March 2, 2016
It’s sort of become an unofficial, perennial tradition to review the latest version of the Firearms Guide, firearms reference (previous reviews are here, here, here, and here). This began with my first meeting of Editor-in-Chief, Chris Mijic and his wife, Ksenia, back in 2010, at SHOT. Every year since, I’ve come to look forward to seeing them in the Press Room at SHOT, and every year since, they’ve sent me the latest version of their excellent reference guide for review.
I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution from CD-ROM to DVD, as well as a constantly growing list of features and content. For 2016, they’re finally taking the big step to a full, online offering. The new Guide is subscription-based, and the new format will enable the team to update and make corrections constantly (the current plan is 26 updates per year… basically, an update every two weeks). The possibilities this brings are as wide-open as the challenges Mijic and his team faced to make this huge platform change.
At its heart, the Firearms Guide is a searchable database of firearms, and even in the initial iteration, it was amazingly comprehensive. I believe this, the sixth edition, includes something like 61,000 firearms. This, alone, made the Guide an excellent resource for writers and gun aficionados. In addition to listings and detailed descriptions of the guns, the list includes schematics and take-down instructions, which makes this a valuable reference guide for gunsmiths… both professional and amateur.
With each iteration, the Guide has added new features. Some, like printable targets, are just cool little add-ons. Some are useful functions, such as the guide for matching up U.S. calibers with European equivalents. Others are real value-adds, such as the ability to compare firearms, features, and MSRP which makes the Guide a one-stop shop for folks interested in buying a new gun.
New, this year, they have added gun values (based off of the 100% – 30% condition ratings) to each listing. This makes the Guide even handier for folks looking to buy, sell, and trade used guns. While resources have long been available where you could go get a gun value, most of them serve that single function. The Firearms Guide has the benefit of offering all of the other features, along with gun values. It’s something I think every gun shop and smith should have at their fingertips, and as I mentioned, it would be pretty useful for the amateur as well.
So, how’s it work? Chris sent me a temporary subscription so that I could go in and get a feel for the system. Honestly, it’s pretty good, but there is still room for some tweaks, particularly in the search functionality. However, if you just want to look up a Stevens 311, or a Barrett M98, that’s pretty simple. And once you find the gun (or guns) you’re looking for, getting the rest of the information is really easy. All of that being said, the very nature of an online resource makes it ideal for tweaking and adjusting based on user feedback.
What about the subscriptions?
To allow for varying levels of need and expertise, there are multiple subscription levels from All Access ($49.95/yr) to Handguns Only ($19.95/yr) or only AR/AK platforms ($14.95/yr). There’s even a monthly, recurring subscription of $5.99/mo. The subscription options are all clearly laid out on the website.
It’s probably not the kind of thing every hunter needs to have laying around, but it’s an excellent resource if you find you need (or want) a deeper view of guns and ammo. For the writer who writes about guns, either full-time or occasionally, it’s a really good research tool. For the gunsmith, it’s a good way to stay up to speed on the guns that are out there, as well as to find the schematics for assembly/disassembly. And for the gun shop owner, buying, selling, and trading guns… I think it would be as indispensable as the old “blue book”. If any of this sounds like you, I’d suggest checking it out.
January 18, 2016
It’s sort of a game I play at the airport before and after the SHOT Show. Waiting at the gate for my Las Vegas departure, I try to spot other Show attendees. Sometimes it’s easy. Tactical clothing or camo gear is usually a giveaway (although flying from Texas or North Carolina, passengers wearing camo aren’t necessarily winning bets). Other times, it’s polo shirts with outdoors corporate logos. Sometimes, it’s just a sense of the Industry types. That one is harder to describe, but they’re usually discussing strategies, show set-up, or client lists. I catch myself eavesdropping (hey, don’t say you don’t do it when you’re sitting by yourself at an airport), listening for names or brands.
And suddenly the plane boards. (As I boarded, I realized that I’d left the camera in my duck hunting jacket. Oh well… a blog about the SHOT Show and new gear doesn’t really need photos, does it?)
And I’m in Vegas (not so suddenly, but you don’t want to hear all that stuff in between). I travel with a big, soft-side, camo suitcase. Most of the time, it’s easy to pick out at baggage claim. Guess what. It’s not so easy at SHOT. Camouflage of every stripe is rolling onto the conveyor, in big bags and small. I almost grab the wrong bag… twice.
