Outdoor gear better than ever
One of the perks of my job is that I get to see a lot of neat outdoor equipment before it appears on the market. I was in the resort town of Wisconsin Dells, Wisc., earlier this month and had an opportunity to look over some hunting gadgets that some guys I know will just die to own. Mathews is a very big name in the archery business and each December they hold a dealer show near the company's headquarters in nearby Sparta, Wisc. Here, dealers meet with vendors of all sorts of outdoor products and to do business for the year. Some of these products are a bit over the top and nothing I would want to use, but others have a great deal of merit and I wouldn't think of going hunting without them.
For example, I saw a device that was essentially an electronic wind checker. You turn on the device and it tells you from which direction the wind is blowing. It wasn't for me since I'm decidedly low-tech; I still carry a few dried milkweed pods in my jacket pocket and if I want to check wind currents, I take a seed out of the pod and let it float in the air. I've used this trick for years and as far as I'm concerned it's all I need.
Leupold and Stevens, most noted for their hunting scopes, once made a high-quality instrument called the Sportsman's compass. This compass was extremely well made and for pinpoint accuracy, the needle even pivoted on a jewel bearing much like the gears found on a fine watch. I used it for years when I hunted unfamiliar territory, especially if there were no roads to follow. I relied on this instrument to get me back to my truck no matter where I wandered and it never failed. I still have it. Today, there are several devices on the market that use GPS technology and I'll admit they work really well. In fact, I've used the Bushnell Backtracker for several seasons and find it one high-tech gadget I'd rather not do without.
When I started hunting over 50 years ago a Woolrich plaid hunting coat was the only thing any self-respecting hunter would want to own. The wool kept us warm, it was quiet and it shed water - sort of. The wool kept the rain off for a while but once it got wet it became almost unbearably heavy and virtually useless for the next day's hunt. Today, hunting coats are made from waterproof, windproof, soft, supple material and they shed water like a duck. Gore-Tex material sewn into the lining of a modern hunting coat insures the hunter can take about as much as nature can dish out and still remain dry. I lost count of the number of clothing manufacturers offering scent-free, windproof, waterproof, lightweight, durable hunting coats and personally, I'll take one of these hunting coats over my venerable Woolrich any day of the week, thank you.
Climbing trees is risky business, and as far as I'm concerned anyone who does so without being protected by a safety harness is very foolish indeed. I was amazed at the number of companies now offering safety devices such as harnesses and vests because just three years ago, I knew of only two companies making safety equipment for hunters. Dr. Norman Wood is an M.D. from Keyser, W. Va., and he informed me that in the event of a fall, a hunter could become unconscious in as little as 5 to 30 minutes due to suspension trauma, so it's imperative the hunter is not only wearing a safety harness but has a means for either getting back into his stand or descending to the ground safely. Today, there are two companies that offer a controlled-descent system to allow a hunter to descend safely while hanging in a tree and high-tech or not, I'm getting one before next hunting season begins.
I could go on, but why bother? A trip to Gander Mountain or other big box sporting goods stores, or your local gun, archery or fishing shop, will certainly keep an outdoors person entertained for a considerable period of time looking at the new gadgets available. Say what you want, but some of them have made life in the outdoors a little bit better.