Hunting and Fishing News & Blog Articles

Stay up-to-date on hunting, fishing and camping products, trends and news.

Willow Creek: An Obscure Stream Shapes Life, Death, and Landscape

An obscure stream shapes life,death, and landscape on the prairie (Chris Malbon/)

Willow Creek is nowhere. It’s one of countless unremarkable prairie streams too small and intermittent to float a boat but too deep and changeable to cross easily. Even during dry seasons, getting across it requires finding a place where the sheer banks have sloughed away between pools of stagnant, fish-­stranding water. Mule deer and cows cross here, and so do I, when I want to hunt the grassy coulees and crumbling badlands on the other side.

Willow Creek is everywhere. In Montana alone, dozens of Willow Creeks drain mountains and scour prairies. Most got their name because Beaver Creek was already taken, and also from the narrow-leafed shrub that holds their banks in thickets and tangles. Old-timers call it “coyote willow,” maybe because wherever it grows, its banks are tacky with drying mud stitched with the tracks of the wild dogs snaking in and out of its shadows to surprise a jackrabbit or pounce on a vole. Thin and limber as sugarcane, and spiked with tiny yellow flowers in the spring, coyote willow is ever a sapling, throwing scarcely enough shade to cool a panting cow. In the throbbing summer heat, willow groves smell like creosote below an old railroad.

In the fall, Willow Creek is everything. In a landscape defined by inch-high woolgrass and razoring winds, it’s a magnet for open-country mule deer that bed in its buckbrush bends and breed in leafless rattling thickets. In winter, sharptail grouse descend on streamside willows to tuck out of the wind alongside twitchy prairie cottontails.

Willow Creek could be anywhere. Except mine is right here, meandering drunkenly through my northeastern Montana homeland as it transports the slurried prairie, stacking 3 miles of ropy twists into every map mile as it makes its way to the Milk River.

For most of the year, my Willow Creek is nearly dry, and if it weren’t for stick-and-mud beaver dams around every other bend, I could walk its bed for miles, invisible to bucks on the adobe ridges above it. But for several weeks, Willow Creek swells and churns with runoff, a perilous boilage of cottonwood limbs, bloated calves, and, during an especially heavy flood a few years ago, rough-cut planks from a washed-out county bridge upstream.

The author's yellow Lab takes off toward Willow Creek and the coulees beyond.

Continue reading

Four camping books worth reading before your next trip

Preparation and inspiration for your next outing. (Şahin Yeşilyaprak via Unsplash/)

Before you blow a bunch of cash on new camping gear, you’d be wise first to invest in your wilderness education. Because, when you’re camping, no amount of gear can compensate for a lack of outdoors wisdom and skills. You have to know the woods. We’ve compiled four books, for both beginners and seasoned sportsmen, that’ll up your outdoors know-how before your next big outing.

A classic guide loaded with little-known wilderness know-how. (Amazon/)

The author of this much-praised, bestselling guide, Mors Kochanski, was a longtime wilderness-survival instructor, and his magnum opus, first published in 1988, is loaded with useful facts and tips you won’t find elsewhere. It covers camping basics, too, to be sure: lighting and maintaining a fire, felling trees, chopping wood, building shelters, cooking, first aid. Bushcraft 101 by Dave Canterbury is a good substitute if you can’t track down a copy of Kochanski’s classic tome.

Clear, concise advice for budding campers. (Amazon/)

If you’re an absolute camping newbie, first, welcome to the fold! Second, you’d be wise to pick up this handy field guide, by the classic American brand Pendleton. It covers the basics of campfire cooking, preparing and packing for a trip, and setting up camp. It also includes a history of national parks, step-by-step tutorials, and more. The book was published in March 2020, so it should be easy to procure a copy.

A bargain book filled with old-school wilderness wisdom. (Amazon/)

Horace Kephart is perhaps best known for drumming up public support for the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He also wrote a series of articles for Field & Stream that were later collected and published as The Book Of Camping And Woodcraft, which would become regarded as the definitive work on living and thriving outdoors. Not all the tips have aged well but the bulk has, and the book remains a wealth of hard-won outdoor knowledge. Since it’s in the public domain, it’s also super cheap, so there’s no reason not to add it to your library.

A pocket foraging guide to stave off hunger. (Amazon/)

Pocket-sized and straightforward, this book includes illustrations of 400 wild plants—370 of them edible—in the Eastern United States, along with more than 20 preparation instructions. As such, it’s essential for any bug-out bag, but everyday campers would benefit from bringing it along, too. With edible plants, you can improve food you’ve packed in or forage entire meals.

A classic guide loaded with little-known wilderness know-how.
Clear, concise advice for budding campers.
A bargain book filled with old-school wilderness wisdom.
A pocket foraging guide to stave off hunger.


Inflatable fishing boats for beginners, experts, and everyone in between

Inflate and go. (Amazon/)

Gone are the days when you had to fork out wads of cash for a half-decent drift boat. Also gone are the days when you had to have a garage or carport to store said half-decent drift boat. Now, thanks to the miracle of inflatable fishing crafts, you can get into the boat game for relatively cheap and then, after your trip, deflate it and easily store it away. We rounded up four top-rated models and listed them from entry-level to heavy-duty.

