29 September, 2011

Product Review: Remington Versa Max

Now that I've had my Remington Versa Max for a few months, I feel like it's time to share some of my experiences. As I acquired this gun in the Spring, I've not had the chance to hunt with it yet. Thus far my experiences have been with sporting clays.

First a word about my goals for this gun. My goal was an all-around gun that would perform many tasks well. I wanted to be able to shoot clays with light target loads, 3-1/2" steel for waterfowl, and #6 game loads for rabbits and pheasants. In short, a Swiss Army Knife of guns. One that I could shoot often enough to find a reliable mount and get comfortable with the results. Initially I lusted for an over-under, but I quickly realized that a synthetic autoloader was far more likely to suit my needs.

All new guns get a tear-down, a thorough scrub to eliminate the factory lube/protectant, and a re-lube with appropriate gun oil and grease at key points. I've found this step both helps with performance/reliability and gives me some insight into how this particular firearm operates. The Versa Max is impressive in this regard; the mechanical design is simple and logical. Everything strips down easily and mostly without tools. And it all goes back together without holding the stock at a 15 degree angle while holding down this tang, pushing up on that knob and being done only under a full moon. the Try-Nite coated barrel and nickel-teflon plated internal components mean a long life in the worst conditions.

But will that dog hunt? In a word - YUP! First day out for clays I found a gun that mounts cleanly and consistently. Butt end of the stock hits the shoulder pocket consistently and my cheek's right where it should be. As all good shotguns should, it shoots where you point it. And yes, I've had some that don't...

Surprisingly, despite the 8# total weight the Versa Max feels far more nimble than expected for a gun that seems to have been designed principally for waterfowl. I'm eager to try it for upland hunting this Fall. A day of brush busting for grouse should tell if this early impression holds.

If this all sounds overwhelmingly positive, that's because it is. I've had the opportunity to handle and shoot competitive offerings and all had some significant concerns for me - whether ergonomics, design, or features.

However, I do have two issues with the Versa Max. The first is probably a matter of personal preference. The fore-end is a free floating design.  I expect that with pump-action shotguns, but it's my first experience with an autoloader. I can't find any drawback to it, I'm just not used to how it feels. Time should cure that.

The second was a design flaw which Remington quickly rectified. On more first outings I found the magazine nut loosening after a half-dozen or so rounds. I needed to give it a half-turn or more after each stand. This was both annoying and looked like a great opportunity to loose some parts in the field. After contacting Remington, they sent me a new retainer nut and magazine cap. The results were immediate and obvious -- problem solved! The reality of new products is that design issues happen. What separates the good companies from the mediocre is how they address known issues. Remington responded quickly and solved my issue completely. Can't ask for more than that.

Look for a more extensive review later this year when I've had the opportunity to get the Versa Max out in the field chasing rabbits, pheasants, and other small game. If you're looking for a solid autoloader, the Versa Max should be a serious consideration.

28 September, 2011

Poetic License

Hopped online today and picked up a 10-day Montana fishing license. I love adding a new license to my wallet. It's sort of like those RVs you see with the US map and all the states they've visited marked. Plus, it's a great reminder of some fantastic outdoor experiences.

Like my first time duck hunting on Walpole Island in Canada. Just the obtaining the license was a comedy of errors - from the First Nation guide who no-showed and sent his kid instead to the bait shop we bought our license in that looked like something straight out of Red Green. But the hunt was fun and memorable. The speed the ducks came in at, the challenge of picking one up and following it until the time was right, and all the useful things I learned from my buddy Dan.

Or my Ohio fishing license. My first time walking the spate rivers of NE Ohio that are so unlike anything in Michigan. Beautiful scenery, often in the shadow of an industrial downtown. Despite tough conditions (a 20 degree temperature drop) Mike and I scored well with many hook-ups and several landed. Best of all, I learned so much about fishing this region and the techniques that work.

Every license tells a story and brings a wealth of reminders of enjoying the outdoors - both with my friends and solo. Can't wait to add more!


27 September, 2011

Bucket List

Next week I get to cross off a Bucket List item - fishing out West. Headed to The Stonefly Inn in Twin Bridges, Montana. This is a hosted trip arranged by my buddy Mike Schultz of Schultz Outfitters. From everything I've heard, this is going to be everything I anticipated - lots of opportunities to hit lots of legendary water.

With the guidance and advice of friend and knowledgeable guide Jon Ray, I feel like I've upped my game and am ready for the trip. I can comfortably throw a streamer, and feel like I understand the dynamics of that program. And I've had some solid tutelage on fishing dries/hoppers from a drift boat. Thanks for putting in the time with me JR!

I'm also pleased to have some hours in with my Scott A-3 907-4 stick with sink tip, floating, and intermediate lines. I picked this rig up mostly for this trip and it's proven to be surprisingly versatile and effective.

Got the suggested gear list at the pre-trip meeting and fortunately was mostly all set. I did add a nice Simms waterproof backpack for use as a boat bag. This will see a lot of use in Michigan, too.

More stories, and pictures, to follow!


16 September, 2011

Reel Lust

OK, we're pretty much looooong past the point of need in terms of sticks and reels. But recently I've discovered The Spey Company and their super-sweet classic spey reels. Wow are these things cool! They look so classic and well-executed. Just what my Scott ARC 1187-3 needs. Classic action rod, with ultra-classic reel!

