By Tony Martins
As the year winds down so does hunting in most areas, and thoughts turn to the holiday season and the tradition of gifting, initiated by Three Wise Men – probably hunters – more than 2000 years ago. Gear demanded by the Western Big Game Hunter today is often specialized and adapted for rugged open country, extreme weather and competition on public lands. The annual task of cleaning, repairing and stowing gear reminds me of what worked well, and what needs improving/replacing. Following are my 2016 recommendations for gear I’ve recently put to the test, along with a couple of top-rated new items I will be trying soon. One thing is certain – receiving any of these items is guaranteed to put a big, appreciative smile on the face of that special deserving person on your gifting list.
1 – VORTEX KAIBAB HD 15x56mm BINOCULAR
Locating a secretive buck in big open country can be like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Savvy western hunters have learned that a powerful tripod mounted binocular can greatly improve chances for success, and the Vortex Kaibab HD in 15x56mm is the value leader in this class. Tripod mounting allows hands-free operation which is important for movement detection and image clarity when using high magnification glass, particularly at field-of-view limits, where animals are often located. XRPlus premium multi-coated lenses deliver excellent light transmission for maximum brightness, even in low-light conditions, and dielectric prism coatings with phase-correction provide sharp contrast and accurate color images. Waterproof and fogproof performance is guaranteed with internal argon gas purging, and ArmorTech protects external lenses from scratches and dirt within the high strength but lightweight magnesium chassis. Weight 43.5 oz. MSRP: $1499.00. Available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com: $1199.00 – about half the price of competitive European models.
2 – VORTEX RAZOR HD 20-60×85 SPOTTING SCOPE
We’ve reached the point in many western areas where it seems that you must have an ATV/UTV in order to cover the wide open spaces and hunt. Probably the only gear item that can save more boot leather is a powerful spotting scope, and the new Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 was the talk of the 2016 seasons out west – and for good reason. It’s packed with features shared with the Kaibab Binocular – like High Density premium extra-low dispersion glass for excellent image resolution and color fidelity, XRPlus premium multi-coated lenses with exceptional light transmission and brightness enhanced by dielectric multi-layer prism coatings, and ArmorTech protection. Other features include a zoom eyepiece, built-in sunshade to reduce glare and shield objective lens, and rotating tripod collar that provides adjustable viewing angles. Available in both angled and straight body styles, I prefer the latter for quick target acquisition and ease of use, particularly with truck window mounts. Weight: 65.7 oz. Best of all, these scopes are priced well below comparable models from other companies. MSRP: $1599.00. Available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com: $1135.00.
3 – VORTEX SUMMIT MICRO-FLUID HEAD CARBON TRIPOD
A growing trend among highly mobile western hunters is to carry a big spotting scope mounted on a lightweight tripod in the field, along with a lower magnification harness held or neck-strapped binocular. Ideally, the tripod will be easy to pack, yet sturdy and stable enough to use as a shooting rest when the opportunity arises. An excellent choice for this application is the Vortex Summit Carbon Tripod with Micro-Fluid Head. With folded length of 18.5 inches and folded width of only 5 inches, it easily fits in most backpacks, while adding only 3.7 lbs. to the load. The 4 carbon leg sections adjust quickly with twist locks, expanding to a maximum height of 63 inches, and a split center column allows legs to spread for added stability, down to a minimum height of only 17.5 inches. This tripod is remarkably stable considering its weight, and rugged enough to withstand the recoil from magnum rifle discharge when used as a rest. And, its 3-way pan head facilitates smooth operation in horizontal and vertical planes with even the largest optics. MSRP: $399.00. Available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com: $299.00.
