Machete Challenge - Do You Get What You Pay For?

I basically gave up on machetes. After some unimpressive chopping at camp, they found themselves confined to the bottom of the camp container not to see the light of day. In theory a machete sounded like an excellent tool. In practice they were totally disappointing. 

Then we started watching Forged in Fire, and I was tuned into the reality that the quality of steel was paramount to an effective working blade. So we took a chance and bought three high quality machetes to compare to our current ones - Svord Golok, Condor Kukri, and Condor Primitive Bush Knife. A big ticket difference than the first couple, Colghan and Gerber Gator (the higher quality ones were all over $100 compared to around $20 for the other two). The challenge was either going to be a huge waste of money, or we would finally have some tools that would get the job done.

I took a trip hiking through a remote area in the UP before Owen and I had a chance to make an official comparison, and grabbed the Svord to chop through branches while mounting trail cameras. Driving along the two-track after a storm, a full grown Aspen tree blocked my progress. Way too big to move (although I tried), the only option was to chop through it. The tree broke from it's base, with the skinniest part much larger than my calf. I figured I'd be there around 20-30 minutes sweating my way through. Had I known what was going to happen I would have set up a camera to record it for proof. Huge chunks flew around and I was through in what seemed like a minute. It could have been more, I didn't time it, but I definitely did not break a sweat. If I had the Gerber I'm not sure I would have even gone through it. Just as impressive, upon inspection of the blade, you couldn't see a mark anywhere and the edge was a sharp as ever. 

Of the three quality machetes in our test the Svord is my favorite. I love the looks and the function is just as impressive. The micarta handle feels great in the hand and allows for a solid grip. Condor's Primitive Bush Knife (machete length) is totally functional, but it's designed for more of a survival tool. The taper in the front of the blade doesn't make it as good of a chopper, but the steel is sharp and will hold an edge. The Condor Kukri is definitely a chopper, but the round wooden handle tends to roll in the hand. Owen and I are tempted to try and grind it flatter on the sides for a more secure grip.

We were so impressed with the results of the quality machetes that I went and bought a Gransfors Small Forest Axe as I've been equally disappointed with camp hatchets. 

One thing is certain from this, I will NEVER buy a inferior quality steel tool to do important jobs. It's much better to spend a few extra bucks and buy quality. It will save you time, and I'm not talking a minute here or there, I'm talking hours! It will also be much safer. You use very little effort chopping with a quality tool. Compare that to my older machetes and hatchets, we'd hammer away at things with brute force to compensate for the poor edge quality. In fact, one deer camp after late night chopping session the head of the hatchet went flying off the handle and we never found it. That could have been a problem to say the least. 

So for your sanity and safety, take our advice and spend a few extra bucks for something good. It's worth it.

Semi-Annual Trail Camera Check

I check most of my trail cameras twice a year. That's most true for the cameras that are a half day walk back in the woods. Some of the closer ones could get a fresh check three or four times. The cameras are strategically placed over a 35,000 acre area south of Newberry. It's my way of staying connected to the the wild activity in the YooP when I'm away. 

Camera types are Bushnell, Moultrie, and Reconyx - all are no-glow (which means they don't have a red or white flash when they take night pictures). No-glow cameras don't get quite the same distance as a red or white flash camera, but my goal is to try and not disturb normal animal activity. So the less disturbance my cameras have, the better.

Reconyx is by far the best. The picture quality is top notch, and the video is stunning high definition. The video quality (of all cameras) is a little lower than original on my condensed video - so keep that in mind when you watch. I've had over 20,000 pictures on a Reconyx camera and it still took a picture of me when i went to check it. I use lithium batteries on all my cameras.

In my opinion, Moultrie pictures are slightly better than Bushnell. They both only hold 8 batteries (compared to 12 in Reconyx). That could be an advantage (cheaper) or disadvantage (don't last as long). I did have a Moultrie run out on me after taking a day's worth of pictures of ravens and bald eagles on a deer kill. There was just enough battery left to get some neat bobcat pictures - but they didn't last through the night and were dead for the remaining 2 months before I had a chance to check in on it.

I place my cameras in tight areas. I want up front and personal images and video. That's my preference. I don't want to have to blow up an image of a far away animal to figure out what it is. Plus, I like the challenge of finding the appropriate pinch points where animals funnel through the woods. 