I’m up at 04:00, because time difference and stuff. Hotel rooms in Vegas generally don’t offer coffee pots, so I roll downstairs to get a cup in the casino. (There’s a Starbucks beside the elevator, but I don’t drink that over-roasted, overpriced crap. Sorry. If you like it, good on ya. I think it’s nasty.) A guy strolls over and pulls up the stool next to me, exaggerated motion and baggy eyes suggest he’s been making the best of his visit so far. He’s wearing a logo shirt with a brand I recognize. He mumbles a greeting, and has somehow made me out as part of the SHOT crowd too.
We chat for a moment, and my coffee comes. I’ve just dropped a couple of bucks into the poker machine, and I’m playing hands while we chat. He orders a coffee and two shots of tequila. The shots arrive and he slides one over to me. He seems like a nice guy, so I hope he’s not offended when I decline. He’s not… more for him. We talk a while, and I actually triple my money in the poker machine. But I’ve got stuff to do, so I make my excuses and exorcise myself from his morning. I feel for how he’s going to feel later.
That little story really has nothing to do with my morning at the SHOT Show Media Day at the Range. I just figured I’d toss it in.
I’ve looked forward to this for a while. It’s even valid to say that it’s the only reason I came to SHOT this year. I enjoy shooting, and getting my hands on the new stuff… sending rounds downrange and enjoying different trigger pulls, the slick action of well-machined bolts, the balance of a well-made firearm, and so on. I dig the innovation and creativity that meld with the gunmakers’ art.
I didn’t get much of that this year.
“Underwhelmed.” is the word that came into my mind, as I limped to the bus at noon. I just wanted to go back to the hotel. I usually stay until they shut down the range and chase us home, but not today. My bright-eyed excitement dulled within an hour, as I wandered through booth after booth of AR platform rifles, semi-auto handguns, and other tacticool stuff.
I get that people like these guns, and I’m fine with it. It’s like Starbucks coffee. It’s a taste, I guess, but it doesn’t suit me. A nice, classic cup of Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, properly roasted… that’s my thing. And when it comes to firearms, give me a well-made bolt-action, or a nice lever gun.
There were a couple of nice lever guns, by the way. Browning/Winchester had a selection of models on hand. Most of the rifles weren’t new, though. Like the Model 94 some TV guy was shooting when I stumbled into the booth, the rifles were primarily on hand to showcase the expanded line of Winchester’s Deer Season XP ammunition line. The Deer Season XP ammo features a polymer-tipped bullet that is designed for rapid expansion. This year, they’re adding to the line to include ammo for lever-guns, including the 30-30, 45-70, and .44-40 (I believe… I’ll learn more tomorrow at the Show. This is where my camera would have been a handy thing.).
I also took a few shots with the Browning X-bolt, again, not a totally new design but I believe it’s a new model. It’s a lightweight rifle with an integral brake (as opposed to the old BOSS). I need to learn a little more about it, but it was amazingly light, and the 30-06 I was messing with shot like a dream… very little recoil and a really good trigger. More to come on this one, although I probably won’t be adding one to my safe.
Probably the coolest (on a very short list) things I got to put my hands on today weren’t really firearms at all. The Pioneer Airbow from Crosman/Benjamin is essentially a pneumatic speargun for use on dry land. It slings an arrow (sort of a hybrid crossbow bolt/arrow) at approximately 450 fps, and it’s amazingly accurate. The stock design is a little front-heavy, but it balances about like a quality crossbow. Unfortunately, it’s not legal for hunting in most states at this time, but there’s no question this thing will be deadly. And yes, for those of you who are thinking it… this is a gadget. While I guess the argument could be made that there’s a niche for the Airbow, it’s really just a cool, gimmicky thing. With an MSRP around $850, it’s not a cheap gadget, but for someone looking for something different, it definitely fits that bill.
My other “favorite” of the day was also from Benjamin. Several years ago, they rolled out the Rogue, a .357 air rifle. It was cool, but there were apparently issues. The issues have been resolved, it seems, in the new Bulldog. The Bulldog is a PCP gun that really slings the 145 gr., Nosler bullet downrange. The specs suggest that it’s pushing about 800 fps At the range today, I was ringing the steel buffalo target at 100 yards with relative ease. The trigger on the Bulldog is also pretty nice, compared for example, with the Marauder I’ve been shooting at home.