The Sea Eagle PF7K PackFish, a budget boat that’s easy to pack and carry. (Amazon/)

The Sea Eagle PF7K PackFish is an affordable, great way to break into the inflatable-boat world. The 7-foot-long, one-man boat weighs a mere 22 pounds and deflates to fit into a backpack, so it’s super portable. Plus, it has a load capacity of 300 pounds, so it should accommodate most anglers. What really distinguishes the PF7K from regular inflatable rafts is the casting seat; two rod holders; two gear pouches; and four tracking strips, for extra stability.

The Classic Accessories Colorado Pontoon, a river-ready pontoon with a high casting seat. (Amazon/)

The river-ready Classic Accessories Colorado Pontoon is a fairly modest step up from the Sea Eagle PF7K PackFish, in price and quality. For one, it’s two 9-foot-long pontoons and sturdy steel tube frame will seat you high above the water—much better for spotting and casting to fish—and it’s rated for class 1 rapids, so it can handle some current. It also includes a wire motor mount, if you don’t want to paddle from honey hole to honey hole.

The Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10, an affordable two-seater that’s perfect for lake fishing. (Amazon/)

Fishing solo is fine every now and then, but, more often than not, you’ll want to hit the water with a buddy or significant other. Enter the Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10, a reasonably priced boat that, unlike the two prior entries on this list, can accommodate two passengers, or 1200 pounds. It’s not whitewater rated, so you’ll need to stick to pounding lake banks with streamers or poppers—not that that’s a bad thing.

The Outcast OSG Striker Raft, an inflatable boat study enough for big Western streams. (Amazon/)

The two-seater Outcast OSG Striker Raft is a real-deal trout boat, capable of handling Class 3 rapids—and thus Western rivers. It weighs 102 pounds inflated, so you’ll need two people to load it, but it’s small enough, in most cases, to fit in a pickup bed, negating the need for a trailer—a huge perk. The OSG costs a fair bit less than other similar, inflatable fly-fishing boats on the market, so it has that going for it, too.

The Sea Eagle PF7K PackFish, a budget boat that’s easy to pack and carry.
The Classic Accessories Colorado Pontoon, a river-ready pontoon with a high casting seat.
The Sea Eagle Stealth Stalker STS10, an affordable two-seater that’s perfect for lake fishing.
The Outcast OSG Striker Raft, an inflatable boat study enough for big Western streams.


Should Public Lands Remain Open During the Coronavirus Crisis?

Grand Teton National Park is closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Courtesy U.S. National Park Service/)

In an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19, national parks superintendents closed Yellowstone and Grand Teton. All Illinois state lands were closed. In Oregon, state parks, national parks, and the Columbia River Gorge are closed.

Meanwhile in New York State, the epicenter of the outbreak, public lands remain mostly open. So who is in charge of deciding what public lands stay accessible and which ones close? And, how are they making their decisions?

Well, that’s complicated. In short, the fate of each type of public land is up to that land’s managing agency. So state lands remain open or get closed by each state’s governor. National forests are overseen by directors and the agency itself falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. National parks, BLM land, refuges, and monuments are managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, headed by Secretary David Bernhardt.

Last month, Bernhardt announced a plan to temporarily waive all national park entrance fees as a way to make it easier for Americans to enjoy public lands during the pandemic.

“I fundamentally believe public lands can play a critical role in a time like this,” Bernhardt told me in an interview this week. “[They are] a place for solace and respite for the American people.”

Continue reading

The Newbie’s Guide to Survival in Bear Country

Most bear attacks occur by surprise, so be vigilant when you find yourself in thick cover. (Pixabay/)

Every year hunters and anglers find themselves chasing elk out west or casting a fly into a salmon run for the first time. For many outdoorsman and women, that means time spent in bear country. If you don’t have experience hunting and fishing around bears, and you don’t have a course of action mapped out, this could lead to a dangerous or potentially fatal situation.

Luckily, grizzly and black bear attacks are rare, but they do happen, and you need to be ready. From 2000 to 2015 there were 183 brown bear attacks in North America (about 12 per year), according to a study by Scientific Reports. Most of those transpired in Alaska (51) and British Columbia (42). The rest were in Wyoming (29), Montana (25), and Alberta (18). Black bears have only killed 61 people on this continent since 1900, according to the North American Bear Center.

As hunters and anglers, we spend more time in the woods and fishing streams than most, making us susceptible to attacks. It’s important to know how to defend yourself from a grizzly or black bear. Gary L. Moses, one of the foremost authorities on bear attacks, believes bear spray should be the first line of defense. It’s a reliable and effective tool to bring to a bear fight. Handguns and rifles are effective too, and there are times when a lethal option is necessary, which I will tackle later with Outdoor Life contributor, Tyler Freel, who has been charged three different times by grizzlies in Alaska.

Moses was a District Ranger at Glacier National Park for 23 years and served as a ranger at Yellowstone before that. The two parks are considered the most densely-populated grizzly bear habitats in the lower 48 states. It is likely Moses has administered first-aid to more bear attack victims and investigated more incidents than anyone in the continental U.S. He promotes using bear spray for defense because it not only forces bears to retreat, but also teaches them to avoid humans. It’s also difficult for folks who have never experienced a bear encounter to be accurate with a gun should a charge occur.

“Here in Montana we had a hiker come upon a sow and her cubs,” said Moses, who now works as a bear education specialist for Counter Assault. “The hiker shot the bear and wounded it. Later, fish and wildlife agents had to track and kill the sow, and three cubs were captured and will likely be transferred to a zoo, removing four bears from the ecosystem.

Work as a team and keep guns and bear spray at the ready when packing game out of bear country.
A sow will protect her cubs at all costs, and you need to be ready for an attack.
Know the habits of bears in your area to better avoid them.

