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Published by supernova on 02 Jun 2008

All About Optics

The information contained in this article was obtained from Vortex Optics’ brochure with the same title.

How do binoculars work?

All binoculars, regardless of their size and shape, function in the same, straightforward way:

  1. Light comes to and moves through the objective lenses.
  2. Light then travels through prisms (which correct the image orientation in all directions; up-down, left-right).
  3. Finally, light moves through the eyepieces (which magnify the images) and then on to the user’s eyes.

What determines image quality?

  1. Optical glass – The quality of optical glass that is used in binoculars will make a difference in how bright, sharp and colorful the view will be. Quality binoculars use dense optical glass that is painstakingly designed, shaped and polished to eliminate flaws. The more sophisticated the glass and techniques employed in its design, the better the images.
  2. Anti-reflection coatings – Binocular lenses are coated with anti-reflection coatings to eliminate internal reflections and light scatterings, reduce glare and produce sharper images with more detail. The type of coatings and the number of coatings applied to the binocular lenses matter tremendously to how brilliant and crisp the view will be.
  3. Exit pupil – The exit pupil is the beam of light that exits each eyepiece of the binocular and enters the users’ eyes. The larger the exit pupil, the brighter and more superior the image will appear, especially under low light conditions (when comparing optics of similar quality). The exit pupil is measured in millimeters, and is calculated by dividing the objective lens by the magnification. An 8×42 binocular, for example, has a 5.25mm exit pupil (42/8=5.25).

Binocular Design

Though they may look different on the outside, on the inside binoculars can only be designed in a few ways:

Galilean design: Used almost exclusively in opera glasses, the Galilean design is very primitive and uses only lenses (no prisms).

Porro prism design: Named after their Italian optical designer, Porro prism binoculars are characterized by the objective lenses being spaced wider apart than the eyepieces. The design is reversed in compact binoculars, with the eyepieces spaced wider than objectives.

Roof Prism design: Named for the “roof-like” appearance of the prisms, the more modern roof prism design features a more complicated design, resulting in the objectives and eyepieces being position in a slim, straight line.

What do the numbers mean?

When you look at a pair of binoculars, you’ll notice a few numbers printed on the binoculars, such as 8×42 (read as 8 by 42), or 12×50. What do these numbers mean? What do they refer to?

  1. Magnification – With a pair of 8×42 binoculars, as in our example, the first number, 8(often expressed as 8x), refers to the magnification the binoculars provide, or how many times larger an object will appear. Binoculars vary in magnification from 4x up to 12x and even higher, but 8x and 10x are most common.

Higher magnification is not necessarily better. As magnification increase, users may have troubling holding the binoculars steady, causing the image to become blurry. An increase in magnification will also generally cause a decrease in image brightness and clarity. 7x .8x magnification is considered adequate for woodland settings, while 10x is preferred for viewing at greater distances.

  1. Objective lens size: The second number in our example binocular 42, refers to the diameter of the objective lens (the lens farthest from your eye) in millimeters. Objective lenses vary in size from 15mm to 50mm and beyond.

The size of the objective lens determines how much light the binoculars can receive and hence how bright and clear the resulting images can be. The size of the objective lens also affects how large or small a pair of binoculars will be. Let your needs and desires help you decide what size objective lenses are right for you. If you use your binoculars only during the brightest times of day or in well-lit areas, then smaller objective lenses (say, under 25mm) will do just fine. If, however, you want the brightest possible image and will be using your binoculars during near-dark conditions (such as at dawn, dusk, or in heavy forest cover), you’ll want to choose larger objective lenses, from 35mm to 56mm.

The greatest factor in determining the weight of a binocular is its objective lens size; the larger the lenses, the heavier the binoculars will be. Again, let your desires dictate what weight is comfortable for you. Compact binoculars can weight between a few ounces to under a pound, while modern full-size binoculars will weight from twenty ounces to around two pounds.

  1. Field of view: Another important number to know is the field of view. The field of view is the widest dimension from left to right that you can see when looking through the binoculars. This specification is usually measured either in linear feet at a distance of 1000 yards, or in angular degrees.

A wider field of view is desirable for many reasons, including but not limited to: following fast moving action, and when scanning in denser backgrounds (grasslands, woodlands, etc.) Note that when magnification is increased, the field of view narrows (sometimes considerably).

Other useful specifications

The following specifications and definitions will aid in your understanding of how binoculars can function best fro you and provide you with the maximum benefit out in the field.

Eye relief: The term eye relief refers to the furthest distance behind the binoculars’ eyepieces at which the whole field of view can be attained, and is measured in millimeters.

The eye relief measurement is of great importance to those that must wear eyeglasses/sunglasses while looking through binoculars, but is also important to anyone planning to use binoculars for long stretches of time.

Binoculars with long eye relief will satisfy the above considerations and will have an eye relief measurement of at least 15mm.

Close focus

The minimum distance to which a pair of binoculars can be focused is called its close focus. Some users desire binoculars that will focus down to 10 feet or less.

Weatherproofing

Binoculars that effectively keep out the elements will inevitably last much longer and keep you satisfied.

Waterproof/fogproof binoculars are sealed with O-rings at all open points to inhibit moisture, dust and debris. The inside of the binoculars is then purged of its atmosphere, which is replaced with an inert gas that has no moisture content. This process, called purging, ensures that the binoculars will not fog internally from high humidity or altitude changes. Nitrogen is the most common gas used when purging optics. A more unique gas, Argon is utilized in select optics to provide a higher level of anti-fogging protection that is maintained over a longer time period.

Warranty

A manufacturer’s included warranty ought to be considered a feature of the binoculars, especially if you plan to get a lot of use out of tem in the outdoors where anything can and usually does happen.

Most manufacturer’s offer a warranty limited only to initial defects, which do not protect you if anything accidental happens in the general course of using your optics.

More progressive warranties, such as the Vortex VIP warranty, keeps your covered in literally any situation, regardless of what happened or who is at fault. The VIP warranty is an unconditional, unlimited warranty that offers the ultimate in customer service and protection.

Spotting scopes

How do spotting scopes work?

A spotting scopes functions essentially the same way a binocular does:

1. Light is gathered and moves through the objective lens of the scope.

2. Light moves through the prisms (which correct the image orientation in all directions; up-down, left-right)

3. Light moves through the eyepiece(which magnifies the image) and then on to the user’s eye.

Spotting scope specifications

Spotting scopes are essentially small telescopes designed primarily for land viewing at longer distances. A spotting score features greater magnifications and a larger objective lens than those offered with binoculars, and as such requires a tripod to be use effectively.

Spotting scopes are generally offered in two sizes, relating to the size of their objective lens; 60mm and 90mm.

60mm scopes are fairly portable and compact, and will offer good image quality for a generally lower price.

80mm scopes will be much brighter than a 60mm scope but will also generally be heavier and potentially bulkier. An 80mm scope will deliver very good image quality at up to 60x magnification.

Spotting scopes are often made available in two body styles, a straight-through design (where the eyepiece is in-line with the objective lens) and an angled design (where the eyepiece is set at a 45-degree angle). One design is not better than the other, but each design does offer some distinct advantages.

Straight-through design advantages:

-Works well with a car winder mount

-Provides natural line-of-sight

Angle design advantages:

Allows for lower mounting height; improves stability, enables for smaller, lighter tripod

-More comfortable for extended times of viewing

As with binoculars, there are other specifications (such as eye relief, weatherproofing, warranty, etc.) that you may want to think about. Eyeglass wearers should look for scopes with at least 15mm of eye relief. Your spotting scope should be fully waterproof and fogproof. As with binoculars, a scope should carry a progressive warrantee. All Vortex spotting scopes are fully waterproof, fogproof and carry the Vortex VIP unconditional unlimited warranty that will offer more piece of mind when out in the field.

What determines image quality?

Most spotting scopes use a Porro prism design that offers a rich three-dimensional view with good image quality. Similar to binoculars, spotting scope image quality is derived from the types of optical glass and optical coatings that are employed in its design. The better the glass and optical coatings, the better the image quality.

Some spotting scopes are offered in two different versions of glass; a “standard” version, and a “high-grade” version. The standard versions employ regular optical glass in their design and generally offer good to very good image quality. The high-grade versions make use of more exotic (and more expensive) glass types that deliver heightened resolution and color. Consider the high-grade versions (if available) if you desire the best possible image in all lighting conditions.

In-Depth, technical instructions on the design, function, and features of binoculars and spotting scopes.

