the house, which is good, because the rain kept the farmer out of the field.

But then I got the call.  The house will be shipping at the end of this week.  The guy showed up to do the initial recon of the site, and in addition to the beans still on the homesite, there are questions about getting the big tractor-trailer rig and the huge crane they use to set the house down the dirt path to the field in the first place.

Before I knew it, I was contracting with someone to grade the drive and build in a gravel driveway.  Meanwhile, the weather guy is saying we’re in for another storm tomorrow with up to an inch of rainfall… on top of thoroughly saturated ground.

We haven’t even got the foundation in place yet.

And the bank book is getting skinnier and skinnier at a frightening rate.

I’m getting stressed just writing this, but I expect you get the idea.

Not to vent, but dammit, what good is a blog if I can’t vent from time to time.

Oh.  And Christmas is next week.  Santa hits the trail a week from tomorrow.  It will be the first time in years I haven’t had to travel across the country for Christmas.  We even put up a tree, which is something else I haven’t done in ages.  This year, we can run down to Wilmington to visit with mom and the family, and then I can drive back to my own place.  These are good things.  But somehow, my thoughts of relaxation, comfort, and joy are getting tamped down too tight to burn.

I know.  Take a breath, right?  I learned a long time ago that nothing lasts forever.  This, too, shall pass.

If we can just make it through December.



One More For The Christmas List

December 11, 2015

SporranSo, my friend (and frequent writer of comments here), Josh Stark, just gifted me with this beautiful, hand-made sporran (or possibles bag, or man purse… a rose by any other name…).  I had commented on some of his previous work, and the next thing I knew, he was asking for my mailing address and promised to put one together for me.  Pretty cool, no?

At any rate, I wanted an excuse to feature this gift here on the Hog Blog.  In itself, it’s pretty nice so I could have just posted it up with the brief description and all.  It works out better though, that Josh actually makes things like this for sale.  Now, maybe as a way of recompense, I can use this opportunity to plug his work, and his website, Wild Spirit Archery and Old Soul Leatherwork.

For handmade leather work, Josh’s prices seem pretty reasonable.  For example, a plain sporran (no engraving or lacing) runs $120.  He’ll work with you to price out something with additional features.  Belts and rifle slings start at around $50, with additional charges to customize to your specifications.  He also makes arm guards for archers, as well as bracelets.

It’s probably a little late in the game to order something custom for Christmas (two weeks!), as everything is hand-made and that takes time.  However, according to the site, he may have a few items already in stock and available.  Or I expect you can always work out a commission with him, and just put an IOU in someone’s stocking.

At any rate, I just want to repeat my thanks to Josh for the wonderful gift.  And, if someone on your list would like something like this, I encourage you to reach out to him and keep him busy!

Time To Stuff Those Stockings – A Short Gift Idea Review

December 7, 2015

Iggy the Christmas Dawg

Iggy the Christmas Dawg is enforcing the “Do Not Open Until Christmas” rule.

Well, we’re a full week into December, which means my self-imposed 11 month ban on Christmas celebration is officially set aside.  The tree is set up and decorated in the living room, there’s egg nog in the fridge, and I even listened to Christmas music while driving down the highway this weekend.

It’s also time to get serious about thinking about maybe getting out to do some shopping for Christmas gifts.  By “shopping”, I mean skimming through catalogs, reading reviews, and getting some ideas that I’ll forget just in time for the panic that sets in on December 23 or 24 when I go rushing out to the stores and malls to buy whatever semi-relevant gift items I can come up with amidst the mad press of fools and slackers who have waited until the last moment to get their gift buying done.

If you’re in that same boat, maybe I can help a little.

This year, I haven’t reviewed as much gear as usual.  I missed the SHOT Show, which has always been a primary source of contacts for gear reviews.  Also, and mea culpa, I haven’t kept the Hog Blog very active over the past year or so, and that tends to make manufacturers and PR firms a little less interested in working with me (and even when the blog is active, most of those companies tend to favor the myriad outdoor television programs over a little Internet page).  I’ve been limited to scanning press releases and then begging for stuff to field test or review.

That said, here are four ideas, ranging from a neat little stocking stuffer to an “under-the-tree” gift that should give any hunter on your list a very, merry Christmas.

Range MasterThe Range Master Survival Bracelet from Survival

Survival Straps is an American company with a philosophy to produce a U.S.-made, quality product, and to use the fruits of their success to support various charitable organizations, such as The Wounded Warrior Project.  According to their press materials, the company has raised and donated almost $1,000,000 to veterans services charities.

They make several variations on the paracord “survival” bracelet, including this most recent addition to their “Custom” line, the Range Master Bullet Bracelet.  I received one of these for review.

Ostensibly, the wrapped, 550 paracord is available for emergency use, in the event the wearer needs a length of the versatile line to get out of a tight spot.  However, the truth is that it’s mostly just a cool-looking bracelet… especially the Range Master, with the tumbled and polished, nickel shell casings (9mm, .40S&W, or .45acp)  on each end.  I’d feel sort of bad unwrapping the nicely made thing.  The folks at Survival Straps also think it would be a shame to have to unwrap one of their bracelets, which is why they offer a free replacement in exchange for the story of how you used it in an emergency.