Continue reading

MREs and survival food you can buy online

Food that'll keep. (Amazon/)

You’re not entirely without options if you plan on social distancing yourself in the woods and want to pack some just-in-case grub. We’ve rounded up four solid MRE and survival-food options that you can buy with just a few clicks.

A lightweight, freeze-dried feast. (Amazon/)

This 1.6-ounce Mountain House freeze-dried food pouch meal allegedly keeps for 30 years and is simple to make: you pour boiling water into a Mountain House pouch, stir, and let the food stand for 10 minutes before enjoying. Mountain House meals are known for being tasty and flavorful—for freeze-dried food anyway.

High-calorie, military-style emergency rations. (Amazon/)

Listen, you don’t buy MREs for the taste, so don’t order a box expecting James Beard Award-winning grub. You buy MREs for the long shelf life and the high calorie count. This box contains classic military-surplus MREs. Each meal is about 1250 calories and will keep for from five to seven years. Western Frontier randomly fills boxes with different meal options from five different cuisine types: Asian, Mexican, Italian, traditional, and vegetarian. If you’re truly hungry, nothing will taste better.

Twenty-calorie tabs with 25-year shelf lives. (Amazon/)

At 20 calories each, Survival Tabs won’t fill your stomach or curb hunger pains, but they do contain 100 percent of 15 essential vitamins and minerals, to keep your blood sugar up and your mind sharp in emergencies. They also require no prep—just pop a tab in your mouth as needed—and a dozen or two will take up no space in the bottom of your pack. Perhaps best of all, the tabs purportedly have a 25-year shelf life, so you can stash and forget about them until stuff hits the fan.

A bucket for your fruit fix. (Amazon/)

This 120-serving container of freeze-dried fruit from ReadyWise is a perfect complement to other rations you already have stocked. (It’s tough sledding surviving off Mountain House alone, after all.) The 6-pound, 20-year-shelf-life bucket includes four pouches of bananas, two pouches of peaches, four pouches of strawberries, and five pouches of apples. Each pouch contains eight servings worth of food.

A lightweight, freeze-dried feast.
High-calorie, military-style emergency rations.
Twenty-calorie tabs with 25-year shelf lives.
A bucket for your fruit fix.


7 Things You Need to Know Before Buying an AR Pistol

Easier access to AR pistols have made them popular amongst shooters and hunters. (SB Tactical/)

The vast majority of shooters, myself included, have historically viewed AR pistols as nothing more than a noisy cricket; a fun-gun range toy to show off to friends. That, or a way to maintain excitement until your short-barreled rifle (SBR) Form 1 has been approved by the understaffed examiners that call the ATF’s NFA branch home.

AR pistols are not all that easy to shoot accurately due to their size, weight, and poor ergonomics. They shoot rifle rounds that produce sharper felt recoil, which makes off-hand shots shaky, at best. But the AR pistol of yesteryear is not the same platform shooters are enjoying today for one reason: the stabilizing brace.

The introduction of the pistol stabilizing brace deserves full credit for the surge in popularity of this once decadent variant of the AR-15. SBRs have always had a certain sex appeal, but the cost of admission and draconian rules associated with them have been a turn off for all but the most dedicated consumers. With braced AR pistols available off the shelf, the ultimate compact, semiautomatic truck gun was reborn, and continues to enjoy an ever-increasing level of popularity.

It all sounds great, but there are a few things to know about pistol braces and their use. First and foremost, a pistol stabilizing brace is a device that typically attaches to the receiver extension (buffer tube) of your AR pistol and is intended to improve accuracy by using the shooter’s forearm to support and stabilize your AR pistol (when fired one-handed).

Now, the ATF has previously determined that attaching an arm brace to a firearm does not alter the classification of the firearm or subject it to National Firearms Act (NFA) control. With that said, the classification is based upon using the device in the manner in which it was designed—to assist the user in stabilizing the platform for single-handed firing.

Telescoping braces are popular for AR pistols.
Keep it simple and don’t bog your AR pistol down with too many accessories.
AR pistols are available in a variety of cartridges, including .300 Blackout, .223 and 6.5 Grendel.
SureFire’s WarComp reduces muzzle rise and flash.
Leupold’s LCO red-dot sight mounted on a conventional AR.
With a shorter gun, a more vertical pistol grip is in order.
The Sig Sauer Rattler.

Continue reading

Four affordable, high-performance binoculars

It's a bird! It's a plane! No, no, wait, that's a deer. (Ran Berkovich via Unsplash/)

The adage “you get what you pay for” holds true when it comes to binoculars—with a few exceptions. Though plenty of low-cost binos are terrible and not at all worth the money, a few can go head-to-head with high-end models and manage to sacrifice little in terms of durability, clarity, and weight. We’ve listed four of our favorites.

Superlight binos that cost next to nothing. (Amazon/)

The Yosemite binoculars are widely considered among the best in their price range, and it’s hard to argue the point. They have excellent resolution, and not just for bargain binos, as well as a big, easy-to-access picture, with 420-foot field of view (FOV). The pair performs well in gnarly weather and in low light, and weighs almost nothing, at 1.65 pounds. They also happen to be the among cheapest binos on our list.

