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
February 26, 2015
I have a confession to make.
It’s not earthshattering, nor is it necessarily incriminating, but here it is… I almost never wear protective eyewear when I’m shooting.
I know. Shudders, right? Oh, wait, what’s that? Neither do you?
In my experience (which is certainly not global, but it isn’t exactly “limited”), most folks don’t bother with eye protection when they’re shooting, or hunting. I don’t believe most of us consider that, when we’re sighting down the barrel of a gun, we’re actually holding a potential fragmentation grenade. I just don’t think any of us see things that way, especially if we’ve never actually witnessed a catastrophic firearm failure. We all trust in the reliability and design of our guns, and we know that it’s extremely rare for a firearm to blow up… or most of us probably wouldn’t be out there shooting in the first place.
Of course, the more realistic risks are much smaller. It’s easy to take for granted the powerful process required to drive a projectile downrange, but if you stop for a second and consider all the things that are happening in and around that reaction, eye protection begins to make more sense. Besides the bullet or shot that go downrange, there are any number of small particles flying off in different directions… including everything from brass and copper shavings, to particles of dirt and dust. Sometimes, those particles are moving pretty fast. While I’ve been fortunate enough not to sustain any real injury, I’ve certainly had this stuff come back and hit my eyes. But, hey, no harm, no foul, right? So I stubbornly continue to shoot without eye protection.
The exception, of course, is at monitored shooting ranges where protective equipment isn’t just good safety practice… it’s a liability issue. Thus, it’s a rule.
When I shot at the range back in CA, this was the case. But, as strictly enforced as most of the rules were at that range, no one ever really bothered to check your eyewear for quality or suitability. I usually showed up with my old Ray Ban Aviators, glass lenses and all. These were definitely not safety glasses, and while they probably stopped any blown debris that came directly at me, they offered no protection from the sides. But I liked them because, unlike a lot of other tinted glasses, they did not distort my vision.
Have you ever tried to play baseball with inexpensive, polarized sunglasses (for that matter, even some expensive glasses)? Sure, if someone throws the ball to you, you can reach out and catch it. But try fielding a high, fly ball. How’s that depth perception work out for you? I still remember the day I sort of had this epiphany… and shortly afterward realized that my skeet shooting also seemed to suffer whenever I wore these glasses. With a little practice, you will usually adapt to the distortion, but I never liked the idea that I had to change my habits… especially when I could just take the glasses off and everything is normal.
I also hate having the glasses between my eye and the scope when I’m shooting the rifle. It feels awkward, and it throws off my eye relief. Even at that range in CA, when I got ready to sight through the scope, I’d surreptitiously slip my glasses off. If the Range Master or the safety monitors ever saw me, they never said anything.
And then there are those cheap safety glasses you can pick up for eight or nine bucks at the range, or for $2.98 (or something like that) at WalMart. Yeah, you’ve seen them. You’ve probably used them. And they’re great for a little while, until the first time you go to wipe the sweat or dust off of them and score the plastic lenses. By the end of an extended shooting session, you’ve got a raging headache and your vision is so occluded that you’re really starting to guess at shot placement. After one use, they end up in the trash with the empty ammo boxes and used cleaning rags.
The fact is, I’m not going to sit here and become an evangelist for wearing eye protection when you shoot. I just feel like that would be a little hypocritical. While I’ve personally become slightly more conscientious about it, I seldom think twice if I happen to be out in the barn and decide to grab something out of the safe and fire a few shots. On the other hand, I’m sure as hell not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t protect their eyes. Just like seatbelts and motorcycle helmets, the science is there… you’re going to be safer if you take protective measures. I say this with full self-awareness, you’re smarter to use protection than not.
So I guess that’s a long way around to get to a gear review. That’s just how I do things around here. It’s my blog.
I don’t always wear eye protection when I shoot, but when I do, I wear the Hypermask Performance, from Rudy Project.
Was that too cornball? Who cares?