4 – IRISH SETTER VAPRTREK BOOTS
Fact: Rugged and rocky western terrain destroys footwear, particularly the light weight models designed more for comfort than durability. I can still hear my parents complaining about how hard I was on shoes – a recollection that hasn’t changed much during my 50+ years of actively hunting the West, where boots rarely last more than one season. My criteria for selecting a hunting boot in order of importance are: 1) fit, 2) comfort, 3) quietness, 4) breathable/dryness/odor control. Proper fit is often problematic with my narrow feet, which sweat easily. And, my favorite method of still hunting, often with a bow, demands a quiet, odorless approach. This year I decided to try one of the new generation superlight boots. After careful consideration I chose the 8-inch Irish Setter Vaprtrek, advertised as a high-tech, lightweight, high-performance boot for the most active, athletic hunter. So far I’ve logged over 60 miles – hunting elk in eastern Arizona’s volcanic-based alpine forests of spruce, fir and aspen, mule deer in northwestern New Mexico’s abrasive sandstone canyon lands, and ducks in riverbottom wetlands – and these boots have performed flawlessly.
Virtually all superlight cemented construction boots eventually develop delamination and/or cracking issues, and early Vaprtrek models were not exempt. Irish Setter addressed and resolved customer issues quickly through their warranty program, while improving the boot. The line now includes 11 different styles in half-sizes 8 through14, both narrow and wide. Features include full grain, waterproof leather upper with ScentBan, RMP Technology composite outsole material that is strong yet lightweight and durable, ArmaTec protective coating that resists abrasion and wear to prolong boot life, and CuShin Comfort tongue to minimize felt shin pressure while adding flexibility and comfort. Weight 2 lbs. 6 oz. uninsulated, 2 lbs. 9 oz. insulated with 400g PrimaLoft Gold, available in Mossy Oak Break-up and RealTree Xtra. MSRP: $154.99 (uninsulated) and $164.99 (insulated).
5 – OUTDOOR EDGE GAME PROCESSOR
Successful western big game hunters find themselves dealing with a large volume of nature’s best protein, and many of us prefer to process and prepare that venison for the table ourselves. The original Outdoor Edge 12-Piece Game Processor is still one of the best values available today in a complete field-dressing-to-butchering set. Included in the set are caping knife, gut-hook skinner, boning/filet knife, butcher knife, tungsten carbide sharpener, bone/wood saw, carving fork, ribcage spreader and cleaning gloves. The full-tang stainless steel knife blades are heat treated, taper ground and hand finished for super sharpness with excellent edge retention and performance. Comfort and safety during extended usage are facilitated by rubberized TPR handles with non-slip grips. Set is delivered in a hard-sided case that provides protection and portability ease. MSRP: $89.95. Available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com: $60.58.
6 – OUTDOOR EDGE RAZOR-LITE 6-BLADE KNIFE
I used one of these little beauties to field dress, cape, skin and cut-up my elk for packing off the summit of a 9200 foot mountain this season. The Outdoor Edge Razor Lite 3-1/2 inch stainless razor blades are held solidly in place and cut like butter. They’re disposable yet strong, and it took only 2 blades to completely process my 700-pound bull. Rubberized handle with non-slip grip adds safety, even when wet – highly recommended as a “stocking stuffer” for any hunter. MSRP: $49.95. Available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com: $34.95.
7 – FOODSAVER GAMESAVER TITANIUM G800 FOOD PRESERVATION SYSTEM
Hunters have used vacuum sealers to preserve wild game for years, and these are a common appliance in western kitchens. While most kitchen grade sealers work well for occasional use, they tend to overheat and not seal properly under the continuous use that is typically required to process 100+ pounds of fresh venison. And, commercial grade sealers are often too pricey for sportsmen. FoodSaver offers a solution to this dilemma in their GameSaver Titanium G800 Food Preservation System. With a high performance dual pump that pulls out more air than other sealers, and a heavy duty sealing system capable of making up to 100 consecutive seals, this unit will process your harvest quickly and efficiently. The dual sealing strip can be used for fast, consecutive sealing or double for extra security, with an extra wide 15-inch sealing strip that’s ideal for larger cuts. Other features include, removable drip tray, accessory port for use with FoodSaver brand containers, replaceable foam gasket to insure the longevity of strong vacuum sealing, and dual built-in carry handles. Unit Dimensions: 26″ long x 12″ wide x 6″ high. MSRP: $449.95.