The Moultrie video is fine, but it must be a tad noisier than the others. On one particular set, I had the camera strategically placed within feet of where the animals would travel. On most occasions the animals jumped back and often ran away when the Moultrie began recording. Some of them seemed to adjust and get used to the noise, but I don't know if some animals stopped taking that route. That's not acceptable. But then a buck sat down in front of the camera and took a nap. He stayed there for a long time, as evidenced by the video each time he moved. Eventually however he jumped up, seemingly startled by the camera video, and moved off to another spot. 

I will only use the Moultrie video when my camera set isn't so close to where I expect they'll travel. I'll give it at least a 10 foot distance. 

The Bushnell video is also ok in quality, and haven't noticed it spook animals. I've had bears walk within inches of it. But I have one major beef - it records in MVI format and that's not compatible with my Mac. There is software to convert, but I haven't found one that I like yet. Plus, its an extra step I really don't want to take. 

Bottom line, for relatively the same price - I'd probably buy Moultrie over Bushnell cameras. If for nothing else, so I don't have to convert the video. I just won't place it as close to the trail. Interestingly, Reconyx video isn't readable on my tablet. That doesn't bother me as much though as I don't store my files on the tablet. 

Reconyx is hand's down my favorite. It's at least 2x the price of the others. Now that my quantity of cameras is sufficient, any additions to the family will probably be chosen on quality - which means it's Reconyx for me from here on out.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Mountain Light Hikers on autumn adventures

Smoked salmon cooked on my Campfire Grill

Benchmade Grizzly cutting through strings

These are a few of my favorite things...

I know, not quite as poetic as Julie Andrews. But if you are going on an adventure, whiskers on kittens and brown paper packages won't do you much good. Nope, you'll need stuff that's been tested and you can depend on. 

If it's on my Favorite List then it means it's good - really good, but probably not cheap. I'm highlighting quality above all else. So if you see a smoking deal this Thanksgiving weekend, be sure to gobble it up.

American Made Scott Fly Rods

For the fall 2015 salmon run I had the pleasure of using a Scott 8# fly rod. I had high hopes, but questioned whether the rod would perform significantly beyond my other fly rods. The day before the trip I put together the 4 piece Scott, and my current 8# for comparison. The Scott felt better, I thought, but I could only notice a marginal difference if that. The real test would have to be at the river. So I drove north to one of my favorite UP rivers. I woke from my tent to the sounds of eagles. You know what they say about the early bird, the eagles beat me. The rapids were calling. 

Scott Fly Rod

A quick stop at the bank to tie a salmon egg pattern - and then finally the river. It didn't take long to find fish - and hook them. And it took even less time to know I was holding a fine piece of equipment. The fly landed exactly where I wanted it to... most of the time. When it didn't - it was definitely my fault and not the Scott rod. The control, precision, power and feel were beyond what I had experienced with other fly rods (I fish with Sage, Temple Fork, Redington and Orvis).

If I didn't land the fish I couldn't blame it on the rod. Strikes were definitively set before I even knew I did it. The Scott became an extension of my arm and attached to my brain.

The rod worked with me. Maybe it was just meant to be. I bought a Bowtech Carbon Icon earlier this year on the spot. I sampled nearly 10 other bows, some were considerably more expensive than my Carbon Icon - but none of them worked as well - for me. Other people would have a different experience. The same could be for fly rods. Depending on your personal style, casting rhythm, fishing technique - the attributes of one rod or another might fit with one person but not as much for another.

That I don't know. But one thing is certain - this Scott rod performed better in my hands than anything else I've ever fished. I can guarantee this - there will be a Scott 6# and 8# rod in my gear arsenal before the next fishing season.

Danner Combat Hiker

I bought these Danner Combat Hikers with the help of my friends at Utica Shoe. They fit a little truer to size than some other Made in USA Danner’s. When I first tried them on, I thought they were a tad long in the toe. Scott from Utica Shoe assured me that was by design. 

Danner also makes an imported similar boot called the Talus. Don’t get confused and buy those by mistake.

The Combat Hikers were engineered by our US Military specifically for our men and women in Afghanistan. They wanted a boot that was tough, holding up to the rough rocky terrain and yet comfortable to spend the day/night hiking. The extra room in the toe keeps your toes from jamming when going down steep declines. 

My first weekend of use I put close to 20 miles in. Not a single blister! They handled superb in water, ice, snow, rock, mud and the U.P. forest floor. 

They fit comfortably. I wore them out of the box on my initial hikes, but have since replaced the insole. The standard one felt fine, but custom cushion was even better. 

