Gray’s Best Angling & Hunting Gear 2022

grays best

Gray’s Best awards are anticipated by long-time readers of Gray’s Sporting Journal and coveted by hunting and angling manufacturers. The reason? Gray’s Best carries the weight of authentic sincerity. Many sporting magazines publish an end-of-the-year roundup of new products. Gray’s publishes a distinguished selection.

Our editors cover areas of expertise and experience—Angling, Shooting, Apparel and Accessories— and select gear that not only makes good first impressions, but also satisfies during repeated use. We make choices of our own volition, absent encouragement and incentive from the manufacturers. Further, Gray’s Best winners not only deliver on the claims of their makers but also have an extra attribute, an extra something that triggers a tenor of feel, remembrance or aesthetic, and can be defined only as…satisfying. Much like Gray’s itself.


by Scott Sadil


Breathable rain jackets have long challenged sportswear manufacturers; ask Alaskan commercial fishermen about any such product and they will laugh at the idea as they pull on their rubber slickers. But the folks at Gill Marine, long-time maker of top-quality sailing apparel, have fashioned their new PRO Tournament Three-Layer Jacket ($349) to protect boat and wading anglers alike from the harshest, dirtiest weather. The three-layer fabric construction and fully taped seams make for the highest of waterproof ratings, 80 percent breathability, and a comfortable, warm, lightweight shell. Pockets, hood and sleeve hems share the subtle design detailing that can make all the difference when you find yourself wondering if the rain will ever let up. A recent 10-day float down a western Alaska wilderness river found me in just such conditions; I was the envy of my two companions in the raft, the pair of them dripping like wet cats while I took my next turn pitching a mousey concoction up under spruce and alders tilted toward the river, buckling—unlike me—beneath the press of the gray, drooling sky.


You always wonder about so-called niche rods. Could I possibly ever find a genuine need for a two-weight? As McGuane famously stated in recalling the “flea rods” once promoted by A.J. McLane, Arnold Gingrich and Lee Wulff, such gear suggests that “even great men are prone to foolishness.” Still, there comes a time every one of us perceives a hole in the lineup, no matter how much we’ve invested in rods to date. The new Orvis 8’5” Helios 3 Blackout ($998) claimed my attention in part because so much of the fishing I do with 7- and 8-weights is steelheading with two-handers; also, I do surprisingly little river fishing from boats. This past summer, however, I headed for Alaska—and the new 8’5” Blackout was ideal for hurling big gnarly mouse-like patterns from a raft, while able, as well, to put the screws to dime-bright silvers fresh out of the sea. Orvis touts this as a “high concept,” quick-direction-change, quick-delivery boat rod—but I found it just as useful on the bank, for casting in stiff winds, throwing tight loops with over- sized wind-resistant ‘wogs. Of course, it also begs for a spot in your saltwater arsenal. There’s backbone here for all but the biggest prey, and with a panga beneath your feet, you’ve got a chance with any size fish you reach with this fast, spirited rod. blackouts.html


Set squarely against the argument for a quiver of niche rods, each one promising to excel within a narrow range of specific, often challenging conditions, the sensible designers at Sage offer us their new Sonic 590-4 ($575), a standard issue nine-foot five-weight that shows every indication of becoming an immediate classic. If you know somebody who is ready for his or her first serious trout rod, this would be a place to start—and it could easily end up being the last rod for trout- ing the lucky recipient would ever need. (Not that such a gift has ever stopped anyone from acquiring more.) Admittedly, I don’t need another all-arounder. But I fished my new Sonic 590-4 all season—and within one or two fly changes I forgot all about the rod as it did whatever I asked of it, from lobbing size-4 weighted stonefly nymphs to placing crippled BWO emergers out there where my eyes no longer find them until a swirl marks the spot. Sage can tell you all about their Konnetic technology behind this performance: exacting carbon fiber positioning that creates torsional stability, minimal vibration, smoother tracking. More to the point, perhaps, the rod is fast, light, versatile. And handsome, too. Best of all, it’s that rare rod that leaves you free to think about what you want it to do, not how to make the rod do it. freshwater/sonic


