Benjamin David

Benjamin is an avid outdoorsman with a wide range of experience hunting, fishing, climbing, and backacking. He brings his knowledge and experience, to Sportsman's Magazine, and is a major content contributor. Leave Ben a comment or question.

Sage Grouse Hunting Tips for Success

| September 28, 2022
Sage Grouse Success
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Watch our Ultra Short on Sage Grouse Hunting: Sage Grouse Hunt (YouTube)

Sage Grouse hunting isn’t simply a pursuit that rewards those that cover as much ground as possible. It certainly can help to cover a lot of ground, but a smarter approach can improve your hunt, and reduce a significant amount of walking. While no strategy is bulletproof when it comes to the pursuit of Sage Grouse, these tips should help.

Habitat and Sign

The most important factor in finding birds is knowing where they like to be in their habitat. Like every other critter, they require food, shelter, and water. We always start our hunt by targeting areas with slightly taller sagebrush that provides shelter at the edges of large clearings, depressions, bottoms of draws, and watering holes, then walk the perimeters.

You’ll know where they have spent time by watching for droppings in these areas, and while they can move quite a bit, they are probably still in the area, as it’s either their semi-permanent feeding ground or shelter. The Sage Grouse is a survivor, and able to get enough water from their food sources, primarily consisting of tender sage buds and shoots, that they don’t need watering holes. Therefore, it isn’t necessary to locate water, to be successful. If you do harvest a bird, its helpful to examine the contents of its crop, and know exactly what they’ve been feeding on, so that you can locate better habitat later.

Sage Grouse Crop Contents

The contents of a birds crop can teach you a lot about the habitat and feeding behaviors of birds.

Weather

Both waterfowl and upland birds tend to lock down when it is too windy, and grouse are no exception. If it’s too hot, they’ll seek shelter under taller sagebrush. If it’s too windy, they’ll seek refuge under taller sagebrush. If it’s raining, they’ll seek shelter under taller sagebrush. Essentially, they’ll be sheltered under sagebrush, and therefore walking areas with grouse droppings and good habitat is the best method for finding birds, regardless of the weather. However, a recent rain or dusting of snow, can make it easy to identify the footprints left by sage grouse, and will confirm you are in an area recently used by grouse.

Sage Grouse Feet

The interesting dinosaur like legs and feet of the sage grouse

Be Ready

Never expect the flush to be over. Whether hunting with or without dogs, grouse frequently remain locked down and well hidden, until the last possible second – especially when other birds have already flushed.

So instead of sitting there in disbelief that you didn’t get a shot off, or maybe you missed, snap out of it and reload. Reload quickly and be ready for more birds to flush – or be surprised and disappointed that you weren’t ready to take a shot.

Glassing

If you continue to fail at locating and flushing birds, consider getting a high vantage where you can glass vast fields of sage at sunset. You’ll hopefully spot a covey of grouse flying in or around the area. Make a note of where they settle down for the evening and plan to start your morning hunt right there.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ll put some of our advice to work in the field and find more success. But beyond success, safety is a huge factor when sage grouse hunting. With other big game seasons open at the same time as the limited Sage Grouse season, we make absolutely sure to stay visible and avoid pressuring big game animals and hunters. Also make sure your hunting dogs do the same. We protect our dogs with vests and skid plates, collars, high visibility blaze, and provide plenty of water for everyone, as the dessert makes things disappear, and can be a rather unforgiving place.

The Mendota skid plate, or a tactical dog harness adorned with custom blaze patches with your dog’s name and your phone number on them is a great idea, should you lose your dog. If your dog is still young and in training, then a collar like the SportDOG 425X Remote Trainer is a great shock collar with a 500 yard range. However, you may eventually want to get a GPS collar and tracking system like the Dogtra Pathfinder or the Garmin Astro 430, depending on the seriousness of your hunting, your dog, and your pursuits.

Following the Sage Grouse opener, we grabbed a bite to eat and met a hunter that lost her dogs. It happens, so at a minimum, be sure your dogs have identification information on them and are highly visible.

The Hand Off

Working on the retrieval of a downed sage grouse with a young puppy

Tags: , | Comments

Cora The Catahoula Hunting Dog

| August 16, 2022
Red Catahoula Leopard Puppy Napping
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

We are happy to announce our relocation to the more sportsman-friendly state of Wyoming, and the addition of a new team member Cora, our new Catahoula Leopard and the first hunting dog to be part of our content. Cora was born at the end of March and is already working farm animals, but also putting in mileage in the backcountry, working with dummies, and getting ready for the upcoming upland bird season. She is a wonderful puppy, has the classic Catahoula temperament and exhibits a red leopard appearance.