Advanced Optical Design

Binocular and spotting scope optical design is comprised essentially of three components:

  1. Objective lenses
  2. Prisms
  3. Ocular lenses

  1. Objective Lenses:

The Objective lens has one job, to gather light and transmit it to the user’s eyes. In order to gather more light, an objective lens must be made larger. Transmitting more light (which is just a fancy way of saying “delivering” more of the light to the user’s eye) can be achieved by using a higher density optical glass that is carefully cut and polished (and also by applying anti-reflective coatings, which are discussed later). With the relatively small objective lenses in binoculars, high-quality images can be obtained using standard optical glass. Vortex incorporates a XD high-density glass in select binocular models for the absolute highest quality images. In spotting scopes, with their very large objective lenses, Vortex uses the exotic ED glass to achieve the highest possible image resolution, contrast, and color fidelity.

These remarkable ED / XD glass types reduce or eliminate the inherent problems of chromatic aberrations. Chromatic aberrations are the result of a physical reality of color; different colors move at slightly different wavelengths, which means they will have slightly different focal lengths when they pass through optical glass. Chromatic aberrations diminish the resolution and the color fidelity of normal binoculars and spotting scopes. They show up as green and/or purplish ghost images, and are especially apparent under low light conditions.

  1. Prisms

The prisms in a binoculars or spotting scope have two jobs:

-They revert the image, which otherwise be presented to the user upside-down and backwards.

-They shorten binocular length (light bounces in the prisms; its path is shorter through the whole of the binocular than it would be without them)

Porro prism or roof prism?

Porro prism have rich depth and wide field of view and usually employ large prism. However, Porro aren’t very rugged and many people feel they handle poorly. Porros are generally heavier than roof prisms due to the prism size and the use of larger prism housings (the housings are larger due to the bigger prisms, but also from the optical design of the binoculars).

Roof prism can achieve image quality similar to porro prisms, but it costs more (and involves phase correction coatings, discussed later). Also, most roof prism generally can’t replicate the 3-D feel of good quality Porros. However, roof prisms are generally more popular because of their ruggedness and superior handling (more streamlined and lighter weight).

What determines prism quality?

The density of prism glass is important in determining its ability to deliver high-quality images. Also important is the care taken in grinding and polishing the prisms. There are two kinds of glass used to make Porro prisms, boro-silicate (more commonly known as BK-7) and barium-crown (know as BaK-4) glass. BK-7 glass is of inferior quality to BaK-4 glass, and is commonly used in the less expensive binoculars.

The type of glass used in roof prisms is of less consequence than with Porro prism. Roof prisms involve more complicated engineering and have stricter tolerances on their design – these factors have a greater determination on quality. Many manufacturers

Use BaK-4 glass in their roof prism, but some manufacturers don’t release any information on the prism glass type used – it’s a trade secret.

Determining prism glass type:

BK-7 glass prism transmit a distinctive light beam shape, seen when you see the exit pupil of a binocular or scope at a distance of about 8 inches from your eye. BK-7 prisms lose some light as it passes through the prisms.

BaK-7 prisms (or other exotic prism types) transmit more of the light through the prisms, and hence feature exit pupils with a clearly defined circle.


Phase correction?

Many modern room prism binoculars advertise “phase-corrected roof prisms” but what are those? This special kind of coating corrects for an inherent flaw in all roof prism designs.

After light passes through the objective lenses, it is reflected off the mirrored surfaces of the roof prism and split into two out-of-phase beams of light. Light reflected from one roof surface is ½ of a wavelength different from the light hitting the other roof surface. This is sometimes referred to as “out of phase” or “phase shift” Although the light waves are subsequently forces back together when they reach the viewer’s eye, there is a slight reduction in image resolution and contrast.

The phase correction coating, which is applied to the mirrored surfaces of the prism, forces the light beams back into phase, thus improving a roof prism’s resolution and contrast. The coating also enhances color fidelity.

  1. Ocular lenses

The ocular lenses magnify the images that the objective lenses have transmitted. Ocular lens designs incorporate between three-to-six different lenses, but overall quality is determined mostly by the care in manufacturing and polishing of the glass and also the quality and quantity of anti-reflective coatings employed.

Many of the important optical specifications (such as field of view, eye relief, etc.) are determined primarily by the design of the ocular lenses.

Advanced image quality elements

Exit pupil

The shaft of light that meets your eye when you use a binocular or scope is its exit pupil. The exit pupil is seen by holding the binocular or spotting scope a short distance from your face.

The exit pupil should appear as a clear circle surrounded by a uniformly dark background. Exit pupil is calculated by dividing the objective lens by the magnification and is measured in millimeters. An 8×42 binocular will have an exit pupil of 5.25mm.

Why does exit pupil matter? The human eye pupil (which is controlled by the muscles of the iris) can change in size from roughly 2-8mm in diameter, depending on the lighting situations. The eye pupil dilates to about 2-3mm in regular lighting conditions, dilates out to about 4-5mm in lower light situations, further dilates to 7-8mm in near-dark conditions. A binocular will appear brightest when its exit pupil is equal to or larger than your eye pupils. This is most important when viewing in low-light conditions.


Optical Coatings

When you look at the lenses of a binocular or spotting scope, you’ll notice tints in the glass that are usually purplish/greenish in color. What you are seeing are the anti-reflective coatings that have been put on the lenses. These coatings serve to reduce light reflection and scattering at the air-to-glass surface. When light strikes uncoated glass, a percentage of it (4-5%) is reflected back from the surface, and with 10-16 air-to-glass surfaces in a pair of standard binoculars or a spotting scope, almost 50% of the light passing through uncoated optics would be lost! By applying just one layer of anti-reflection coating, loss due to reflection can be reduced 2-3%, and by applying multiple layers of coatings, light loss can be reduced to a mere .5% per surface.

Optical coatings are made from certain metallic compounds (including the compound magnesium fluoride) that are vaporized and applied to the optical glass in very thin layers (measured in microns; millionths of a meters) inside a vacuum chamber. The quality and quantity of optical coatings maters a great deal in determining how bright and sharp a binocular or spotting scope will be. There are some standardized terms concerning the level of coatings applied to binoculars and scopes. With optical coatings, more is better! With more coatings comes increase resolution, contrast, color fidelity, and increased light transmission.

-fully coated optics – All air-to-glass surfaces are coated with a anti-reflective coating film. Many modestly priced binoculars offer fully coated optics and have good but not great image quality

-multi-coated optics: One or more surfaces are coated with multiple anti-reflective coating films. Image quality with multi-coated optics can be quite good, except perhaps in lower light settings.

-fully multi-coated optics – All air-to-glass surfaces are coated with multiple anti-reflective coating films. Fully multi-coated optics offer the highest image quality.

Important optical terms:

Resolution: The ability of a binocular/spotting scope to separate and distinguish thin lines with clarity. Resolution is essentially the same as image sharpness.

Resolution test: A chart on paper containing a series of sets of lines at progressively smaller spacing and used to ascertain the limiting number of lines per millimeter that a binocular or spotting scope is capable of resolving clearly.

Contrast – The ability to distinguish differences in brightness between light and dark areas of an image. Because we see much of the color spectrum, contrast also refers to the ability to distinguish differences in dimensions of hue, saturation, and brightness or lightness. Optics with superior contrast transmit colors that appear very dense and saturated.

Transmission – The percentage of light that passes through the binocular or spotting scope and reaches the user’s eyes. With expensive optics (those that have more and better optical coatings, better optical designs, and better glass) the light transmission will be higher than it will be higher than it will be in more modestly priced optics. There is currently no universal industry standard for measuring and comparing light transmission.

Chromatic aberrations: Because different colors move at slightly different wavelengths, they will come to focus at slightly different lengths when they pass through optical glass. The resulting false colorations (seen most often as purplish and greenish ghost images) diminishes resolution and color fidelity. Chromatic aberrations will be negligible with binoculars and scopes that use better optical coatings and/or higher quality glass.

Astigmatism – The lenses used in a binocular or spotting scope usually have a curved shape, and thus all light rays passing through will not converge on the same focal plane. If this physical reality isn’t remedied in the overall optical design, a binocular or spotting scope will provide images where either the center image or the edge image is in focus, but not both (without refocusing) Astigmatism cannot be eliminated completely, but it can be kept to a minimum. Users will want to avoid binoculars or spotting scopes that exhibit too much astigmatism, as it cuts into the image quality.

Distortion: The disability of a binocular or spotting scope to deliver an image that is a true-to scale reproduction of an object. There are principally two types of distortion to be concerned with; barrel distortion (where images bow outward and look bulged), and pincushion distortion (where images bend inward). In both cases, the distortion is due to a poor or compromised optical design and any binocular or scope that exhibits distortion should be passed up.

Alignment and collimation: In binocular or spotting scope, the optical components must, for the best performance, be situated as they were initially designed. Poor or rough handling of the equipment can cause any or all of the components to become misaligned, resulting in diminished performance.

