|Gray's Best 2010|
Royal Wulff Ambush Triangle Taper Line
Fishpond Piopod Microtrash Container
Patagonia Guidewater Waders
Blaser F3 Over-and-Under Shotgun
Blaser of Germany is one of the world’s most innovative firearms companies. Its basic F3 over-and-under isn’t new, but the uses to which it can be put definitely are. Whether you shoot trap, skeet, clays, upland birds, waterfowl, or all of the above, the newest iteration of the F3—with interchangeable buttstocks, barrels, and forends—is a revelation. The F3 mechanism refines a design that first appeared in the Rottweil shotgun. Instead of conventional tumblers and strikers, the F3 uses two square in-line strikers connected by a long dovetail. This allows them to slide independently while remaining resolutely aligned with the striker hole and firing pin. The strikers are powered by springs that apply pressure directly. This simple idea reduces lock time and improves trigger pull, resulting in a shotgun that is crisp and responsive. Blaser has now taken this frame and mechanism and married it to interchangeable parts that allow the owner to turn one gun into a game gun, a trap gun, a sporting gun—almost any role a shotgun might perform. Most high-end O/Us today are made on CNC machinery, and the F3 is no exception. With Blaser’s high-tech manufacturing, the result is a gun with parts that are truly interchangeable but so closely fitted that they look almost handmade.
Nightforce NXS 2.5-10 x 32 Riflescope
Director of sales and marketing for Night Force, Kyle Brown (center), receives Gray's Best recognition from Amos Crowley (left) and Russ Lumpkin, Gray's managing editor.
Nightforce is the best riflescope maker most hunters have never heard of. Based in Idaho, Nightforce sources components from around the world, but the scopes are marked made in U.S.A. Most hunters are unaware of Nightforce because its major scope lines are tactical (sniper) and target (bench rest), and it has a devoted following in those groups. Although it has offered some fine hunting scopes in the past, the new NXS 2.5-10 x 32 breaks fresh ground, not just for Nightforce but for 30 mm tubes generally.
Nosler Custom Model 48 Bolt-Action Rifle
Bob Nosler (center), CEO of Nosler, and his son, John (left), vice president, chat with Steve Walburn, general manager of Gray's.
Why is a bullet company making a rifle? They are building the rifle they thought would be perfect, but could not find anywhere else. The Nosler Custom Model 48 is named for the year (1948) in which John Nosler experienced a bullet failure on a moose and returned home to design his famous Partition premium bullet. The Model 48 follows that tradition of innovative thinking. Never a lover of composite stocks, I nonetheless appreciate their value in some situations (like backpacking in mountain rain). Nosler’s Kevlar stock is the first I’ve handled that felt good in my hands, not like a piece of plastic. The action is a Nosler design that borrows the best features of some established rifles, such as a three-position safety, and adds innovative ones like a special coating on all moving parts to maximize corrosion resistance and minimize wear. Both metal and stock are impervious to weather. But unlike many stainless actions, this one feels slick and solid. The match barrel is 24 inches long—neither too long nor too short—which gets the most out of the superb, made-for-the-mountains 6.5-284 Norma. The rifle is exactly the right weight as well; at 8.5 pounds loaded and scoped, it’s easy to carry backpacking but stable to shoot. And accurate? It shoots some loads really well, and others really really well: Five-shot groups with every load ranged from a half-inch at best to an inch-plus at worst.
Zeiss 10 x 45 T*RFBinocular
Erik Schumacher, president of Zeiss, receives a Gray's Best plaque from Steve Walburn.
Imagine for a moment that you’re sitting on a mountainside in shifting fog and rain. There is a Dall ram somewhere across the ravine, but you’re not sure where. You get glimpses as the fog and rain come and go—a rock here, a bush there, a tantalizing touch of brown. It’s several hundred yards off, and you know if you get a chance at all, it will be one shot. Just one. The perfect binocular for such a situation has finally arrived: Zeiss has married its stellar optics to a simple, fast, easy-to-use laser rangefinder, then added its moisture-shedding LotuTec technology. The result is a package that is easy to carry up any mountain you would want to tackle with a rifle. The Zeiss 10 x 45 T*RF is the glass we’ve been waiting for since the first combination rangefinder binoculars made their debut in the mid-1990s. It is the size and weight of a regular binocular, thereby eliminating one piece of optical equipment to carry. Yet it gives up nothing in quality of glass or durability. At $3,333, the T*RF will seem a bargain to our rain-soaked sheep hunter. Two years ago, Zeiss received a Gray’s Best award for its LotuTec technology, which causes glass to shed water and remain clear in even the hardest driving rain. Having this feature on a laser rangefinder that is also a 10X binocular is the answer to a sheep hunter’s prayer: No more spotting a sheep, then trying to find it again in a separate rangefinder of different power. And rain? What rain?
Jim Lepage (right), Orvis vice-president of rod and tackle, and Scott Buchmayer, Gray's account executive, take a break from the bustle of the SHOT Show.
Take nature’s finest wool and spin it into a yarn with some of technology’s best microfibers, and you get a luxurious new fabric tailor-made for the sportsman. Orvis’s Primaloft Yarn Sweater ($129) combines merino wool with the insulating fibers known as Primaloft—a kind of synthetic down—to create a garment that is versatile, comfortable, and stylish. Worn over a thin base, it’s as good a wingshooting sweater as it is the perfect top layer for ghosting through the deer woods. As a midlayer, it dramatically increases thermal protection without adding bulk or restricting movement. Slip it over an Oxford shirt, and you’re fit for cocktails and dinner at the finest wingshooting lodge. Left and right shooting patches of soft washable suede facilitate a smooth gun mount, while the Primaloft-and-merino wool blend combines the best properties of both fabrics—insulation and water repellency—in one outstanding garment.