Even though I don’t habitually use them, I’ve gone through a fair number of various shooting glasses over time. Many of them are pretty much purpose-built, with the features required for safety, but not a heck of a lot of fashion sense. You wouldn’t want to wear them on your next drive to town. Those are the glasses I keep in the safe for guests.
But every once in a while, I get a pair that I actually like so much I use them for other purposes. The Hypermask Performance glasses fall into that category. Sure, they’re a little nuvo-tech for my normal sense of fashion (give me jeans, t-shirts, boots, and aviator glasses), but I think they still look pretty cool. They also feel good on my face. They’re not too heavy, pushing down on my nose, and they sit at a comfortable distance from my eyes. It did take me a minute to get used to the straight temples, as I sort of like my glasses to hook behind my ear, but I found them really secure, even when I was bouncing around on the tractor.
It’s not just the looks that I liked, though. The lenses are photochromic, and I found that they reacted pretty quickly between indoors and out. The particular pair they sent me for review has their “Racing Red” lenses. According to the website, these lenses adjust to filter between 15% and 50%. In my testing so far, they’re really great when it’s overcast, or for wearing inside, but they don’t get dark enough (in my opinion) in direct sunlight. But I have always been a little sensitive to bright light.
Where I really got a kick out of these glasses was during a recent drive on a rainy, foggy trip into San Antonio. It was too dark for my Ray Bans, so I tossed these in the truck when I left the house. I was really digging the contrast and sharpness as I drove. The glare that usually makes driving in these conditions so dangerous was cut to almost nothing, allowing me to see traffic clearly, well down the road. Later, as I drove out of the storm, the lenses adjusted with the light so I never felt the need to switch back to my other sunglasses. That was cool.
Now, I know that none of that is “new”. Photochromic lenses have been around a long time, as have driving glasses that cut glare and enhance vision in foul weather. But I don’t think anyone is throwing around words like, “revolutionary,” or “ground-breaking.”
Impact-proof lenses aren’t new either. I’ve got a couple of pair of “tactical” glasses laying around, and all of them advertise indestructible lenses. Some of this stuff is designed for use in combat, so I know they’re not messing around. So while I’m not really worried about blowback from breaching doors, or flying rock and shrapnel during a firefight, I do like knowing that these glasses are designed with that kind of thing in mind. If I blow up a primer, or if a clump of dirt blows out of the cylinder of my .44, these glasses will stop it before it blinds me. And, even better, not only will my eyes be left intact, the glasses will be too!
How much did I test this? Honestly, I didn’t. I really, really wanted to set these things up on a post at about 30 or 40 yards, and have a go at them with the shotgun, but they’re just too damned nice. For the same reason, I didn’t take them out on the porch and whack them with the hammer either (I once tested a pair of Vuarnets that way, when they first came on the market. But that’s another tale for another time.). I did wear them while I was shooting the shotgun a little bit, and I still have both eyes, undamaged, so I guess they worked… right?
As with any product, testing while it’s brand new is one thing, but time will tell. I can’t speak for the durability of the Hypermask Performance glasses, because I’ve only had them for a couple of months, and they really haven’t been subjected to a lot of use. These things aren’t cheap (well, mine were because they were review samples), so I would expect them to hold up well to their intended use. In addition to shooting, these glasses are marketed to road racers (bicycle, triathlon, etc.) and that’s generally not a posh life for equipment.
Oh, and what is “not cheap”? On the Rudy Project website, the listed regular price for the Hypermask Performance is $249.99, but it’s currently (as of this writing) marked down to $162.49. I have no idea how long that price will be good. If you’re just looking for something to wear while you shoot, this may be a little pricey. But as I learned, you can wear these glasses a lot of places besides the shooting bench.
To summarize… they’re pretty nice glasses, they fit comfortably, and I think they work well.
Would I buy them for myself?
Honestly, I probably would not, but that’s just because I have a pretty stable preference in my daily-wear sunglasses, and I don’t really use shooting glasses as much as I probably should. That said, if I were involved in competitive shooting, or if I spent a lot of time at the range, I could see kicking out the money for a pair of these. Not only do they serve their purpose for safety, I think they would look pretty danged cool on the firing line. And, of course, you can wear them on the drive home.