In a binocular, the optical components (primarily the prisms) in both barrels must be pointing in the exact same direction, known as collimation. Viewing through binoculars that aren’t perfectly collimated (whether they became miscollimated through poor construction or mishandling) can cause great eye strain and fatigue. Porro prism binoculars are much more susceptible to collimation issue than roof prisms. You can test a binocular for collimation by looking through them at a horizontal line (a door frame at about 15-20 feet works very well) and then slowly and carefully pulling the binocular away from your face so that you can start to see where the two exit pupils intersect. The horizontal lines in each exit pupil should match up correctly. If they do not, they are out of collimation and need repair.


How to use binoculars properly

Adjusting for your interpupillary distance.

In order to see one singular image, you must adjust the two barrels of the binocular to your interpupillary distance (the distance from left pupil to right) To do this, turn the barrels of the binocular on their central hinge until you see one singular field of view with no disturbing shadows.

Using the eyecups.

The eyecups on a binocular or spotting scope aid in maintaining proper eye relief for the user (which allows for the most comfortable and widest view) There are essentially two types of eyecup design: A flexible rubber design and a retractable design which is usually lightly rubber armored.

If you wear eyeglasses/sunglasses, rest the eyecups of the binocular/scope right up against your glasses. Since your glasses sit away from your eye, they generally provide the proper distance for seeing the full field of view comfortably. The rubber eyecup must be folded down to be able to rest on your glasses. The retractable eyecup will stay flush with the eyepiece to accommodate glasses. If the rubber eyecups aren’t folded down or the retractable eyecups are twisted out, it will appear as if you are looking through a tunnel.

If you don’t wear eyeglasses/sunglasses, you will rely on the eyecups to provide the proper distance for seeing the full field of view. The rubber eyecup stays “as is” and it fits right around your eyes, while the retractable eyecup must be twisted or pulled out fully in order to see the full field of view. If the rubber eyecup is folder down or if the retractable eyecups aren’t retracted out you will note disturbing black “crescents” in your field of view.

Many retractable eyecups offer multiple positions or “stops” With these eyecups, experiment to see which position is most comfortable for you.

Using the diopter/Focusing your binoculars.

Most binoculars feature a center focus wheel and also an adjustment ring (either on the right eyepiece or integrated into the center focus wheel) known as the diopter. The diopter adjusts fro differences between your individual eyes (many people have one eye that is “stronger” than the other). The procedure for attaining proper focal balance using the center focus wheel and the diopter is:

  1. With your right eye close (or with your hand over the right objective lens), focus your left eye on an object approximately 20 yards away with the center focus wheel unit it is in sharp focus.
  2. Now adjust for your right eye. To do this, close your left eye (or, again, place your hand over the left objective lens) and focus your right eye on the same object 20 yards away. Focus using the diopter until the object is sharply focused. Not: Some diopters have a locking feature that you’ll need to unlock before moving the diopter ring.
  3. The binoculars are no set for your eyes. Make a note of your diopter setting if you are sharing your binoculars with someone else.

What to disregard and why:

There are a number of specifications and product “features” that are often confusing or misleading which should just be ignored or avoided.

Specifications to ignore:

Twilight factor: This specification gives a measure of viewing efficiency in low lighting. The bigger the number, the more efficient (shaper) the binoculars is in low light. Twilight factor is calculated by taking the square root of the power times the objective lens diameter, so the value is usually between 12 and 25. Twilight factor is a dubious specification because it says nothing about actual optical coatings or glass quality, nor does it take into account the light transmission of the binocular.

Relative brightness: This specification is a measure of overall image brightness, and is calculated by squaring the exit pupil of the binocular. Relative brightness is misleading in that there are different binoculars that can have the same values. A 7×35 binocular and a 10×50 binocular will both have a relative brightness value of 25, but the 10×50 gather much more light than the 7×35 and will often present a bright image. It also doesn’t take into account different light transmissions.

“Features” to avoid:

Focus-free binoculars: Binoculars that offer an “instant-focus”, “permanent-focus” or “focus-free” feature are advertised in many department stores. The main reason to avoid this type of binocular is that optical quality is very poor as a result of its focus-free design. Focus-free binoculars are also often difficult to use it you wear glasses.

Ruby coated lenses: Often advertised in sporting goods stores and department stores, these are seen as bright reddish-orange coatings on the objective lenses of several binocular models. Ruby-coated lenses reflect most red out of the optical system. This skews all colors to the cool end of the spectrum and takes away from the overall brightness of the binocular.

So why use these binoculars? Shortening the color spectrum increases contrast and resolution somewhat. However, better glass and better coatings are capable of excellent contrast and resolution without giving up color and brightness.


Trade-offs

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as the perfect binocular or spotting scope. In the design phase there are many inherent trade-offs that have to be made.

-The main trade off that you have to make involves objective lens size. The larger the objective lenses, the brighter and sharper the binocular/scope, thus the more useful it is, especially under low-light conditions. The larger the objective lens, however, the heavier and bulkier the binocular/scope will be, and unless you plan to hire a porter, remember that you have to carry it!

-Higher quality optical glass is by design heavier, so when it is employed the binocular/scope will weight more. Vortex incorporates lighter housing materials to offset the weight of the glass components rather than not using the heavier glass.

-There are a number of trade-offs with binoculars and scopes regarding higher magnification. With higher magnification binoculars, comes a diminished field of view, a shallower depth of field, and more chance of image shakiness. With higher magnification spotting scopes comes diminished optical quality with magnified heat waves and atmosphere dust and debris

-There are trade-offs inherent to some of the optical specifications as well. There is an inverse relationship between eye relief and field of view and close focus and depth of field. The greater the eye relief, the narrower the field of view (the wider the field of view the shorter the eye relief) Similarly, a binocular with an extreme close focus distance will generally have a shallow depth of field. More expensive scope eyepiece designs can offer good compromises and give the user very good (but not great) specifications.

The final word

For many people, this guide may only be the beginning of the journey into learning about binoculars and spotting scopes. There is a lot more information available; you need only to look for it.

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Published by Gear Junky on 19 May 2008

Hardcore Hunter Must-Haves, volume III

No, this is not Dick Cheney’s chimpanzee. Yes, he’s safer to hunt with.

In the last installment, I recommended a few inexpensive gear upgrades that shouldn’t slip under the radar. Here are three more items that I think you’ll like.

Must-Have Base Layer: Rocky SIQ Atomic Zip Mock T

Lightweight/Compact:9

Durability: 9

Cost-Effectiveness: 7 ($38-45 online)

Usefulness: 10

Innovation: 8

It’s dead and gone. Like the Mariners’ playoff chances, like the social security that someone removes from our paychecks, like Hillary’s campaign – it’s dead and gone, never to be seen again. And I can’t say I’ll miss it. Sure, it’s comfy when you first put it on, and it smells nice out of the dryer, but after an hour or two the smell of dryer sheets is replaced with stinky little bacteria, like wearing a moist body-hugging petrie dish.

Goodbye cotton. You will not be missed.

Scent-blocking, moisture-wicking technology continues to improve year after year, and at this point there really is no excuse for wearing cotton into the field. This new stuff does the job that wool used to do, but without the weight, smell, or itchy texture. Most of us can afford just one or two improvements to our hunting clothes each year, and this is the best place to start. Rocky’s new shirts are outstanding in every regard. They are comfortable, quiet, and scent-free. They are designed with the bowhunter in mind: lightweight for those August and September days, but long-sleeved to keep the brush and bugs off. The half-zipper makes the shirt easy to take on and off, and it’s nice to have the ventilation whenever needed. These shirts are designed to fit snugly against your skin so that moisture is pulled away, so if you’re like me and fit between sizes (L to XL in my case), go with the smaller size. Two of these should get you through hunting season, and when combined with a good fleece and waterproof jacket, you’re ready for whatever weather pattern flies your way.

Rocky’s scent-removal technology is permanent, the micro-suede fabric is soft and tough without attracting burrs, and there’s even a convenient zippered pouch on the left arm for easy storage of your mouth call. With a great camo pattern to boot, this shirt will make you the best looking archer that anyone has never seen.

Must-Have Scent-Prevention System: Dead Down Wind’s ScentPrevent Personal Kit

Lightweight/Compact: 8

Durability: N/A

Cost-Effectiveness: 7 ($17-45 online depending on the kit)

Usefulness: 10

Innovation: 8

Question: What is the most common odor that you have to endure from your co-workers, spouse, or hunting dog? Nope, not that. While flatulence may be the worst odor, it certainly isn’t as common as halitosis. Since we exhale every few seconds, bad breath is public enemy number one for hunters. And at 5am, everyone of us have an odor factory attached to our tracheas (and don’t for a minute think that coffee improves anything).