Affordable binos with seriously sharp resolution. (Amazon/)

If you’re after unmatched resolution, your binocular search should stop with Nikon Aculon A211 10x50. The binos have 341-foot FOV and a bright, super-clear picture. The Aculon is not entirely without shortcomings, though. As Field & Stream’s Dave Hurteau has pointed out, the binos aren’t waterproof and are a bit bulky and heavy, at nearly 2 pounds. But if you’re scouting from a truck, neither should be much of a problem.

Durable, waterproof binos that are ideal for scouting. (Amazon/)

The Bushnell Prime 10x42 can’t match the image quality of either the Nikon Aculon A211 10x50 or the Bushnell Prime 10x42, but it tops both in terms of durability. The binoculars, which have 305-foot FOV, are rated IPX7 waterproof and include moisture-and-dust-repellent EXO Barrier lenses. So, assuming you don’t dunk them in a pool for a half an hour, they’ll continue to deliver a clear picture, no matter the hell you put them through.

Extra-good glass for a modest price increase. (Amazon/)

OK, the Vanguard Endeavor ED II 10x42 cost a tad more than the other three binos on this list. But, for the modest price increase, you get high-quality Hoya ED glass, for a big, high-contrast picture with minimal edge blurring. The Endeavor, which has a 340-foot FOV, also stands out for its low-light performance and for its ergonomic, rubber chassis.

Superlight binos that cost next to nothing.
Affordable binos with seriously sharp resolution.
Durable, waterproof binos that are ideal for scouting.
Extra-good glass for a modest price increase.


The best hiking boots for spring and summer hikes

Step up in the right boots. (Nahuel Hawkes/)

There’s nothing quite like breathing in crisp, fresh air from a mountain top while gazing down at the landscape below and reveling in that long hike you’ve just accomplished. However, one vital thing can stand in the way of that sweet, sweet hiker’s bliss: the wrong boots. Donne a pair of ill-fitting hiking boots and you’re bound for blisters, squeezing, sliding, and pain.

So before your next hike—long or short, mild or advanced—take some time to find the boots that are right for you. Things to consider include material (suede, leather, synthetic, to name a few), the type of grip you’re looking for, whether or not you plan on running or scrambling over rocks and boulders, and what type of weather you’ll be hiking in. Pro tip: it’s always good to opt for a waterproof boot.

A few best-sellers that we know and love, below.

These boots provide an unparalleled grip on both wet and dry terrains. (Amazon/)

Consider the struggle to find a comfortable boot officially over. These ultra-cushioned, durable hiking boots from Danner—known for creating some of the best boots on the market—are literally made to withstand the elements of the Pacific Northwest. That means dry, hot, cold, wet, and just about everything in between. The combination of waterproof suede, Vibram SPE midsole, and Fuga outsole yields a sturdy, reliable boot with a classic style.

These boots are both ultra-light and waterproof. (Amazon/)

An ideal boot from an iconic brand, the Vasque Breeze LT GTX are waterproof, so you won’t have to worry about spring’s unpredictable forecasts when on the trail. A sleek GORE-TEX waterproof membrane blocks moisture, and a synthetic microfiber and mesh upper keeps the boot lightweight. For those who prefer a lower-cut ankle, this model is available in both high and low-top styles.

These boots provide an unparalleled grip on both wet and dry terrains.
These boots are both ultra-light and waterproof.
Runners can expect premium push-off and braking grip capability.

Continue reading

Four grilling tools for a better barbecue

Upgrade your grill game. (mnm.all via Unsplash/)

Let’s pretend that you don’t already own plenty of grilling tools. Because odds are you do. That’s not the point. Because we have a hunch that you could stand to add a few more tools to your game-cooking arsenal anyway—or, at the very least, to upgrade your current setup. These four top-rated tools will up your grill game in a serious way.

A big spatula that’s not just for fish. (Amazon /)

Fish turners are underrated. This heavy-duty workhorse will beat the heck out of normal spatulas when not only when it comes to flipping fish but also to turning burgers, steaks, and whatever else you’re firing up. It’s made of super-sturdy steel and measures an impressive 16 inches long by 6 inches wide. Don’t be surprised if you banish your old spatula from the grill in perpetuity.

A game-changing set of well-balanced tongs. (Amazon/)

Life is too short to use a terrible set of tongs. These 16-inch bad boys are both super cheap and comfortable to use over long hours manning the grill. Because, whereas other tongues tend to have a stiff spring, the Winco tongs are perfectly balanced, providing just the right amount of resistance.

A fast-reading, professional-grade temp checker. (Amazon/)

You probably already own a digital meat thermometer, and it’s probably just so-so, as most tend to be. The professional-grade Lavatools Javelin Pro Duo is an exception. It reads temps in a superfast 1 to 3 seconds and beeps when it determines an exact measurement. Another plus is the foldable probe, which angles for easy insertion at odd angles. If you’re serious about getting a precise measure of your meat temp, send a few extra bucks for this next-level gadget.

A wire-free way to clean your grill grate (Amazon/)

As Consumer Reports points out, over a recent 12-year-period, nearly 2,000 Americans visited an emergency room after having ingested wires from grill-cleaning brushes that somehow ended up in their food. Which sounds like absolutely zero fun. A wood grill scraper will prevent such ER trips and effectively clean your grill crate. It also just looks a lot cooler than wire grill brushes, so there’s that.

