Aug
16

Great Hunting Gizmos by Randy Rowley

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Gizmos, gadgets, and gear are names that you commonly read in hunting and fishing magazines and hear on hunting and fishing shows and videos.

Basically they are things that enhance our sports and improve our chances on being successful. Over the years I have bought many gizmos. Many have not been worth a plug nickel and are gathering dust in my garage. Some are ok. But a few are indispensable. Below is the list of my favorites for hunting. Some of my recommendations are expensive but most are cheap. Some are high tech but most are low tech. Some are new but most are old.

Gizmos for rifles and big game hunting

Illuminated reticles and electro dots

I never really saw the need for an illuminated reticle/electro dot on my scope until I became a hog hunter. Hogs, which are primarily nocturnal and dark in color are very difficult to see with ordinary crosshairs, especially at night. Hog hunters who use regular reticles at night usually have to shine a light at the hogs in order to see where the reticle is on the hog. This often makes the hogs bolt, even when using red lights. A solution (unless there is no or little moon) is to use either an illuminated dot, inner crosshair reticle, or entire crosshair reticle. These are usually battery operated and are activated by a switch on the scope. The exception is Bushnell’s Firefly, which is activated by shining a flashlight down the scope tube for two minutes. The Firefly has a very large reticle, which I found as a distraction when I tried one out at McBride’s. Burris, Bushnell, Kahles, Leupold, Nikon, and Swarovski make illuminated inner reticle version scopes and Burris makes an electro dot scope. Other manufacturers, such as BSA, make illuminated reticle scopes but I’d shy away from them. BSA scopes cost about 1/7th of a Leopold VX-III and you get what you pay for. In 2004 I purchased a Burris Signature 3-9X40 scope with an electro dot. I killed several hogs at dusk and at night and a deer at first shooting light with it. I have since sold it but it made a big difference, especially at night. I paid $439 for it. In 2006 I bought a Sightron SII 3-9X42 scope with an illuminated inner reticle. I killed hogs at dusk and at night with it. It also worked wonders at the range. I have since sold it but it made a big difference, especially at night (I sold it, the above Burris scope, a Leupold 2-7X32scope, and a rifle in order to get enough money to buy an over/under shotgun). I paid $200 for it (Sightron has stopped making illuminated reticle scopes so you’ll have a hard time finding one). Illuminated reticles and electro dots jack up the price on quality scopes by $25 plus, but if you’re a hog hunter or hunt other dark colored animals they’re well worth the extra cost. You can find illuminated reticle and electro dot scopes at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Bear Basin, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Optics Planet, Wal-Mart, and several other websites.

Night Vision Equipment

As with illuminated reticles/electro dots I really did not see a need for these gadgets until I became a hog hunter. Hog hunters usually hunt hogs at night over feeders. The standard method is to shine a red light at the feeder if you hear hogs or to see if anything is there. The problem with this is, as noted above, it often makes the hogs bolt. It also wears down the spot light’s battery. The solution is to use either a night vision scope or night vision monocular/binocular/goggle. These are usually battery operated and are activated by a switch/knob/button. They have a standard mode and infrared mode, which greatly enhances the image. They range from Generation 1 to Generation 4 (the higher the number the better the scope and the more you pay). You can get a decent Generation 1 scope for about $200. Generation 4 scopes start at $5000. ATN is now making Day/Night scopes for a pretty penny. ATN, Bushnell, Night Owl, Nikon, Swarovski, and Yukon are among the makers of night vision equipment. You can find night vision equipment at Academy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, Bear Basin, Optics Planet, and other websites. I purchased a significantly used Night Owl Explorer Pro monocular with 5X magnification on ebay for $60 (they go new for $270). It’s a Generation 1 scope. With it you can tell that there are hogs under a feeder at 100 yards, but you won’t be able to tell many details. After about a year it stopped working and I sent it in to Night Owl. They sent me a new one for only $79. I highly recommend them. They are available at Academy (only one or two models), Bass Pro Shops, Bear Basin, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Optics Planet, and several other websites.