Everyone has a favorite line of scent-prevention accessories, but does any manufacturer offer more options than Dead Down Wind? Their Personal Hygiene Kit provides deodorant, soap, and yes, breath spray. And with a myriad of other scent-eliminating products, they can neutralize any odor this side of New Jersey. Order their toothpaste for added anonymity.

Also, if (like me) you need a shower every couple of days in the field but don’t find elk wallows to your liking, you’ve probably discovered the value of moist towelettes. Unfortunately, buying scent-controlled towelettes gets spendy fast. So my method of choice is to buy the unscented, generic brand in bulk at any drug store, throw a few into a sealed plastic bag, and wipe away when I ripen in the sun. I use four or five to get cleaner than PETA’s steak knives, then spray down with scent remover afterward. It gets the job done at a fraction of the cost, and man, a towelette bath can hit the spot when your sleeping bag starts smelling like a junior high locker room.

Must-Have Reading Material: Mini-Bible, Appropriately Bookmarked

Lightweight/Compact: 8

Durability: 10

Cost-Effectiveness: 10

Usefulness: 10

Innovation: 10

When you get socked in to a one-man tent or bivy, there’s nothing like having some words of wisdom to make your down time up time. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Discouraged? Flip to Job, Jeremiah or Lamentations. And realize that no matter how bad your trip is going, people have perservered through much worse. Feeling lonely? Look at the Psalms, and check out numbers 23 (awesome) or 51 (David’s prayer of repentance and restoration). Filled your tag, and feeling thankful? Read the story of Joshua or Psalm 100. Pondering the world’s problems, and wondering if answers actually exist? Try Matthew chapters 5-7…it’s the most comprehensive picture of peace and goodness that has ever been spoken, and teaches me something new every time I read it, which isn’t nearly often enough.

I also pack some hunting magazines and a journal. You never know when you’re going to need some extra motivation, and if you’re anything like me, your time in the mountains is your time for introspection. Reading successful stories from fellow hunters keeps me going on cold, miserable mornings, and I like to journal in the unlikely event that something deep and profound hits me. Three such thoughts from last season’s journal:

9/14/07 When chasing elk across canyon after canyon, bring release.

9/15/07 When chasing elk across canyon after canyon, bring bow.

9/24/07 Invent bow that shoots elk from across canyon.

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Published by csinclair on 12 May 2008

Archer and Hiker does not equal Bow Hunter

(a.k.a. 10, (more), practice tips for new Bow Hunters

Last weekend I had the first chance ever to take my bow out into the bush for a long hike on 160 acres of farmland interspersed with forests and tree stands on some private property owned by my family, where I have permission to hunt.

I didn’t actually hunt on the property this time, (not being licensed to hunt in Ontario yet, (anymore)), I was however there to get some practice and experience in getting up early in the morning, (5 AM – 1/2 hr before sunrise), gearing up with all my camo and archery gear and going for a long stalk through the fields, as well as spending some time shooting from a tree stand, (pre-existing), in full gear just to see what it was like. Lucky for me one of the neighbours came by with a big old Tom Turkey (20+ lb’s), that he shot on the first morning with a 10 Guage shotgun, (nice looking bird) we shared an after the hunt drink on my father in law’s back porch while he told me the story. He called out this old Tom with a box call, and put two rounds into him, (which may explain why I’d heard lots of them clucking on the first morning and none on the second).

First thing that I did on the first morning was set up a distance string that I’d prepared with trail tape marker measurements on it the night before. I marked the 20, 40 and 60 meter intervals on it so that I could tune my sights for some longer distances than the usual 20 to 30 meter shots I practice at home. I set my pins for 20, 30, 40 and 60 meters, I won’t take a shot any longer that at this point, maybe later with practice.

I’m very glad that I did take the time to go out get the practice like this because as I’ve been reading the articles on this site and a few others like it, I’ve come to the conclusion that no amount of archery practice and hiking can get one ready to be a bow hunter and after this weekend I think I’m beginning to understand why.

I actually had a big old Tom walk right out of the bush towards where I was practicing from in the tree stand on the first morning out, he came out of the woods about 120 meters away from the stand and came closer until I think I moved and spooked him at when he got to around 80 meters away from me, he was gone in a flash not to be seen or heard from again by me.

Top things I learned on this weekends excursion into the world of bow hunting training & preparation:

1.) Be prepared, although it was early May, the mornings were cold, I forgot to pack gloves and my hands were quite unexpectedly cold on the second morning. Make sure to get all your gear together the night before, check it and double check it, triple check it, (the first morning out I forgot my field glasses even though I’d packed them with my gear, I left them in the truck, doh!).

2.) Humans are very noisy, Walking through the forest in boots it’s very difficult to be stealthy, hunt from a stand or blind and learn to call your prey, the chance of you sneaking up on an animal on it’s own turf are slim in most cases.

3.) Be patient, what better way to spend the morning than sitting out in nature, being silent, scanning for animals with field glasses, (which I did remember to bring on the 2nd morning).

4.) Practice shooting from your treestand in all directions and distances, I could shoot quite easily some in some areas but really had to shift my position and harness to shoot in other directions and distances, practice and be prepared for all scenarios.

5.) Shooting unmarked distances in the wild is very difficult, (it’s critical and quite difficult to judge distances properly this is probably why so many hunters use range finders), shooting from a tree stand is also very difficult, (due to the angles involved), until you get used to it, (I was much more accurate by the end of the 2nd day).

6.) Experience is the best teacher, reading about and watching videos on a topic is not the same as doing something, if you thing you want to be a bow hunter, get out into the woods and actually spend a few damp chilly mornings in the bush doing stuff for real.

7.) Always carry a compass or GPS device, even though I was on familiar land, it would have been easy to get lost at certain points, forests can be deceptive at times and it’s easy to walk the wrong way and become lost, (it happens).

8.) Hunters who get up early, (before sunrise), dress up in Camoflaged clothing, (I was wearing Real Tree HD head to toe), and spend hours in the woods being as quiet as possible see all kinds of wildlife, (during my 2 mornings out I saw: 2 raccoons, 2 groundhogs, lots of Canada Geese, (2 Canada Geese in particular at waters edge of a pond with a nest of 5 eggs), 3 or 4 Mallards, a Great Egret, a wild Turkey, a pair of yellow bellied sap suckers, lots of crows, red winged blackbirds, sparrows and yellow warblers, (although I spotted some droppings and tracks I didn’t see any deer this time out).

9.) Talk about Bow Hunting and your desire to be a hunter with others, (I was slightly surprised by the reception that my interest received from my family and friends), I’ve been invited out hunting with a few different groups now, to hunt for various game and I’ve got permission to hunt about 1000 acres of privately owned land if you totalled up the various offers from kind folks who I’ve talked to about my interest in the sport.

10.) Being out in the bush with the Bow is like nothing else, what a great feeling, memories in the field are irreplaceable. I can only imagine the high that comes with bagging big game with a bow after my brief taste of the sport and the tiniest bit of experience that practice in full gear could provide me with, I’m more eager than ever now.

I figure that I’ll spend a few more weekends this summer up at the same spot practicing and getting used to full camo hiking, stalking and tree stand shooting before next years season, at which time I’ll be licensed for small game and hopefully pull a ticket for turkey and who knows what else. In the meantime, practice, practice, practice.

Happy Hunting!

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Published by Bow on 08 May 2008

Bike for Deer

 

            My year has three seasons:  hunting, cross country ski and mountain bike season.  But the more I enjoy each activity, the more I learn they are not mutually exclusive.

            Six years ago I started racing my mountain bike in NORBA (National Off-Road Bicycle Association) and EFTA (Eastern Fat Tire Association) cross country races.  I’m not very good, but fighting to stay out of last place helped me enter hunting season in shape for long walks and hard climbs.  It also helped me get permission for multiple hunting trips because I race throughout the New England area and I combine out of state races with long weekends away with my wife.  In the fall I found it much easier to say I was going to hunt bear in Maine one week and deer in New Hampshire another week after we had three summer vacations together.

            Eventually I realized that my mountain bike could help me hunt by doing more than just whipping me into shape.  So last summer instead of taking long road rides on my easy training days, I started riding slowly through the management areas that I hunt in the fall.  The mountain bike easily handled almost all the terrain and it was a great way to get through streams.  Suddenly the object of my slow rides changed from just resting for a race to searching for new places to hunt while resting for a race.  Every slow ride I zig zagged along dirt roads and narrow trails looking for transition areas, new places to put my stand and, most important, sign that deer had bedded, eaten or traveled near my route.  When I decided to scout the thick stuff it was easy to chain the bike to a tree and take off.