The upland season is only a couple of weeks away. If you aren’t ready yet then check out our article on the best dove decoys. Also, consider equipping your hunting dog with a good GPS collar, and a high viz vest or skid plate. Or maybe work with a dummy with some bird scent on it if you are also training a young hunting dog.

Why a Catahoula? In the relocation, @ben_ya_mean purchased a property and began setting up a small farmstead that would benefit from a good work dog. He has had Catahoulas in the past and has used them for both work and hunting, so he knew what to expect and loves the breed.

A Puppy Retrieving a Dummy

Cora happily bounding back with a dummy in her mouth during some retrieval training.

If you are considering a Catahoula for yourself, then there are some things that you MUST know. They are not for the inexperienced dog owner as they are a very headstrong breed that requires a lot of attention and exercise. They have an abundance of energy that can easily wear out an owner or trainer, and a very strong desire to herd and hunt. While not aggressive, they can at times be defiant or even defensive, they may even nip back out of defiance; a behavior that can be properly trained out of them by an experienced trainer and good socialization.

The breed has a wide range of appearances and even sizes but always has a rectangular structure. Some are more solid in color while a merle coat and white colors appear in a percentage of each litter. Ironically, it’s said that the Catahoula was bred to continue to improve its ability and not its appearance, but if you have a Catahoula Leopard you will receive no shortage of compliments on your dog. You should have good knowledge of your future puppies genetics, as breeding a merle leopard Catahoula to another merle can lead to health issues, including bilateral deafness. While that may be okay for a family dog, it could be trouble for a work or hunting dog, so get information from a breeder on the parentage of your future puppy.

Catahoulas have an exceptional herding instinct and a heritage of hunting that predates the European settlers’ use as hunting dogs, with their use by Native Americans. They have been used to hunt everything from rabbits to raccoons, squirrels, deer, pigs, mountain lions, bears, and feral pigs in Louisiana. As such, they have also earned the moniker of “Louisiana Hunting Dog”, and the honor of the state dog of Louisiana.

A Catahoula Leopard Brings a Dummy

Retrieval training with a winged dummy is all about positive reinforcement and repetition. Especially with a very young puppy.

We are looking forward to having Cora in the field and sharing the hunting experience as soon as the upland bird season starts this September in Wyoming. We are also looking forward to getting her in the field this waterfowl season. To follow along with Cora’s progress as a hunting companion, follow us on Instagram, @sportsmansmagazine.

Why Wyoming? Our editor @ben_ya_mean lived in Wyoming for years with his wife and left for work and family reasons. He and his wife have since returned to a free state that supports a pro-sportsman and pro-freedom stance, after experiencing the California mismanagement of people, businesses, disease, wildlife, money, and forest management; which included shutting down forests, because of the inability to control or properly mitigate fires and the threats that start them.
Tags: , , , , , | Comments

High Sierra Fishing Report (SMFR)

| July 6, 2022
June Fishing in the High Sierras
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.
From the Editor:
It took a while for us to get around to publishing, we’re sorry, and figured it better a little late than never.

Things are heating up in the Eastern Sierra’s high country! A low snow year and warm temperatures allowed us to check out a few locations over the past couple of weeks. We discovered that dry fly season is already underway in the alpine lakes and streams. Now is the time to get into the mountains, and here’s what you’ll need to know to hook some hungry high country trout.

First, be aware that the only lakes that are completely thawed at this time are those below 11,000 feet. Luckily, that’s where many of the Sierra’s larger lakes are located. If you plan to cross any high passes to get to a specific area, be prepared to encounter snowfields and the potential for a stray thunderstorm.

A beautiful trout

A beautiful trout from the scenic High Sierra’s

We observed trout actively surface feeding everywhere we went, so you shouldn’t have much trouble slinging dry flies. Elk Hair Caddis, Pale Morning Dun, and Parachute Adams all worked pretty well and the Purple Royal Para Wulff seemed to entice some of the pickier fish. It’s always a good idea to bring along a variety of nymphs and streamers for when the fish aren’t surface feeding or the weather changes to cloudy or windy. Brightly colored Copper Johns and Zebra Midges, and small to medium streamers are typically effective.

Be prepared for the high altitude and the normally cloudless Sierra days by bringing sunscreen, and sunglasses, and consider a sun shirt and a hat. Extra layers, like a wind/rain jacket, are always a good idea. The snow is still melting so plan for wet, muddy trails and consider waterproof hiking boots or shoes. Always be sure to check the weather before heading into the high country.