And, sadly, that’s pretty much it. I didn’t shoot any ARs today, although there were certainly plenty of opportunities. There were also a fair number of suppressors to demo, which is actually pretty cool as they gain more acceptance in the hunting world. The shotguns were nice enough, but the selection was the most limited I’ve seen in a few years. I didn’t have anything specific in mind, though, and nothing really stood out to me.
Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe “traditional” sporting guns have had their day, and the ARs are just something we’re going to have to embrace. But this was the least exciting SHOT Show Range Day I’ve ever experienced.
December 11, 2015
So, 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!
December 7, 2015
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.
The Range Master Survival Bracelet from Survival Straps.com.
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.
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.
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!
October 12, 2015
I couldn’t make myself wait to buy a new target.
After my initial experience with the Barnett RAZR and its total disdain for the stopping power of my worn-out archery targets, I figured it was time to finally replace the poor, old things. Hell, the Black Hole target has been sitting out in one backyard or another for well over six years. Even the Mathews occasionally sends one clean through.
But I’m a relatively long ways from a good outdoors shop, and the eagerness to play with the new “toy” was just too much.
Necessity…invention… mothers… or maybe I’m just cheap… but I decided that if I lined up the Black Hole and the Yellow Jacket, their combined forces would stop one of these bolts. So I did and they did, and handily. I can happily report that I have only destroyed one more bolt since implementation of my target “fix”.
I’ve heard, time and again, from people who bought their crossbows from the shop, brought them home, and they were already dialed dead on. I guess I should have known it was too much to hope for, and my doubts were verified when my first shots were over a foot low. I had to come up quite a bit on the scope, but once I had it where I wanted it, the accuracy and consistency were pretty amazing.
With all the shooting, there was a lot of loading and cocking the bow. Cocking the RAZR is not difficult, but it’s not easy. The rope cocking device uses pulleys and leverage to cut the draw weight in half. Still, half of 185 pounds is 92.5, and even with good technique, that puts some pull on the old back and shoulders. I let Kat try, and she really couldn’t budge it. They make a crank for folks who can’t pull the bow back, but I didn’t order one.
The trick, as best I can tell, is to do it all in one, smooth movement. If you stop halfway, you may as well let it down, take a breath, and start over. Iggy was patient and encouraging… really the perfect coach.
I call this out, by the way, not as criticism but as a reality check. One of the reasons some hunters switch to the crossbow is because of shoulder or back issues that prevent them from drawing or holding a regular bow. I can just about promise that, if you have those sorts of physical limitations, you will not be able to draw this crossbow (or any crossbow with this kind of draw weight). The crank device will pretty much be a requirement.
So, it’s cocked and sighted in? Now for the fun part!
As a kid, I was never good at sharing my toys. I’m slightly more mature now, though, so I wanted Kat to shoot the RAZR. She couldn’t cock it, but once I set it up, she shoots it as well as she shoots her rifle, which is pretty danged well.
And, seriously, one of the reasons I got this was so she could hunt with me during archery season. Of course, now that it’s here and set up, rifle season opens in a few days so it’s kind of a moot point.
I am hunting with it, though.
I packed the RAZR instead of my Mathews yesterday evening, just to get a feel for it. I’ve outfitted it with the Rage 2-blade Crossbow broadheads. I’m typically a little skeptical about mechanical broadheads, but the reputation of Rage is so good, and I know this bow delivers a crap-load of speed and energy, so I feel pretty confident they’ll work as advertised (and if they don’t, you can believe you’ll hear about it here).
Unfortunately, my neighbor chose yesterday evening to fire up his bush hog and mow his cow pasture, which adjoins my place. As a result, there was very little movement. A nice eight-point (not the one I’ve been watching) got up from his bed in the middle of the soybeans and bolted out of the field, and a big doe came out tentatively, but ran off when the tractor turned and started coming in her direction.
Finally, just at dark, a deer stepped out at 40 yards and started working towards me. She was obscured by some brush, so I eased the bow up and readied myself. Swinging this thing around in the tree stand is definitely a different feeling from either a rifle or a vertical bow, and I was thankful for the screen of bushes. I relaxed though, when she stepped out into the open and I could see she was just a little thing, probably just born this spring.
I’ll be heading out this evening for another go.
October 5, 2015
Hank Shaw doesn’t just write cookbooks.