            I’d like to say I took a deer from one of the new spots I found, but I didn’t.  I did, however, learn that a mountain bike is not just a pre-season hunting tool.  In November it is an ideal transport to most of my stands and it will take you and your gear into thick woods farther, faster and with less scent than any other form of transportation.  In the same twenty minutes that another hunter could hike a mile into the woods, I could be two to two and a half miles from my truck with a set of wheels that might help me roll out a deer others pushed my way.  All a bike needs is solid ground and a trail or opening at least as wide as the handlebars.  If you doubt that, go on line and type “Mountain Bike Deer Hunt” into a search engine and see how many Outfitters and Lodges run summer mountain bike trips over the same terrain they hunt in the fall.

            In just one hunting season, I discovered many more advantages of a mountain bike.  The fat rubber tires cross open ground scent free.  There is no need to hike by headlamp or flashlight.  Several manufacturers make lights that clamp onto the handlebars and brightly light up a remote trail.  They are not the dim, bulky lamps that were around when I was a teenager.  Modern bike lights are designed for serious off road riding (and racing) and they use bright halogen bulbs and longer lasting batteries.

            Mountain bikes are modern beasts of burden, too.  Today it’s not uncommon to read about someone riding a bicycle cross country.  With the lightweight packs and racks, it’s easy to carry a tent, sleeping bag and enough food for a week on a bike.  Bike packs fit on the handlebars, under the cross bar, under the seat or over either wheel and they are as strong as backpacks.  Mountain bikes also have attachments for water bottles.  Most bikes carry two but some hold three bottles and there are insulated ones that will let you take cold drinks or hot soups as far as you want to go.  And your gun or bow will fit on a mountain bike with the same clamps used on ATV handlebars.

            Buying a Bike

            Today mountain bikes range in price from about $75 at the big discount stores to over $3,000 at the fancy bike shops. Fortunately the things that make bikes expensive are not the things a hunter needs.

            Frames are the biggest part of a bicycle and what they are made from will largely determine the price of the bike.  Steel frames are strong but heavy and they are used on the cheapest bikes.  Generally speaking, bikes get lighter and more expensive as the frames progress from steel to cro-moly (an alloy), to aluminum to carbon fiber.  Bike shops will tell you that the frame material is important in the transfer of energy from your foot to the chain, but unless you consistently find yourself getting to the deer stand fifteen seconds too late, you don’t need to spend an extra $200 to get a stiffer ride.

            I recommend starting your search by looking at bikes with good cro-moly or aluminum frames in the $300 to $500 range.  Manufacturers load the lower priced steel frames with the cheapest parts to keep the price low (usually for a discount store) so the bikes are noisier and more likely to develop problems.  The expensive aluminum or carbon fiber bikes are more than you need, and their fancy coatings may deter you from dragging them through the thick stuff.  After you’ve ridden a $300 to $500 bike, try some cheaper ones and some more expensive ones and see what works.  You may find everything you need for much less than $300, especially on line, but trying these mid range rides will give you an idea of what you like and some knowledge of the components that fit you best.

            Like all good hunting tools a mountain bike must fit the hunter, which means there is not one perfect bike for everybody out there.  Again, the frame is the most important part of the fit.  Better bikes come in sizes, usually ranging from about 17 to 22 inches.  This number is the frame size but not all manufacturers measure their frames the same way so not all 18 inch bikes will fit the same person.

            To see if the frame fits you, stand over the cross bar with the seat behind you.  There should be about two inches of clearance between the bar and your body, maybe a little more to account for thick clothes.

            Next, get on the seat, put one hand on a wall or a car and place your feet on the pedals.  Your leg should be slightly bent when the pedal is all the way down and you should still be able to raise or lower the seat.  Racers will tell you that tube angles are important, too.  I say test ride the bike.  If it feels good, and if it fits, it will hunt.

            To hunt best, you also have to consider pedals and shifting.  First the good news.  The best hunting pedals are the cheapest ones because competitive riders don’t want them.  Racers want clip in pedals or light weight alloy ones with cages for their shoes.  Hunters need big flat pedals they can pump with heavy boots.  If your dream ride doesn’t come with them, you’ll find them hanging up at most discount stores.

            Shifting is a little more complicated.  Today’s mountain bikes have up to 27 speeds.  They shift by inexpensive (and least reliable) thumb or index shifters, or much better grip shifts or rapid fire shifters.  Grip shifts turn on the inside of the hand grip and are the easiest to use with heavy gloves but for some reason, they are getting harder to find on mid range and expensive bikes.  The more a bike costs, the more likely it is to have rapid fire shifters, which are levers mounted at and under the handlebars.  One lever clicks the chain into a higher gear and the other drops it into a lower gear.  They work fine but they take a little practice and they are not as easy to work with gloves.  I’ve found that bike dealers will switch rapid fire with grip shifts to make a sale so try both and don’t be afraid to ask for whatever works best.

            The Down Side

            Mountain bikes are a great hunting tool but they aren’t perfect.  They can be noisy and they can smell, but with a little attention, they can still get you into the woods quieter and with less scent than your boots can.

            Bikes make most noise when they are out of tune, which usually means that something is loose.  All cables stretch, so after the first month of hard riding, shifting will get harder and noisier.  That’s why most bike shops offer a free first tune up when they sell a bike.  Once they tighten the stretched cables, the bike should be quiet again.  Of course, when you change gears the chain will move and the shifter may click.  This is easy to avoid by riding the last quarter mile in the same gear.  Just make sure it is the lowest gear you need to cover that terrain and you won’t have to shift or dismount.  If this doesn’t silence the bike, you can always push it the last quarter mile or chain it to a tree a few hundred yards from your stand.

            Bike chains need to be lubed and chain oil, like gun oil, can smell.  When I race I lube my chain every week.  When I hunt, I don’t lube it.  If you keep the chain clean, whatever lube was on it in the summer will get you through November.  If it does get too stiff, you can always hit it with a scent free gun oil.  And handlebars are nice places to hang scent pads.

            Finally, I learned the hard way what to carry beneath my seat.  In that small bag I keep a patch kit and a chain tool and I bolt a small air pump beside my water bottle.  In six years I’ve broken one chain (by trying to crank hard through a stream in a race) and I’ve gotten two flats.  Heavy duty tubes and proper tire pressure minimize that risk.

            So next year I hope to throw a deer over the cross bar and wheel it from a new area I found in July to the same old truck.  Will it happen?  Who knows.  But I’m sure my chances will be greater with the long distance scouting I’ll be doing on two wheels throughout one of my other favorite seasons.

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Published by Bow on 08 May 2008

Staying Warm Means Hunting Longer

            Fifteen years ago on a February day when the wind chill was about 50 degrees below zero I turned 40 on the side of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington.  Almost every winter of the next decade, I climbed (or tried to climb) the highest mountain in the Northeast and twice I was beaten back by weather that made 50 below feel like spring.  Through these winter ascents on a mountain with the highest recorded wind on earth, I’ve learned how to dress for long days in tree stands when the mercury plunges.

Layers

            Layering is an art.  Piling on clothes until you look like the Michelin Man might keep you warm but it could also get you a role in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercial.  Whether climbing or hunting, three layers of clothing is the optimum combination for warmth, comfort and flexibility as long as the layers are the right material and the right fit.

            Many years ago my young son asked me a question that showed the science behind layering.  He came out of my bedroom holding a wool sweater and a cotton shirt and he asked why people say wool is warmer when they both feel the same.  The answer is that wool is not warmer than cotton.  In fact, no material is warmer than any other material.  Wrap thermometers inside your thickest down jacket and your thinnest cotton T-shirt and a half hour later they’ll both show room temperature.

            The science behind that youthful question is that certain materials keep you warmer than others by slowing the loss of the 98 degree heat your body produces.  Proper layering maximizes heat retention by utilizing different materials in each layer to trap heat and by limiting your body’s ability to sweat it away.

Base Layer

            The base layer is the layer against your skin and its primary role is to keep your skin dry to slow the loss of heat.  The purpose of sweating is to cool us off because sweat pulls heat from our skin faster than air does so to stay warm it’s important to stay dry by “wicking” sweat away as quickly as possible.

            First, forget the waffle pattern cotton longjohns your grandfather swore by.  Mountain climbers call cotton the death cloth because it absorbs sweat and actually increases heat loss by keeping water against your skin.  Seven years ago a new guy I took up Mount Washington wore his cotton briefs under his high tech underwear and mid way up the final headwall a sensitive part of his body chilled so much that the first thing he did when we got down was throw the briefs away.

            A good base layer should be a synthetic material such as polypropylene, thermax or comfortrel that fits snuggly against your skin.  These fabrics draw (wick) sweat from your skin to the far side of the fabric where it can evaporate without robbing your skin of heat.