Recommended Gear:
A 5wt, 9ft rod and reel combo or Try a Tenkara Rod
Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Sun Hoody
Suncloud Polarized Sunglasses
Size 18-20 Parachute Adams dry flies
Size 16-18 Elkhair Caddis dry flies

catch and release fishing

Catch and release fishing in the High Sierra’s

Tags: , , , , | Comments

Wolf and Grizzly Grill and Fire Safe

| April 19, 2022
Wolf And Grizzly Break In
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.
Color | Stainless
Material | Stainless Steel
Brand | WOLF and GRIZZLY
Length | 11.26
Width | 10.94
Height | 4.13
Weight | 1.1 Kilograms
Fuel Type | Wood
Country of Origin | China
Warranty | 3 Year
Price | $89.85

The Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe

We had been toying with the idea of doing a series of firepit and backcountry stove reviews for a while. So many people seem to be venturing into hot tenting, or just looking for portable fireboxes and cook systems to set up while backpacking and overlanding. So it was a timely coincidence when Wolf and Grizzly reached out to our team to ask if we were interested in reviewing the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe and Grill. We said we’d love to.

Fire Safe First Impressions

Wolf Grizzly Carrying Case

The Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe fits into a compact carrying case, that is a little wider and longer than a pencil case.

The W&G Fire Safe came in a surprisingly compact package. It’s a two piece design, with a frame and base. The frame hinges at the corners, and also in the middle of two sides, so it can go from flat to deployed in seconds. The base is essentially a six-panel accordion, that is designed to unfold, and be supported by slots in the frame.

Wolf And Grizzly Simple To Set Up

The Wolf And Grizzly Fire Safe is simple to set up and incredibly stable, due in large part to the really clever engineering.

Everything is very practically designed, taking advantage of basic geometry to create a very stable firebox. The stainless steel used to manufacture the Fire Safe is of good quality, and thin enough so that the Fire Safe remains lightweight. The parts are stamped with some contours, which is common practice in products engineered from flat stock, especially vehicles, to improve rigidity. It also happens to give the Fire Safe a nice aesthetic.

The frame elevates the base high enough that it does not touch the ground. This is a great feature that protects the surface it is on, and promotes a “leave no trace” approach to using it. We love the “leave no trace” approach to everything we do outdoors, from backpacking, climbing, car camping, to hunting, and fishing. It gets really old finding firepits anywhere somebody can access the great outdoors, and even more frustrating when you find multiple used and dirty fire pits only a few paces away from each other.

Anyway, back to the Fire Safe, it is a very practical and clever design made from quality 304 stainless steel.

Fire Safe In The Field

We assembled the Fire Safe to get our first impressions and already discussed setup, so we’ll just briefly reiterate that the Fire Safe is incredibly simple to set up.

A lot of people may cringe at the idea of brightly polished stainless steel changing color with use, but that patina doesn’t bother us one bit. The first time we used the grill we decided to break it in for a while and make sure any lubricants from a metal press or packaging residue baked off, even though none were observed. We were actually quite unforgiving, and started a fire with Fatwood, then proceeded to pile on charcoal. A small breeze kept the fire stoked and the heat pretty intense.

We honestly expected the stainless steel to warp or deform under the intense heat, but to our surprise, it didn’t. We were all very impressed that the Fire Safe held up to the abuse so well.

The Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe can function as a small fire pit, so we continued to use the Fire Safe after we were finished cooking on the companion grill to provide a little bit of heat as temperatures dropped. It worked better than expected down to subfreezing temperatures before we retreated to tents. We certainly got the max use out of the Fire Safe for its intended roles. You could potentially use the Fire Safe for tent camping heat if you had a vestibule big enough for it, proper ventilation, and were experienced at hot tenting, but it’s not a recommendation. In fact, we’d advise against it, as it has no spark arresting protection, and could be dangerous for the inexperienced. However, it does an exceptional job containing fires big enough to cook on without scarring the landscape or footprint underneath it, and it’s small and light enough to pack almost anywhere.

Buy The Fire Safe on Amazon | See it at Wolf and Grizzly
Ease of Use
4.5/5

Portability
4.5/5

Quality
4.9/5

Price
4.2/5

Wolf And Grizzly Break In

We pushed the Wolf And Grizzly about as far as you can go temperature-wise, for out testing, and it outperformed our expectations.

