This month our Gear Editor, John Geiger, gives his top picks on affordable hunting gear from temperature-sensitive camouflage to headlamps to an ultralight muzzleloader and more.
BEARS DONâ€™T LIKE THIS HEADLAMP
I often use headlamps for fishing trips, field-dressing deer or walking to a tree stand in the dark. But I had no idea that one might save my life. The LED Lenser SEO7R on my forehead was put to constant use in camp recently when several black bears decided they preferred to find a late dinner among our packs rather than out in nature. Seven of us scanned the perimeter with our lights because a boar, sow and two cubs would take turns ambling toward the camp, snorting and sniffing. When we spotted the intruders, weâ€™d hit them with our lights, fill the air with shouts and clang pots.
Even after we hung our bear bag high in a tree, away from camp, they still couldnâ€™t help themselves. At 5 a.m. I woke to the sound of a snort by my ear as something nudged my hammock. I had to confirm I was just rocked by a bear, so I turned my headlamp on to see the 300-pound sow look over her shoulder at me and casually disappear into the hickories. Between intrusions, my lamp also revealed that a copperhead slinked into camp. What a night!
All of our lamps helped keep us safe, but only one was truly effective. My Lenser, with its powerful 220 lumen output, was by far the brightest light in the camp, even though other guys had handhelds.
LED Lenser headlamps are made by the folks at Leatherman. The SEOP7R is the flagship of the batteries-in-front line. It boasts a cool feature called Optisense mode: the lamp adjusts to the ambient light so you get the most out of your 3 AAA batteries. Its focus dial let me tighten the beam so I could see at a distance, or dial it back to cook or tie a bowline in the bear bag line. 3.7 ounces. MSRP, $89. On my next trip to the backcountry, I think Iâ€™ll just sleep with the light on.
ULTRALIGHT MUZZLELOADER WELL DESIGNED
By Daniel McElrath
My first muzzleloading rifle was a Hawken-type sidelock from which I learned the basics. More recently, I got to try the Vortek Ultralight from Traditions Performance Firearms. It is an example of the new breed of ĂĽber-modern muzzleloaders and is to the Hawken what the Bugatti Veyron is to the Model T Ford.
The standard features are too numerous to list here (see the website). Only the presence of the ramrod indicates that itâ€™s a muzzleloader.
The drilled and tapped Vortek Ultralight is available with fiber optic-enhanced iron sights, but I opted for the package that includes rings and a camo-matched 3-9×40 scope.
At 6 1/4 pounds, the gun hefts easily, the tapered and grooved barrel accounting for some of that lightness. Nonetheless, the rifle mounts solidly to the shoulder. The 4-pound trigger is good, not great, but more than adequate for deer hunting.
Loading 250-grain Smackdown plastic-saboted, polymer-tipped, copper-jacketed bullets over three 50-grain Pyrodex pellets is simply and easily accomplished. Ignition is via No. 209 shotgun primers.
Accuracy was somewhere between 2 and 3 inches at 100 yards during informal shooting. More importantly, it was very consistent.
The real revelation was how comfortable it was to shoot a gun dubbed â€śultralight.â€ť The barrel is ported and the recoil pad is effective. Despite the heavy bullets and hefty charge of Pyrodex, this muzzleloader seemed to kick no more than a .308 Win. caliber centerfire.
What you notice most about the Vortek Ultralight in the field is the practicality of the design elements. The imperviousness to the elements of the coated aluminum and steel, the secure purchase afforded by the stockâ€™s rubber overmolding, and the assured ignition from the protected primer combine to overcome cold and wet, two traditional enemies of muzzleloader hunting.
Do your part and this gun will put meat in the freezer.Â MSRP: $430-599.
Here are some more of our top picks for affordable hunting gear:
MSRP for three-pack, $39.99