Christmas is rapidly approaching and many of you turn to me at this time of year for suggestions on gift ideas for the sportsman on you list. There are literally phone book sized catalogs bursting with potential for the avid outdoorsman. Trust me, we want it all. However, that’s probably not possible short of winning the Powerball jackpot. So, I’ve come up with a potential outdoors wish list.
During these tight economic times, outdoors gear has become something of a luxury that may be extracted from the budget as expendable income disappears into the gas tank or across the counter of the grocery store. However, one rule of thumb I’ve learned with hunting and fishing gear, "You get what you pay for."
BOOTS — Fine footwear for the outdoorsman has only two real requirements–warm and dry. Sometimes that combination is difficult to detect when the boots are shiny new and sitting on a shelf at the store. The proof comes when they are scuffed and scarred. I have some experience with a number of boot companies. Higher priced boots are often better quality and will normally fit the warm and dry requirements. Keep an eye out for the materials — the term Gore Tex means quality (and also high price). Consider the amount of insulation you want, that amount will vary from mild to extreme–and a mismatch of needs will result in a mismatch of comfort. A final note on boots—the ONLY boots that are 100-percent waterproof are made of rubber. There are certainly boots that keep your feet dry if you’re in the woods on a rainy day, or walking through a dew covered field–but wading into a creek for an extended period will get your feet wet unless they’re rubber. The downside to rubber, it doesn’t breathe at all and sweat inside a rubber boot stays there, resulting in wet feet.
HIGH TECH BASE LAYERING — The days of Grandpa’s union suit are long gone in 2008. High tech undergarments are the rage, and I can attest they work as advertised. The company that broke the newest ground here was Under Armor. I recently wore their long underwear while covering the Super Six on frigid Wheeling Island Stadium, and stayed very warm. The material conquers the two needs of staying warm in the outdoors. These tight fitting body suits wick moisture away from your body while holding in your body heat. The garments are a bit pricey, but your hunter will thank-you because it’s one of those items you rarely think about until you need it, and one that in the store would make you pause before spending that much money on yourself.
CUSTOM KNIVES — Most hunters have several knives they’ve accumulated over the years. All but one of them generally stay put away in a drawer and the long held "favorite" knife is hanging off their belt during deer season. Therefore, buying them another knife out of the case at the local sporting goods store probably isn’t going to generate too much excitement. However, a custom made knife is an entirely different story. West Virginia has a cottage industry of knife making. The state is dotted with skilled craftsmen who hand make cutlery one-by-one in their basement or out building. The products they produce are commonly on display at regional outdoor shows. My personal favorite is Charleston based knife maker Jerry Elliot. His work is amazing and attention to detail impeccable. There are others who create equal quality products in our state. When knife shopping, be ready for sticker shock. Custom-made knives are often considered collector’s items because of their limited supply. The designation can drive up the price. They normally are made from high quality materials, which can be expensive. But, a custom knife maker can create whatever you want in a knife right down to the handle material. A nice touch is to use an old deer antler killed by your fellow sportsman as the material for a knife. It makes a great keepsake or a useful hunting tool that will last for several lifetimes. Custom knives will require research and availability. These aren’t being cranked out on an assembly line in China–so be prepared to shop around.
HUNTING BLINDS — I’ve never personally owned one of these contraptions. A number of guys have told me they were worth their weight in gold when this year’s buck season began. The cold and rainy opening day in some counties and the snowfall in others were tailor made for a ground blind. Frankly, those in "the doghouse" as one caller to the show termed it, were the ones who probably stayed in the field longest on those horrible days. Like most products, price is an issue. I’ve been told however, that after Christmas these products tend to be sale items at sporting good stores. A gift card may be a way to get a steep discount on one of these at a place like Gander Mountain or Cabela’s.
NAVIGATIONAL SYSTEMS — Regardless of our favorite pastime, we men are gadget freaks. Anything that has a connection to high technology leaves us with mouths open and salivating. The advancement of the GPS (Global Positioning System) technology has been one of the more amazing developments in our lifetime. There are wide ranges of systems that perform any number of tasks. Some of these are actually made to dictate turns to you as you are driving to a specific destination. Others are more geared toward an outdoorsman’s needs. The device allows for the downloading of topographic maps, marking with waypoints various places he’d want to remember (like possible hunting stands or underwater cover for fish). You’ll need to know your guy a little for this to determine how sophisticated a unit he would want or need. Any hunter that takes a trip out west would be wise to carry one of these along, not only for hunting success–but also purely as a safety device.
CAMPING COT — The cot is a step up if the outdoorsman on your list is a camper. Although few will complain about sleeping on the good Earth, they would also appreciate a reason not to. Cots allow for a bedlike setting even when you’re roughing it in the great outdoors. When shopping for a cot, keep in mind the height and weight of the person on your list. Some have weight restrictions, and if he’s like me he’ll need something with a very beefy and durable frame and as long as you can find. The heavy duty cots tend to be more expensive, but worth it in the end since the last thing anybody wants is to be swallowed in a folded mass of aluminum and canvas during a nap after a hard day’s hunt.
RANGEFINDER — These are devices that are very handy to anyone who bow hunts in West Virginia or does any hunting in the big country out west or in Canada. The device is high-tech and easy to use. You point it at an object, push a button, and with laser technology it will give you the exact distance from you. It takes the guesswork out of whether your target is within range and what adjustments need to me made. However, they are expensive…be ready to pay high dollars for a good one.
FLASHLIGHTS — This is a great gift for anybody, not just the outdoorsman. The costs can go from nearly nothing to quite expensive. There are some very durable products on the market. Durability is a key consideration with hunting and fishing. Count on the light being dropped from high places to the ground, from a boat to the water, thrown into a glove box, dangled and banged on a belt loop, and generally abused. My recommendation is for a good light that is waterproof, has an LED bulb, comes with a strap or carrying case, and has a clip on feature. This allows you to affix the light to your hat, clothing, or another location and work hands free. I have a mini-Mag light that I’ve used for years, and although it doesn’t have the clip, it’s been a quality item.
HUNTING VEST — Every deer hunter must have a blaze orange vest. It’s a requirement of the law that hunters in West Virginia wear 400 square inches of blaze orange. I see most guys do this through something cheap that was bought as a last minute item when checking out of a sporting good store. A few years ago, I broke down and actually spent a measure of money to buy a good one. I haven’t been disappointed in the Cabela’s Ultimate Pack Vest. A heavy-duty blaze-orange vest will last a lifetime for any hunter. It’s one of those items than everybody would like to have, but judges the 60-dollar cost to be too much for such an item. This is why such an item makes a wonderful gift.
WADERS — Every trout fisherman needs a good pair of waders. Here are a couple of considerations. If you’re fishing in the earliest part of the spring and even winter, you’ll need something insulated. I have a pair of neoprene waders. They are perfect for cold weather fishing, but by late April and May, they are just too hot and the sweat pours profusely inside. A pair of "breathable" waders becomes a good all-season selection. During the colder months, base layering can accommodate any additional insulation. You can also get those with boots attached or buy a separate pair of wading boots. I like the second option because you can save some money and if need be, an old pair of boots or sneakers will fit the bill. There is the option of the actual wading boots that can be purchased separately that feature soles made to grip the slick bottom surfaces of a trout stream.