A big spatula that’s not just for fish.
A game-changing set of well-balanced tongs.
A fast-reading, professional-grade temp checker.
A wire-free way to clean your grill grate


Four essentials that keep bugs away

You're not dinner. (Brooks Rice via Unsplash/)

While some might disagree on how to keep mosquitoes, white socks, horseflies, and other biting insects off our skin, we all agree that biting insects are the quickest way to ruin an otherwise great weekend outside. Some people may prefer old-fashioned DEET, but many don’t want it on their skin. And for some of us, just having biting insects hovering around our faces is enough to make us run inside. Fortunately, we have four options perfect for any situation or preference, whether sitting in camp, casting a line into a river or trudging up a mountain.

Bug and stink free. (Aamazon/)

We understand you if you don’t want to spray yourselves with a chemical reminiscent of your childhood Scout camp. That’s why we’re recommending insect repellent lotion by Sawyer. It’s effective for up to 8 hours against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies. It also repels the yellow fever mosquito which transmits the Zika virus. Consumer Reports even listed it as the Fishermen’s Formula. Cover yourself and your family and don’t worry about damage to clothes, backpacks, fishing, or hunting gear.

Douse your outerwear. (Amazon/)

Not into coating your skin with spray or lotion day after day outside? Instead, spray down your clothes and let them do the repelling for you. One bottle treats up to eight articles of clothing and lasts up to six weeks or six washings. It doesn’t damage or stain your clothes, and is as effective as 100 percent DEET at keeping all the nastiest biting insects away. It’s also odorless after it dries and ideal for hunting.

Mock the insects on the other side. (Amazon /)

Bug repellents are great when you’re on the go, but they can start to drive you crazy swarming in camp. Try this Coleman screenhouse to keep yourself, and your family, bug-free while cooking, drinking and relaxing after a day on the trail or river. This is also a perfect fit for our furry friends in camp who are harder to keep bug-free. Two large doors offer easy access and it sets up quickly in just about a minute. As a bonus, the tent also offers sun protection up to 50 UPF.

Cloak yourself with invisible bug repellent. (Amazon/)

Stop for a quick trail-side picnic? Want to sit outside but don’t have the time or space to set up a tent? Fire up this Thermacell, wait a few minutes for the zone of protection to form, and watch the mosquitoes thin. It’s scent-free, DEET-free, durable, and small. One cartridge lasts for 12 hours, and the repeller charges with a USB cord. When you’re done, simply turn it off, tuck it in your bag, and pull it out the next time with no bug spray residue.

Bug and stink free.
Douse your outerwear.
Mock the insects on the other side.
Cloak yourself with invisible bug repellent.


Gas vs. Inertia: Which Semiauto Shotgun is Best?

The inertia-driven Benelli Super Black Eagle 2. (Joe Genzel/)

The debate over inertia-driven autoloaders vs. gas-operated semiautos has been going around the shotgun world since the conclusion of World War II. For more than a century, inertia guns have been in the hands of hunters, thanks to John Moses Browning’s Auto-5, and a Danish gunsmith, Christer Sjorgren, who created the inertia system Benelli and other gun manufacturers utilize. Gas-operated guns came about after WWII with the development of the M1 Garand, the battle rifle U.S. troops used in combat. Starting in the 1950s, Browning, Winchester, and Remington all began producing gas guns. The arguments amongst hunters and competition shooters over who did it best—inertia or gas—have swirled around late-night campfires ever since.

First let’s take a look at how each system works. Gas guns bleed off gas near the action from a fired shotshell, which operates the bolt, moving it toward the back of the gun, and ejecting the spent shell. It then returns the bolt forward, loading the next shell. One difference is with the Remington VersaMax and V3, which have a series of gas ports in the actual chamber. The size of the load (2¾-, 3-, or 3½-inch) determines how much gas is bled off. Inertia-driven guns are much simpler. The bolt is held in place by a spring, and when you pull the trigger the charge from the shotshell overwhelms that spring, forcing the bolt backwards, ejecting the spent shell. It then picks up the next load on its way forward.

One system isn’t inherently better than the other, but there are benefits and drawbacks of both. And honestly, you shouldn’t pigeon-hole yourself into shooting gas or inertia. My three favorite modern 12-gauge shotguns are the Beretta A390 Silver Mallard, Winchester SX3, and Benelli Super Black Eagle 2. The first two are gas-operated, and the SBE2 is an inertia gun. I like using the guns for different times of the year and different shoots. The Beretta is for clays, ducks, pheasants, and turkeys. The Benelli is my go-to dark goose gun because it patterns so well beyond the edge of the decoys on fickle/stubborn honkers that don’t like to finish in the kill hole. For spring snow goose season, I wanted an affordable, soft-shooting autoloader, and the SX3 fits that bill.

The name on a shotgun shouldn’t determine whether you buy it or not. You need to think about what you want out of the gun and the game you will be chasing with it. Here are some factors to consider before making your next purchase.

Browning’s inertia-driven Double-Auto. (Joe Genzel/)

Inertia-Driven Functionality

Browning’s inertia-driven Double-Auto.
Beretta’s Silver Mallard A390 was one of the best 3” gas-operated autoloaders ever made.
The Kick-Off system in Beretta’s A400 dampens recoil better than most.
Inertia guns have a better feel out of the box, but you may shoot a gas gun better.

Continue reading

Four cooktops and grills perfect for truck camping

Cooktops for grilling anywhere. (Amazon/)

Truck camping rules. Sure, roughing it in the backcountry is megafun from time to time. But it’s hard to hate the luxury of having a vehicle at base camp—in large part because you can load in cooking gear and enjoy tasty meals while outdoors. Camping grills, as opposed to stoves or burners, are especially nice to have, since you can cook directly on them without pots or pans. We’ve rounded up four top models for your next big weekend in the woods.