December 18, 2014
Summer, my friend, we barely knew ya! A “few days ago” it was just Halloween. Thanksgiving flew by on turkey wings, fueled by good wine and good company… but wasn’t it only a couple of hours ago?
How can it possibly be the week before Christmas?
If you’re like me, this is the case every year… only every year, it seems to become more and more pronounced. I’ve heard it’s got something to do with aging, and as you top the hill of middle age and start the downhill slide, time’s speed increases until, at some point, you reach terminal velocity.
Ah, cheery thoughts for a Christmas season post.
But, as time seems to move faster, I still haven’t managed to change my habit of waiting to the last minute to get my shopping done. If you also have this problem, I can’t really help you resolve it. What I can do, is offer a couple of cool items to consider if you’re short on ideas for that favorite hunter on your list.
As much as I enjoy seeing some quality taxidermy in the right setting, I’ve never felt much interest in spending the money (or the maintenance required) to get any of my animal heads mounted. That said, I do often get the hides tanned with the hair on. I figure a rug, chair cover, or blanket is a useful way to keep a memento of the hunt. It seems a little more practical, and economical, than spending a few hundred bucks on a head to hang on the wall (and clean… nothing looks worse than a ratty, unkempt shoulder mount).
I also keep antlers, from the tiniest spike to the nicer bucks and bulls. My habit has generally been to cut off the skull cap, and if the antlers are particularly nice, I’ll mount them on a board. It’s a pretty rudimentary approach, and while the result sometimes looks pretty good, it usually has more of a redneck flair.
I’ve also had a couple of European mounts done for animals that I’ll probably never hunt again, such as a trophy blackbuck and my scimitar-horned oryx. Again, these usually ended up mounted on a board or plaque.
Earlier this fall, I received an email from the company that makes the Skull Hooker, which is a nifty device for hanging your euro mounts on the wall without having to drill holes or put screws all in the skull. When I first saw the Skull Hooker, I thought it was pretty slick.
But this year, they came up with something even slicker (in my opinion) with the Skull Cap. This is a simple little cover that you set in place over the skull cap. It covers the jagged, bone edges to give your antlers or horns a nice, clean look. It can also be trimmed, and in my own little experiments, I found that they work well on anything from a little 6-point whitetail rack to a moderately sized elk (I don’t have any really large antlers, but I expect you can trim as much as you need to make the cap fit most antlered game… with the exception, maybe of moose or big caribou).
The Skull Cap comes in a basic, brown color, but it is paintable, so you can
give it any touch you’d like.
Suddenly, my skull cap mounts don’t looks quite so redneck. Even better, at a price of around $10.00, it’s really affordable.
Skull Hooker also makes the Bone Bracket, which is similar to the Hooker, except it has a flat base for attaching to the Skull Cap. I didn’t try this out, but I may very well order a couple in the near future to hang some new whitetail antlers.
The packaging is compact, and would probably fit in a stocking as well as a gift box. I expect you could rush order one from most online, outdoors catalogs (e.g. Midway, Cabelas, BassPro, etc.) in time for the holidays.
The market is loaded with angle-compensating rangefinders these days. And, honestly, the majority of them seem pretty interchangeable to me… at least as far as my needs as a bowhunter. I don’t need fast acquisition of targets from 500 yards. What’s actually more important to me is accurate ranges at close distances. One of the first things I look at when I’m studying the data on a potential rangefinder purchase is the minimum accurate distance. Very few of these devices work well inside of 10 yards.
Nikon sent me one of their new Arrow ID 5000 units for review earlier this season. I’d been thinking about getting one of these monocle rangefinders, because, as much as I love my Leica Geovids, they really require two hands for reliable operation (and I have relatively large hands). When you’re sitting in a deer stand or ground blind with a bow in one hand, it’s nice to be able to take a reading without having to put the bow down.