The boot is not overly stiff. Much different from my Danner Mountain Light’s that have a very rigid sole. They feel durable and agile enough that I can feel the ground beneath me. 

They were not available to the general public in 2010 while Danner was filling a large military order. Advertised for around $310, I have since found them on-line at e-bay for even cheaper. Presumably being sold by some of the military that put them through little or no use. Shortly thereafter, Danner started selling them on their site for just $189.99. When I called to inquire they explained that they had excess inventory and are selling the boots at a discount in order to move them from storage. It appears they reduced their inventory as they are listed at full price again. But there are still plenty to be found on eBay.

Even at full retail price, I think you’ll get your money’s worth. I buy all my boots at Utica Shoe in Utica Michigan. The number is 586-731-0810. Scott, the owner, knows more about boots and the industry than anyone I’ve met. That experience helps me when choosing the right boot for purchase, and best practices to maintain my boots for life. His prices are great, and they care for my boots whenever I stop by the shop.

Danner Combat Hiker’s are the best hiking boots I’ve ever worn. They are made with excellent quality and I’m sure I’ll have them for years. Plus, Danner are a top notch company to work with. I had a pair of Pronghorn boots that sprung a leak. I called to explain and request an exchange, but that I wanted to keep them through the winter as they were my snow boots and didn’t want to be without. They said no problem. The following summer they hooked me up with an even nicer pair. 

I would highly recommend Danner, and especially these Combat Hiker’s to anyone.  

Rapid River Knife Works

My dad and grandfather were fans of Marble Knives. Made in Gladstone Michigan, these knives developed a collectors following and were known for their great quality and service. Eventually another U.P. knife company came into play, Wolverine Knifeworks and later changed their name to Rapid River Knifeworks. Located just 7 miles from the original Marble’s factory, I endear them as a relative to the great icon. 

After my grandfather passed away and their house was to be sold off, I took a piece of banister rail my grandfather made and was uniquely aged through years of loving hands guiding their way up and down the stairs. I asked Rapid River Knifeworks if they could make me a knife with this wood as the handle. Not a problem. All I had to do was choose the style and they’d make it work. My favorite blade is their Drop Point. It reminds me of an old Marble’s knife I lost in the woods years back. Word to the wise, nostalgia is fine with a knife, but not a sheath. Carry the best sheath for securely holding your knife, not the original soft leather sheath the knife came in 100 years ago. 

The drop point looks like the perfect blade, and I got to test it this fall while bowhunting. Seasoned hunters would find useful and relevant the gory details, but for the sake of all others I’ll spare them. I will say however that this knife finished the job more acutely than any knife I’ve used before. 

After having harvested my deer, it was a warm day and I decided to do much of the processing in the field. Once again, I found the blade to be exceptional. I skinned, quartered, deboned, took out the inner and outer loins all with my Rapid River Drop Point. It kept a fine edge and was easy to handle.

The sheath locks the knife in tight buttoning down around the finger guard. During discussion with Matt, the guy building my knife at Rapid River, I debated keeping the finger guard on but have since (just as he said I would) found the guard quite helpful. 

Don’t store the knife in the sheath and keep it lightly oiled. This will be something you pass through the generations.

Rapid River Knifeworks has tons of blades to choose from. I know what one my favorite is. But we all have different preferences when it comes to a functioning knife. One thing is sure - you can’t go wrong with buying any of their blades. They come with a lifetime warranty/sharpening and I can tell you that they stand behind it. While I was as their factory a guy came in with a small pocket knife and a malfunctioning spring. Looking to be beyond good repair, they told him to take his pick of other pocket knives in the showroom. 

That’s service not too easy to replicate with a knife made in China!

Rapid River Knifeworks is located in 10484 U.25 Rd/US.2 Rapid River Michigan. 906-474-9444.

Sport Ear Hearing Protection

I’m almost 40 and finally realizing that I’m not getting any younger. If the first half of my life I screwed up my body, the next half I’m going to do everything I can to keep and improve what I have left! This year I decided it was time to stop further ear damage and start hunting with ear protection.

My dad blames his significant hearing loss with shooting too many guns in the army without hearing protection. But you don’t have to shoot often to do damage. I shot a few rounds from a .44 pistol without ear protection and I had major ringing for months. If Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry shot real loads through that pistol of his I don’t think he’d hear anything anymore! 

While growing up I wore hearing protection most of the time while target shooting. But sometimes it was only a couple of spent shells sticking out of my ears. They probably did more damage than good. 