Laser Range Finders

I’d be willing to bet that 95 percent of the big game animals that the average rifle hunter kills are taken at 100 yards or less. In such cases, the hunter knows how far the feeder is from his or her blind and sights his or her rifle in for that distance. For such situations, most of the time a laser range finder would not be needed. However, deer have a habit of showing up where least expected, often much farther away. Laser range finders are invaluable for such situations. They are also invaluable for bow hunters. Affordable laser range finders are made by Bushnell, Redfield, Simmons, and Weaver. More expensive ones are made by Leupold, Newcon, and Nikon. Leica, Opti-Logic, and Swarovski are the cream of the crop. Burris, Bushnell, Leopold, Newcon, and Swarovski also make laser range finding binoculars. Bushnell’s rangefinders have a rain mode that will penetrate most precipitation, a zip mode that reads through brush and foreground clutter, and a scan mode that gives continuous distance readings as you scan multiple targets. The least expensive laser rangefinder that I would consider (Bushnell’s Scout) starts at $250.00. The least expensive laser range finding binocular (Bushnell’s Quest) starts at $400.00. Burris and Bushnell make rifle scopes with built in laser range finders. There are mechanical range finders available that supposedly work up to 800 yards and mechanical range finders built into scopes but these devices are not nearly as accurate or easy to use as laser range finders. Laser range finders boast accuracy rates of +/- 1 yard at 300 yards. They are available at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Bear Basin, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Optics Planet, Wal-Mart, and several other websites. In 2006 I purchased a Bushnell Yardage Pro Compact 800 for $200 (a factory demo at Optics Planet). It has a rain mode that ignores rain, a brush mode that ignores foreground clutter, and a scan mode that allows you to continuously range objects as you pan an area. I’m very pleased with it.

Scent Lock clothing

Scent Lock clothing arrived in stores around the year 2000 and have taken the hunting clothing industry by storm. They use activated charcoal, which is supposed to “lock” the hunters scent inside the clothing and not allow it to seep out. They are almost double the cost when compared to the same clothing that is not scent locked. From all reviews they work great. I bought a pair of scent lock long lightweight underwear that I can use during lukewarm weather as well as a base layer during cold weather. I don’t know for a fact that I see more game because of them but they certainly can’t hurt your chances. I liked the long underwear concept because it is the layer that is touching your skin and can lock your scent out at the source. Of course this clothing works best after you have showered using scent free soap and used unscented deodorant. Scent Lock clothing can be found at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Wal-Mart, and several other websites.

Bi-pods

Bi-pods attach to the front swivel stud of rifles and still allow the attachment of a sling. They have two legs that fold down that are used to steady the rifle in prone or sitting/kneeling positions. Most have legs that telescope out and can be locked into place. Their one drawback is they add a pound or more weight to your rifle. However, if you’re going to be doing any type of hunting other than stand hunting (such as stalking or drives) they are indispensable. I’ve owned a Harris bi-pod for several years and love it. I’ve only used it once during a hunt (on the 2/1/02 – 2/3/02 Hog Hunt) but it worked as advertised. After we got settled in David Smith took us on an early afternoon tour of the El Potrillo Ranch. We came up to a feeder about 200 yards away and saw that there was a hog at the feeder. My son Ryan and I had brought our rifles with us (having learned from leaving my rifle back at camp during the infamous 4/3/92 – 4/5/92 Uno Mas Ranch Hog Hunt). I grabbed my Remington Model 700 and gave Ryan’s Remington Model 7600 to David Chalmers as Ryan had no experience with off hand shooting. We loaded the rifles and then stalked to within 125 yards of the sow. I then sat down on the road, pulled down the legs of my bi-pod, extended and locked them, put the crosshairs behind the sows shoulders, and squeezed the trigger. The bi-pod proved to be rock solid and I hit exactly where I was aiming (a double lung shot). There have been other times when I could have used the bi-pod but left it at home. I now own a gun case that is deep enough to hold my rifle with the bi-pod attached. With my old case I had to remove the bi-pod each time I put the rifle in the case, which was a pain. More often than not I would not bother re-mounting it. Harris advertises their bi-pods as “the portable bench rest.” Their claim is pretty accurate. Other manufacturers such as B-square, ATI, and Outers (Shooter’s Ridge) make bi-pods but Harris is the best (and costliest). A few years ago Harris and others came out with a swivel mount that allows the gun to be turned side to side while the bi-pod remains in place. They also work better on uneven ground. The swivel mounts cost about $30.00 more than the non-swivel mounts. If I didn’t already own a bi-pod I’d definitely invest the extra $30.00 and get a swivel one. You can reproduce the effects of a bi-pod by simply lying prone on the ground, however, brush and tall grass often obscures your view of your quarry. A sitting/kneeling bi-pod gets you above most brush and grass so I recommend them over the prone bi-pods. For varmint and predator hunters who do not hunt out of blinds bi-pods are standard equipment. Especially for prairie dog hunters. Bi-pods start at around $38.00 and go up to around $105.00. You will find them at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, and several other websites. Academy has only a small selection and doesn’t carry Harris bi-pods.