Finally, my dream’s come true. For more years than I care to remember I’ve fashioned fly-tying travel kits that were, at best, little more than hobo bandanas filled with hooks, tools and what all ingredients I imagined might save the day should I find myself faced with trying to match, say, the once-in-a- blue-moon Mormon cricket hatch somewhere in the bad- lands of northern Nevada. In Baja I dangle my feet ankle-deep in tangles of synthetic fibers, Las Vegas bright, when all I need is a hook and thread and something white to create an appropriate minnow. Now, at last, Fishpond to the rescue. The Tailwater Fly Tying Kit ($190) has it all: large see-through pouches and a padded storage compartment for vise and triple-digit-dollar necks; a multitude of spool inserts; tool page with 14 Hypalon-backed tool slots and added 2- x 15-inch pouch for UV lights, stackers and whatnot; removable tying pad with built-in dishes for hooks and beads, plus velcro strips for tacky flies; pedestal insert with velcro tie-downs and, last but not least, the handsome and durable exterior that makes all Fishpond products a pleasure to carry wherever your wanderlust takes you. Were I a rich man, I’d buy two Tailwater Fly Tying Kits, one for trout expeditions, another for saltwater journeys far beyond the horizon.


by Terry Wieland


Here’s an unfortunate truth about the gun business in Amer- ica: Many say they’d love to have a high-quality .22 that looks and feels like a “real rifle,” but all too few are willing to pay the price. Blaser has solved that problem. There is no higher-quality production rifle for sale today than Blaser’s straight-pull R8. One of its great selling points is that you can buy barrels in different calibers, with appropriate bolt heads and magazine boxes, and have several rifles in one. Now, Blaser has gone one step further with a .22 Long Rifle barrel for the R8. Have an R8 in .500 Jeffery for whacking dinosaurs? Now you can turn that thumper into a squirrel rifle for off-season practice. That’s a combination that, to the best of my knowledge, has never been seen before. The R8 is available in an astonishing num- ber of calibers—47 by my count—and if you multiply those by the various grades of engraving and stock wood, as well as some truly innovative composite stock designs, you have a single rifle that could keep you fascinated for a lifetime. The .22 conversion kit ($1,499) includes the barrel, magazine box and bolt head, all of which can be switched in a few minutes once you get the hang of it. At which point, going out with a .22 that feels like a real rifle, fitted with top-quality optics and popping tin cans, becomes addictive. There’s no other word.


Extreme high-power binoculars are funny things, by which we mean magnification of 12X and up: On the one hand, they offer significantly more magnification than the standard hunting 8X; on the other, they’re bigger, heavier and much more expensive. Worse, they magnify your shakes and wobbles, making it difficult to judge what you’re looking at without a solid rest or, better still, a tripod—in which case, you might as well carry a spotting scope. Long ago, I learned that a high-definition 8X is far more use than a blurry 12X, to say nothing of a blurry 25X. These problems were not lost on the optics engineers at Leupold, who went to great lengths to ad- dress them in the new, ultra-quality Santiam optics line. The Santiam HD 15×56 binocular ($1,400) comes with a bracket for attaching it to a tripod, suggesting that Leupold expects it to be used this way. Why not a higher-power spotting scope then? Those who have spent hours peering through a spotting scope know that it’s vastly easier on the eyes to look through a binocular, and you see more. As well, the depth perception is a great aid to judging exactly what you’re looking at. And the proviso above about a sharp 8X versus a blurry 12X applies equally to a sharp 15X binocular versus a blurry 25X scope. Combine this with significantly reduced size and weight, and the sharply reduced price of the Santiam binocular, and you have winning combination.


