Monday, December 15, 2014

The SoCal Bowhunter 2014 Christmas Gift Guide

This gift guide was printed in the December 2014 issue of California Sportsman.

Sportsmen and women tend to have specific wants and needs for their passion. Whether it is for hunting or fishing, there are some awesome gift ideas out there. My brain is full of ideas because there are so many cool new toys, gadgets, apparel, and quality merchandise out there for us. This guide is full of interesting gift ideas and many I have field tested myself (some items are too good to leave off). Some of you may want gear, some may want food, and some may want to go on an adventure. Overall, I think you will all be able to find something worth giving to your special man or woman this year.

Image provided by Raptorazor.
RaptorRazor Knife Set – I have been eyeing this set for a few months now and it just made its way to the top of my list. They share some great video footage on their website. It cuts through pig skin like butter and makes the job that much easier. I really want to test this out on a big boar hide this year. There is the original aluminum combo pack ($129.99), and as a big fan of lighter weight gear, I am looking at the injection molded pack ($59.99).

SuperFEET Insoles – Take care of your feet! Blisters, swollen arches and bruised bones are the LAST thing you want to be thinking about because they will totally ruin a hunt. A couple years ago, I didn't have the right insoles and my feet paid the price. I have been using the SuperFeet merinoGrey insoles and my feet are the happiest they have ever been! They retail for $45.99 and let me tell you, I am putting these on my Christmas list every year!

Wildlife Tags – Does your hunter have a mount that needs a little something extra? Wildlife Tags are great for showing off who took the animal, when they took it, and where. Prices for each Wildlife Tag are very reasonable. The 3"x2" retails for $9.99, and both the 4"x3" and custom tag are $14.99. Wildlife Tag donates one dollar ($1) of each tag purchase to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry in support. What a great way to give back to the community!

Trail Cameras - A hunter can NEVER have too many trail cameras.

Pocket size Digital Camera - Almost everyone these days wants to share a photo of their hunting or fishing adventure. Most people I know do not want to lug around a DSLR and array of lenses. Why not find a great point-and-shoot that you can take with you hunting, fishing, hiking, or just use at home? They are a wide variety out there, so do your research first.

TightSpot Quiver – This quiver will be the last quiver you buy. Solid, adjustable, and the warranty is unbeatable. You can adjust it forward and back to eliminate the need for a stabilizer, too. For $162.95 they are worth the money. I own one for each bow I own, but if you wanted to use one quiver, you could swap them from bow to bow by simply adding a mounting kit to the second bow.

Fly Fishing Gear - Flies, a new reel, leaders, and basically anything a fly fisherman might go through over the course of the year. I am constantly going through leaders and looking for different hatches for different areas. Having a variety of flies at my disposal would be great.

Image provided by Brett Bumgarner.

3-day deep sea fishing trip - Many of the best trips leave out of Southern California and every one I talk to loves going on these. Plus, they come back with some of the tastiest fish I have ever had. With many of the fish like tuna and yellowtail moving north, the fishing reports have been great! This is one of the items on my list this year as I have never been on one and would really like to!

Havalon Piranta Edge Knife - This knife can do it all from field dressing, skinning, caping, and filleting fish. It has a blaze orange handle which I believe is critical for any backcountry hunter. If you have ever set your black-handled knife down on the ground, had to walk to your pack and turn around to try to find it again when it's dark you'll know. It is extremely lightweight so you'll probably never feel the weight in your pack or on your belt. This is a major plus! The $45.00 investment comes with 12 replacement blades and they fit right in the knife case so you won't misplace them.

First-Aid Kit - Now why would I mention this? Because most of my hunting buddies fail to put even a Band-Aid in their packs, let alone a first aid kit. This particular kit has saved me (and my friends) more than once and I pack one on every hunt I go on. On a hunt a couple years ago,, one of my friends sliced his finger nearly to the bone using the Havalon Piranta. Fortunately for him, I carry a first aid kit in every pack. These work great for fishing and family outings, too.

Real Avid Revelation Lighted Knife - Right out of the box, the Real Avid Revelation is sharp and I mean really sharp. It has a 4.0" drop point blade made of 440 stainless steel. The lights on either side of the blade are rad! This is a knife I really could have used on my elk hunt two years ago. I can't tell you how difficult it is to get a headlamp to cooperate when you are trying to gut an animal. The lights are very bright and the ON/OFF switch is right at the back of the handle. The handle is rubberized and easy to grip, which is a benefit in colder weather and with your hand covered in blood. I really like how the design allows you to grip the knife well, but also see down the entire blade as you are cutting. Retailing for $44.99, this is a gift that every hunter will love.