The Wolf and Grizzly Backpack Grill

Grill First Impressions

Much like the W&G Fire Safe, the Grill came in a compact package. However, the grill comes rolled and does not sit flush like the Fire Safe. The W&G Grill when unrolled and set up is a pretty ingenious little grilling grate and stand.

Wolf Grizzly Great Design

The Wolf and Grizzly grill stand accordions down to a compact size.

The stand accordions open and closed, and fits perfectly around the Fire Safe. The grill grate itself is constructed a little bit like a rope ladder, with small but strong wire rods creating the grill surface, held together at the ends with a stainless steel cable. A supporting structure twists open to support the span of solid wire rods.

Most ingenious is the way the grill grate attaches to the adjustable stand. 3 swage sleeves fit into the corners of the grill stand in a similar way to a brake cable on a bike or motorcycle. The 3 swage sleeves on each of the four cable ends are placed at increments that regulate the depth and width of the grill stand.

As the stand gets wider the grill height is lower over a fire, or companion Fire Safe. The opposite is also true. You can use the first set of swage sleeves, for a higher grilling height, and slightly narrower width and length on the stand.

Wolf Grizzly Grill Top Rolled Grill

The Wolf and Grizzly Grill top rolls up, making it very compact and portable.

Backpack Grill In The Field

In the field, the Backpack Grill is easy and intuitive to set up. Again as we’ve already stated, the design is quite clever, resulting in a very stable grilling platform. The stated weight capacity of the grill is 30lbs, and with no issues with stability, this is a very reasonable maximum loading. You obviously won’t be cooking an entire dear ham straight on this grill, and it wouldn’t fit if you tried.

The grill can easily handle small cast iron skillets and large roasts when car camping. However, as a backpacking grill, it’s unlikely you’ll be bringing a cast iron with you, and if you do, you’ll likely never do it again; but the grill does support a surprising amount of weight, without wobbling.

Buy The Grill on Amazon | See it at Wolf and Grizzly
Ease of Use
4.2/5

Portability
4.8/5

Quality
4.5/5

Price
4.4/5

Wolf and Grizzly Grill in Use

The Wolf and Grizzly Grill is easy to set up, and supports a surprisingly large amount of food. It produces enough heat and surface area to cook more than enough food for two, without adding additional charcoal.

Conclusion

There are a handful of options when it comes to portable, lightweight fire pit and grill systems. Some are cheaper and lighter, but most often, they do not have as much cooking area and are only capable of burning wood. In our experience with other similar-role lightweight stove and cooking systems, they usually leave a lot to be desired.

We think the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe and Backpacking Grill are both very reasonably priced for what you get, which is an effective, high-quality, portable fire pit and grill system that is light enough to be carried into the backcountry. Smaller systems like Solo Stoves offer less for a similar price, so by comparison, the Fire Safe and Grill system are a much better value, and even more versatile.

Alternatively, if you only want or need the Fire Safe for a better leave-no-trace camping experience, or you only want the grill for a very practical and portable grill system, they both individually provide a lot of value for the price.

When we first saw the Wolf and Grizzly Fire Safe and Grill, we were super interested in trying it and also a little skeptical it could handle the abuse of an intense fire. However, it has surpassed all of our expectations, and we can highly recommend it for car camping, overlanding, backpacking, raft trips, beach trips, and even cooking up lunch in the driveway. It’s also a great alternative to a mini Weber, but in our opinion is even better because it cleans up nicely, and takes up no space when done.

Buy The Fire Safe and Grill Now | Learn more at Wolf and Grizzly
Wolf Grizzly Aftermath Clean Up

The Wolf and Grizzly stayed pretty clean after cooking on it, and never deformed, even when burning charcoal.

Tags: , , , | Comments

Pan-Fried Bluegill

| February 24, 2022
Pan Fried Bluegill
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Bluegill are referred to as panfish for a reason, they fit in a pan and taste great fried. We recently harvested some bluegill from our living room aquaponic system and decided to cook them up minutes after they came out of the tanks.

We kept the preparation incredibly simple, which is the best way to treat any fresh and clean fish. We choose to cook our fish whole because when properly cooked, fish should pull away from the bone easily.

We also do not dredge our fish in anything, and still end up with a firm, clean-tasting fish, with crispy skin and natural flavors enhanced by seasonings, not masked by them.

Preparation Time

20 minutes

Cooking Time

10 minutes

Total Time

30 minutes

Servings

1-2

Ingredients

4 – 8 Bluegill
Salt
Lemon Pepper
Garlic Powder
Olive Oil
2-4 Lemon Wedges
1 Bunch Parsley (optional)
Cleaned Bluegill Before Cooking

Freshly harvested bluegill, are descaled, cleaned, and and ready to fry.