Checking back, it’s more than 50 years since I first read shotgun writers lamenting the demise of the 16-gauge, and 20 years since I first wrote my own such piece. On that occasion, a manufacturer had just announced the resurrection of a 16-gauge model, purely for the collector market, while its affiliated ammunition branch was insisting the 16 was dead and best forgotten. This explains why Browning’s announcement of the Citori Gran Lightning over-and-under in 16 gauge ($3,509) grabbed me. It not only grabbed me, it held on, because the Gran Lightning is everything you expect from a Browning. When I requested one, they were few in number, and spare parts, including choke tubes, were thin on the ground. However, what I got was worth the effort. Including the extra length with choke tubes (M & F) the barrels are 27 inches, and the gun weighs dead on seven pounds. That’s a tad heavy for a 16, but light for an over-and- under. Most important, it’s so well balanced, it doesn’t feel heavy at all. (I was surprised when I saw the reading on the scale.) It has beautiful wood, with an excellent Prince of Wales grip for fast handling, nice, conservative checkering, and a rather intriguing gold swirl on the frame in place of the usual (these days) ho-hum machined “engraving.” It’s a perfect over-and-under upland gun, in the perfect upland gauge. What more could a grouse hunter ask?


Let’s be blunt: The Springfield Armory Waypoint ($2,399) is not my taste in rifles. Generally, I prefer the warmth of walnut in an easy-carrying stalking rifle, suitable for prowl- ing woods and climbing mountains. The Waypoint is not that: It has a composite stock more suitable for shooting prone at targets, and the only way it could be carried any distance is with a sling. Having said that, however, the Waypoint has some major virtues: Its carbon-fiber barrel in .308 Winchester is accurate and predictable to a fault, the trigger is superb, and for the modern (and growing) taste for hunting from a stand, where the rifle need not be carried more than a few feet, it’s hard to imagine a better tool for the job. In February, I had the Waypoint at the FTW Ranch in Texas, intending to hunt with it, but instead finding myself in a major cold snap and power outage that left us scrambling for survival. Still, we got the Waypoint out to the range and shot plates out to 700 yards. Once it was sighted in, the GPO scope allowed us to dial up, down and sideways, and I don’t think the FTW’s former-Navy Seal instructor missed a single nine-inch plate. And that’s with Federal factory ammunition. The Waypoint’s technical features are all listed on Springfield’s website, along with its myriad options. I would gladly have written Springfield Armory a check rather than send it back, but they insisted. Oh, well.


by Mike Floyd


When the heater in our family van failed to answer the bell during the coldest spell of the year, children poured from our home each morning dressed as though they expected to ride to school behind a team of sled dogs. Unfazed, I simply reached for my Powder Hoody ($165) from Duckworth, cranked the engine and watched everyone else shiver. Never miss an opportunity to remind your kids that life isn’t always fair. Equally proficient when worn over a shirt or used as a baselayer, this pullover pro- vides instant relief from frigid conditions thanks to one-of-a- kind wool that boasts an unparalleled amount of “crimp” to help it trap warm air. None of this happens by accident. The Helle family, 4th-generation ranchers and co-founders of Duckworth, maintain roughly 10,000 free-ranging Merino sheep that live comfortably on their ranch near Dillon, Mont. Under the watchful eyes of Great Pyreness and Akbash, the flock munches wildflowers and grasses at elevations ranging from 5,000 to 9,500 feet, where unique conditions—temps range from -40° to 90° F—create a soft, yet incredibly durable wool that eventually enters a 100 percent American-made supply chain. We’ve repaired the heater, but the Powder Hoody has since proven an ideal companion in deer stands, around camp fires, along wintry beaches and just about anywhere you’d like to stay warm and look good doing it.


Our experience afield has long shown us that if we follow enough dogs through heavy briars or hunt hard enough in brutally wet conditions, then everything can be torn and nothing is truly waterproof. Now, we’re not so sure. The Tongass Hybrid Upland Pant ($229) from Pyke Gear is like nothing we’ve worn before. And though we would never argue any one piece of gear is perfect for all situations, if you’re a wingshooter chasing different species under a variety of difficult conditions, the Tongass Hybrid comes closer than anything we’ve yet seen to threading the needle. Rugged enough for grouse cover? A 96% nylon lower sees to that. Does it fully deflect the worst morning dew as you chase bobwhite quail? Yep. Light enough to wear all day, hiking the hills for chukar? At just 12 ounces, absolutely. Quick-drying uppers if you’re caught in a drenching storm? Affirmative. Combine that with articulated knees, a gusseted crotch, 4-way stretch, an elastic waist in the back and a double weave for added toughness, and it all adds up to create upland pants that fit most any occasion. Surely there has to be something wrong with these pants, but we’ve not managed to find it yet. And not for lack of trying.