JetBoil Cooking System – Having a warm meal on a cold day will do wonders for you! These have been around for a while and I love mine. It's a simple and easy way to boil water in the backcountry. The JetBoil retails for between $75-100.

Image provided by HHA Sports.

HHA Single-pin Archery Sights - Quality products like this are worth every hard-earned penny. With the recent release of the new Optimizer Lite King Pin, the single-pin world is now looking at the best sight on the market. You can count on quality craftsmanship, solid construction and a well-performing single-pin sight that has certainly increased my confidence on the range. This is one archery product I highly recommend to any bowhunter looking to increase their ability of consistently hitting the center of your target.

MINOX MD 50 Spotting Scope(see first photo) You can expect quality German glass, with an emphasis on quality. I like the MD 50 because of its compact size and ease of use in the field. With a range of 15 - 30x, it works great for hunting in California and out of state. Retailing for $299.99, this is a great addition to any backcountry hunters’ pack.

BOG's Eagle Cap Hiker Boots - I have been hiking with these in moderate to high temperatures in SoCal. I have hiked six miles with 90# on my back with the Eagle Cap Hikers on my feet and my feet felt great! My feet were more comfortable in the BOGS than sneakers (most people call them tennis shoes out here, but I don't play tennis). I have worn them walking on concrete, sand, and rock. I have worn them in 50 degree weather and 100 degree weather and I have to say that my feet felt great. Sure, on the 100 degree days my feet do sweat, but my feet stayed very comfortable, slightly warm (never hot) and while they did sweat, I never had a blister or hot spot. Let me tell you, I have been putting these through some serious tests. They retail for $150.00 with free shipping and returns in the US.

SealSkins Waterproof Socks - The socks are incredible and have an investment value of $45.00/pr. For a pair of socks that will protect your feet in different situations like they do, I will gladly pay that knowing what I know now. I have used these socks for all of 2014 and I love them! SealSkinz offers a two-year warranty on the socks against defects. That's a pretty awesome warranty for a sock, don't you think?

Hi-Country Wild Game Jerky Seasoning – Have a hunter who likes to make their own jerky? These spices are top notch and full of flavor and kick. I liked it so much I am going to give some other Hi-Country Jerky Seasonings a try. At $8.29 a kit you can't go wrong. You don't need to be a psychic to see that there will be plenty of tasty homemade jerky in my future.

Jerky from House of Jerky – Don’t want to make your own, but love jerky? I can tell you firsthand, HOJ offers perfectly dehydrated and flavorful meat. I would recommend their products to anyone, especially outdoors men and women. Why? Beside the fact that it tastes great and is good for you, it packs extremely well and is great snack. The recommended serving size is one ounce. I think that should be changed to "Serving Size: One Bag."

Camp Dog Cajun Seasoning - Papa Scott sells it in different sizes and offers other products on his site. The 8 oz. canister of original Camp Dog Seasoning sells for only $7.50 and that seems like a steal to me. That's the one I buy every year. Like I said, a little goes a long way and this stuff is great. Everyone I know that tries it loves it! Be sure to get some!

KoolerGel - Now why would I put KoolerGel on a list like this? I use it each and every time I go out hunting. I have saved hundreds of dollars from not having to buy extra ice for my hunts. You can buy Kooler Gel directly from Trophy Bag Kooler, LLC, or from one of the retailers listed on the TBK website. For under $10 you get a six pack. Trust me, it's a sound investment.

OnXmaps - To me that is worth not venturing onto private land, getting a ticket or being shot at. Check out their website for more details on the mapping software and how it can work for you. The investment is worth it in my opinion. $99.99 gets you the map on an SD card. $129.99 for the BaseCamp download, but one of the best is the maps for Google Earth. They also release updates regularly to keep your maps current!

Snow Peak Mini Hozuki Lantern - It's compact, bright, and easy to use. My hunting partner used one this year and I was a bit jealous at how well it worked vs. my headlamp. This is something any hunter or angler could utilize, especially if you are camping out. I want one! I had a small metal lantern that costs half the price that I really liked because it works as a flashlight, lantern, and flashing beacon. The only problem is if you drop it, it's done for. This one is durable. I know what I'll be asking Santa for this year.

Gift subscription to California Sportsman - You get some great hunting and fishing information with the magazine and it'll only cost you $29.99 for 12 issues. Share the wealth and send your buddy a gift subscription. They'll be hooked!

Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener - The Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener is not like any sharpener I have used before. First off it gives you a 20° sharpening guide (in yellow) and a 25° honing guide (in black) to make certain you have the correct angle for your blade. It has a leather strop on one side and the ceramic rod feature is an added bonus. Not only can you use it to get a knife edge back, but it has a fishhook sharpener built in. The broadhead wrench is nice to have built in because then you know exactly where it is at all times. It retails for around $35.00.

Image provided by Pat's Backcountry Beverages.
Pat's Backcountry Beverages Carbonator Bottle Starter Kit - This is one of the coolest products I have purchased and it is certainly one of the most unique. There are different ways to combine the different products available for purchase. Brew your own soda or beer in the backcountry or on a fishing trip. I think that overall, the system is offered at a very reasonable price at $49.99. Just imagine how incredible it would be to hike into the backcountry and use cold spring water to make your own beer!

LENSER H7.2 LED Headlamp - The light uses the patented Advanced Focus System can be adjusted from a wide beam to a tight, focused beam of light. At 250 lumens it is very bright! There is a power adjustment lever on the back of the head strap that is designed to adjust the strength of the beam of light. They retail for around $70.

Believe me when I say I know how difficult it can be for someone to have to buy a gift for a hunter or fisherman. I am one of those difficult hunters to buy for! I usually feel I have everything I need for hunting and I really can't think of anything I want to have someone else buy me. Being picky when it comes to my gear is a fault, but a good one. I know many of you face the same dilemma and hopefully this list will help you make some great decisions this year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

This Little Piggy...Ended Up in the Freezer

My phone buzzed from across the room indicating I had a text message. 'Want to go hunting Friday?' Chris must have been reading my mind. The week prior it had been really windy and now, the temps were high, but dropping in the evenings. 'YES!' was my immediate reply. Weather and wind was checked and the plan was set on where to go.

On the way in to our set-up, Chris and I chatted about coyotes. We both had seen a few in the past and wanted to thin the pack out. Over the past month, Chris noticed something very interesting with the relationship between song dog and feral swine. The pigs would stay put during the warm part of the day, but once the temperature dropped they were active. The main thing he noticed was when the coyotes began howling in the afternoon, pig began moving. If we actively hunting the yotes in this area, would it affect the pig hunting? We didn't know, but we opted not to hunt coyotes this day.

Up in our stands, Chris and I scanned the area, listened intently, and laughed at how many birds were around. There were so many cool looking birds. Small, large, and colorful! I caught movement 300 yards out and when I checked it out through my binoculars I was surprised to see a dozen or so doves feeding. I laughed and watched as they moved around in the shade of the shrubbery.

At 4:10 PM, the coyotes began their evening chorus. It was intense and pretty cool to hear. There were two, possibly three, distinct packs howling back and forth. We knew we needed to be ready for the pigs to start moving.

Back in NY, squirrels would drive us nuts jumping around in the leaves making us believe a deer was walking toward us. Out here it's birds. They drive you crazy. I kept hearing movement behind my stand and looking down I saw a large brown bird going through the leaves and looking for seeds. I turned around and the noise grew louder. I again looked down and there was the same darn bird making quite a racket. I looked at Chris and his eyes were lit up. He pointed behind the stand and said, 'That's a pig'. I told him it was that bird. 'No way that's a bird.' Then the bird hopped, making a loud rustling sound. We had a hilarious 'disagreement' about the bird vs. pig and how I had been staring at this bird forever. I hoped I was wrong. As the noise turned to crashing, I knew I was wrong. Through the brush, two black legs appeared and a pig entered the zone. Game time!!

We had sprayed down every hour with Dead Down Wind scent elimination spray. It's been one that worked for Chris and I in the past. Today would be the ultimate test. The boar came in and every twenty feet or so, stopped, lifted his head to sniff the air, and waited a few seconds before moving on. He made his way 25 yards behind our stands, right in between them and stopped. I estimated him to be around 180 lbs from where I was at. As he lifted his head, I could see his snout wriggling around. Our wind was blowing right to where he was standing. I thought for sure we would get busted, but I was wring again! He was satisfied and slowly kept walking around to Chris's side. At 10-15 yards from his stand, the pig stopped. I had no shot, but Chris had one. He had enough time to turn back to me, ask me if he should shoot. 'Take the shot dude!'

