30 November, 2011

Need for Complexity?

I was reflecting with a friend over lunch about how many of my good friends are as obsessive as myself, especially regarding outdoor interests.

Several times I've told people that I prefer to fish on the fly because I need to make things as complex as possible. A wary steelhead won't think twice about striking a spawn bag -- that looks and smells like real food. But you've really got to outsmart that same fish to hit a piece of belly-button lint tied to a hook.

Same happens with my mountain bike. When I tell people I ride a single-speed with no suspension they look at me as if I have three heads. When I look inward, it DOES seem a bit odd. But I love my single and wouldn't trade it for the world.

I'm also continually tweaking my gear for that "little bit better". As I wait for the warranty replacement on my Scott 6-weight, I'm already pondering whether a nice reel than my Ross CLA would be appropriate for my all-around trout stick. Maybe a Hatch 5-Plus or a Ross Evolution... or maybe a Ross F1.All for a trout reel. I've routinely fought trout up to 20" simply by stripping them in without ever even going to the reel!

In the end, I think it comes down to a simple core part of my personality. I like a challenge with room for improvement. Even as a kid, I got bored pretty quickly. Just ask my parents about Parent-Teach Conferences. Same story every year -- "Sean's not working up to his potential". But when I am engaged by something where I can learn and grow, it fulfills me, challenges me, and just plain makes me happy. In my educational career, I proved that. Despite being a consistent lower-middle-of-the-pack-student throughout K-12, I completed a Master's degree with a 4.0 GPA - because I was engaged, challenged, and things had the complexity they needed to keep me engaged. So, in the end, I think that need for complexity is hard wired to keep me interested, motivated, and fulfilled.


29 November, 2011

Choke Artist

With the new Remington Versa Max shotgun, I've been discovering the wonderful world of interchangeable choke tubes and their effect on shot patterning. While I'd settled on Improved Cylinder for sporting clays, most of my recent shooting has been in hunting situations. This presents some interesting challenges. For one, clays behave in a predictable way. Ducks and rabbits do not.

For now, I've settled on Improved Modified. It seems to pattern well at 35 yards, which has been good for ducks over decoys. But it's likely this weekend rabbit season will commence. So, now a new challenge - at what distance does THAT shot normally happen? Hmmmm.

These are all nice problems to have. Last year at this time I was doing most of my hunting with a Winchester 1200 that I had only the choke it came with. But it does add a degree of complexity to the whole thing.


22 November, 2011

Follow-Up Review: Remington Versa Max

Got in two solid duck hunts with the Remington Versa Max, so thought a follow-up review was in order.

From the hunter's perspective, it's clear this shotgun was designed for the waterfowler. The weight, swing feel, and action seem ideally suited to tracking down and stopping a duck on a smokin' approach.

I find the light pipe fiber optic sight is really helpful for aquiring your target and establishing a solid lead. So far, I haven't swapped out colors, but it seems to me that this will eventually be a solid feature for dealing with varying weather conditions.

Best of all is the soft-shooting action. Remington claims that this 12 gauge has the recoil of a 20 gauge. Thus far, my shooting confirms this. 2-3/4" shells on the sporting clays course were noticably softer, but the real proof was with 3" shells in the layout boat and duck blind. WOW! Only a very small difference versus the lighter 2-3/4". Haven't shot any 3-1/2" shells yet, but eager to see those. Definitely a solid benefit, especially if you throw a lot of steel at ducks.

Interchangeable chokes have been excellent. Being able to swap out based on the decoy spread has been excellent. I seem to be alternating between Modified and Improved Modified as optimum. As time goes on, I'll probably settle on one and adapt my timing to that.

Thus far I've got about 4 boxes of 3" shells and about a case of 2-3/4" through this gun without a single cycling issue. All indications are that this gun should approach the legendary performance of a Benelli.

Hoping to get one more duck hunt in before the snow falls and it's rabbit season. More reports to follow, but VERY happy with my purchase so far!


18 November, 2011

First Thoughts: Orvis Mirage 6

My spey stick's a way-cool classic Scott ARC 128l7-3. Since picking it up, I've gotten many comments and compliments from spey guys in the know.

I needed a reel for it and didn't have anything in the quiver large enough, so I picked up a Ross CLA-6. Certainly a nice enough reel, plenty capable of holding a reasonable amount of backing and a Rio Skagit Short 475 grain line. But, it's got no soul. And just lately, I'm all about rigs with some soul.

I was leaning toward the The Spey Co's Circle Spey reel. Way, cool. Hand-crafted. And you're not likely to run into another one on the river. For the very reasonable price, I think you get a lot of soul.

Somehow a deal always changes things up. And I scored a deal on a gently-used Orvis Mirage 6. This is Orvis' latest generation reel and one that's been getting a good bit of attention in the media. I know several guides who fish them and all say good things. The excellent sealed drag gets high marks, and since reliable performance in sub-freezing temps is a key for me, this was the one for me.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's surprisingly heavy for being so light. Or light for being so heavy. And I know that makes little sense. Perhaps the best description is that it's surprisingly robust for how light it is.

Had a chance to look deep into the guts of the sealed drag. Holy crap. No low-tech cork here. A carbon-to-stainless-steel construction uses technology borrowed from fighter jet brakes. Seriously. This thing's the shit. Oh, and swapover to right-hand retrieve was butt-simple.