            Although any polyester fabric can wick perspiration, the best synthetics are woven from hollow core fibers to help trap your body’s heat.  Like the hollow insulation in your sleeping bag, the hollow threads in base layers slow the transfer of your body heat by forcing it to travel through a layer of dead air.

            To understand how this works, picture a storm window with two layers of glass separated by an inch of air.  The heat from your home escapes quickly through the first solid pane of glass but the dead air is a poor conductor of heat and it slows the transfer to the outer pane.  To really appreciate how poorly air transfers heat, ask yourself how long you could hold your hand in boiling water, which is about 220 degrees.  The answer of course, is not at all.  Now consider how long you can reach into a 350 degree oven.  The answer is quite a while as long as you don’t touch anything solid.  That’s because it takes time for the dead air in the oven to transfer the much higher heat to your hand and it’s why eggs cook faster in boiling water than they would in a hotter oven.  Hollow fibers keep you warm on the same principle.

Middle Layer

            The second layer is your heat layer.  High tech long underwear slows heat loss by wicking sweat but the thick middle layer has to trap enough heat to keep you warm while letting you swing a rifle or hold a bow.

            While climbing, my middle layer is always a good polyester fleece.  Fleece cannot absorb water and a high quality fleece is lighter than any other material I’ve tried but will still retain more heat than heavier materials such as wool.  Less weight means more mobility and comfort. 

When hunting I’ll switch between fleece pullovers, insulated shirts and wool sweaters depending on how cold the morning is and how much I plan to move around.  One shortcoming I’ve found with fleece is that it’s never wind proof so if there’s a chance you’ll remove your outer layer on a windy day, you’re better off with another fabric.  I especially like insulated shirts because opening the buttons allows a lot of options to cool off as the temperature rises.  Wool shirts work the same way, I just don’t find them as comfortable.

Outer Layer

            Your outer layer is your defense against Mother Nature.  Like your base and mid-layers your outer layer helps trap your body’s heat, but it also has to stop the elements that can attack from outside.  Your outer coat has to withstand the harshest winds while repelling whatever the sky throws at you and still hold your body heat.  That’s the definition of fabrics like Goretex but many other fabrics, including tightly woven wool, offer protection from wind and rain.

            In the beginning I always wore a Goretex coat when climbing but in the past few seasons I switched to a heavy nylon jacket because it was more comfortable.  It works just as well at holding my heat in and the wind out but it’s too noisy for hunting.  My brother and I still argue about what’s the best fabric to climb in but even he has to admit that today there are many fabrics that are windproof, waterproof and warm.  If it’s quiet, too, it will be a good outer layer on stand.

Styling

            Choosing the proper materials for your base, mid and outer layer is not the end of the process.  To maximize heat retention you need to size the layers to optimize air’s insulating qualities.  The tighter your clothes fit the faster heat will transfer from one material to the next and the faster you will cool down, which is why thermal windows don’t touch and why down that lofts the highest keeps you warmest.  If your mid layer fits loosely over your base layer and your outer layer fits loosely over your mid layer, you’ve created two additional pockets of air that heat will have to pass through to get away.

            A few years ago I found this extra space was especially valuable in boots when I was forced to wear a pair a half size too large.  Since that day I’ve only bought hunting boots a half size larger than my dress shoes and my feet have stayed drier and warmer with a thermax liner and a wool sock inside an insulated boot, especially while walking.

            The style of your layers can also help regulate your body’s temperature.  A fleece top with at least a mid-length zipper allows you to vent excess heat while walking to a stand or if the temperature rises with the sun, which minimizes sweating, which also causes heat loss.  Today even base layers have buttons and zippers that let you regulate heat retention and wicking.

            Finally, through climbing and hunting I’ve learned that the reverse of my mother’s favorite winter lecture is true.  She always said to wear a hat because half of your body’s heat escapes through your head.  I have no idea if that figure is accurate, but I have found that removing my hat cools me off quickly.  Because I’m required to wear a blaze hat while walking to my stand I always have a thin baseball one in my pack to trade with the insulated one I wear on stand.  By switching back and forth, I stay legal and comfortable.

            A well planned three layer system keeps you warm and lets you cool off.  Just remember that all of your body feels cold so you may need glove liners to layer under heavy gloves or a balaclava to slip under a thick hat that might fit under a loose hood.  By opening, closing or removing layers you can stay comfortable to hunt harder and stay drier to spread less scent.

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Published by soularcher on 06 May 2008

Three Lessons

Three Lessons

By Joe Shuhay

(Soularcher on AT posts)

 

The first day had come, and I was up at 3:30 AM to eat, shower and dress.  Luckily my new spot was only 20 minutes away, and I could get in my stand at least an hour before daylight.  As daylight broke, the woods started to come alive with movement and sound.  I had spotted many doe and a small buck.  At about 10:00 AM a small doe came underneath my stand, and I let the Muzzy do its work, and work it did!  It was a very clean kill.  But this isn’t where the story ends…

The doe ran about 15 yards and fell.  While I waited for the animal to expire, I had noticed a very bad fray through the string serving right underneath my bottom cam!  It was obviously dangerous, and it had to be fixed.  I was lucky that I wasn’t hurt!  

LESSON #1:  Always inspect your bowstring and equipment well before the hunt.  This will give you time to swap strings and make repairs.  It will also save you from injury or a missed opportunity!

Instead of taking my Archery Research AR31 bow to the area expert, I took it to a local guy that ran a shop out of his house, to save money (a lot of money).  He was a very nice man, but I should’ve taken the hint when I entered his shop and saw that he specialized in traditional equipment (an art form in itself).  I returned that Friday afternoon for the bow, and $16.00 later I had a new string.  Sixteen Bucks!

I wanted to hunt the next day because I wouldn’t have another chance until the following weekend, and I knew there were a few nice buck cruising the area.  Needless to say, I didn’t get to shoot the bow before the hunt.  I know, I know…  I heard that little voice inside, but didn’t listen: “What if?  You didn’t shoot it, stretch the string, check it out…  Is this safe?”  Nope, I didn’t listen.   I was too worried about getting out the next day.

LESON #2:  Always inspect a repair or string installation when you get your bow back, and always shoot the bow and allow for string stretch.

I got out to my stand and opted to hunt the northern part of an oak flat, due to wind conditions, and I expected action.  There was still a little doubt in the back of my mind due to not shooting the bow the night before.  Any archer knows that reduced confidence in your form or equipment can definitely have a detrimental effect on your mindset for the hunt.  At about 9:30 AM, two doe came bursting from the laurel to my left at about 20 yards.  They stopped and then looked back.  That’s when I knew he was coming!  I waited, and saw a flicker, then a very wide eight came out into full view and paused sniffing the doe’s trail.  I drew and viewed the magnificent animal broadside at fifteen yards!  I pulled the trigger on my Scott release, the arrow flew, and…  Nothing…  Nothing!!!  I watched helplessly as the high-tined buck trotted away pursuing the doe.  I  climbed down and retrieved my arrow; it went right underneath the buck’s belly by at least a foot!

At noon I went home and shot at my target at 10 yards to troubleshoot the issue.  The arrow didn’t even make it to the target!  It was buried in the ground at about eight yards in front of me.  A closer inspection of my bow revealed that the string was not installed on the bottom cam properly which effected the whole setup.  

LESSON #3:  Pay the extra cash to get a job done by someone that knows the technology, or get the tools and learn to do it yourself, and you can rest easier in the knowledge that the job was done correctly (also refer to LESSON #2).

I don’t hold the bowsmith responsible, I knew full well that he had his specialty and, to his credit, he tried his best.  I hold my own impatience and thriftiness as the reasons that that hunt worked out the way it did.  Believe me when I say that I learned a difficult lesson that day.  The sign of a good hunter is the humility and willingness to learn and improve.

 

 

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Published by Gear Junky on 01 May 2008

Hardcore Hunter Must-Haves, volume II

Simple. Cheap. Effective. How many products with those attributes actually improve your quality of life?

Toilet seat covers come to mind. Not much else.

In the previous installation, I recommended a great backpack, backpacking stove, and lightweight bivy. In this blog, I’m going to highlight a few items that are less expensive and get less attention, but are worth their weight in gold. These items will make your next hunting trip more enjoyable, believe me. Simple, cheap, effective…you can’t go wrong.

Must-Have Blister Buster: Body Glide Anti-Friction Stick

Lightweight/Compact:10

Durability: 9

Cost-Effectiveness: 10 ($7 online)

Usefulness: 10

Innovation: 8

On the list of things I hate, blistering and chafing rank just ahead of rectal exams and just behind Kirstie Alley’s voice. I can’t do anything about the other two, but blisters and chafing are now a repressed memory with Body Glide. I found this magic stick when I was training for my first marathon. I thought a few days of wearing hunting boots over rough terrain was bad, but let me tell you, you haven’t experienced a hot spot until you’ve had a blister bleed through your sock and shoe on mile twelve. Of twenty six.