The lighted nock looked like a vapor trail as it disappeared through the thick hide. The boar bolted to some thick brush and began wheeling around. We couldn't see him, but we could see the saplings and leaves doing a dance. He squealed loudly and then let out a death moan. Yes, I said a death moan. Even Chris had never heard one do that before! The pig squealed a long, 6-8 second, high pitched squeal that tapered off to silence. In a couple years of hunting, it was the first pig I had even seen Chris shoot. It was exciting for both of us!!

We gave it until last light and began tracking it. We had to Army crawl through the pig tunnel to find the dead pig. Let me tell you, that gets your adrenaline up. We had our lights on and knives ready, but were sure this pig was expired. Sure enough, about 50 yards from the treestand, there he lay. Congratulations were given and we began the arduous process of getting him back out into an area where the gutting could take place. It wasn't easy, but we did it. I loaded my stand, pack, Chris's pack, and both of our bows while Chris loaded out the boar on his back. It was a much longer, tougher hike for Chris I am sure. The hunt was exciting and quite the adventure. Now I have to get back out there and put a pig down myself. I eagerly await that opportunity!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Experience Brings Excitement in Deer Country

The crunching sand beneath our feet was soothing as we hiked in. We had two hours until sunrise and had 2 miles to cover. Our plan was simple, pair up and cover two main valleys that ended in one big bowl. Michael and I would head in first, covering the far ridge in hopes of cutting off anything that crossed the corridor. Brett and Dan would stay back and cover the ridge and hillside where we have seen deer on multiple occasions. Hunting plans are always great, but seldom do they work well when the wind doesn't want to cooperate.

Once situated, we waiting for first light and began to glass. The below 40 temps were a bit chilly with the breeze, but I was thankful for it. We were hunting deer on public land in November and we had no competition. That was until an hour after sunrise. We heard gunshots. I messaged Brett only to find out he had a bird hunter below him in the valley he was glassing. We knew that area was worthless to hunt now and anything in there was going to blow out of there. It was time for Plan B. I explained to Michael that I thought the bucks would be in the valley behind our location. It was my plan all week to glass this spot later in the morning, but I had a feeling. Gut feelings can sometimes pay off.

As we crept closer to the edge, I calmly motioned to Michael to drop down low. Then I saw motion on the ridge and hastily said, 'Get Down!' We hit our knees behind the brush. I got on my belly and pulled the MINOX binoculars out. On the ridge was a doe and a spike. This is where experience really paid off. I ignored those two deer. Sure, the doe was legal, the spike was not (thanks California). No, I was not interested in them. Instinct and experience told me to look BELOW the ridge, in the brush, for the buck who would be hiding. Sure enough, there he was.

From bush to bush, the wide forkie walked in the opposite direction as his group. He glanced in our direction each time he stopped. Had he spotted us? No.  We hadn't moved and the wind was perfect. In fact, he was walking right toward us. The excitement was almost unbearable as I explained to Michael we would wait to see if he walked right to us. The buck stopped, then began climbing the ridge and crossed a saddle. Nooo!! As he stopped, I experienced one of the most incredible sights ever. His wide antlers shone like shiny pieces of polished aluminum. I am talking serious reflection! It was crazy. Ten seconds later, he disappeared below the far ridge.

Found this on a ridge. Some hunter hasn't been following the 'lead free zone' rules during rifle season.

I explained my plan to Michael. I would drop below eye-level on our ridge and cut him off as he crossed. I hastily made my way across and no sooner had I set up, the wind changed. My legs were wobbly and now my hear sank. I needed to come up with a new plan and fast. I anticipated the bucks position, checked the wind and figured I had about a two-minute window to get high and look into the draw. Again, experience taught me well. As I hit the ridge line, I dropped and crawled to the only yucca plant in sight. I peeked around it and immediately saw movement. There he was, on a deer trail, 150 yards away without a care in the world. He hadn't seen me, hadn't spooked, but was focused on staying on that trail...that lead away from me. He was never going to cross into a shooting lane. As he made his was around the point, I saw the doe right behind him. Huh? Aren't the bucks supposed to be chasing the does? This doe was hopping around like a kid hopped up on sugar. She bounded behind him and they both disappeared over the ridge. The wind was blowing right at them, but I wasn't sure if they winded me or if the thermals were rising just enough. Either way, I backed away to allow them to bed down.

After hiking back to my partner, calling Brett, and having him meet us, we planned to hike beyond the ridge and glass for the buck. We had never gone this way before, but we always knew the deer liked to hide in here for some reason. We quickly found out why. As we crossed the ridge, we found a plethora of valleys and draws that made it impossible to see into the bottoms. This buck was smart! He also vanished. We glassed for a couple hours and saw nothing. The wind proceeded to blow right into those draws, so we got out of there. 

