Outdoors: Testing out the newest hunting gear

Photo by Jay AnglinThe author handles the new Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 for the first time at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. 

Whenever I work outdoor industry trade shows, I start to get a lot of inquiries from friends about what new stuff they should watch for once it hits the market. It’s not everyone that gets a look at this merchandise before the rest of the world, so it’s kinda neat to be a part of the process.

There are so many great products out there for the outdoorsman, that you almost can’t go wrong if you do a little research and take the time to assess why you like some things more than others. And, just because you don’t see it at a retailer, doesn’t mean manufacturers don’t produce it. Sometimes it’s best to take a look at a given company's website, or better yet, contact customer service and explain what you’re looking for. You may even find out that some outdoor products' manufacturers are capable of custom building an item for a reasonable fee.

Technology has allowed engineers and designers to lighten things up while producing guns and archery equipment with less recoil and/or vibration and better accuracy, as well as unprecedented reliability. This may be no truer than when taking a look at the latest models of waterfowl hunting shotguns. I happen to be in the market for something new and took a few minutes during a lunch break to race around and look at what new guns the big manufacturers brought to the SHOT Show this year.

When I approached the Benelli booth, I knew that they were “all in” promoting the new Super Black Eagle 3 as a huge section of their spread was dedicated to this model of shotgun. It was surrounded by faux rock that looked just like the rugged shoreline of remote islands off the coast of Alaska. King eider mounts were scattered around as if they were flying over the rocks covered with simulated ice and snow. A huge flat-screen TV embedded in the wall played a well-produced trailer for “Benelli Presents to Kill a King”, on a loop. This two-part special recently aired on the Outdoor Channel. I’m not going to lie, it was exciting just to stand there.

The evening before, I had discussed this very gun with a guy that had the opportunity to shoot it at clays earlier that week. He claimed that it had a great feel and that he hadn’t picked up a semi-auto shotgun with such natural shoot-ability in a long time. I was anxious to feel one up to say the least.

I grabbed one of the SBE3’s in the Benelli booth off the rack and shouldered it. Sure enough, it felt like an extension of my body - very natural. This is the hallmark of a well-balanced shotgun. One of the gentlemen in the booth told me this model takes reliability to another level. Plus, it’s light, compact and frankly, looks really cool. So yeah, the new Benelli SBE3 is on my short list of wants and I’m sure it will end up on the need list soon enough.

There were lots of other things I immediately added to my list, but a several stand out. Take crossbows, for example. Five years ago, crossbows were sort of a specialized piece of equipment that only a few hunters were using. Now, I know more hunters using them than standard bows. Just ask Brad Anderson of New Prairie Archery north of Rolling Prairie - he can hardly keep them in stock. There are lots of new ones on the market and since I don’t have one yet, I took a look at some of them a little closer.

With its haunting camo pattern and lightning-fast speed, the new Barnett Ghost 420 immediately caught my eye. I must have shouldered it 10 times at the Barnett booth at both ATA and SHOT. Barnett has a habit of producing some killer crossbows in all price ranges, but this thing is next level. Bolts leave this beautifully-manufactured crossbow at a staggering 420-feet per second. Think about that for a second and then realize a bolt would have just traveled 420 feet if you fired it from the Ghost 420. Yowza! My bet is, Brad will be ordering a few of these for area hunters in the near future.

Of course, unless you are well concealed, deer will outrun just about any arrow or crossbow bolt the second you budge, especially if you are at eye level with them. Hunting from ground blinds has become extremely popular for deer and turkey hunters and the plethora of blind options available can be confusing. Believe me when I tell you that there is a big difference between the el-cheapo blinds you buy for $50 and the more sophisticated ones. That said, just about all of them have some inherent issues, not the least of which is their tendency to “shine” a bit, in particular during brighter conditions. Regardless of how well they are brushed in, ground blinds are often noticeable to game.

That is not the case with the new Ameristep Supernatural Blind. This thing sports a new dual-layer, natural-fiber shell called “Naturshell” that eliminates glare and sheen. You really have to see it to believe it. The Supernatural also sports new “organic” window openings (no straight lines) and a unique silent daisy-chain window closure system that adds to the stealthy-ness. It’s plenty roomy, too, for a $200 blind. Hopefully, mine will ship soon.

Last but not least, turkey decoys have exceeded our wildest dreams over the past decade. The Avian-X LCD series has set the standard for realism and durability, and I can certainly vouch for their effectiveness. That said, many turkey hunters still don’t have the desire to spend more than $50 on a decoy they’re only going to use a few times a year - regardless of how much of an advantage it gives them.

Enter the new Flextone Thunder Series. These blow-molded decoys may not be fully collapsible, but they are more realistic than anything else in their category, and likely more durable than just about anything out there. It shouldn’t be a surprise, as the same guys that designed the Avian-X turkey decoys, designed the Flextone Thunder Series. Keep an eye out for them at retailers, I have a feeling a bunch of gobblers are going to move on to the big oak forest in the sky after they see them for the first time.

Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at jay@anglinoutdoors.com.

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