Runners, instead of doing the sensible thing (give up running), invented anti-friction sticks out of necessity. Body Glide is as good as any product out there, and is widely available for around seven bucks. You can apply it to feet, from the soles to the toes and the heel and everywhere in between, before putting on your socks. And it works anywhere else you feel hot spots, which can be a real life saver when each step burns your inner thigh. Ouch. And it works on existing blisters, so if you forget to use it, it isn’t too late – a thin layer eliminates friction, and since friction is the cause of irritation and pain, you won’t notice the blister the rest of the day.

All of those clever remedies – duct tape, band aids, Vaseline – are obsolete. Just keep this stick around or cut off a tiny slice and throw it in a plastic baggy for the backpack. It has the same consistency as clear (non-gel) deodorant, and just one stick will last years.

Must-Have Spotting Scope Accessory: Universal Digiscoping Adapter

Lightweight/Compact: 5

Durability: 9

Cost-Effectiveness: 8 ($45)

Usefulness: 8

Innovation: 9

What the heck is digiscoping? A long time ago, people asked what the heck were wheels, or compound bows, or iPods. And digiscoping is much cooler than wheels or iPods. Maybe I’ll write a separate blog on this later, but for now, here’s the quick story. At some point, most every one of us who own a digital camera and a spotting scope have tried to take a picture through the scope, usually with disappointing results. But like Dylan told us, the times they are a changin’.

As you can see, the adapter serves as a tool for positioning and stabilizing a compact camera on a spotting scope, either angled or straight. For $45, you can capture any images you see in your scope by taking a picture or video clip, and with impressive results. It takes some practice to get it just right, but once you figure out the proper settings on the adapter and the camera you’ll have some fun. Here are some of the photos I took through my scope (27x fixed eyepiece and 3x optical zoom = 81x magnification), which would have otherwise been impossible. This pronghorn probably scores near 90 B&C:

Here’s a link to a youtube video of the same goat, also through my spotting scope at 300 yards:

Now, had I come back and told my buddies that I had found a B&C monster without evidence, what would their reaction have been? Sure, Roger Clemens, an 88 inch pronghorn. But with digiscoping, scouting trips become photojournal excursions. Sure, your results will depend on the quality of your spotting scope and your photography skills. But even a rough image is better than no image, right? At twelve ounces, I bring my adapter along any time I’m not living out of a backpack.

Must-Have Bottom-Saver: Allen Gun Cases Self Inflating Seat Cushion

Lightweight/Compact: 9

Durability: 8

Cost-Effectiveness: 9 ($15 shipped)

Usefulness: 9

Innovation: 7

Nobody likes wet rumps in the field. I don’t like a wet rump anywhere. Nor do I like pine cones or jagged rocks jabbing my nether regions when I’m trying to rest my footsies. This self inflating seat cushion does the trick, keeping you dry and padded when you sit to glass those upper basins or relax and watch a Mariners game from the cold metal bleachers in the outfield. It straps around your waist (like a belt) and stays on all day, and after a few minutes you won’t notice it’s there. It doesn’t flap against you as you walk, and it sits below your backpack so it doesn’t get in the way. When you want to sit, just sit – it will be there. This one is not to be missed – it’s the most satisfying fifteen dollars I’ve spent since Safeco Field opened their cheap seats.

6 votes, average: 3.67 out of 56 votes, average: 3.67 out of 56 votes, average: 3.67 out of 56 votes, average: 3.67 out of 56 votes, average: 3.67 out of 5 (6 votes, average: 3.67 out of 5)
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Published by Gear Junky on 14 Apr 2008

Gear Junky: Hardcore Hunter Must-Haves, volume I

I love hunting. I love hunting like Jared loves Subway, like Mannings love endorsements, like Hillary loves taxes. I love hunting so much that I require a weekly hunting fix. That’s problematic, however, since fall refuses to come more than once a year. Other guys are able to scratch that itch with weekend fishing trips, but fishing strikes me as being kind of like the PGA tour – it’s available every weekend and usually keeps you entertained, but never builds to a yearly crescendo. Hunting progresses more like the NFL, the “Superbowl” of all outdoor activities. Like the Superbowl, my yearly big-game hunting adventure usually doesn’t live up to my expectations. But even when it’s bad, it’s still awfully good.

So naturally, I spend eleven months out of the year obsessing over the details of hunting season. I’ve become a gear junky, much to the chagrin of my wife, who tries her best to resist the temptation to tally up the piles of receipts from Sportsman’s Warehouse, Cabela’s, and Paypal that accumulate in my not-so-secret Danner boots box on the top shelf in the hunting closet. You may be thinking, “Hold on, aren’t you in like your eighth year of college? How can you possibly afford long hunting trips, let alone the latest gear?” Well, I’d like to say that I have a profitable side-business or online revenue stream, but the truth is, I just got lucky and found a sugar momma. Until I finish school and they call me Doctor, it’s my wife’s hard-earned cash I’m spending. Suffice it to say, I’m required to be as budget-minded as possible. So my recommendations are targeted towards people like myself who want the best gear for the best value. The Archery Talk community is a natural fit.

Before I get to my first set of hardcore hunter must-owns, here’s a few things to keep in mind when reading my recommendations:

1) These are recommendations, not reviews…and there’s a big difference. I can’t stand the way gear is reviewed in outdoor magazines. Inevitably, the magazine editor’s are given a new product by an eager manufacturer for review, and the editors either try it out for a few weeks, or (worse yet) give it to a subscriber to evaluate. What sort of credibility does that leave the review? Nobody wants to knock a product they received for free, and very few products are given a realistic amount of abuse before the review goes to print. Also, a review of the latest 2008 backpack by a specific manufacturer isn’t very valuable in and of itself. When I’m in the market for a backpack, I don’t care about one specific model of one specific brand in one specific year. Instead, I want to find the best backpack from any manufacturer from any year, in my given price range for my specific needs. A gear recommendation can do just that, if the author’s criteria and price range are comparable to the shopper’s. That’s what I’ll do here; instead of reviewing the latest gear, I’ll identify the best gear.

2) I am not brand loyal. I want the best gear for my hard-earned dollar (um, my wife’s hard-earned dollar) and I’ll go with whomever best meets that need. Loyalty is great in other realms of life, but not for consumers. Manufacturers need to know that if they slip and lose their competitive edge at all, we’ll take our business elsewhere. It’s good for the manufacturer and the consumer when competition thrives, and too much brand loyalty takes a company’s focus off of innovation and places it on achieving name-brand recognition. Fanboys have become too common and don’t give unbiased recommendations, so I’ll try my darndest to avoid being a fanboy…unless we happen to discuss Major League Baseball, in which case, Go Mariners! and Die, Redsox Nation, die flopping in the dirt like a gut-shot ground squirrel!

Only joking. Sort of.

3) I’m open to other great ideas. If you know about something that beats the heck out of one my must-haves, let me know and I’ll give it a chance. I’m always looking to improve my own gear, and I’d love to provide the best recommendations around, even if one of my favorite products gets the bump. Use the comments to our mutual benefit (for a better description of Mutual Benefit, please google “Supermodel weds Texas Billionaire”).

4) My focus is on light-weight, durable, cost-effective, useful, and innovative gear for the backcountry. What meets that criteria? The supermodel mentioned above would rate fairly well in all categories except cost-effective, but close is no cigar, so supermodels do not receive my recommendation. I live and hunt out West, and when you’re chasing mountain mulies or rutting bulls out of a one-man camp, your life depends on your equipment. Hunting whitetails deep in the forest is a similar game, I assume…but if you walk from your front door to your tree stand, some of what I’ll blog about won’t apply. Also, there are thousands of great posts around here about archery equipment, so my focus will be on other gear for bowhunting.

With all that said, here’s my first installment of Must-Own recommendations for other Archery Talk gear junkies. Hope you find this helpful…or entertaining, if nothing else.

Must-Own Camp Stove: The Jetboil

Lightweight/Compact: 9

Durability: 8

Cost-Effectiveness: 8 ($75 online)

Usefulness: 9

Innovation: 10

Like most of us, I often don’t return to camp until an hour or more after dark, and only two things are on my mind: food and sleep, the sooner the better. About ten years ago, dehydrated food manufacturers finally responded to consumer demand and began producing one-step freeze-dried meals that were actually tasty. I understand your reluctance to accept tasty and freeze-dried in the same sentence, since they sound about as compatible as Jessica Simpson and Harvard graduate. But believe me, some of the best meals I’ve had on the road were prepared in those little zippered pouches. The product only requires that you add boiling water, then re-seal and let stand for a few minutes while it cooks your dinner for you. I eat the meal right out of the package, so the only dinnerware needed is a fork. When done, I just seal the empty pouch back up, with no mess and no smell to attract bears or wandering mountain hippies.

