Expert’s picks for best scopes, optics, trail cams, stocking stuffers and more.
The Christmas season is in full swing, and if you’re looking for that special piece of hunting gear to get for the outdoor enthusiast in your life, the clock is ticking.
That said, here are some items worth considering, gear I’ve personally used. I know they work, I’d suggest them to anyone, and, most importantly, I use them and plan on using them for years to come, thus stand behind them.
RIFLE SCOPES HAVE A wide range of purposes and price points, but one of the best bangs for the buck I’ve ever seen is Leupold’s VX-Freedom 3-9×40 CDS rifle scope (leupold.com). I recently put this scope, with a duplex crosshair, on my wife’s .260 custom Nosler rifle, which was shooting 125 Nosler Partitions. We gave the folks at Leupold our specific ballistics and what yardage the rifle was zeroed in at, and they made us a custom dial turret.
The custom dial, dubbed the CDS (Custom Dial System), is installed in the top turret position once the rifle is sighted in. The CDS eliminates the need for holdover, as it’s a turret that’s marked with specific distances out to a maximum yardage. Simply sight the rifle in as usual, replace the top turret with the custom dial, and you’re ready to shoot.
It worked perfectly, as my wife made a clean, one-shot kill the first time out on a blacktail deer. The VX-Freedom 3-9×40 CDS scope is not only the hottest scope in the hunting world right now, but it’s one of the most affordable, high-quality scopes in the industry.
If you’re a predator hunter looking to build a close-range rifle or shotgun setup, or are serious about turkey hunting, another versatile scope option is Trijicon’s MRO, which stands for Miniature Rifle Optic (trijicon.com).
The MRO is a red-dot sight that’s rugged, lightweight and waterproof. There’s virtually no tunnel vision, commonly seen with other red dot sights, thanks to a shortened optical length. Mounting the MRO is simple. Treat it just as you would a rifle scope, including the bore sighting and actual sighting in process. What I love about the MRO is its infinite eye relief, which makes it easy to quickly acquire game that’s moving off to the side, or at unexpected angles to your shooting position.
The MRO has eight brightness settings and the 2032 battery offers five years of continuous use. The bright, 2-MOA dot is crisp and the ideal size to optimize target acquisition, and it’s also parallax free.
OPTICS ARE SOME OF the most important pieces of gear I rely on, no matter where in the world I’m hunting. This year I put Leupold’s binocular and spotting scope lines to use in multiple situations. These optics are easy to use, offer a crisp image in a range of weather, and are durable.
I spent many hours behind each piece of glass, and eye fatigue was never an issue.
Most importantly, these optics saved me valued time, allowing me to cover ground with my eyes, not my feet, and spot game that was hiding in the most obscure pieces of cover. For binoculars I carry on my person, I was impressed with both the Leupold BX-4 Pro Guide HD and the BX-5 Santiam HD.
The BX-4 is a 10×42 that’s lightweight and compact. This was my preferred bino when hiking long distances, hunting in brushy habitat or facing rain and heavy fog. When spending time in more open terrain, the BX-5s were my bino of choice. Both pairs are waterproof, have easy-to-adjust eye cups and barrels, are comfortable to hold for long periods and perform well in low light and amid heavy shadows.
For longer range glassing, the BX-5 Santiam HD 15×56 was ideal. Be sure and get a tripod to use with this glass, as this will allow you to search for hours in comfort. The amount of detail this larger binocular affords is well worth the investment due to the crisp image.
I was also impressed with Leupold’s Gold Ring 12-40×60 spotting scope, as the unit is very compact and
lightweight, provides a very sharp image and has appealing eye relief and physical features that allow you to glass for hours.
Finally, no optics package is complete without a range finder, and the Leupold RX-1600i range finder was perfect. This very light, compact rangefinder features a 6x magnification, a crisp red OLED display, high light transmission, a built-in inclinometer and more, which make it the ideal rangefinder for the hunter on the move, in a range of habitats and terrain.
WHILE ON THE TOPIC of rifle hunting, I’m a believer in solid shooting rests, and advocate always taking shots at big game from a tripod shooting stick or gun-mounted bipod. I recently put a Javelin Bipod (javelinbipod.com) on one of my rifles, and was greatly impressed.
This unit is easy to install, and the fact that the extremely lightweight, durable, magnetic bipod can be removed from the receiver, which is mounted on the rifle stock, makes for easy, comfortable carrying of the gun. Having the option to mount or remove the bipod quickly is a huge breakthrough in the world of shooting aids, but it also can be folded forward or backward while on the gun and carried that way.
The bipod easily pivots, yet can be locked in place in order to eliminate movement. Rubber covers slip over the end of the legs and grip on many surfaces, but can be removed to expose tungsten carbide-tipped feet, which grip on ice and rocks.
One of the tools I depend on year round is a trail camera. I have quite a few units, and am always looking for the best, especially when it comes to video quality. I learn far more about animals, animal behavior and animal movement through video than I do still photos, and this is where the Stealth Cam DS4K (stealthcam.com) instantly caught my attention. The quality of both day and nighttime video this camera captures is flawless. It’s the world’s first 4K digital trail camera, and the NoGlo infrared flash range is 100 feet. The fast trigger speed means you’ll not miss capturing high-quality still shots, either. I’ve had great success with the DS4K for tracking deer, elk, bears, turkeys, waterfowl, small game and a range of predators.
AS FOR STOCKING STUFFERS, consider these. Headlamps are an important part of my gear and this year the 250 Lumen Cyclops Conductive Touch Headlamp (gsmoutdoors.com) instantly caught my attention. The light never turned on while in my pack, and its bright, direct beam worked great in the duck blind, in the woods and in the cold rain. The on/off touch pad is silent and the unit runs on three AAA batteries which last 2.5 hours on the high setting, up to 10 hours on the 100 lumen white COB LED setting, or 25 hours on the green COB LED setting. The shock- and weather-resistant housing held up on all my trips. I’m an advocate of keeping your gun barrel clean of powder residue and debris, and this stocking stuffer will help.
The SSI Gun Rope Cleaner is a two-part system that is lightweight so it’s easy to carry afield, and it’s simple to use. Simply use the nylon rope to pull the brush from breech to barrel, then follow it up with the finishing rope. Available in a range of gauges and calibers, I had great success with it on multiple hunts, from Alaska to California, and it’s available online or at many local sporting goods stores.
When camping, cooking is something I want done fast and simple. While it won’t fit into a stocking, the Camp Chef One-Burner Stove (campchef.com) is priced as such, and it’s easy to operate. I used this stove on multiple trips, and if I can cook on it, anyone can. It’s lightweight, comes in an easy-to-carry case, and is fast and efficient.
Get the model that features an adapter to burn both butane and the 1-pound propane bottle. While on the topic of versatile hunting gear, the most versatile tool I’ve used in the outdoors is the Loop Rope (looprope.com). The ultimate tie-down is durable and can be used in many ways. I take them on every outing and always have a couple in my truck. I use them camping, hiking, packing out game, and in a pinch so many times. At a mere $20, you can’t go wrong here, and believe me, you will find more than one use for these gems.
There you have it, a look at some of the gear I used this year, and will keep using for years to come. Good hunting, good shopping, and happy holidays.
Editor’s note: Looking for more Christmas gift ideas? Check out Scott Haugen’s many bestselling hunting, fishing and cooking books, and get them signed, at scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Story by Scott Haugen