I mean, he does, of course. His most recent book, Duck, Duck, Goose is essentially just that, a cookbook for waterfowl. But his prose is not simply a collection of recipes and techniques… it’s often just damned good writing. And sometimes, as in his first effort, Hunt, Gather, Cook – Finding the Forgotten Feast, it goes way beyond the rote of cups and teaspoons to tell his story as you go.
For someone like me, who seldom uses cookbooks or recipes except as an occasional source of inspiration (I’m no great chef, I’m just too damned hard-headed to follow someone else’s directions), good writing is a must to get me past the prologue. I read all of Hank’s first book, and much of the second, just because it’s good reading.
But even if it were just cookbooks, they’re cookbooks for those of us who get our food from the woods, fields, and waterways. Sure, you can apply the recipes from Duck, Duck, Goose to a store-bought bird, but what Hank does in his work is address the unique considerations that apply to birds that haven’t been raised on a constant diet of corn and “duck chow”, and that live on the wing instead of in a pen. What’s more, he covers cooking the birds from one end to the other… from bill to butt, if you will. I think that’s a much needed reference these days, as more and more people discover the joys of eating wild and of making the most out of the animals we kill.
When Hank started sharing the word that he was working on a third book, Buck, Buck, Moose, a lot of folks took notice… including me. This time, he’d tackle venison, an often misunderstood and sometimes abused subject. Hunters and cooks around the world have been ruining this meat for ages… overcooking, drowning in strong marinade, or overwhelming it in bacon (a little bacon is good, occasionally, but when it completely obscures the wonderful flavor of prime meat… well, that’s just a damned shame). Also, as he did with the waterfowl book, he’ll look at preparing all of the animal, not just tenderloins, roasts, and sausage (although he’s a whiz at sausage and charcuterie).
I know there are other cookbooks out there with venison recipes. Some might even be good. I honestly couldn’t tell you because as I mentioned, I don’t generally read them. But I’m pretty sure that Hank’s book will be very good. I’m so sure, in fact, that I jumped in early on the KickStarter campaign he’s launched to fund the publication of the book.
Unfortunately, the big publishing houses don’t seem to think much of deer hunters or of books that will serve us. That’s a shame, but given the growth and strength of popular press, self-publishing is a solid option. And why put money in the coffers of the big corporations, even as they smile derisively down on us?
So, check it out. Then, kick in! You, too, can be a patron of the arts!
September 30, 2015
Pope Gregory is said to have made this statement back in the 14th century, in reference to the crossbow.
Sadly, we know Pope Greg spoke a bit too soon. Anyone who’s paid attention to the discussions about crossbows in combat knows the legend that they met their comeuppance at the Battle of Agincourt, when English archers with long bows slaughtered the French crossbowmen. The truth of that battle, as usual, is a little more complicated… but it makes for a good story anyway.
With all of this in mind, I guess it’s no surprise that crossbows are still a fairly contentious topic. The debate rages today, although instead of warfare, it’s about hunting and sportsmanship. There’s a vocal and active group of hunters who think crossbows are an oozing sore on the sacred flesh of ethical bowhunting. Another group advocates these weapons as a panacea for hunter recruitment/retention. The back and forth is often emotional and intense, and the arguments range from practical to ridiculous.
And I’m not going to go there.
This is a gear review, not a debate. If you want to argue about crossbows, there are a lot of other places where you can do it. So let’s just stick a pin (or better yet, a 20-penny nail) in that and move along…
After years of procrastination, rationalization, and a simple, recurrent lack of funds, I finally broke down and got myself a crossbow. I saw a press release for Barnett’s new RAZR, and after a few emails, I was able to get one ordered directly from Barnett/Plano and shipped to the house. I’ve yet to put it to work, but thought an unboxing review would be an interesting departure.
The RAZR, as shipped, comes with everything you need to set up and shoot your bow. That’s huge for me, because like a lot of folks, I don’t want to wait around to order and receive parts piecemeal. I want it now.
Some patience is required, though, as assembly is required. I was a little concerned about this, having never put one of these things together. However, the instructions are clear and the actual procedure is really straightforward. The most complicated part was scope installation, which is no different than installing glass on a rifle.
When it comes to installing scopes, this is not my first rodeo, though, and in no time I had it put together and ready to go!
Unfortunately, there was a snag. I dug through the leftover packaging and parts several times, and even searched through the house in case I’d carried it to another room… but the rope cocking device appears to have been left out of the package. At a draw weight of 185 lbs., I’m not really interested in trying to cock it by hand.