Eventually I wised up and committed to proper hearing protection during all target shooting activities. But I didn’t want to inhibit my hearing during hunting, and usually only need one shot at game, so I wore nothing when in the woods. Last fall a young college student was doing a paper on hunters and hearing loss. She had a table outside Jays Sporting Goods in Clare and asked hunters to answer a few short questions about their hearing levels and shooting practices. I asked her about her initial findings, and saw that hunter after hunter complained of ringing in the ears and hearing loss, which worsened over time. So I decided it was time to take my hearing protection to the next level and started researching my options.

The first call was to Walker Game Ear. I had seen their advertisements for ages now and had always been intrigued with their performance. Having never met anyone that actually used them, I didn’t know if they were more gimmick than substance. The conversation with the representative was informative, but left me with just as many questions as answers. I grew concerned that I’d lose directional hearing and would be searching all around for where I heard the twig snap. 

They offered two primary versions, muffs and in the ear devices. 

The muffs weren’t appealing for multiple reasons not least is that they looked bulky and noisy. I often sneak through dense swamps and could imagine branches streaking across them making all kinds of unnatural sounds. 

In the ear devices seemed best, but the costs were very high. 

Then I came across Sport Ear. On my first call I reached Brett Wade, who gave me the education I was looking for. He held Walker Game Ears in high regard, touting them as the founder of this industry. Walker has since sold the business. And Sport Ear is founded on a slightly different principle. They are first and foremost a hearing aid company, that built into the hunting protection product line. 

Sport Ear has varying levels of hearing enhancement. From the 30, which has the least amount of hearing enhancement, to the 210, 412, and the 812 with the highest level of enhancement. 

Brett gave me a money back guarantee, and I decided to try their Select-A-Fit 30 (lest amount of enhancement) as my hearing is still pretty good. The Select-A-Fit model has little rubber stoppers of varying sizes that you try to see which one fills your ear cavity best. 

My first test was while bowhunting. If I had the volume too high then the sound feedback was slightly digital. But when I turned it down just a hint I really couldn’t tell the difference sound quality between aids or no aids, except that my hearing was a little better with the aids in. 

Around 9:30 in the morning I thought I heard the very faint noises of animals walking in the woods to the South West of me. It was so slight and distant that I began to question if I was hearing something, or just imagining it. It sounded like two animals walking carefully through soft leaves. After ten minutes and no sight, I chalked it up to imagination. 

By 10:30 I decided to try and call in a deer. The wind was in my face, and there was a hill ahead where I thought deer might bed down for the afternoon. Since I had a bow and arrow, I had to find a tight ambush spot, and saw a perfect vantage point about 100 yards ahead. Slowly I made my way, careful as I could to remain quiet. Just before reaching my destination I made the fatal mistake and snapped a large twig. Two deer instantly jumped from their beds and bolted through the forest. They would have been in the exact spot where an hour earlier I thought I heard two animals sneaking along before going silent. I knew then that I had a new tool in my arsenal and not to question my hearing again. Hunt after hunt thereafter I recognized the faint sounds of animals that I wouldn’t have heard before without the Sport Ears. 

During gun season I was able to finally put them to the protection test. It started with sighting in my rifle. Still leery of them actually working, I wore them under conventional  muffs. That of course worked just fine. Then I took off the muffs and settled in for my first Sport Ear shot. It felt abnormal, like not wearing a seatbelt while speeding down the freeway. I squeezed the trigger, felt the percussion and heard the muzzle blast echo down the forest trail. No ringing, and no loud explosion at the point of the gun. Impressive! It shut down the dangerous sound but instantly allowed me to hear everything else. 

I wore them over the opening weekend of deer season, unfortunately I didn’t see a deer I wanted to shoot. But I did something that I hadn’t done in years, and hunted with that massive .44 mag. There’s a beaver pond swamp that I sneak through looking for bedded deer. You either see nothing or come face to face with a deer. It’s where I shot one of my biggest bucks. I do my best to sound like another deer, which enables me to get close to them. But when your gun rubs against a tree there’s nothing natural about that sound and you may as well have blown a whistle to announce your arrival. The handgun allows me to sneak quietly through the tight swamp, and now with Sport Ear, I won’t do any more damage to my hearing when I shoot. 