I can’t claim a great level of expertise when it comes to handheld rangefinders. I’ve tried a couple, including the Bushnells and the Leupolds, and I’ve looked at a couple of different price levels. As with all optics, you generally get what you pay for. So there is (to me) a noticeable difference between a rangefinder that retails for under $100, and one that will set you back five or six times that amount.
Besides optical clarity, one of the differences I notice is how quickly and reliably the unit returns a range. My Leicas, for example, are near the top of the line. Even under less than ideal conditions, such as low light, the range usually seems almost instantaneous. On a cheap set (name brand), there’s a definite lag between pushing the button and seeing the readout.
The ArrowID falls in the middle of the general price range, with an MSRP of about $279.95. As far as clarity, I thought it was pretty good… although it took me some effort to find a comfortable, clear eye relief. The monocle is adjustable, so I had to tweak the focus ring a little bit. I’ve had similar experiences with some of the other handhelds too, so it’s not just Nikon.
The unit ranges pretty quickly, so I didn’t have much complaint there. I did notice, especially in the evening, it really wants a good, reflective target. I was hitting a cedar stump about 30 yards away at the end of shoot time, and could not get a read until I aimed lower and caught the light of a white rock. It’s unfair to compare the Nikon to the Leica, but it’s true that the Leica ranged the stump right up until it was almost too dark to see. I wish I’d had a couple of other units in the same class as the Nikons to compare, because I think this would be a pretty good test.
One thing I really like is the angle compensation (and this is a feature my Leicas don’t have). I’ve really struggled as a bowhunter with getting my shots on target from an elevated position. I’ve missed more shots than I care to recall due to shooting too high (or overcompensating and shooting too low), so having a more accurate range is a big deal. The Nikons worked very well, and after playing around with them from the Murder Hole stand, I understood why I missed so many shots there… with the steep angle (it’s a tree stand shooting down into a draw), there’s almost a five yard difference in the actual (planar) distance versus the linear distance.
One other feature that I like with the ArrowID 5000 is the ability to switch modes from measuring the nearest object to measuring range to the most distant. If you’ve ever tried to range through brush, you found that you often got the distance to a stick or branch instead of the target. Switching to Distant mode, the ArrowID will display the distance to the furthest target in the measurement field. This means it will ignore the branches and brush. It took me some doing to figure out how to get this mode to work, but I do think it’s ingenious (and something else that my Leicas don’t do). A hint, by the way… ditch the neoprene cover. It makes it hard to work the buttons on top of the unit, especially if you’re wearing gloves. You don’t need the cover anyway, since the ArrowID 5000 is waterproof and shockproof.
Anyway, while I’m not in a position to say how much better (or worse) the ArrowID 5000 rangefinder is in comparison to similar (price and features) models, I definitely liked using it. If you have someone on your gift list who needs a handheld rangefinder, I have no problem recommending this one.
For The Reader
Books are always a great, last-minute gift. Usually, by this time of the year I’ve reviewed several… often written by friends and acquaintances. Not so this year, for some reason. But that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t, recommend some of their books anyway. For example, my friend, Hank Shaw, has a couple of good reads out there:
Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild is chock-full of information about how to get the most out of your waterfowl cooking experience. This book isn’t just recipes (although there are recipes for every part of the bird), but it’s also cooking recommendations and best practices.
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast is Hank’s first work, and it’s an exploration of the edible world around us… including a look at some less-loved critters and plants. It is an excellent read for experienced outdoorsfolk as well as neophytes.
I’ve never met Tovar Cerulli in person, but we’ve shared many an Internet “conversation”. He’s far from the ordinary as a hunter, or as a person, for that matter. As someone who came to hunting from the position of anti-hunting vegan, his story is pretty fascinating, and his book, The Mindful Carnivore: A Vegetarian’s Hunt for Sustenance, tells the story from one end to the other.