Directions

  1. Slice 2 – 4 Lemon wedges.
  2. Mince Parsley, if you intend to use it as a garnish later.
  3. Descale Bluegill.
  4. Remove heads just behind the gill plate.
  5. Rinse Bluegill.
  6. Pat Dry.
  7. Heat olive oil to about 350F.
  8. Season fish, inside and out, with Salt, Lemon Pepper, and Garlic Powder.
  9. Carefully place fish in hot oil.
  10. While the fish are cooking, squeeze some lemon juice over them.
  11. Cook until the skin becomes crispy and well browned, and the flesh turns white and firm, then remove from oil.
  12. Let rest on a plate for a few minutes, and pat any excess oil dry.
  13. Garnish with parsley.
  14. Serve with a lemon wedge.
  15. Enjoy!
Tags: , , , | Comments

Spring Turkey Hunting 101

| February 18, 2022
Spring Gobblers in a Field
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

Are you ready for the spring turkey season? It’s really not that far away, so if you want to successfully harvest a gobbler this spring, then you need a game plan and a few pieces of gear.

Develop A Game Plan

Scouting is the biggest part of any hunting success, whether it’s a predator, moose, dove, or turkey. All spring turkeys are very limited in their focus and priorities. They aren’t exactly concerned with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they are simply trying to avoid predators, eat, and breed.

They roost at night and descend to the forest floor in the morning, going through routines of feeding, and moving around looking for partners. With their focus so limited, they will respond to predatorial sounds, challenges from other gobblers, and hen calls. Although, from experience, they will quite literally respond to almost anything at least once. So locating them is not too difficult.

Fifteen days before the season starts is a great time to scout an area you intend to hunt. You should look for food, shelter, and water, and try to locate birds as they roost, so you know what nearby fields they will be on early in the morning. Fifteen days is close enough to the start of the season that whatever birds are doing, will likely be the same thing they will be doing at the start of the season.

The Gear

At a bare minimum, you will need good camouflage, a turkey call, and a shotgun. Some states allow rifles and even airguns as a legal method of take, so check your state’s rules and regulations because they may open up some additional hunting opportunities for you.

Turkeys have excellent vision and a keen ability to detect shapes and movement, so it’s critical to wear camo. Good camo will break up your pattern and allow you to remain undetected. At a minimum, your camo should include a quality shirt, like the First Lite Phantom Top, and a face mask or balaclava, like the First Lite Phantom Balaclava. Adding camo pants, versus solid tan or olive drab colors will also improve your concealment, but isn’t completely necessary. Although, others might argue differently.

First Lite Phantom Balaclava | First Lite Phantom Top

You will also need a turkey call. There are a ton of options, and you can use whatever you want. A box call is a good choice, so is a slate, or a reed call, but we prefer a reed call because it lets you operate hands-free, and requires no movement. Movement is a sure way to get busted by a turkey, so a reed call is an ideal choice.

Lynch Box Call | Primos Slate Call | Woodhaven Reed Call

A shotgun is the standard weapon of choice for turkey hunts. You will want a 12 gauge or 20 gauge, and quality ammunition. Of course, if you already have archery equipment, or your laws allow you to use a rifle or air rifle, then you should consider those options as well.

Another piece of equipment to consider is a tighter, extended choke for your shotgun. We use and recommend Carlson's chokes, and do all of our longer-range shotgunning, whether it’s waterfowl, dove, or turkey with them. They pattern well with a wide range of ammo, and outside of a heavier and hotter load, and knowing how your shotgun patterns can have a significant impact on your shooting.

We don’t typically use them, but a sitting pad or turkey seat can be a nicety. Some turkey vests, like the Knight and Hale Run and Gun include an attached butt pad, but sitting pads like the ALPS Outdoorz hunting seat, can be picked up on their own. Either will make sitting dead still a more comfortable endeavor.

You don’t need to hunt over a decoy. However, many people do, as it can visually guide birds into a desirable kill zone, or simply draw in a bird that is more visually driven. The Primos Gobstopper Jake & Hen decoy combo is a good choice for static decoys, and the MOJO Scoot-N-Shoot Max is another great option for a more aggressive style of hunt.

Pattern Your Shotgun

If we’ve made it sound like turkeys are rather un-complex creatures, it is because it’s true. Turkeys evolved to breed, eat, and avoid predators, but not do a whole lot else. As such they have a small brain, which means you are shooting a small target.