I’m assuming this happened because I ordered the unit for review (at a discounted price), so it may have been re-packaged. I sent an email this morning, and hope to have the cocking device soon.
My initial impressions, after putting the RAZR together, are fairly positive. It’s a thoroughly modern-looking device, complete with the skeletal, tactical-styled stock. I’m not usually crazy about the Tacticool trend, but in this case, the styling is practical for a couple of reasons.
First of all, by skeletonizing the stock, a good bit of weight has been removed. The RAZR weighs in at about 6.5lbs. With the scope and quiver attached, that bumps it up another pound or so. This is in line with most of my deer rifles. A common complaint about crossbows is their weight, so I was pretty pleased by the way this one feels.
The way they’ve designed the foregrip is also pretty slick. A seldom-discussed, but serious issue with some older crossbows is that it’s easy to let your fingertips stick up in the path of the bow string. Considering how fast that heavy string is coming forward when the bow is fired, it’s easy to imagine some disastrous consequences if it catches your finger. By putting the foregrip completely below the track, the chances of such an accident are practically nil.
Best of all, the whole thing feels really nice in my hands. The balance is good, not quite the same as one of my rifles, but; it comes to shoulder smoothly, and the pistol grip and foregrip allow me to get a solid hold for shooting offhand. I can’t wait to point this thing downrange and let fly!
My particular package includes the 1.5-5 x 32 crossbow scope with illuminated reticles. One thing I like is that reticle is perfectly visible without being illuminated, so I don’t have to worry about batteries dying at an inconvenient moment. That’s a pretty big deal to me, since I have little trust in electronic sighting devices. But I have to admit that the illumination is pretty sweet.
More to come. Now that this thing is out of the box, I’m dying to shoot it. I just hope that cocking device gets here soon!
September 14, 2015
August, in the South Carolina low country.
At a time of year when most folks are loath to step outside of the air conditioning, my brother, Scott, and I are here to hunt early season whitetails and hogs. The air is wet and heavy, to the point where it feels like I need gills just to walk to the stand. Temps start in the mid-80s at pre-dawn, and it only goes up from there. Even sitting still in my perch, 12 feet off the ground, rivulets of sweat run down my chest and back and soak through my thin, camo shirt. Soon the cloth is sticky, my skin is sticky, and every movement is uncomfortable.
My stand overlooks a pond at the edge of a swamp. In the early darkness, the croaking of alligators echoes through the steamy air. Tree frogs “gronk” and creak to the steady background buzz of cicadas. An owl hoots somewhere from the blackness, and is answered from somewhere else. After a few moments, I recognize another sound… constant and everywhere… the droning whine of mosquitoes.
Of course, the skeeters aren’t a surprise, and I’ve prepared with a generous dousing of DEET-based spray. I can only hope that any deer or hogs in the vicinity are crippled by hay fever or head colds this morning, because I smell like a chemical factory. But it’s the only way I know to minimize the blood loss to the voracious swarms of these insect-spawn of Satan.
And it barely works.
As the sun rises, not only do I stink of chemicals, but I’m swatting and waving off the dogged and ongoing aerial assault. By the time I get back to camp at mid-morning, I’m covered in itchy little welts. The damned things have bitten me in any spot not covered in toxic sludge. They’ve even bitten my kneecaps through my pants!
Sharing camp with Scott and me was a group of hunters from New Jersey. Most were newcomers to southern hunting, and the conditions that go with it. But they’d been warned, and a couple of the guys had come prepared with a gizmo called a “Thermacell.” They’d never used these devices before, but based on recommendations they picked a couple up and brought them along on this trip. After the first night, these guys were raving about the effectiveness of the little, green unit.
I investigated a little more, and learned that this Thermacell employed a butane gas burner to heat a wick and release some sort of bug repellent “incense” (the active ingredient is allethrin). I was skeptical about the whole thing (I’d seen a lot of bug repellent gadgets, sprays, and salves in my lifetime). First, I was doubtful that it would actually work on the mosquitoes in this swamp, and second, I figured anything that burned a wick would probably repel hogs and deer better than it repelled bugs.
Over the weekend, though, as I swatted bugs and watched at least one hog run off at the stench of my DEET bathed carcass, these hunters came into camp with a nice, eight-point buck and a couple of hogs… and singing the praises of Thermacell the whole time. My curiosity was piqued.