Finally, the one book I was sent to review this fall is, unfortunately, still on the shelf. I just haven’t had time to sit down with Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, and give it a read. That’s a shame, because it sounds like a very different book… and I like different. In the book, the author looks at the evolution and development of the weapons (defensive and offensive) used by wild animals, as well as how these tools are employed. He then makes some comparisons to how humans have developed and deployed our own weapons following some of those same lines. It’s an intriguing premise, and I really wish I’d read enough of it to offer a solid review. But, I include it here now as one more idea for the last minute shopper. I’m pretty sure that , no matter how many books your gift recipient may have, there’s nothing like this on the bookshelf.
So that’s it for now. I’ll close with one last suggestion… every hunter needs ammo. A couple boxes makes a great stocking stuffer. Me? I’m still asking Santa for some factory-loaded Winchester E-Tips for my .325wsm.
June 24, 2014
One of the most underrated tools in the outdoorsman’s bag is the flashlight. If you asked 50 hunters to come up with a list of “must have” items for the hunter’s pack, it’s a fair bet 25 of them will completely overlook the flashlight. I don’t think that’s because folks don’t think it’s an important tool, but because it’s so ubiquitous they just tend to take it for granted. For my part, any time I’m more than an hour or two from the truck, I like to have at least two flashlights, as well as spare batteries. But even when I’m hunting within sight of the house, I seldom get into the stand without a light in my pocket.
It’s not because I’m scared of the dark. I’m not.
And it’s not so much because I can’t find my way out of the woods at night without a light. The truth is that I prefer to hike without a light in the dark whenever there’s the faintest bit of ambient light. It’s easier on my eyes and gives me a good bit more peripheral vision. But sometimes, especially in thick cover or cloudy, moonless nights, it’s just so dark that it’s unsafe to try to navigate the brush, rocks, and ravines without some light to guide the way.
More important to me, though, is the availability of a good light to find game after the shot. I don’t care how good your night vision might be, it’s not good enough to let you follow a blood trail in the dark. Without a light, you can’t read the sign to see if the animal is wandering, dragging a limb, or hiding in a thick pile of brush just off the trail. And for this kind of work, the brighter and cleaner the beam, the better off you are.
Flashlights have evolved drastically, even in my own lifetime. Modern lights with concentrated power and LED bulbs are simply miles ahead of the old aluminum-cased, glass lensed, torches we used to use. They’ve not only gained power, but they’ve grown smaller as well to be more compact and portable. I’ve got three-ounce headlamps that put out more light than my old 6-volt Boy Scout lantern ever dreamed of, and palm-sized handhelds that rival the old Q-beam spotlight for intensity and range.
In a lot of ways, we have the tactical market to thank for turning out some pretty amazing flashlights. The requirements of the battlefield or law enforcement situations mean that these lights are strong, weatherproof, and durable. They are bright enough to disable a close-up opponent or to light up the field for a couple hundred yards.
The folks at Olympia Products have pulled all of these advances together to create the RG850 flashlight. I was fortunate enough to receive one of these lights for review recently, and while there are still some things that only time will tell, my initial impressions have been pretty favorable. Let’s look at a few key criteria:
- Brightness – The RG850 is named for the 850 lumens it produces at full power. Now I don’t have a testing lab or any of that fancy equipment to verify that I’m really getting that sort of output, but I can tell you that this light is one of the brightest handhelds I’ve ever used. I also realize that lumens aren’t the only measure of light quality. There are other aspects, such as color and clarity that determine the value of a flashlight’s beam. I’m not the kind of expert who could provide an empirical analysis, but with my own eyes I can definitively say that this light is more than enough to light up a blood trail… even on medium power (there are three power levels and two blink modes). I flashed it out across the pasture on a recent cloudy night and was easily able to see jackrabbits over 100 yards away… not just their eyes, but the entire rabbit.
- Size – With the battery in place and the wrist lanyard attached, the RG850 weighs in at six ounces on my kitchen scale. Considering the heavy-duty construction of this light, I think that’s plenty reasonable. There are lighter flashlights on the market, but this one seems to be on par with most others in this class. I wouldn’t want to hold this one in my teeth for an extended period (e.g. field dressing a hog in the dark), but it certainly isn’t any burden to carry in my hand or drop in the pack.