Sitka Gear has long been a favorite brand among hard-core hunters who share a passion for the premium apparel designer’s commitment to stalking in silence, so we were intrigued to learn more about its new Everyday Collection, which offers some impressive options for when you’re not on the prowl for Colorado elk or sheep in British Columbia. Designed with outdoor work in mind, Sitka has infused modern technical features into these handsome casual lifestyle pieces so they perform to the same standards as its hunting gear. Our favorite is the Grindstone Work Vest ($199), which proved ideal for everyday activities like chopping wood, farm chores or simply beating back the chill on a windy day. PrimaLoft Silver insulation provides core warmth with minimal bulk to enable unrestricted mobility for swinging an ax or paddling a canoe, while the vest is light enough to be easily packable for storage in a glovebox or backpack. But you may have to take our word for that, as it’s impossible to pack away that which rarely leaves your wardrobe. Instead, this three-season vest is far more likely to find a home on your coat rack, waiting patiently to add a bit of rugged good looks to whatever you’re wearing when you grab it on your way out the door.


Not so much new as new and improved, the Base Camp Insulated Snap Shirt ($149) from Kuiu is so good one has to wonder why they stopped making the original in the first place. The conclusion of our hunting day often means the real work is just beginning. The first order of business is losing the camo, and from there a list of chores awaits. Set the campfire. Light the grill. Get things rolling in the kitchen. And then, with things now percolating back at camp, it’s time to crack open a beer and spend a few minutes at the skinning shed. For all this and more, the snap shirt is perfect in every way, delivering warmth, comfort, and an appealing casual vibe that makes it an ideal crossover choice for everyday wear, even away from deer camp. The latest version has a few notable upgrades, including a stiff collar, interior drop pocket and wrist snaps, but overall it’s much like the original version that proved so popular years ago, then disappeared to the chagrin of many of Kuiu’s loyal enthusiasts. Two open hand pockets, a pair of snap closure chest pockets, and an uncoated fabric that proves quiet and comfortable help complete the package. Ideal as an insulating mid-layer or as a lightweight jacket in milder weather, the snap shirt packs lightly and proves an ideal choice for backpacking, boating or simply knocking around.


by Mike Floyd


While I’m no Hank Snow, some might say I’ve been enough places to know how to destroy luggage. I’ve fractured wheels on an icy Fairbanks tarmac, seen zippers mangled by bag- gage handlers in Yellow Knife and broken a handle running to catch a train in Wellington. So when YETI sent me its new Crossroads Collection for testing, I saw it as a personal challenge. The entire set can be viewed online, but I took the 60-Liter Duffel ($250), the 27-Liter Backpack ($230) and the 29” Rolling Luggage ($450) for a spin. All three pieces proved rugged and stellar in every way, but it was the latter that carried the day—if for no other reason than it has more moving parts that proved stubbornly indestructible. A front pocket is perfect for easy access to your reading materials, snacks and itinerary. The interior is well-designed, with a 70/30 split clamshell opening that features a mesh divider panel to keep all items securely in place. Mesh pockets let you easily see what’s inside, and it comes with a Crossroads Packing Cube ($25-$35, if bought separately) for added organization. But the exterior is where the bag truly excels, with a rock-solid handle, an exceptional wheel base and a heavy-duty zipper that performed hot, cold, wet or dry. There are no guarantees when it comes to sporting travel, but if you’re going to have problems, the YETI Crossroads Collection isn’t going to be one of them.