No two shotguns will pattern the same, and the same is true with different types of ammunition, so it’s essential that you pattern your shotgun. You should, at a bare minimum, shoot your shotgun with the load you intend to hunt with. Shoot it at a couple of distances and know if you have any holes in your pattern, or any left or right bias of a concentration of shot.

If your shotgun patterns heavily to the left of your point of aim, you may end up aiming to the right of a turkey’s head to ensure the concentration of shot lands on a turkey’s brain or brain stem.

If you add a new choke to the mix, you must pattern the gun with the new choke!

Turkey Down

A gobbler successfully taken with a 20 gauge CZ over and under.

Final Thoughts

A successful turkey hunt is going to be more fun than an unsuccessful one, and it’s really not too difficult to prepare for the turkey season. When you are successful, or if you simply want to increase your level of safety when you are not actively hunting, bring and wear some blaze. At a minimum, if you are carrying a turkey out of the field on your pack, tie a blaze handkerchief to your pack, or wear a blaze hat. The blaze should help, even the most trigger happy beginner, to identify a dead turkey on a human and you’ll avoid getting shot.

Be safe, have fun, and good luck!

Tags: , , | Comments

Ben and Buck’s Wild Pursuits

| February 2, 2022
Sportsmans Magazine Waterfowl 2122
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

We published a short film, recapping some of the shots that we were able to capture on film, during the 21/22 California waterfowl season. Check it out.

Watch it on Youtube

We originally intended to publish as a mini-series, titled Ben and Buck’s Wild Pursuits, but life and weather had other plans.

We had a frustrating start to the season. Warm dry weather turned into cold dry weather, keeping the duck numbers downs. We finally got a massive snowstorm rather late in the season, and it absolutely dumped on us. While the weather was good for moving birds around, the snow on the ground seriously impacted access and made it difficult to get to our hunting normal hunting spots.

Freeze ups and snow made decoying and concealment difficult, but we did our best, and harvested birds.

Buck also relocated out of California before the weather became favorable for waterfowl hunting, so most of the season was filmed solo on DJI Osmo Action Cameras and a Tactacam 5.0 Hunting Action Camera.

We also hunt with Beretta A300s and a Benelli Montefeltro, and use Carlson's Ported LR Chokes

Tags: , , , | Comments

Choosing The Best AR15 Handguards

| January 31, 2022
A Mix of AR15 Handguards
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to handguards for your AR15 or AR10. Whether it is a first build and educational, or purpose-built for home defense, run-and-gun, or predator hunting, there is a good option for you. Your choices for an AR15 handguard distill down to use case, whether or not you want a drop-in vs free-float, a KeyMod vs M-LOK attachment system, weight, and some stylistic and ergonomic preferences.

We are biased in our opinions, as we use our modern sporting arms for sport. We primarily hunt with them, take them to the range, and they have a place in our homes for self-defense. So we aren’t as worried about weapon lights, canted or co-witnessed backup iron sights, and all the tactical weapon lasers, beams, light switches, and optic accessories as others might be.

We instead focus on an ergonomic and lightweight handguard, that allows for the attachment of a bipod, hand-stop, the bare minimum of iron sights or optics, and preferably something we can C-grip. A few other things we prefer that a handguard should have, that we’ll touch on later, are a good mounting system, and an anti-rotation system.

Lastly, we don’t think a handguard should leave you too broke to afford ammo, so we try to focus on value as we evaluate some good options. If your ultra-premium and ultra-expensive handguard doesn’t get a mention here, it’s because we just didn’t see it as a good value, it didn’t meet our needs, or it’s not on our radar. Let’s get started.

Barrel Free Floating in Handguard

A free floating barrel inside of an Atlas S-One handguard, with M-lok slots.

Free-Float vs Drop-In
Drop-in handguards fit under pressure between the A2 front sight and the delta ring assembly on a traditional AR-style rifle, whereas a free-float handguard mounts securely to the barrel nut, and applies no pressure to the barrel or gas block.

Traditional style drop-ins have little to no attachment points. Even the options that do, pale in comparison to what’s available on a free-float handguard. Some manufacturers, like Troy and Magpul are certainly challenging the idea, by providing quad rails or M-LOK systems to drop-ins, like the Magpul MOE M-LOK Polymer Handguard. However, they are limited by the length of the gas system. A free-float handguard also makes for an inherently more accurate rifle, as the barrel will not deflect while the handguard is under pressure, something that even premium drop-ins can’t eliminate.