The Range Master sells from the Survival Straps website for $39.95.  It’s not cheap, but each bracelet is made-to-order with a range of options in color, size, and caliber.  I think it’s a cool, and somewhat unique gift idea, and perfect to stuff in the sportsman’s (or woman’s) stocking.   And if you don’t like that style, there are any number of other options.

RefrigiWear Cold Weather Gear

So this one is a mixed review.  RefrigiWear has been in the business of manufacturing commercial-grade outerwear for about 60 years, but I don’t think they’re particularly well known in the outdoors market.  I know the press release I received was the first time I’d heard of them.  At any rate, after a brief email exchange with their PR representative, I was told they would send me “something” for review.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after looking at their HiVisibility line, I was sort of hoping for one of the safety orange vests or jackets, which I could certainly see as being useful in the upland field.  None of them are purpose-built for hunting (no shotshell loops or game pockets), but they look like solidly made, warm gear.

What I received instead was the Vertical Puffer Vest, which is a synthetic down vest, baffled to provide flexibility, and fronted with a tough, microfiber outer shell.  Now, I like vests.  They’re excellent for layering when it’s really cold, and they also leave my arms free when I’m working.  This particular vest is really nicely made, and it feels like it should hold up well to the sort of abuse through which I put my outdoors clothing.  It hasn’t really been cold down here yet this year, so I haven’t even worn the thing, except to try it on around the house.

With this in mind, I would be challenged to categorize this gear as “hunting equipment”.  But if you’re looking for cold weather gear that is both versatile and durable (and could certainly be worn for hunting), I think these guys have a pretty good product.  The Vertical Puffer Vest retails for around $66 on the RefrigiWear website.

Fully installed, it's a pretty wicked looking thing.

Fully installed, it’s a pretty wicked looking thing.

Barnett Razr Crossbow

I’ve written about this beauty a couple of times already (here, and here), but I wanted to include it in my Christmas write-up, because I think the Razr is the kind of gift many hunters daydream about.  Not really a gun, and not really a bow, it’s a deadly hybrid of the two.  I think it’s not just cool to look at, but it’s a real blast to shoot.  I’ve yet to take game with it, but I’m eagerly awaiting first blood.

With a MSRP of $1600, the Razr is near the top of Barnett’s line, and it incorporates a lot of technology into a lightweight, accurate unit.  The weight and balance are far nicer than many other crossbows I’ve handled, neither too heavy nor too unwieldy, and as crossbows go, it’s relatively quiet.  Note that I said, “relatively,” since it’s still got a pretty snappy report.

If that price point is a little too weighty, Barnett offers a series of less expensive options that still provide quality performance.  Everyone may not be crazy about crossbows, but for those who are, this is a good way to go.

Outdoor ClassicsClassic Hunting Stories Collection

I’ve saved the best for last…

I have been a voracious reader for as long as I’ve been able to hold a book, and one of the things I used to look forward to every Christmas was the small stack of books I always found under the tree.  Since I have also been crazy about hunting and fishing for just as long, many of those titles were about hunting and fishing… including many of the greats such as Gordon Macquarrie, Robert Ruark, Nash Buckingham, and so on.

I also came along in time, fortunately (or not?), to still see some of the great writing that graced the pages of magazines like Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, and Sports Afield.  I looked forward to my dad’s monthly subscriptions, and as likely as not, would abscond with them before he ever even knew they’d arrived.  (He was not amused.)  Sadly, times and the economy have changed, and the days of long-form magazine writing have waned.  On the literary front, there doesn’t seem to be much outdoors-related stuff available either.  All, however, is not lost.

Vin Sparano is a name that some faithful Outdoor Life readers may recall (he was Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor through most of the 1980s and ’90s).  Sparano has collected and edited a huge anthology of outdoors writers, published in the volumes Classic Hunting Tales, Tales of Woods and Waters, and The Greatest Hunting Stories Ever Told.

I received copies of all three recently, and dove in with relish (no mustard or ketchup though).

First of all, they’re huge volumes, and to tell the truth, I’m still working my way through Classic Hunting Tales right now.  But it’s everything I’d hoped it would be, including stories from way back in the earlier years of American “sport” hunting right on up to more contemporary stuff.  All of my favorites are still there, including Ruark, Carmichael, Macquarrie, and a host of others.  There are 25 tales in this volume alone.

If someone on your shopping list loves to read, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to build a solid library of classic, outdoors writing, this collection is an absolute must.   The writing is appropriate for many ages, and I can’t think of better stuff for a younger (pre-teen or teen-aged) reader… as well as for the more mature readers on your list.  Each volume retails for about $25.

So there it is!  I’m sure it won’t fill Santa’s bag, but it might give you something to start with.

I’ll say it again before the day, I’m sure, but for now and just in case, Merry Christmas!