It first caught my eye in the mountains of East Tennessee after a long day drifting for summer smallmouth along the rocky shoals of the French Broad. Me, haggard and wind-burned, sore of shoulder, desperate for food and libation. Maybe a little emotionally vulnerable. The Vaquero Chair ($175), striking even from a distance, standing alone upon a set of beautiful wooden legs, elegantly silhouetted beneath the pale moonlight by the glimmering embers of a warming fire. We shared a passion for adventure and wild places, a taste for cheap wine and venison tenderloin. It was clear right away we were meant to be together. The Vaquero’s classic design harkens back to an- other era, recalling historic campaign-style chairs of the early 1900s, and screams rugged luxury with its canvas seat and impressive carry bag. The construction is masterfully crafted—no shortcuts, no plastics—and at only 12 lbs, the Vaquero carries with ease. But the biggest draw is that it excels in the one place that every chair must—it’s just so incredibly comfortable. Did destiny bring us together? Hard to say, but our romance is sure to continue at campsites, tailgates and beach umbrellas for many years to come.


When you’re traveling to fish a world-class destination, it doesn’t make sense to settle for less when it comes to safely transporting your gear. The Sea Run Expedition Rod & Reel Travel Case ($569) is designed and developed in the USA, but manufactured in Italy by the Negrini Case Company. Negrini is long recognized as the world’s foremost maker of luxury shotgun and rifle cases, so it comes as no surprise that it has borrowed from more than 40 years of experience in that field to create a fly-fishing case that is secure, lightweight and constructed of impact-resistant composites with outer and inner double-walls for maximum protection. Secured with three TSA compliant combination locks, this is a case you can check at the airline counter and worry no more. Interior bottom compartments are plenty deep enough to hold a half-dozen large arbor reels, while plenty of space remains for leaders, lines and accessories. A canvas wall separates it from an interior top that has ample storage for five four-piece, 9.5” rods. Meanwhile, the exterior is everything you’d expect from fine Italian design, with a green and tobacco leather surface that reminds everyone your refined tastes extend beyond where you’re going and expand into how you’re getting there.


If you grew up like I did, cruising the aisles of your small town’s locally-owned hardware store for a smattering of hunting and fishing equipment, there’s a pretty good chance your first truly memorable pocketknife was a W.R. Case. Mine was a gift from my grandfather, who observed me longing for the Copperhead folder staring back from behind the rotary glass dis- play emblazoned with the iconic Case logo. Dad carried one, too, and so did my uncles. Many of those classic designs are still being made in Case’s Bradford, Pa., factory, where they’ve been crafting traditional pocket knives since 1905. But the Marilla ($165) marks a new chapter in the company’s 132-year his- tory. The cornerstone of Case’s first Modern Everyday Carry collection, the Marilla opens its 3.5” edge smoothly with one hand thanks to a flipper design that offers quick deployment with your index finger, snapping open on a ball bearing pivot. The blade is a satin finished 35VN stainless steel drop point, while a lightweight anodized aluminum handle textured with black G-10 center inlay offers a perfect grip. A frame-locking mechanism secures the blade in place when fully opened, and there’s even a lanyard hole if you prefer to carry it around your neck as opposed to its reversible steel pocket clip. But the real beauty of the Marilla is that from the time you pick it up, everything fits so well and works so flawlessly. A worthy addition to the Case legacy.


by Jen Ripple


Created in 2015 by Linda Leary, president of Carlisle Truck- ing during the hit reality show Ice Road Truckers, FisheWear has taken the women’s fly world by storm. After a life- time of fishing in clothes that never had the perfect fit, Leary decided to create her own. Five years later, FisheWear has turned into a cult brand that offers everything from leggings, to sling packs, to fly boxes. We love the Mt. Cutty ($118),  a fun and creative legging that can be worn under waders, on the water and off. All of FisheWear’s unique outdoor- inspired patterns are vibrant and creative, and the Mt. Cutty ($118) is its newest addition to a long line of patterns that are available only for a limited time. I religiously wear FisheWear leggings under my waders, providing extra insulation during the colder months, and making the waders a breeze to slip on and off in warmer weather. With SPF 50+ and quick-dry technology, they’re great on the flats. I also love that I can wear them from the river to the restaurant without looking like I just got off the boat. If you’re thinking about an additional pair for the field, be sure to check out the pheasant pattern.