This all took place several years ago, and since that time I’ve become an ardent fan of Thermacell. The damned things just work. I’ve used them from the NC swamps to the CA salt marshes, and once the wick heats up, skeeters and biting bugs don’t come around (it doesn’t work so well on some other bugs, like the annoying “candle moths” we had in Texas, but those bugs don’t bite).
I’ve written a couple of reviews about the Thermacell since then, and I’m in fairly regular contact with the PR folks who represent the company. A year or two back, they sent me one of their new Thermacell Patio Lanterns, which is basically a battery-powered lantern that incorporates the Thermacell repellent system. I really liked the lantern, and it was great for setting out on the porch for sunset drinks, or to bring out to the grill on a summer evening. If I had to call out any sort of drawback to this lantern, it’s that it isn’t particularly robust. I wouldn’t toss one in a backpack or the saddlebags, because there’s a good chance it would be in pieces by the time you were ready to use it.
The good folks at Thermacell saw this too, and in 2015, they came out with the new Thermacell Camp Lantern. I received a review sample this past spring, and I’m ashamed to say that with the move from Texas and everything else, I’m only now getting a chance to put it through some paces.
First of all, there’s not much need to talk about the bug repellent qualities. It works just as well as the original, although I think it’s interesting that even as the lantern light attracts bugs, the repellent keeps the vicious little bastards at bay. Unfortunately, moths and beetles aren’t affected by the repellent, so you probably don’t want to hang this light right over your camp stove.
The difference in construction is significant, though. The Camp Lantern is still pretty lightweight, but it feels much more solid than the Patio Lantern. The base is rubberized, which gives the unit a little more heft, but more importantly; it makes it feel like it can take a little more of the kind of abuse you’d expect from something designed for outdoors use. You’d probably still need to be a little careful with it, but I think you could drop this in the saddlebags for a long ride in to camp without too much worry.
The lantern uses D batteries, and is advertised to last 50 hours at the highest setting (the lantern has three light settings). I haven’t had the chance to test this, and probably won’t. There’s a cool little indicator light that lets you know when your batteries are running down, so you won’t be left in the dark by surprise.
If there’s a drawback, it could be the price point. One of the reasons I think Thermacell units have become so popular is that they’re really affordable. I think a new unit retails in the neighborhood of $25.00. The Camp Lantern, on the other hand, is listed for $59.99 (on the Thermacell web site). That’s not “expensive” as outdoor gear goes, but I can see where the hard-working, budget-conscious individual might think twice about the value there. Back in the day when my dollars came a lot more dear, I’d probably think about just buying the standard Thermacell unit and stick with my old gas lantern.
Overall, though, I really like this unit. I haven’t done much rough camping lately, but you can bet that if I join Scott next month on his hunt on the Roanoke River, I’ll be tossing this lantern in the boat.
March 23, 2015
So, I’ve reviewed a lot of hunting gear over the years. I’ve also been asked to write about things I’ve never put my hands on, and my general rule is to leave it be. I’m not going to read a press release or promo and then try to tell you I think it’s a great product. I want to know if it’s good or not, and then give you the pros and cons based on my personal experience.
With this in mind, I’m proud to introduce this next product. I’ve had almost three years (and change) to get a good feel for this offering, and I can say without hesitation that it’s a pretty sweet deal.
If you want to kill whitetail deer, this product will get you as close as you could ever want to get. You still have to shoot, but this product pretty much does everything for you… including putting them right in front of your gun or bow.
If you’re looking for a “country” experience, this product will put you there. Fresh air and birdsong for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Yeah, it’s that good.
So, here it is. In the interest of shameless, self-promotion, I offer the real estate listing for the Hillside Manor. Not only is it a great deal on a wonderful place, it’s the only property in the Texas Hill Country that was occupied by none other than that Hog Blog guy. How can you resist?
March 6, 2015
When I’m not working the day job, hunting, daydreaming about hunting, wishing that hunting were my day job (and that it paid as much as my day job), or occasionally writing about hunting… when none of that stuff is going on, I enjoy the occasional book. My tastes are eclectic, but among other things that I read, I enjoy stuff that incorporates war history… particularly the War of Northern Aggression (aka the Civil War, but I just tossed that in to aggravate a couple of folks who get aggravated by such stuff).