I didn’t see a deer that afternoon, but I shot the gun once to see how the hearing protection worked. They had slipped out slightly from my ear and allowed some unwanted sounds to get in. Still, the impact was minimal and my hearing quickly recovered. I talked with Brett Wade at Sport Ear about it and he suggested we try making molds specifically for my ears. We’re in the process of that now and I’m looking forward to trying them out. While the Select-A-Fit were comfortable, they did feel slightly awkward. 

I’ll take them out again later this year hunting and will report on my findings. But as of now I would highly recommend them for anyone who is serious about protecting their hearing. You could spend anywhere from $500 to $1,500 depending on your current hearing levels. But I for one have decided my hearing is worth the price. And of course I love it that these gems are made in the U.S.A.!

Fly Fishing Gear

I have a 6 weight Sage rod passed down from my wife’s Grandfather. I broke the tip in a cabin door, called Sage to explain and they fixed it - free of charge. I love companies that stand so strong behind their products! 

If you are new to fly-fishing, it pays to talk to a good guide or fly shop to help find something that will suite you best. The action has quite a bit to do with your casting ability, and will save you some frustrations when you match with the right rod.

I bought Sage’s low end reel 1600 Series. It has the same lifetime warranty as their higher priced reels. Sure, the other reels felt a little better at the store, but I figured I’d forget that as soon as I was in the river. I was right.

Price is about $100

This is my favorite reel of any kind that I’ve ever fished with. The Ross Reel has a lifetime warranty, and helped bring in some very large fish! Super fast getting the line on the reel with an awesome drag. If you lose a fish you can’t blame it on the reel.

Whether spin fishing or as a leader on my fly lines, I always use Maxima line. Some say there’s better line out there, but I’ve fished alongside some of the best equipped fishermen and spooky fish tolerated my Maxima line over what most others had on. And for the really finicky large fish, I switch down to 8 pound test. It’s surprisingly strong enough to pull in the mighty King Salmon from stump infested rivers.

If I could only use one fly it would be Gamasuki Hooks and Glo Yarn - save yourself a bundle of money and tie your own egg pattern flies on the river. They work just as well, plus I think these hooks are the best around. I consistently hook more fish with them and can easily change colors without tying a new hook.

Polarized glasses are a must when trout fishing. My main pair (bought at Gander Mountain) is called Explorer. They seem to work better than most. I can’t tell you how many times people have walked by me saying there aren’t any fish in the river and keep right on walking, past the school of steelhead I’m fishing.

Reconyx Trail Cameras

When I was shopping for my first trail camera, I happened upon this company - They did a superb job on their website of comparing the multi faceted differences with all the major trail cameras. One camera stood out from the rest, Reconyx. But the cost also stood out, at about $550 or 2x the amount of the other highly rated camera from Bushnell. 

Reconyx is made in the USA, and I love to support companies making products in our country. But I also want to make sure that I’m paying for high quality if I’m going to fork over a lot more money. So I called Trail Cam Pro to talk to a live person and ask some questions. They said it is by far the highest quality camera and worth the money. I haven’t been disappointed since.

Some of the features that I liked were it’s incredible fast trigger speed. It takes three pictures instantly upon being triggered by heat or an image, even on the far perimeter of the lens. And then I can set it to continue taking those bursts of pictures for as long as there is movement in front of the camera. 

There are companies such as Cuddeback that are designed to have a narrower detection range, highlighting their centered photos. But I’ve had countless images of animals that never crossed the center of the camera, and I wouldn’t have learned that they were there. I’ve even had the Reconyx triggered by a deer sniffing the camera and later just getting an image of the edge of its nose. Had I used a camera with narrow detection, I may have never known that the scent of the camera was enough to keep a deer from walking along the trail. In that particular instance a bear brushed up along and left her scent on the camera.

The Reconyx has captured antlers, ears, noses, tails... all kinds of glimpses of animals that came close to, but not quite directly in front of the lens. Personally I find that information valuable and would rather have a partial image than none at all. 

I try to face the camera to the north and not too far east or west to avoid excess glare from the sun. Know the range of your flash to secure good nighttime images. I tend to leave the camera in one spot for months at a time. I’ve yet to have the batteries run out (using Lithium batteries) or my 8 gig SD card. That includes a winter/spring with over 20,000 images on it. I was using a “Code Blue Bear Magnet” lure to try and entice bears from their den. No bears, but I discovered that deer find it irresistible. It was the last time I used an attractant on a trail camera site!

You’ll be rewarded with sights of animals that you had no idea lived in your backyard woods.