An affordable, unfussy option. (Amazon/)

This 8-pound affordable propane grill puts out 6,000 BTUs of heat across a 105-square-inch grilling surface. The grill’s design is straightforward and unfussy, and, since it’s a Coleman, you basically know what you’re getting in terms of quality. Online reviews have pointed out that the closing latch tends to be a bit flimsy, but one Amazon user has found an easy DIY fix to solve the problem.

A grill with built-in propane storage and cutting board. (Amazon/)

The cooking-appliance brand Cuisinart got its start manufacturing food processors back in the 1970s. Over the past few years, it’s ventured into the outdoor space with grills, including CGG-750. The 20-pound cooker includes a built-in propane-tank storage area for easy transport, while the lid and base double as a chopping board, which will prove handy if your campsite lacks a table or flat surface.

A tabletop grill perfect for crowds. (Amazon/)

This Cuisinart tabletop model has a 12.2-by-18-by-12 cooking surface, which is larger than that of either the Coleman Fold N Go or the Cuisinart CGG-750. At that size, the CGG-180T can handle about eight venison steaks and about as many pheasant or turkey breasts, making it a better option if you plan on camping with a group. Even with its larger size, the grill is still relatively affordable, but, as with any budget grill, you’ll need to treat it with relative care, to ensure that it holds up from season to season.

An ultra-hot infrared cooker. (Amazon/)

The 15-pound SOL-EV17A will set you back more than the other options on this list. For the cash, though, you get an extra-well-built infrared grill, with 140 square inches of cooking space and 14,000 BTUs of infrared heat. Barbecue nerds of the world swear that infrared grills result in better-cooked meat, since the cookers’ radiant heat helps proteins retain moisture. So, if you want to dine like a king in camp, cease your grill search with the SOL-EV17A.

An affordable, unfussy option.
A grill with built-in propane storage and cutting board.
A tabletop grill perfect for crowds.
An ultra-hot infrared cooker.


Build the Ultimate Bowfishing Boat

The carp spawn is almost here. And we all have more time on our hands now. Build a bowfishing deck for your boat with all this downtime, and you’ll be ready to self-isolate on the water come May, when big fish are love drunk in the shallows—and begging to be shot.

Why a Bow Deck?

Bowfishing at night is easier because fish spook less. (Michael R. Shea/)

You do not need a bow deck to shoot carp from a boat. But like saddles on horses, they make the experience much better. A deck does a couple things you can’t always accomplish pigeon-toed on the nose of a skiff, such as:

Space. Designed right, an open bowfishing deck provides more foot room for shooters. No one needs to balance on a skinny side bench and it’s easier to put more shooters forward where the action happens.

Elevation. With an elevated bow deck, the shooters can look down into the water. This is especially handy in murky, chocolate milk conditions, where fish may only surface near the hull when nudged by the boat. It also has the effect of flattening out a bowshot. The way light refracts through water means you typically have to aim under fish to connect, but when shooting straight down on them, this adjustment is lessened.

Wood or aluminum are your two choice for bowdeck materials.
If you’re going to mount the trolling motor to the bow, take that into consideration when building the deck.
Below the shooting platform on Shea’s Lund.

Continue reading

10 Things You Must Know About Subsonic Ammo—Before Ever Firing A Round

Big bore cartridges like the .45-70 are great for heavy bullets and subsonic loads, and are probably the most effective for hunting at short ranges. (Tyler Freel/)

Hand-in-hand with what could be called the suppressor enlightenment in the United States over the past decade, comes the rise of subsonic ammunition. I’m referring to ammunition specifically crafted as subsonic, to be paired with rifles outfitted with a suppressor. There is plenty of misunderstanding about subsonics, what they do, and how you should use them. So the time has come to try and clear up any confusion. Here are 10 things everyone should know about subsonics.

1. What is Subsonic Ammunition?

Quite simply, subsonic ammunition is any cartridge that propels its projectile at a velocity that is below the speed of sound—approximately 1100 fps depending on atmospheric conditions and elevation. At speeds above the sound barrier, the bullet itself creates a sonic boom, or in the case of bullets, a high-pitched crack, perceptible all along its flight path. A bullet traveling below the speed of sound does not make that distinct sonic crack.

2. Why the Hype?

Subsonic ammunition is nothing new, so why the current surge in its use? Many old cartridges, and several still in use like the .45 ACP are subsonic cartridges in their standard loadings. The movement toward effectiveness and velocity, though, has rendered many old, slower cartridges generally obsolete. This relatively recent resurgence is due completely to the rise in popularity of suppressors, and its excellent compatibility with subs. Subsonic ammo is typically extremely quiet through a suppressor, mild recoiling, fun to shoot, and useful in hunting and self-defense applications.

Many production handgun loads are already subsonic, so look for heavier-for-caliber bullet weights, but make sure they stabilize before shooting through your suppressor.
.22 LR shooters have the wisest variety of subsonic options, with loads from just about every manufacturer.
Trail boss is a great powder for loading your own rifle subsonics. It takes up lots of case space for its weight, so you can get more consistent burns with lighter charges.

Continue reading

Four weather-proof backcountry dry bags

Keep your belongings safe. (Tim Foster via Unsplash/)

Dry bags aren’t exactly as drool-worthy or envy-producing as, say, a fancy new fast-action fly rod or a souped-up drift boat. But they’re essential gear for backcountry float and fishing trips. And the difference between a good dry bag and a bad one can mean having a bunch of soaking-wet clothes and, well, not. We’ve rounded up four top-rated models, one of which is sure to suit your next ambitious adventure.