Gut hook knives

Gut hook knives started to come into vogue in the mid-90’s. They can be found on fixed and folding hunting knives. They are located upwards of the blades point and are swept back towards the handle. The hook is usually no more than an inch long and the blade of the hook is usually less than half an inch long. Gut hooks allow the hunter to easily field dress and skin game. Buck calls one of their gut hook knives the “Zipper” and it’s well named. When field dressing a deer, hog, or other big game all you have to do is cut a small slit, flip the blade over, insert the gut hook and pull downwards (or upwards). They neatly cut the animal’s skin but won’t go into the intestines or stomach. I purchased a Zipper about three years ago and love it. Buck also makes their Alpha series with a gut hook. Gerber, Browning, Kershaw, and other manufacturers all have a gut hook version. The gut hook adds about $10.00 to the price of the knife but are well worth it. The Gerber Gator (fixed blade knife) starts at $50.00. You will find them at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Wal-Mart, and several other websites.

Flip up scope covers

These are very simple yet necessary devices. It boggles my mind that hunters will spend $400.00 or more on a quality scope and then do nothing to protect them. Stretch style scope covers fulfill that task but can be difficult to remove quickly in the field. The solution is flip up scope covers. They are rubberized and fit snugly on each end of the scope. They protect the scope from dirt (which causes scratches), rain (which causes scopes to fog externally), and the harmful effects of the sun. Best of all when the hunter is ready to shoot all he has to do is push down a lever for the front cap and pull up the back cap. Butler Creek makes these covers and they start at about $16.00 for a pair. Take your scope into Academy, Cabela’s (store), Dick’s Sporting Goods, or McBride’s to get a precise fit. Don’t order these covers at websites. The ones that I ordered at Cabela’s website that were supposed to fit my Burris Signature 3X9 didn’t come close (but fortunately they fit my daughter, Robin’s, Bushnell .22 scope). I recommend that you take your rifle in the store with you to ensure that you get the correct size.

Gun chaps and covers

I’ve known a lot of hunters over the years but, to the best of my knowledge, only two other FCS members and I own Kane gun chaps. I have one on my Remington Model 700. The Kane chaps are made out of vinyl and cover the stocks, forearms, and part of the barrel. Kane went out of business so their chaps are hard to find. Your best bet is to try to find one at a gun show. Chaps and gun covers protect the stock and forearm from scratches, marring, and dents. I’ve owned the one that’s on my Remington Model 700 for 15+ years and my 30+ year old rifle still looks new in large part because of it. If you can find one they go for about $30.00. Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops, and other websites offer Beartooth three piece neoprene gun covers. They protect part of the stock, part of the forearm, and part of the barrel. The stock cover also has shell loops. They’re almost as good as the Kane gun chaps. They sell for $30.00.

Slings

See the discussion in the Gizmos for shotguns, bird hunting, and clay target shooting section. Rifle slings can be found at the same locations as the shotgun versions and cost about the same.