Columbia Super Wader Widgeon Parka
Technical hunting jackets come and go, but Columbia Sportswear’s Super Wader Widgeon Parka ($720) is designed so you can stay. Outdoors. As long as you want. In sideways snow or pelting sleet, the Wader Widgeon will keep you in the hunt. As part of Columbia’s Performance Hunting Gear lineup, (an extension of its popular Performance Fishing Gear brand), the Widgeon is the Cadillac of waterfowling jackets. A reversible down inner jacket zips snugly into the soft waterproof shell, with copious pockets and quick-loading tubes for either 20- or 12-gauge shells. Neoprene cuff closures keep out the ice water on wading retrieves or when managing decoys. And the brimmed storm hood protects your face from the elements but moves with your field of view when leveling up on passing ducks. I hunted in this jacket on three successive mornings last year over frozen South Dakota potholes, and not once did I think about the fireplace back at the lodge.
Patagonia Guidewater Shirt
Kenetrek Mountain Safari Boots
Regardless of durability, stitching, tread pattern, and other metrics of fine cobblery, there’s really only one question in evaluating a boot: How comfortable does it feel in the field? Some of the boots I’ve tested this year have left me doctoring blisters the size of daisies, but not Kenetrek’s new Mountain Safari ($305). Manufactured in Italy of soft, full-grain leather uppers with perforated calfskin liners, they’ve worn well from the first step. Intended for warmer climates, especially rugged high-desert country, this isn’t a waterproof boot. But high water resistance combined with bombproof durability make it a great all-around boot for terrain from Arizona to Africa. Basically a beefed-up hiking boot, the Mountain Safari is made for trekking long distances in comfort. The K-Talon rubber outsoles offer great traction in sketchy terrain—scree fields, rocky creek bottoms, blowdowns—and the mid-height uppers provide just the right amount of ankle support without making your feet feel encased in Flubber. Double-stitched seams and bedrock-strong lacing points complete this well-made hunting boot.
Patagonia Stormfront Pack
Primus LiTech Coffee Press
John Smithbaker (right), president of Primus, accepts the Gray's Best award from Russ Lumpkin.
If you must have coffee but find your pursuit of game or fish renders your Mister Coffee useless, the LiTech Coffee Press ($35) from Primus will make cups of quality joe quickly and conveniently. The 11.3-ounce kettle and press replaced the old aluminum percolator, coffee mug, and two small boiling pots that had been in my backpack for more than a decade. In previous hikes into Appalachian trout streams, I’d had to wait patiently for my old percolator to boil over a burdened camp stove, costing time on the stream and fuel. But with the Primus press, the water boiled in about two minutes. Including time for the coffee to steep and cool, I took the first sip of coffee about eight minutes after lighting the stove. Filled near the brim, the press holds the equivalent of seven (small) cups. The press also makes a fine pot for boiling rice or other meals that simply need hydration and heat, and its nonstick surface makes cleaning up a breeze. The kettle’s arms feature a rubber coating that’s comfortable to grip and cool to the touch. This little press has become a necessity anytime I head into the deep woods.
Kommer 2-Shot Knife
Nearly any sporting-goods store will sell a serviceably generic hunting knife for less than $100. But for the same money, Columbia River Knife and Tool will sell you a Kommer 2-Shot with features closer to a custom piece than anything you’ll find at the “knife counter.” The blaze-orange handle stands out right away, but look closer and you’ll find running through that handle a tapered tang, which sheds unnecessary weight and improves the balance. The blade, forged from 12C27 Sandvik stainless steel, resists corrosion and holds an edge, and its short length lends greater control compared with the typical long hunting knife, especially elbow-deep in the belly of a beast. The sheath, with its small pocket to hold two cartridges (and give the knife its moniker), is both handsome and ingenious. Designed to be worn horizontally, and convertible for right or left carry, it’s more comfortable over a long day of walking than conventional knife sheaths that run parallel to your leg. This little knife is such a joy in the field that I look for reasons to use it around the house.
Mud River 2 Barrel Utility Mat
To accommodate their dogs, some hunters stuff their pickups or SUVs with various boxes or crates, meant either as permanent fixtures or to be hauled back and forth between storage and vehicle. That’s fine and dandy, but for those of us whose vehicles pull double-duty for both hunting and family, it’s a lot of trouble. Whether you need the extra space for other gear or simply want to give your four-legged friends more freedom of movement, the Mud River 2 Barrel Utility Mat ($72) is a convenient alternative for keeping a dog comfortable and the car seats clean. There are other, cheaper seat covers on the market meant to hang like a hammock, but the Mud River mat is made of double-stitched durable waxed canvas on one side and vinyl on the other, and because it hangs over the backrest and conforms to the slope of the seat, the dog needn’t lie in its own soup. Plus it’s easy to install and virtually maintenance free. This mat survived heavy use nearly every weekend last quail season, and I removed it from the SUV’s backseat only after it needed a hosing off. The season’s long gone now, but the mat still hangs on the backseat. For when the dog wants a ride to the store.