A tough, affordable bag that can handle just about anything. (Amazon/)

The Big River is a go-to, do-it-all workhorse of a dry bag. It’s available in seven different sizes, from 3 liter to 65 liter, and made of super-tough 420D nylon, with double-stitched, reinforced, and tape-sealed seams. And yet somehow it’s still reasonably priced. If you’re paddling into the Boundary Waters for a week, this is the bag you want in the bottom of your canoe.

A dry bag ready for a land-to-water excursion. (Amazon/)

The one potential shortcoming of the Sea to Summit Big River is that it lacks optional backpack straps, which are handy if you have a long hike to the river or to camp. The Earth Pak Backpack fills the void. It’s available in 35-liter and 55-liter sizes, and, most important for our purposes, comes with padded, reinforced shoulder straps. The outer splash-proof pocket and inner cell-phone-and-keys pouch are a nice touch.

A handy, 4-liter pack perfect for day-long trips. (Amazon/)

Odds are, if you’re going on a day- or two-long canoe or kayak trip, you don’t need to haul a full-size dry bag. The 4-liter Seal Hip Pack is large enough to hold a fresh shirt and days’ worth of food, and it weighs about 2 pounds—meaning it won’t be burdensome on portages or hikes. It also includes a handy outer pocket, a perfect place to stash a cell phone and keys, along with a waist belt for easy wearing.

A king-size, wilderness-ready duffel. (Amazon/)

On the other end of the size spectrum from the SealLine Seal Hip Pack is the monster-size Unplug 155-liter duffel. It’s tailor-made for week-long backcountry trips that demand a lot of gear or food—or perfect if you have to lug equipment for kids. It has a roll-down opening, like traditional dry bags, never mind its size, along with breathable, extra-padded shoulder traps. “I packed it to the gills with over 100 pounds on a two-day drive,” one user wrote, “taking it on and off the truck with no tears.”

A tough, affordable bag that can handle just about anything.
A dry bag ready for a land-to-water excursion.
A handy, 4-liter pack perfect for day-long trips.
A king-size, wilderness-ready duffel.


How to Pattern a Turkey Hunting Gun

There are two goals here: the first is fine-tuning your turkey gun's point-of-impact; the second is testing it's pattern at a variety of ranges. (Alex Robinson/)

We live in the era of specialized turkey gear. Turkey-specific guns, loads, and chokes make it possible to cleanly kill turkeys at 50-plus yards. But here’s the catch: The super-tight patterns that these combos shoot actually work against you if you don’t put in the time before the season to pattern your turkey hunting gun and sight it in precisely.

Whether you shoot a brand-new Benelli loaded with the hottest TSS round, or an old 870 with standard lead No. 5s, patterning your gun before the season is critical to making a clean kill in the field. There are a lot of ways to miss a turkey, not understanding how your shotgun/load combination works should not be one of them. If you want a deep dive on understanding the details of pattern density and point-of-impact, check out this story on long-range shotgunning.

If you just want to make sure a gobbler tips over when you squeeze the trigger, follow the process below.

Start Close

At most turkey camps I’ve been to, patterning a shotgun means marching a turkey target (a target that show’s a gobbler’s head and neck with a 10-inch circle around it) out to about 30 or 40 yards, taking a single shot, then looking at a target full of pellet holes and saying: “yup, that’ll kill a turkey.”

This the pattern of a target load at 10 yards. The center of the pattern is slightly left of the bullseye, which calls for a sight adjustment.
Strips of yoga mat and some green duct tape will provide all the comb height you'll ever need.
Here's a 20-gauge pattern with Boss' TSS loads at 30 yards. The Franchi I was shooting hit a tad high, so I'll adjust simply by holding lower on the bird.
Eighty pellets in a 10-inch circle are more than enough to cleanly kill a tom.

Continue reading

Four survival firestarters to stash in your pack

Start a fire wherever you are. (Ema Villalobos via Unsplash/)

Odds are, when you’re lost or stranded in the backcountry and the temperature nosedives, you need a grand total of one thing—fire. Water and food are essential, no doubt, but the number-one killer of lost sportsmen is not dehydration or malnutrition but hypothermia, owing to a drop in body heat, which can occur in weather as warm between 60 and 70 degrees. Fire will prevent that. Here are four top-rated fire producers, all of which are sure to help you build a big blaze in the direst of circumstances.

Behold, the ideal emergency match. (Amazon/)

Through the miracles of chemistry, UCO has designed the platonic ideal of the survival match with the Titan. Sold in packs of 12 in a waterproof case, these sturdy, 4-inch matches can withstand hurricane-force winds and rain and burn for about half a minute. More remarkably, they’ll purportedly relight after being submerged in water. This is the match you want when stuff hits the fan.

An easy way to create a shower of sparks. (Amazon/)

Starting a fire with flint and steel isn’t as easy as the movies might have you believe. That’s because many kits are cheap and, well, just junk. The Friendly Swede, though, is the real deal. By all accounts, it’s among the easiest-to-use and effective striker combos, and one of the few that actually work well. It includes two 5-inch ferrocerium firestarter rods and two 2.5-inch steel strikers that generate a shower of super-hot sparks, so that you can have a blaze going in minutes.