Gizmos for shotguns, bird hunting, and clay target shooting

Fiber Optic sights

Fiber optic sights first started showing up in bow sights in the early 90’s. The fiber optics glow when light is present. The brighter the light the better. For a bow hunter who is trying to see dark sighting pins they were a Godsend. In the late 90’s these sights were marketed for shotguns. HiVis and Truglow make magnetic sights that attach to the vent rib or plain barrel of a shotgun. These sights are mounted behind the shotguns bead or replace the bead. The glow tubes slide into the sight and come in a variety of colors that are interchangeable. There is a school of thought that a shooter should focus on the bird or clay target – not the bead. However most of us do both and a bead that is well seen will result in more kills or broken targets. Period. These have become so popular that they are now standard on some shotguns. There are also turkey hunters and deer slug hunters versions with front and rear shotgun sights, a version that replaces the sights on the Ruger 10/22 rifle, one that replaces sights on modern Remington rifles, one that replaces the front sight on a Colt AR-15, and ones that replace the sights on Glock, Beretta, and Browning pistols. HiVis offers larger shotgun glow tubes, which I prefer, than Truglow. They start at $13.00 at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, and several other websites. Front bead replacements start at $6.00. Truglow sights work only when you have mounted your gun properly (dead on). They cost about the same as HiVis sights. In 2008 I purchased a HiViz Magni-optic fiber optic sight. Since then my sporting clays average has improved by over four points. For more information see my article on Champion EasyHit and HiViz Magni-optic Fiber Optic Sights.

Slings

Just about every hunter in the world has a sling on his rifle but few hunters have one on their shotguns. This simply doesn’t make any sense, especially in Texas, where the average hunter only uses his or her rifle sling to carry his or her rifle from his truck to his stand and back. This same hunter will hold his shotgun for hours, exhausting himself, and then wonder why he is missing birds. Granted rifle slings are also used to help hold rifles steady for off hand shots and would be a hindrance if used in the same way on a shotgun (except for stationary quarry like deer and turkey). Using a shotgun sling while quail or pheasant hunting would also result in birds that have flown out of range before the hunter can get the gun off of his shoulder. But for the hunter that is on the sporting clays range or who is standing around waiting for dove using a sling makes more sense. Dove can often be seen coming in from 100 yards or more away. This gives the hunter plenty of time to slowly slip the sling off of his shoulder. Quick movements should be avoided, however, because dove usually veer off when they see quick movements. Most shotgun slings are of the “loop” design. One end loops over the barrel and the other end loops over the stock. I don’t like these very much because the front loop interferes with your sight picture. You or a gunsmith can attach a barrel band to the barrel and a swivel stud to the stock that will allow any rifle sling to be mounted but this option permanently alters the guns appearance. Remington and Outdoor Connection make slings that fit on 12, 16, and 20 gauge (not the lightweight version) Remington models 1196, 1187, 1100, and 870. The magazine cap is replaced with a cap that has a swivel stud on it. The sling is attached to the stock end by a velcro harness. This sling can be easily removed without any alteration to the guns appearance. The Remington version goes for about $20.00 and the Outdoor Connection version, which is padded, goes for about $25.00 at Academy and Dick’s Sporting Goods. You can also order the Remington version at a variety of websites including Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Uncle Mike’s also makes adapters for Brownings, Mossbergs, Remington’s and other guns. The kit includes a magazine cap with a swivel stud and two quick detachable swivels. The price ranges from $32.00 – $36.00 and are available at Cabela’s, McBride’s, and several websites. For those who don’t own a gun that the above manufacturer’s make a modified magazine cap for, the Swiftach Boomerang Kit and the Mountain Stalker Universal sling are viable alternatives. The Swiftach Boomerang kit has a circular adapter that fits behind (under) most magazine caps. The butt connector slides onto the stock and is non slip with a molded foam recoil pad. The sling has a rubber backing for a sure grip. The front is a camo fabric. The sling is boomerang shaped. They claim that the shape keeps the sling on your shoulder. They sell for $33.25 at http://www.sophuntinggear.com/slings.html. The Mountain Stalker Universal sling uses a rubberized barrel band that easily slides onto the barrel but won’t move when the guns weight is applied. The stock end is a velcro harness. They make 12 and 20 gauge versions. They sell for $42.00 at www.mountainstalker.com. The one thing that I don’t like about the Mountain Stalker barrel bands is eventually gun solvent will eat through the rubber resulting in a metal barrel band resting on a metal barrel, which can scratch the finish. The Swiftach Boomerang kit eliminates this problem because nothing touches the barrel. The next time that I buy a sling I’ll buy a Swiftach Boomerang kit.