Ordinarily, I only bother to tell you, good readers, about these books when they’re directly related to hunting and the outdoors. As much as I’d probably enjoy using this space for the occasional literary roundtable, I don’t think it’s why most of you (2 out of the total audience of 3) come here. Otherwise, we could talk about why Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl pissed me off so bad, or how the adolescent themes in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game still resound for adult readers. Or, and I would actually dig this I think, we could take a chapter-by-chapter look at Naked Lunch. Now that’s a book that’s simply made for discussion.
But I digress.
Because when it comes to Home Again, by Michael Kenneth Smith, I don’t have a ton of stuff to say. It’s not that it’s a terrible book, because it isn’t bad. It certainly isn’t a particularly sophisticated novel, though, so there’s not a lot of literary dissection that I can offer.
The story, a historical fiction about two young Tennesseans who go off to join opposite sides in the Civil War, is told pretty well. While Smith skirts the politics surrounding the war, and never really “takes sides”, he does manage to weave in some historically accurate information about key battles and their outcomes. I found the historical context to be interesting, although some of it really felt like Smith was writing directly to the kind of Civil War buffs who have little coffee table dioramas on which they play out skirmish-by-skirmish reenactments. Because I knew these battles, I knew what was getting ready to happen when Smith moved a general into a position, or set the stage of a skirmish line. It’s hard to build suspense when you’re retelling history. I wonder how this would work for someone who is less familiar with the battles of the Civil War.
The two protagonists (who are also, I suppose, antagonists) are not particularly, deeply drawn characters. We begin, in medias res, with a chance meeting between the two as youngsters, before the war. It’s a facile device to provide contrast between the well-heeled young man from the industrialized north, and the redneck kid from the boondocks. As a reader, it takes very little imagination to see where this is leading. However, to Smith’s credit, he avoids the cliché of having the two men meet again on the battlefield, or even after the war is over. They meet at the beginning of the story. They go their separate ways. That’s the end of that relationship. But the characters have been established… the rich kid’s a sharpshooter with a fancy rifle, and the redneck kid is a natural horseman who knows his way around the backcountry.
The only other thing in the book that stood out to me was the sharpshooter, and depictions of his abilities. I know that sharpshooters (the precursor to the sniper) were leveraged by both sides during the Civil War. I’ve also read some reports of fairly impressive feats of marksmanship, made even more impressive by the relatively primitive weapons they had to work with at the time. But, I am certainly not an expert on Civil War firearms, so when it comes to the actual capabilities of these guns, I can’t decisively call bullshit on some of the things Mr. Smith incorporates into this story.
Nevertheless, as a lifelong hunter and shooter I have to look sideways at some of this stuff, such as this kid consistently potting groundhogs at 900 yards with his specially modified Spencer rifle, or the colonel shooting five inch groups (of 10 shots!) offhand at 500 yards with a “custom” Colt Revolving rifle. There are limits to my credulousness, and even though this is fiction, I need the author to at least try to make me believe. For me, this was the biggest sour note in the book.
For the record, at the formation of the first Union sharpshooter regiment, men were permitted to use their own rifles (so Zach’s Spencer would not have been out of the question), or they were generally outfitted with a Sharps, breechloading rifle. The Colt 1855 (revolving cylinder) was issued at one point, and they were reasonably accurate and offered an impressive volume of fire. Unfortunately, the design had a penchant for chain firing across the open cylinder, which spelled the end of the rifles in the military (and a lot of maimed soldiers). The Confederate sharpshooters were generally armed with muzzleloading rifles such as the British Whitworth or the Enfield, although they did “procure” many Sharps rifles over the course of the war.
Overall, it’s a pretty good yarn, but like I said, it’s not very sophisticated. It was sort of like eating a Krispy Kreme glazed donut.
Every theme receives a pretty light treatment, but that keeps the story moving. I think it would be really good reading for school kids studying US History or American Literature, and in fact, I plan to pass my copy to a friend who teaches history here in town. It’s no Red Badge of Courage, but I think the characters would be relatable to adolescents, and there’s enough real history in the story to make it applicable for discussion in the classroom, or just as a tool to increase a student’s interest in the subject matter.
That’s not to say that an adult wouldn’t enjoy the book, because I sort of did. Just don’t go in looking for deep shades of meaning.
You can purchase a copy of Home Again at the author’s website, MichaelKennethSmith.com