Get a big blaze from one tiny wedge. (Amazon/)

A favorite of Field & Stream’s David E. Petzal, these pyramid-shaped emergency firestarters burst into “furious” flames when ignited, and each burn for about 7 minutes—affording you more than enough time to light kindling and build a roaring fire. Sold in boxes of 20, the Sweetfire wedges are made from sugarcane waste, so they’re a renewable biofuel, and they can be ignited with a match or lighter (not included) or the striker included on the box. Either way, they’ll help you build a fire in the gnarliest of conditions.

An everyday item with extra protection. (Amazon/)

When assembling an emergency fire kit, don’t overlook a lighter. Specifically, a run-of-the-mill Bic lighter. To be sure, if you’re in a serious survival jam, nothing can substitute for a storm-proof waterproof match, like the UCO Titan. But a Bic is easy to use, affordable, and hard to break, and will work in roughly 99 percent of outdoors and camping scenarios, including in harsh weather. Most survival lighters receive extremely mixed reviews online, whereas the Bic is a time-tested favorite. And if you’re nervous about it getting wet, you can always spring for an Exotac Firesleeve waterproof case, to ensure that it’s always ready for use.

Behold, the ideal emergency match.
An easy way to create a shower of sparks.
Get a big blaze from one tiny wedge.
An everyday item with extra protection.


Outdoor tables for any surface need

Play a game or lay out a feast. (The Digital Marketing Collaboration via Unsplash/)

Sure, some campsites come with their own tables. But anywhere outside a formal campground won’t, and as much as we pretend stumps are just as good as tables, they’re not. Neither are most rocks. If you’re car camping you may as well be comfortable, so bring along a surface perfect for cooking, eating and playing poker. Your back and knees will thank you for not squatting to cook, and your family will thank you when they can sit and eat without food in their laps.

Drinks go under the table. (Amazon/)

Evenings can be long in camp. Bring along this table to give you and your buddies or family a place to sit and play games when the day is done. The foldable table is light—just 7 pounds—and has a convenient shelf underneath for storage and, most importantly, for beverages. The corner buckle design also gives you quick set-up and allows you to adjust the top for tautness.

All the bells and whistles. (Amazon/)

Cook on one level and chop, slice, or stir on another. With this expandable table, you can even store extra food underneath and keep the whole operation illuminated with a lantern hung from above. This table offers it all, and more. It’s called a “pack-away portable kitchen” for a reason. It really is like a kitchen in the woods. The table also folds tightly together into a compact case that fits in the trunk of a car or backseat of a truck. Why skimp on luxury in the woods?

Roll it up or roll it out. (Amazon/)

You aren’t likely to bring most tables with you on a trek into the woods or trip down the river. But this one is so light—between 1.8 and 3.2 pounds—you can strap it to a backpack and bring it along. It’s a perfect solution for a shore lunch table or backcountry spot to keep food off the ground. Made out of aluminum, it can still hold up to 55 pounds. It’s also easy to clean and is quick to assemble.

Buy what you need. (Amazon/)

Sometimes all you need is a table with four straight legs. The top rolls up on this one, and the legs fold down. No cross legs mean you and others eating can fit your knees comfortably underneath. It’s relatively lightweight and is easy to toss in a vehicle and store in your closet. Keep it around inside for nights you need more room at home, too.

Drinks go under the table.
All the bells and whistles.
Roll it up or roll it out.
Buy what you need.


Five tools for fixing your fishing gear on the fly

Must-have gear. (Johannes Plenio via Unsplash/)

You will break something on your next fishing trip. The laws of the outdoors all but guarantee it. You’d be wise, then, to outfit yourself with some tools to make quick repairs while on the water. We’ve rounded up five top-rated products—from multi-tools to tape—that will help prevent a gear blunder from sending you home.

An easy-to-carry 2.4-ounce gadget. (Amazon/)

A tool can’t help you on the water if you leave it in the truck or, worse yet, at home. And the bulkier the tool, the less likely you are to bring it. That won’t be the case with this Rapala multi-tool. It weighs just 2.4 ounces and has a built-in carabiner clip, so you really have no excuse not to have it on your person at all times.

A complete tool kit for budding anglers. (Amazon/)

This five-piece set aims to be a complete fishing toolkit, and it’s hard to argue that includes just about everything budding anglers need to repair fishing gear or tackle: A 25-in-1 multi-tool, including long-nose pliers, standard pliers, wire strippers, lure-tuning tools, a crimper, a wire cutter, a serrated blade, a knife, a phillips screwdriver, and a slotted screwdriver. The kit also comes with two plastic waterproof tackle cases, along with a Croakie-like sunglass head-strap thing.

A top-notch, gear-fixing tape. (Amazon/)

When all else fails, turn to tape. The peel-and-stick Gear Aid Tenacious Tape, in particular, affords a sew-free fix to rips or tears in fishing waders, tents, tarps, and sleeping bags. (It’ll surely secure a busted rod guide, too.) It’s widely praised for its durability, weather resistance, and multi-purpose function.

Patches and adhesive for a water-tight seal. (Amazon/)

Gear Aid also makes a great wader-repair kit, which includes .25-ounces of Aquaseal FD and two 3-inch Tenacious tape patches.

An easy-to-carry 2.4-ounce gadget.
A complete tool kit for budding anglers.
A top-notch, gear-fixing tape.
Patches and adhesive for a water-tight seal.
A high-end multi-tool sure to help you out of almost any fishing-gear jam.

Continue reading