Hunting stools

Maybe I’m just a slacker but it amazes me how many hunters do not own, or refuse to own, a stool to use while hunting dove. They stand for hours, get pooped, and then wonder why they’re missing birds. Stools get a hunter close to the ground and make him appear more like a bush (especially if he’s camoed). They allow the shotgun butt to rest on the ground between the hunters knees (with the barrel pointed up). Thus the ground takes the weight of the gun and the stool takes the weight of the hunter. They are also useful to store things like drinks, bug spray, gun oil, tools, and first aid/snakebite kits. I prefer the Evans sport buckets. The magnum deluxe version is covered in camo cloth. There are versions with one or three pouches on the sides of the bucket to store stuff in. The seats are padded and swivel. This allows the hunter to effectively hunt and shoot from his bucket, without having to stand, which usually makes the dove veer off. The inside of the bucket contains a styrofoam cooler that can either keep drinks and sandwiches cold or keep dead birds from getting too hot, which can ruin the meat. Cabela’s sells a three pocket version for $29.00 but Academy has a one pocket version for $18.00. I just bought my second one at Academy. My previous one lasted me more than a decade. Folding stools with backs on them go for $10.00 at Academy. One’s without backs go for $7.00. You can also find buckets at Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, and several other websites. Folding hunting stools can be also found at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Wal-mart and several other websites.

Gun Chaps and covers

See the discussion in the Gizmos for rifles and big game hunting section. Shotgun gun chaps can be found at the same locations as the rifle versions and cost the same.

Gizmos for bows and bow hunting

Fiber Optic sights

See the discussion in the Gizmos for shotguns, bird hunting, and clay target shooting section. Archery fiber optic sights can be found at Academy, Archery Country, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, and several other websites. Fiber Optic sight pins by HiVis start at $9.00. Truglow’s start at $7.00. There is also a Truglo with tritium that sells for $20.00. The Truglow Brite-Site (5 pin) sight starts at $50.00.

Peep sights

A peep sight is a round plastic sight that is sewn into a bow string. It is to the bow what the rear sight is to the rifle (without a scope). Imagine trying to accurately hit something with a rifle without a rear sight. Usually you will have poor results. The same is true with bows. There are archers who can consistently hit their target without a peep sight but they do so because they lock their bow at the same place on their face each time and their stance never changes. A peep sight allows the hunter to be less precise and still have great results. Peep sight makers include Pro Hunter, Fine Line, and Nite Hawk. Pro Hunter’s start at about $6.00. Fine Line Fiber Optic peep sights start at $13.00. Dusk Vision Fiber Optic peep sights start at $9.00. Peep sights can be found at Academy, Archery Country, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, and several other websites. It’s best that a professional install it for you. Archery Country is very well equipped to do this and a whole lot more.

Miscellaneous Gizmos

Two way radios

Over the years these little radios have become much more reliable and capable. Some can now be used as far away as 22 miles. They have many other features including receiving weather reports. Two way radios are easy to use. Unlike cell phones you don’t have to dial a number and pay roaming charges. You just simply press and hold the talk button to talk and then let go of it when your done. You don’t have to hit any button to hear what your partner is saying. They are useful in discussing changes to hunting plans, alerting your partner that game is heading his way, finding out exactly where someone is, etc. There are battery and rechargeable versions. Motorola makes the best ones. They start at around $35.00. Midland and Cobra are the next best. They start at around $25.00. Rechargeable ones start at about twice that. They can be found at Academy, Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods, McBride’s, Wal-mart, and several other websites. The AAA battery operated ones especially tend to eat battery’s so carry extras.

There are many other cool and useful gizmos out there but I just discussed the ones that I felt were useful for the hunting situations that most FCS members face. Things like GPS are definitely cool but not very useful to hunting situations in Texas – where 95% of the land is privately owned. We know where our stands, feeders, and camps are. In Colorado, Wyoming, Montana or other states that have lots of public land or in locating fishing “honey holes” a GPS unit would be invaluable – but not for most Texas hunting.

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