For the remainder of the day, we glassed the basins, valleys and ridges and saw nothing. Water levels running low, we packed up at last light and hiked out. It had been an exciting morning and now we had a buck to go after. We would be back to our spot in the hopes of getting closer to the buck I call 'Wide Load', as he is by far the widest buck I have laid eyes on while hunting public land in California.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Crossbow Animosity - What Gives?

As a hunter, I use many tools to get the job done. For years I have used firearms and archery equipment. Now that I am also including a crossbow in my arsenal, I find there is a great deal of animosity toward crossbow hunters. Do you feel crossbows are a legitimate weapon for hunting? Do you think they should be allowed? Do you think they should be scrapped? I would really like to hear from you guys.

Please comment below and let me know what your thoughts are. I have my own story I will share, but I really want to hear from both sides on this.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Product Review: Koomus BikeGo 2 Smartphone Bike Mount

Ever since I was able to get the training wheels off my bicycle, I have loved to ride! Whether it be road cycling or hitting some dirt trails, riding on two wheels is great fun for me. It's also great exercise. I use iPhone apps to track my progress and distance traveled, but always had to keep my phone in my backpack or in my bike-mounted pouch. That's good if you don't want to see or hear your phone. I like staying connected and when someone calls I want to know. A product I have been testing out for the past couple weeks is the Koomus BikeGo 2 Smartphone Bike Mount. It's a very easy to use, inexpensive way to have your phone available to you at all times.

The mounting directions for the BikeGo 2 are on the side of the package. They are simple to follow, but a couple steps are missing from the package that I feel should be included. You can find the steps listed on the website, but I think they should be on the packaging itself. The unit itself is very lightweight and secures tightly to the handlebars.

The Koomus BikeGo 2 mount will fit an iPhone by itself, or one with a slim, protective case. I don't know if an OtterBox case would work, but my phone, with FUSE case, fit very well. 

To secure the phone, you insert the plastic peg into the headphone jack. I didn't care for this for a couple reasons. The first is that when I used the peg to secure it the first time, it worked great, but when I went to pull it back out, the peg snapped. Fortunately, there was enough of the peg sticking out for me to remove it. The second reason I am not a huge fan of the peg is that it limits you from using your headphones. I don't use them all the time, but having the headphones in for listening to music or answering a call is great. The folks at Koomus were great about getting me another to review, complete with a new peg.

I did see there are four hooks underneath the phone mount. I am not completely sure what these are for, but my guess is that you can use two rubber bands to go over the top of the phone in a pinch to keep it secure. That's just an educated guess.

The testing was fun and a bit scary. I was afraid my phone would go flying, but I like torture tests, so I went with it. I mounted the BikeGo 2, attached my phone vertically (instead of horizontally), and I left out the peg on purpose. I mounted my phone vertically because the app I use for tracking is a vertical viewing app. Also, when someone calls, I like to read their name without having to cock my head.

The first time I rode was during the daytime. I loaded my phone vertically and inserted the plastic peg. (This is the time it broke.) I rode eight miles over rough roads, short hills, and bumps. The phone stayed put, but over some of the bumps, the entire top piece shifted due to weight on the ball head. I thought I had the phone weight distributed evenly, but I see why it shifted. I must have had my phone a bit off center, leaving the weight distribution off. Nothing to do with the BikeGo 2, but you will need to pay attention to that.

The second time I tested it was at night. I mounted everything the same, this time inserting the peg, shifted the ball head so the phone was more level to the ground (still vertical) and went for an eight mile ride. The phone stayed put and the mount worked well. Hesitant to remove the peg, I took my time, but did not feel comfortable at all removing in. There isn't much room for error.

The third test was where I needed to test the sturdiness of the mount. I mounted my phone vertically, left the peg out, and rode for 20 miles. I hit the brakes hard a few times, did some fast downhill and uphill, and the phone stayed put. For this trip, I attached my power cord to the phone and a charger. I wanted to see if the pull of the cord would make any difference. Turns out, it worked great and I was able to keep my phone at a full charge as I rode.

Overall, this is a great buy if you want to have your phone available to you while you ride. While I think there should be some improvements made, it is still an excellent accessory for your bicycle. They retail for $29.99 on the Koomus website, but they are offering them for $19.99 right now. 

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I received the Koomus BikeGo 2 Smartphone Bike Mount from Koomus as coordinated by Deep Creek PR an Outdoor Industry Public Relations Company in consideration for review publication. All opinions are strictly my own.