Hudson Taylor, famed missionary to the Far East, observed: “At the timberline where the storms strike with the most fury, the sturdiest trees  are  found.” If that’s  the  case—and it certainly makes sense to me—then the Timberline Pants ($148) from Sitka Gear are true to their namesake. These are the sturdiest pants I’ve ever worn, and I’ve already bought an extra pair so I will never again have to battle the elements during a tough hunt without them. Created with rugged terrain in mind, with an eye toward fitting women who love  to hunt hard, every zipper, pocket and seam of the Timberline appears thoughtfully designed. The low-profile waist fits comfortably, keeps bunching at bay under a pack, and the tailored legs fit great with boots. I also love that the seat and knees are reinforced with waterproof nylon Ripstop fabric, so I don’t have to think twice about sitting down on wet ground or crawling through snow. Removable knee pads are a definite plus in my book, especially if you’re the kind of hunter who likes to stalk through the brambles.


Women are flocking to the field like never before. While it’s encouraging that manufacturers are stepping up in the outdoor space to create women-specific gear, until recently the shotgun adage has been one size fits most, which is a bit exhausting for those of us who can’t quite find a shotgun that’s a perfect match. Enter the new Julia Sporting 12-gauge ($6,050) from Syren, a division of Caesar Guerini USA. Made specifically for women, the Julia is spectacularly adorned with a 24-karat gold design that showcases a long- haired woman scattering dandelions on its case-colored action sides. The goldwork continues along the top tang, trigger guard and lever. These details are breathtaking, but it was the stock that made this my choice for a Gray’s Best. Its dimensions are higher and shorter than a typical men’s stock, making it a better match for women. With a 13.9” pull and a 1.5” drop at the comb, the Julia proved more like an extension of my arm than a shotgun. Every detail of the Julia was appealing, from the accuracy, to the fit, to the design. A must for any woman who truly enjoys a beautiful shotgun and a treasure for your collection.


Hunting while wearing the Mauria GTX WS ($325) will make you a believer in Lowa’s German engineering, which shines with its proprietary flex lacing system that’s designed to allow laces to pull easily through ball bearing loops that are set on free moving tabs. The result is less pressure on the front of the ankle, where so many boots have failed me in the past, without any of the discomfort normally associated with breaking in a new pair of shoes. Rubber toe and heel caps offer extra protection against rocks and debris, while creative color accents catch your eye right out of the box. But looks aren’t everything. I have a closet full of great looking boots that have been worn only a handful of times, then sent into early retirement because they hurt the front of my ankles. Not so with the waterproof and breathable comfort of the Mauria. I’ve worn these through tough terrain and water hazards, and my feet have remained dry and warm. While these have become my favorite active boots, I’ll likely be reaching for them whether I’m headed to the field or out for a night on the town. Available in Anthracite/Petrol and Dark Blue/Bordeaux.

Vintage & Editor’s Choice

by the Editors


The pattern is common enough. Somewhere along the way you decide if you’re really serious about fly fishing, you need to start tying flies. You have a friend who knows how. Or maybe you buy a book—or sign up for a class. Regardless, you need tools—plus materials. It’s quite an investment; do you really need an expensive vise? Besides, didn’t Grandpa always say it’s the carpenter, not the hammer? But there comes a day, hopefully sooner than later, when you reach the conclusion that your $25 vise does have limitations and, though you’ve made it work so far, the ghost of Grandpa looming over your shoulder, you’d really like to get something you don’t have to fuss with while tying big flies or small flies, trout flies or steelhead flies or saltwater patterns. Or anything in between. My choice, made sometime close to three decades ago, was the classic Medallion clamp- on tying vise by Regal Engineering ($175-375). Squeeze the handle, insert the hook in the jaws, and away you go, whether you’re tying a size 22 Trico or a 2/0 Deceiver.The thing is a gem, a workhorse, reminiscent of my lineup of secondhand Stanley hand planes, my treasured Robert Sorby chisels and assorted gouges. Life really is too short to work with shoddy tools. Since beginning to tie with my Regal, I’ve never thought again about acquiring another vise, my focus, instead, on how to be a better tyer, not a new tool that claims it can shorten the long road to competency. (SS)