Which brings up an interesting element of fly fishing. The reel-rod matchup. Yeah, there's the balance issue every book and magazine article talks about, but on an aesthetic, soulful level, it's so much more than that. I think good fly rods and reels have a persona that goes beyond just graphite and metal. It's way more than a product spec sheet could ever convey. Good gear speaks for itself in a unique way. On some basic level that you could never quantify, a Scott rod and a Winston rod are so incredibly different. Just like a Hatch reel is a totally different beast from an Orvis.

And beyond this, these pieces of gear say something about the owner, too. I think that's a part of what makes the brands sticky. I have friends who are incredibly loyal to Orvis. I have one Orvis reel I really do like, but it's not a brand that's stuck with me. Whereas Scott rods have become my standard. I love the performance, but there's something about fishing a Scott. In my mind it says "high performance, but not fussy".

For now, my spey rod will have to be content with a Ross CLA 6 (a fine reel in it's own right). But someday...


15 September, 2011

Share the Road?

Living in a college town, I get to see more than my share of dumbass cyclist moves. We as cyclists are quick to criticize idiot drivers, but somehow we seem compelled to look the other way when one of our bretheren does something foolish. I know a lot of drivers who are highly annoyed at cyclists, and it's my opinion that a surprisingly small pool of morons makes the rest of us who are responsible get a bad name.

Example One
Car stopped to make a left turn. Car behind moves to go around. Meanwhile idiot student on bike speeding along not watching tries to pass second car on right. Nearly gets hit and shoots the driver the bird. I was always taught to behave just like any other vehicle when on a bike. That means, traffic stops, you do too. At a minimum, when riding in an urban setting - pay more attention!

Example Two
I'm stopped at a light. Light turns green. As I proceed into the intersection, here comes an idiot on a bike, speeding down the hill, swerves into the left turn lane to go around me, then abruptly swerves in front of me in the straight lane. Hey, dumbass, if I accelerate more quickly than you anticipated, you're road pizza.

Common sense - it's a gift, not a given.


12 September, 2011

Boss Ross

My new Ross Evolution LT 2 reel showed up today. Holy sweetness!!!!

Regular readers will know I'm a big Ross fan with a couple of Momentums, 3 CLA's, and now two Evolutions. My first Evo was a 4 size for my Scott A3 7 weight streamer/big bug stick. I've quickly become a big fan of that reel, so when I decided to add some jewelry to my A3 4 weight, an Evo was the logical choice. I love the unique Ross colors (although oddly, I only own black, and one champagne) and the Evo's green is too cool, so that's what I had to get!

These reels are truly impressive. Super-light for their rating, and with a fit-and-finish more like a fine watch than a fly reel. On the smaller #2 size, it's even more impressive. Can't wait to get this one lined up and out on the water.

However, I now have a choice to make. My original plan was to line this up with a 4 weight Rio Clouser line for popping bluegills and other panfish. But now that I have it, I'm wondering if it isn't TOO big pimpin' for gills. Might be more appropriate on a trout set-up. Or maybe that's a snobby perspective.

I've learned in the past year that high-end reels with fancy drag systems are really overkill for most trout, smallmouth, and certainly bluegills. In most cases you're stripping them in by hand anyway.

The appeal of a high-end reel for less demanding species is similar to the aforementioned fine watch, luxury car, good knife, or other similar niceties. Great reels just feel cool and somehow give a little more juice when you're fishing them. Sure, on my steelhead rigs, I need that bulletproof drag systems and durable finish. But why not have that when hitting on the smallmouth, too?


06 September, 2011

King Thing

Did my annual Salmon trip on Friday. Got an invite to join my buddy Dan for a float after hearing the Pere Marquette (and most other NW Michigan tribs) were stacking up with early fish.

Now for the disclaimer; Kings aren't my Thing. For some reason, the Fall salmon run brings out the riff-raff snagging, disrespecting private property, and just generally behaving like obnoxious hillbillies. There are usually big crowds, and once the season gets underway, the fish are pretty beat-up and Zombie like.

Friday was NONE of those things. We saw only one other boat, and only 2-3 walk-ins during the entire day-long float. We found a river stacked up with fresh fish. And, best of all, NO crowds!

This was a lesson learned for the future -- early season Salmon are fun. Between Dan and I we landed 4, but easily hooked over 30 with at least half producing a solid fight. As an added bonus, we got to see lots of aerial acrobatics. Even set my own personal salmon record with a 23# hen. This turned into an epic fight that took me well into the backing TWICE!

I recently re-lined my chuck-n-duck rig; replacing the 30# Climax Zip Line with 20# on the advice of the folks at Baldwin Bait and Tackle. If you're in the area, these guys are the go-to resource for the PM. I've found the Zip Line super durable, but really hard on your hands, especially when cold. BBT recommended downsizing to the 20# and the difference was huge. Plenty strong, but much easier to handle. As always, my early Orvis BLA V and TFO Signature Series 10 weight were perfect for putting the boots to a hard-fighting pig!

Thanks for a great day, Dan! Now I'll let my steelhead dreams run freely. Time to tie flies, check gear, and practice my spey casting.