How much does a full stomach and all that peace of mind cost? About six bucks for most brands. Mountain House is available everywhere, and has some great varieties. The desserts are fantastic, by the way, and although they aren’t cheap (around $4), they sure beat another lousy candy bar.

Where does the Jetboil enter the picture, you ask? The Jetboil, as Matlock would deduce just before the final commercial break, is the one responsible for the boiling. And how! I’ve clocked it firing sixteen ounces of glacier run-off to a boil in less than ninety seconds. And it wasn’t even trying. My kitchen stove can’t come close to matching that speed, and the story just begins there. As you can see in the photo, the Jetboil utilizes a specialized coil that maximizes heat transfer between the stove and attachable cup while reducing fuel demand. It’s lightning fast and efficient…two or three small isobutane cannisters (a few bucks each, available everywhere) will get you through most hunting seasons. And the stove and cannister fit inside the 1.0 liter companion cup, so the entire system (stove, cup, sipper lid, measuring cup, fuel cannister) takes up only slightly more space than a Gatorade bottle while weighing only 19 oz. That’s pretty impressive for a unit that can serve as a mug, pot, bowl (top ramen lovers can pour their $0.14 packages right in), and even coffee maker (with optional coffee press for those who don’t mind the less-than-stealthy breath). And the best part? The cup is wrapped in a neoprene sleeve so you can hold it firmly, no matter how hot it gets (even while the stove is on). No more metal pot grabber! Combine all of this with a slick little ignitor that works every time at the push of a button, and you have a great piece of gear, all for $75. No matter how light I want my pack to be, the Jetboil always makes the trip.

Must-Own Hunting Shelter: Outdoor Research “Alpine” Bivy

Lightweight/Compact: 8

Durability: 8

Cost-Effectiveness: 6 ($199 online)

Usefulness: 10

Innovation: 8

If you are anything like me (and you have my wife’s deepest sympathies if you are), you’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering what in Sam Hill a bivy sack is, but you have been too afraid to ask. Well, ever since Al Gore invented the internet (tee hee!) we curious types now have a venue for seeking answers without having to ask questions, which spares our fragile egos. Bivy sacks, I have since discovered, are one-man shelters that the mountaineering community developed to surpass the shortcomings of the good ol’ one-man tent. Those of you who have set up camp in a storm already know that a tent can turn into a liability; they blow over, collapse, don’t keep out ground water, and take time to set up. A bivy, on the other hand, succeeds where tents fail.

September bowhunting usually provides good weather, so I prefer to sleep under the stars wearing nothing but my crusty, er, trusty long john’s and a sleeping bag. I own an outstanding two-man tent, but I like to pack as light as possible in the backcountry, and late summer weather usually doesn’t pin you down for more than a day at a time, so a tent really isn’t necessary. But if a thunderstorm or blizzard strikes, a bivy is a life saver. And Outdoor Research’s Alpine Bivy is the best of the bunch for a hunter’s needs.

The Alpine is made out of triple-layer GORE-TEX so it’s waterproof, lightweight and breathable. It fits over your sleeping bag and sleeping pad like a sock, keeping your bedding safe from rain, ground water, and dew. What really sets it apart is one cleverly placed tent pole that arches above the shoulder area. The design lifts the fabric just enough to ditch that claustrophobic feeling that other models are known for, and it allows you to do a little reading or change your clothes without restriction. I slip my bedding into the Alpine even when there’s no chance of rain, because it’s mesh bug shield allows me to see the stars without giving blood. When hunting in the rain, there’s just enough room inside to stuff your pack and wet clothes to dry via body heat overnight. That scenario may be less than ideal, but it’s good option to have if you need it. If a prolonged storm does pin you down, a lightweight tarp (like the kind most of us already own to place under our tents) can be strung a couple feet above for a makeshift camp (thanks to Cameron Hanes for that tip). And the most unexpected benefit I’ve had is on early hunts when my sleeping bag is just too warm – instead of baking inside my bedding, I lay on top of it, and the bivy provides just enough insulation to keep the chill off while my sore muscles enjoy the extra padding beneath me. Because the Alpine is breathable, my wretched mountain-breath doesn’t turn to condensation overnight, so the interior stays fresh and dry.

It ain’t cheap, but very few products that compress to the size of a small loaf of bread can offer so many advantages to the backcountry archer.

Must Have Backpack: Jim Horn Signature Series “Canadian” by Blacks Creek

Lightweight/Compact: 7

Durability: 9

Cost-Effectiveness: 8 ($169)

Usefulness: 8

Innovation: 8

Yes, there are bigger and costlier packs out there, but if you want bang for your buck, this bad boy has it all. I met the designers at a trade show and was thoroughly impressed with their knowledge…they understand how the human body bears weight, and they have created a pack that partners perfectly with biomechanics. The entire line of Jim Horn signature series packs are outstanding, but I feel that the Canadian is the best for all-around hunting and backpacking purposes. Here are some pics and specs from their website:

Specifications:

  • Weight: 6.8 lbs
  • Dimensions: 22″H x 12″W x 11″D
  • Capacity: 2200 cubic inches (expands to 3850)
  • H20 compabitle
  • Carries bow and rifle
  • Spotting scope pocket
  • Orange safety flap
  • Adjustable torso (XS-XL)
  • Mossy Oak Breakup or Realtree Max 1
  • All heavy stress areas reinforced and bar tacked
  • Breathable mesh back
  • 13 pockets
  • Internal frame: high-tech H-frame

Now, that list may look pretty typical, but don’t be fooled. To begin, the concept that motivated the design was the internal H-frame, a lightweight innovation that provides the perfect balance of comfort and strength (the same features that I look for in a truck, hiking boot, and toilet seat). Basically, this pack can haul your meat with the best of them, replacing that annoying prerequisite trip back to the rig to retrieve an external frame once your game is down. The H-frame is surprisingly strong, and the pack is surprisingly expandable. It may not be ideal for elk, but I don’t care – I’d rather have a pack that is great for hiking and hunting elk (and spend a little more time boning and quartering) than have a pack that is perfect for hauling elk but less proficient at helping me kill one.

And man, does it have features – the spotting scope compartment, the integrated bow carrier, the integrated rifle carrier, the fantastic pocket design, the hydration pouch, the durable, quiet fabric and zippers…Santa must have read my list. Don’t get me wrong, most other high-end packs include those features, but none will fit you any better, and none will beat the price. The belt and shoulder harness are fully adjustable for most sizes, and they sell an expansion kit for guys over 6’3″ and 220lbs. (I’m 6’2″/205, and the pack fit great once I set it on the “top rung” on the standard shoulder harness).

I should take a moment to soapbox about two common misconceptions about backpacks. First, the weight of the load doesn’t matter nearly as much as how the weight of the load is distributed, despite what we’ve all heard. There are people out there who tell us that a day pack should be small and light. Not true. A pack that weighs seven pounds empty, yet fits the length and width of your torso perfectly between the hips and shoulders, will feel much lighter than a so-called “day pack” that weighs two or three pounds but isn’t long enough. The second misconception, one that I once believed, is that “a perfect pack should not touch your back, but instead should be an inch or two away for ventilation.” It’s true that none of us enjoy the feeling you get when you take off your pack to find that your back is soaked and ready to freeze with the slightest wind. But the reality is that you’re going to sweat one way or another, and it’s better to purchase quality clothing that wicks moisture away from the skin rather than rely on your pack to ventilate your back. Why? Because every inch that your pack moves away from your spine increases the load exponentially. You want the weight as close to you as possible (this can be demonstrated by placing a dumbbell in the main compartment of your backpack next to your body: note the perceived weight, then remove it, stuff a couple of inflated balloons into the main compartment, and place the dumbbell in an outer pocket with the balloons between your back and the dumbbell. The actual weight in the pack doesn’t change, but the difference in load on your spine is unbelievable). So avoid the manufacturers whose packs are too small or those that include ventilation systems. Like getting a wet kiss from your thickly-mustached great aunt, they mean well, but aren’t doing you any favors.

The Canadian pack distributes weight perfectly. And perhaps its best feature is its endless supply of compression straps, which maintain a solid, close-in load. The pack comes with a free DVD demonstrating how to use all of its features, with extra emphasis on utilizing compression straps. You can tell from the video that these guys will take care of their customers and stand by their product…buy with confidence knowing that the Canadian will handle six days worth of supplies and haul out your game, and still serve as the perfect day-pack to boot.

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