There was a time, not so long ago, when a commercial-grade home meat processing system would have been little more than a curiosity. Intriguing, sure. But truly worth all the time and ef- fort that goes into shifting into full do-it-yourself mode? Likely not. But these days, with an increased emphasis on field-to-table freshness, organic origins, and—let’s face it—the very real potential for shortages at local markets, the idea of bringing meat processing in-house seems like a no-brainer, especially for those of us who want to have more say in what lands on our grill and how it got there. Meat! makes it easy, with exceptional equipment that is simple to clean, a breeze to maintain and a revelation to those who truly appreciate a family freezer that is well-stocked with wild game. We tested the 1.5 HP Grinder ($700), 10-tray dehydrator ($230), 10” meat slicer ($300) and chamber vacuum sealer ($800), all of which made the entire process far less laborious than expected and, dare we say it, even enjoyable. Each piece of equipment proved a worthy contender in its own right, solidly made with a lifetime warranty, but together they turn your kitchen, garage or outbuilding into an assembly line for creating steaks, sausage, jerky and so much more. Web-based classrooms are available at, where you’ll have full access to tips from professional chefs, recipes and how-to videos. Now get to work. There’s a freezer to fill.


Federal Cartridge is 100 years old this year and so is my all-time favorite Federal product: the venerable, highly respected, much loved, almost cult shotshell, Federal Gold Medal Paper ($19). Now known as the Grand, for the annual trapshooting extravaganza where it has shone for a century, Federal Paper now stands alone. Why has it survived—and prospered—all these years, when almost everyone else has switched to plastic hulls? To be honest, no one really knows. Do paper shotshells inflict slightly less recoil? If so, it is not measurable. Do they give more consistent patterns? Again, hard to say for sure. What is certain, however, is that Federal keeps making them because many shooters will simply not accept anything else, and are willing— eager!—to pay the price. Fifteen years ago, I paid a visit to Federal’s plant in Minnesota to see the paper-shotshell production operation. It’s in a separate building with a cornerstone marked “1921.” I learned it takes nine days to make a paper shotshell, compared to 20 minutes for plastic; that it requires special paper that only one paper mill still makes, and that Federal keeps them in business. Finally, it’s more expensive to make. But dedicated shooters keep buying them. (I, for one, have had more 25s at trap with Federal Paper than anything else.) One thing is certain: On a crisp autumn day, when the leaves are blowing and winter’s in the air, nothing smells like Federal paper. That alone is worth the money. (TW)


Three days. That’s how long I had been with Gray’s Sporting Journal back in 1995 when the late David Foster slapped a plane ticket on my desk and proclaimed: “You’re going to Safari Club in Las Vegas. Find a hotel.” And thus began my initiation into a world I would come to know, but at the time never dreamed existed. The lasting momento borne of that experience is a pair of Russell Moccasin Upland 7” Birdshooters ($550), for which I plopped down a whopping $400 at the time, gifted from a quarter slot machine and a significant sum of money for a guy just starting out. I’d never heard of Russell Moccasins, but in walking past its booth I noticed President George H.W. Bush and General Norman Schwarzkopf being fitted for a pair of Birdshooters. And, dizzy with newfound riches, I opted to buy a pair too, sitting down in the President’s chair seconds after his departure. More than a quarter-century later, my Birdshooters have been thrice re-soled, but otherwise remain as they arrived. And when I’m going to do some serious walking, they are still my go-to pair of boots. Made from premium American steer hide with solid antique brass eye-lets, a double vamp for increased foot support and a cushion collar around your leg to prevent any sort of slippage, the Birdshooters of today vary little from the ones I discovered long ago. And mine are only wearing better over time. (MF)