8 – SCENT CRUSHER OZONE GO AIR CLEANER
Unlike many western hunters, I place a very high value on scent control with my favored style of hunting – up close and personal with a bow. This season, after 20 minutes hunkering down in the middle of 30 elk inside 50 yards with no blind, I arrowed the herd bull at 33 yards. Last year I was able to arrow the dominant muley buck out of a bachelor group of 15, all within 35 yards. It’s often warm out west during early archery seasons in August and September, and you simply cannot get that close and remain in position for a shot opportunity without paying fanatical attention to scent control. The Scent Crusher Ozone Go was declared Best New Product at the Archery Trade Association Show back in January, and although I haven’t used it, I look forward to giving it a try. This product is designed to remove odors and contaminants from your vehicle in about 30 minutes, using the power of ozone. Ozone kills bacteria that cause odors, and it’s also effective on smoke. Simply plug the unit into your vehicle’s 12-volt accessory outlet, and arrive at your hunting spot scent-free. Generator life is approximately 5 years. MSRP: $49.99, available from 1800GunsAndAmmo.com.
9 – NIKON COOLPIX L820 DIGITAL CAMERA
As an outdoors photojournalist I never go anywhere without a camera (or two), and often carry a point-and-shoot model on my belt while hunting. The Nikon COOLPIX L820 Digital Camera is a full function compact at the top of its class that is also easy to use. This camera fits comfortably in the hand, with ergonomic design that places controls right where they are needed, and the Select Easy Auto Mode function automatically adjusts settings to produce sharp images. Hunters spent a great deal of their active time during low light conditions, and the L820’s 16.0-megapixil CMOS image sensor performs so well in low light that flash activation is often unnecessary. This facilitates natural looking images, while lessening the chance that game will be spooked. Other features include 30x zoom NIKKOR glass lens with 22.5mm wide-angle view and lens-shift vibration reduction, large 3.0-inch vibrant high-resolution VGA LCD display, and 1080p Full HD video recording with stereo sound and built-in mic. Original MSRP: $299.99 – Now available online from $199.99.
10 – NIKON MONARCH 7i VR LASER RANGEFINDER
Nikon Sport Optics is set to release the revolutionary new MONARCH 7i VR Laser Rangefinder, and I am privileged to be among the first to get my hands on one for testing. VR in the name stands for Nikon’s optical Vibration Reduction technology, touted by the company as “the world’s first” laser rangefinder to employ vibration reduction for quicker, more precise targeting and sharper, steadier imaging. The VR technology reduces the effect of external vibrations, compensating for the physical inability of human hands and body to remain completely still, while ranging distant objects. Thus, the target mark in the 6-power rangefinder viewer remains stable even when the rangefinder body is moving. By also stabilizing the activated laser, more precise alignment and greater accuracy are achieved. This is important with small target objects, and particularly important at longer ranges approaching 1000 yards, where the compact size of most hand-held laser rangefinders makes it difficult to actually hit the target to obtain an accurate reading.
To date, I have ranged nearly 100 live animals (elk, bighorn sheep, wild horses and cattle) out to 750+ yards with the Monarch 7i VR under simulated hunting conditions, and preliminary results have been impressive. Images are bright and sharp, and distance readings have been obtained on the first try in an astonishing 95%+ of the attempts! No more pushing the button repeatedly to get a reading, which is common problem shared by most laser rangefinders. Readings come quickly in about half a second, regardless of the distance. Either the “true” distance or the “horizontal” distance – calculated to compensate for uphill/downhill angles using Nikon’s ID (Incline/Decline) technology – is displayed, depending on the chosen setting. Furthermore, continuous scans for up to 8 seconds are possible with a continuous press of the ranging button. My two word assessment so far: Remarkable Performance. Watch for publication of my full product review by 1800GunsAndAmmo.com, coming soon. MSRP: $399.95, available soon.