Gotta' get out and get my swing on. See what happens when a pissed off double-digit steelhead puts the hurt on me. Look for more soon...


17 November, 2011

Long-Term Product Review: Browning Hell's Canyon Jacket

 I have a couple of years in with my Browning Hell's Canyon jacket and felt it was time for a follow-up review. This was sparked by its performance on a recent layout duck hunt. The day was clammy and overcast. While not super-cold, laying around in a small boat in the mouth of the Detroit River for a few hours can get pretty chilly. Add to that intermittent periods of rain, and you have a recipe for a big chill. But I stayed dry and toasty through it all. Excellent performance - certainly more than I could ask for a jacket that makes few claims as a shell (I don't own a cammo waterproof shell -- that's on the shopping list).

Initially I was concerned about the unfinished neoprene cuffs wearing or getting pulled all the time. That's been no issue. And, it's nice to be able to cinch them down water- and wind-tight. As with the rest of the coat, wears like iron. I've fished, hunted rabbits, pheasant, and ducks in this jacket in almost every condition and this jacket looks like the day I bought it.

Zippers are where you can tell a superior outdoor item. And Browning's on this product are top notch. Works smoothly and neoprene backing gasket keeps out wind and driven rain. Upper chest pockets are nice for frequently accessed small gear.

Highly recommended. If you're looking for a good all-around camo windproof fleece, you can't go wrong here. I paid under a hundred dollars for mine - a bargain for a jacket this good.


09 November, 2011

Care Instructions on Reverse

If you spend time outside, outerwear that's well-suited to your pursuit and able to stand up to the elements is key. As such, I've got a closetful of clothing. This represents a significant investment, so taking care of this gear is paramount.

But chucking that $400 GoreTex shell into the washing machine with some Tide and house brand fabric softener will almost immediately clog all those little wonderful pores that let perspiration escape and keep out the elements. The alternative is to just wear the garment until it's utterly disgusting. Yeah, we all know that guy...

What surprises me is how few people seem to know about the process and benefits of laundering waterproof/breathable garments. Even breathable waders can be laundered. The process removes contaminants that negatively impact performance, eliminates odors, removes soiling and stains (mostly), and add life to your garment.

I've had good luck with the Nikwax line, available at REI and other outdoor retailers. The basic process is pretty simple. To begin, it's a good idea to remove all traces of traditional detergent and fabric softener from your washing machine's dispensers. Wash the garment with a cleaner, like Nikwax Tech Wash. Immediately following, wash again in Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In treatment. This second step will renew the waterproof qualities if your garment. Finally, tumble dry on a low setting - a final step that sets the DWR renewal.

The exception to this process are waders. The Simms Fishing web site has an excellent resource here. The washing process is about the same as outlined above. What's different is the process of renewing the DWR waterproofing. The neoprene booties and gravel guards won't stand up to the dryer. Instead, you simply spray them with some Revivex, then dry and set it with a hair dryer.

I've found the results and benefits are totally worth the effort. Recently a Marmot rain jacket was experiencing some leaks in the rain. A quick wash and retreatment of the DWR and now it beads water like a newly waxed car.


08 November, 2011

What a Dive!

Spent yesterday bobbing around Lake Erie with my buddy Mike Schultz, one of his friends, and Capt. Brian Meszaros owner of the Diver Down Crew guide service. As this was only my second time out for ducks, and my first time hunting from a layout boat, it was highly anticipated.

What a totally cool experience! The layout boats resemble a shorter, wide kayak. After setting the decoys, each guy is dropped into one layout boat. You scrunch down flat to be invisible and start watching the horizon. Within a few minutes, Schultzy and I had some action, though we both blasted through three rounds with nary a hit.

If you haven't hunted diver ducks, they are FAST. Capt. Brian said bluegills can easily hit 60-70 mph on approach. The challenge is waiting until the very last second, quickly acquiring your target and letting fly. That, and leading them a BUNCH!

I had one confirmed kill, with Schultzy picking up the balance. Afterward, I got a quick lesson in cleaning ducks. Surprisingly simple, actually.

A couple of gear reviews will be forthcoming - this was the first hunt with my Remington Versa Max, and my Browning Hell's Canyon jacket kept me toasty and pretty dry. Great experience! I think I'm going blind hunting in Canada in a couple of weeks, so should be a nice duck season!


02 November, 2011

Truth in Advertising

There's a reason its called the VersaMax. I think this video review pretty well covers it. This is about as close to a do-all shotgun as I've found.

Had the opportunity to blow up some clays with mine on Sunday and it continues to perform like a champ. We'll see how it does on the ducks next week on a layout hunt.


01 November, 2011

Big Sky Country

I love travelling out West - whether it's Utah, Montana, or Arizona. The whole scale is SO vastly different from what we see in the Midwest. Your entire frame of reference is suddenly skewed. Freight trains with 80 cars suddenly look like toys when set across the vast background of terrain and sky.

Wisely, I took the DSLR along on the Montana trip. I hope you enjoy the results.

Beaverhead River Skyline

Beaverhead River with the Fisheye

Schultzy Chillin' at the Takeout

Tobacco Root Mountains - Snow on the Last Two Days

Jefferson River Vista

More Jefferson River

Secret Tributary up in the Ruby Range

Enjoy; I sure did. I've already booked again for next year!