- Durability – I haven’t tried driving nails with the RG850, and I haven’t backed the truck over it or dropped it in the river. They only sent one to review, and I’d hate to destroy it because I like it so much. At the same time, just based on the feel and the specs, the light is tough enough to meet with any hunter’s demands. The moving sections (the lens cap and tail cap) are waterproofed with O-rings, and the packaging even comes with spares in case you need them. I have dropped the unit a couple of times, but most modern lights can withstand that sort of abuse anyway. The specs say the unit is waterproof to two meters, so I probably wouldn’t use this as a dive light, but at the same time, that should be more than sufficient for the occasional dunk in the duck marsh or mountain stream.
- Battery life – One of the drawbacks to the super-powered flashlights is the intense drain on batteries. The RG850 is supposed to give a little over an hour of service at its highest setting. At the medium setting (appx. 360 lumens), it should provide about three hours of light. On the lowest setting, which provides about 20 lumens (enough to keep you from running into trees on a dark trail), you should expect about 65 hours. Of course, all of these averages are going to be impacted by how you use the light… either sporadically flashing it to see specific things or continuous use. I haven’t used it long enough to run it down yet, but I see no reason to doubt the advertised numbers. The cool thing is, though, that the RG850 is rechargeable. Even cooler is that you can recharge it from anything with a USB port. The package includes a USB cable and an adaptor for 110v household outlets, but if you have a USB port in your vehicle, or a cigarette lighter plug with a USB port, you can charge the flashlight in your vehicle. Of course you could also use any of the solar charging solutions on the market as well, if you’re way out past where the powerlines end.
The downside to being rechargeable, of course, is that you can’t replace the battery with a standard AA. It comes with an 18650 NiMH battery, and I suppose you could pick up a spare to keep in your pack, but in general, the fact that you need a recharging source suggests that the RG850 is best suited for work closer to home. On an extended, backcountry trip I believe I would choose to carry a couple of old-fashioned, battery-powered lights instead.
- Cost – I list this last, although it is certainly a priority to a lot of people. The RG850 has a suggested retail price of $89.99 (actual store prices will vary… often a bit lower). For a light of this quality, that’s not cheap, but it certainly doesn’t put it in the neighborhood of the Surefires or some other high-end tactical lights. Still, 90 bucks is a lot of money for a flashlight. Is it worth it? I can’t honestly answer that just now. Give me a year or so to put this thing through normal use, and if it’s still holding up, then we’ll talk about value.
Overall, in case you didn’t gather, I’m pretty pleased with this light. It’s found a pretty regular spot in my bedside table where it’s close at hand for any nighttime emergency… or if I want to light up the rabbits in the pasture and thin their numbers on a dark night. I haven’t used it on a blood trail yet, of course, but I have no doubt it will serve that purpose very well. It is a little pricey, but it’s very competitive with other lights in the same niche. If that’s the sort of thing you’re in the market for, I’d definitely give it a look.
March 24, 2014
Several years ago, at the SHOT Show, someone came up to me and gave me a thimble-sized, bell-shaped bundle of neoprene with a clip on one end, and something stuffed into the bell opening on the other end. I fiddled with it for a second and pulled out a square of microfiber lens cloth that was attached by a corner to the bell. I realized immediately, that I could clip one of these little guys onto my binoculars or my camera strap, and always have a good lens cloth right at my fingertips. “Wow,” thought I. “This is kind of handy. I wish I’d thought of it.”
And that was my introduction to Spudz, an innovative little gizmo from Alpine Innovations. Since that day, I’ve got Spudz hooked to my camera strap, my binocular case, my video camera, and a spare in the console of the Tactical Vehicle (my truck). I’ve given them away to friends and clients, and had more than one envious glance from other hunters when I wouldn’t part with my last one. They’re proof to the cliché… sometimes great things do come in small packages.