In our opinion, drop-in handguards are antiquated, good for retro-style rifle builds, or those who are unwilling to change out an A2 style sight. A Free-float handguard is the better option, especially for the modern sportsman because they are more accurate, provide better protection in the field, and they also allow for a longer sight radius. As such, we’ll only focus on free-float options for the rest of the article.

KeyMod vs M-LOK
If you learn anything about the AR15 or AR10 rifle platform, it’ll probably be that the community is full of fanboyism and brand whores. The fanboys don’t stop at brand either. The loyalties, whether deserved or undeserved, extend to the accessory attachment systems of handguards.

While the M-Lok system proved to be superior to the KeyMod system, in USSOCOM tests, KeyMod still has an intense cult-like following. We personally don’t care what you prefer, if it works for you. Fortunately, many handguard manufacturers produce the same handguards in both M-Lok and KeyMod versions, so the attachment system isn’t necessarily a limiting consideration. However, if you aren’t using an M-Lok system, it may just be time.

Rail Design
The major differences in handguards are in rail design. The majority of handguards are produced from an octagonal aluminum extrusion, designed to clear the gas block and provide protection to your barrel from deflection caused by a firm grip, rest, or bipod. With a couple of unique exceptions to the rule, every handguard will utilize a mounting rail that runs the full length of the guard, is split so no rail runs the center portion, has rails on all four sides(quad), or is a hybrid incorporating a number of different combinations of rails, lengths, and locations.

Full Rail
Most standard free float handguards incorporate a full-length Picatinny top rail, and then the options diverge into two directions from there.

Aero Precision Atlas S One

The Aero Precision Atlas S-One uses a great locking system, and anti-rotation system.

Split Rail
One direction is the Split Rail, which lightens up the handguard by removing the majority of the Picatinny rail, only leaving a section of rail at the ends where sights and optics are most commonly mounted. The split rail design makes for an ergonomic, lightweight, and slim handguard. It also happens to be a favorite type of handguard at Sportsman’s Magazine, and we use them on many of our uppers. Some of our favorite split rail options that we can confidently recommend are the Aero Precision Atlas S-One and the STNGR USA VLCN.

Quad Rail
The opposite direction from the more minimalist split rail, is the Quad Rail, which adds 3 full-length rails, at the 3, 6, and 9 o’clock positions. The quad rail gives the operator a lot of attachment points, without the need for M-Lok rail sections. Unfortunately, it also decreases the slim profile and ergonomics in hand, while increasing weight.

Ergonomic rail covers, or tactical gloves, can make gripping a quad rail less of a hand shredder, but also add a tiny bit more weight. Covering rail sections to dedicate to hand position, begs the question of why it needed a rail in those locations in the first place. Your mileage may vary, and perhaps you need those rails, so while we don’t care for a quad rail, it may be good for you. Just consider your application, the weight you’ll gain, and the ergonomics you’ll lose. Also, consider that you can always add rails to an M-Lok system, but you can’t remove rails from a quad rail.

Hybrid Rails
Hybrid designs typically include a small section of rail on the bottom of the handguard, that functions to add a bipod or other Picatinny accessory. Sometimes, manufacturers will add short side rail sections toward the front-end, in the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, for the convenient attachment of lights, lasers, or other accessories. The permutations are simply too vast to talk about, and many of the great options available, are essentially a hybrid of some sort.

Aero Precision Locking Lugs

Aero Precision uses what is probably the best handguard mounting system in the industry to date.

Other Considerations
There are a couple of other considerations to make when deciding on a handguard: the mounting or locking system, anti-rotation tabs, and quick detach locations. The typical mounting system essentially clamps the guard onto the barrel nut, causing an ever-so-slight deformation to the handguard. Better systems use a lug to secure the handguard and prevent any movement or loosening whatsoever.

A good handguard, shouldn’t ever rotate once secured, but the best guarantee is to choose a handguard with anti-rotation mounts. Lastly, while this isn’t a deal-breaker, integrated QD mounts are a great feature to have. You can certainly add QD mounts or other sling mounts to an M-Lok system or rail, but integrated QD mounts add a lot of convenience.

There are two reasonably affordable options that tick all or most of the boxes, that we can confidently recommend. They also happen to rank at the top of PEW PEW Tactical’s favorites, albeit flipped for first and second place.

First, is the Aero Precision Atlas S-One. It provides anti-rotation, the best locking mechanism in the industry, multiple Quick Detach points, plenty of M-Lok locations, it allows you to get an ergonomic C-grip, and it’s lightweight. The Atlas S-One is not as cheap as a generic handguard, but it’s worth every penny, especially when Aero Precision runs a sale. For those that prefer a full top rail, Aero also sells the Atlas R-One.

The runner-up option for us is the STNGR USA VLCN. It checks all the boxes, for us, minus the superior locking mechanism used by Aero Precision.

Tags: , , | Comments

Hot Shot Eruption Stormproof Hybrid Glove

| January 19, 2022
Hot Shot Stormproof Gloves
Photo Credit: Keith Knoxsville
A Hen and a Drake Green Teal on the truck bed. Not a limit on anything, but a fun morning out.
Sizes | M/L/XL
Color | Camo RealTree Edge
Brand | Hot Shot
Materials Shell | 96% Polyester / 4% Spandex
Materials Liner | 100% Polyester w/ TPU Laminant
Features | PU reinforced grip
Waterproof | No
Breathable | Yes
Insulated | No
Country of Origin | China
Price | $24.99
Performance
4.0/5

Fit
4.4/5

Value
4.6/5

Overall
4.33/5

We spent the last half of the 2020/21 waterfowl season, all of the 2021 deer, and bear seasons, and some of the 2021/22 waterfowl season using the Eruption Stormproof Hybrid Glove by Hot Shot. While they have served us well for a couple of seasons, more cold weather hunting left us wondering if we could do better.

First Impressions

It’s been a while since the first day we tried on the Eruption Stormproof Hybrid gloves, but it happened some time back in early 2019. The purchase came from a Cabelas, so we were able to test the fit, and not just order blindly. At the price point, they felt reasonably durable, comfortable, dextrous, and seemed to have a decent amount of protection from the elements, so we purchased a pair for the big game hunting season. We never had any intention of using them through the frigid waterfowl season in the Eastern Sierra.

The Eruption Stormproof Hybrid gloves are made from laminated TPU and breathable fleece materials, composed mostly of polyester and a little bit of spandex. Unlike other Hot Shot offerings, they are only water and wind-resistant, not water and windproof. The palm also has a PU treatment, which improves the grip and some abrasion resistance. They are well made and seem like a good value at about 25 dollars.

Stormproof Eruption Glove Fabric

The fabrics used in the construction of the Stormproof Eruption Hybrid gloves are comfortable, breathable, water-resistant and wind-resistant.

Field Test

The Eruption Stormproof Hybrid gloves fit well and are true to the size, but the cuffs are a little short with a little more of a flare than we’d prefer. Nonetheless, they overlap sleeves well enough to remain comfortable and provide protection from a cold breeze. They also conform to fingers and movement quite well, but aren’t overly tight either, allowing you to comfortably use a thin glove liner with them. The Realtree EDGE camouflage pattern works well in many wooded environments and has provided us with adequate concealment on successful big game hunts.

The gloves are not insulated, but they are water-resistant and wind-resistant, so while they will protect you from the elements which help to keep hands warm, they really don’t lock in heat or keep cold temps from sapping heat from your hands.

With the combination of a glove liner, they are adequate down to near-freezing temperatures but are inadequate when temperatures plummet below that. The lack of insulation does mean the gloves have little to no bulk. The thinner profile of the gloves makes it is easy to operate firearms, electronics, lighters, and even smartphone screens. You also don’t lose much sensitivity on your trigger finger, although your trigger finger may be colder than you’d like.

We used the Eruption Stormproof Hybrid gloves in weather they were never designed for, and they still performed fairly well, all things considered. However, they are not a great choice for cold weather waterfowl hunts if there is any chance you will get wet or the temperatures drop beneath bout 35F.

Stormproof Eruption Gloves Wear

The Stormproof Eruption Hybrid gloves by Hot Shot have seen some wear and tear, with a lot of the silicone texture material worn away, but no holes.

Conclusion

We used the Eruption Stormproof Hybrid Glove for more than one season for a reason. They work well for their intended use and temperature ranges. It was only the increased amount of extremely cold and wet weather that drove us to look for a warmer, waterproof, and windproof glove.

If you are looking for an affordable hunting glove, with a reasonable amount of protection for normal temperatures experienced during the big game season, want to maintain some dexterity, and are able to either sacrifice some warmth or use a glove liner, then the Eruption Stormproof Hybrid gloves are a good choice and a decent value.

If you are looking for a similarly affordable glove, that is both waterproof and windproof, then check out the Hot Shot Game Stalker Savage Gloves, full review here: Game Stalker Savage.

Tags: , , | Comments