Of course, a company with “Innovations” in its name isn’t likely to sit back on its laurels, and nobody is going to get rich selling lens cloths… no matter how cool they are. They’ve been steadily cranking out cool new products for all sorts of applications, from hunting and fishing to golf and photography, and even electronics. The Spudz line has now expanded to include a kit with a little tube of defogger, and another kit with a tube of lens cleaner included. There are even big Spudz for cleaning the screen of your computer or tablet.
They do other stuff too, and while I was at SHOT this past January, I had the opportunity to stop by the Alpine Innovations booth and see what’s new. I poked around at the variations on Spudz until one of the reps got a chance to show me around. There’s a lot you can do with neoprene, and while it’s not an entirely original concept, the guys at Alpine had come up with a line of protective “slickers” for outdoor gear, including scopes, spotting scopes, and even the whole rifle. They have a line for archery equipment as well.
I expressed my appreciation and dropped off a card. Sure enough, a few weeks after the show I got an email asking for my mailing address, and not long after that I received samples of the Cambow bow sling, and a Gun Slicker for scoped rifles to try out and review.
Now bow slings aren’t any new thing. I’ve been using one that covers the cams and the strings of my Mathews for several years now. But the advertised feature for the Cambow is that you can shoot while the sling is attached. I’m not a tech-head when it comes to compound bows, and I’ll admit that I am very hesitant to do anything that might impede the normal operation of my bow. Every little thing is important, at least as far as I understand, so I was a little skeptical about the Cambow. So I had to try it out.
Once I figured out how to adjust the Cambow sling and get it on properly (my demo unit came with no instructions), I really couldn’t figure out how you’re supposed to shoot without removing the sling. Fortunately, there’s a YouTube video for that.
In fact, Alpine has a whole channel of videos about their products.
So it turns out, the sling actually detaches from the top of the bow and hangs from the lower limb while you shoot. I took a few shots out back, and it didn’t really seem to impact accuracy or performance. However, be careful. If you get a little excited after the shot like I do, it’s easy to step on the hanging sling and trip yourself up. Apparently, it’s not that hard to do even if you’re not excited, as I learned in the back yard. Fortunately, I’d chosen not to make this a video gear review.
Seriously, though, I can see the value in keeping the sling attached to the bow after the shot. My other sling (by another manufacturer) is designed to pop off quickly, but once it comes loose I have to either stow it or toss it on the ground where it’s likely to get lost. In fact, I’ve almost left it on the woods more than once after a stalk.
Overall, the Cambow sling is useful and does what it’s advertised to do. At around $25, it’s not expensive, and having a sling on the bow to free up your hands for those long hikes is an awful handy thing.
The Gun Slicker is a gun cover (think gun sock), more or less, that slips over the rifle. The muzzle goes up into the cover, while the bottom of the gun is exposed. This allows you to sling the rifle and keep it covered, which is something the basic gun socks don’t do.
Once the Slicker is over the rifle, a draw string allows you to pull it tight and achieve something of a snug fit. I was a little worried when I pulled it tight over my Savage because I had to pull pretty hard to snug it down. But the cord cinched up like it was supposed to, and the locking tab held just fine.
This thing is big, by the way. It would easily cover any scoped rifle, and I expect it would fit over a fully-dressed AR if that were your thing (I don’t have one, so I didn’t try it).
I can’t tell you much about the durability or the foul weather performance of the Slicker, because I haven’t really had an opportunity to get out and test that sort of thing (a recent hog hunt got cancelled). However, the slicker is well made with solid fabric that should hold up to the general kind of use you’d expect from field equipment. I would have no doubts hauling it around the Rockies on a wet, snowy elk hunt, or carrying it through the chaparral on a CA hog hunt.
Of course, just making a gun cover isn’t enough for a company like Alpine Innovations. They had to do something different… something to add their special touch. The Gun Slicker is packable, and folds into an attached, drawstring-closed bag. The result is a handy, reasonably small (5 oz.) bundle that would easily stow inside a day pack. It has a nice little carabiner clip as well, so it can be attached to a pack, saddle, or belt.
Overall, I think the Gun Slicker is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from Alpine. It’s convenient, it works, and it’s inexpensive (under $30).