ORLANDO, Fla. — I realized my wallet was endangered at the Nikon display.
"What price range are you looking for?" the rep, Fay Sorrell, asked me.
After ogling a $200-something backpack, some deer stands, various top-of-the-line under garments, I already felt like I'd been dragged not through the SHOT Show, but through Disney World. With kids. Jim Bob Duggar's kids. And I had yet to choose the priciest item, an actual gun.
"Well, cheaper is better," I said.
"Not always," Sorrell replied. He took me to a set of lightweight, waterproof, shockproof 10x42 binoculars, the Monarch. "You can't go wrong with it," he said, explaining that he uses such a set on elk and deer hunts. "That's a glass that's a lifetime buy."
He really, really meant it, too. So even though this is supposed to be a three-day jaunt into the woody wilds of Wisconsin to bag a buck, here's 15 percent of my hypothetical budget going to a pair of binoculars. That will last a hypothetical lifetime.
Dang. We'd better gear up with the essentials before this gets out of hand.
Gun and ammo
It becomes quickly apparent wandering around the SHOT Show that you could spend precisely as much as you want on a firearm. If cost were less an object, we might go with something along the lines of Browning's X-Bolt, a no-frills, stainless steel-barreled 6-lb-and-change rifle. But at $1,059, I shied away. Instead, I'm going with more of a starter rifle: the .270 Savage Arms 11FXP3 long action. It's $640 off the shelf, a bargain from a company with a reputation for producing reliable weapons right out of the box.
For easy carriage, I'm going with a Bulldog's Hybrid Magnum rifle case, with lots of pockets and padding, and built-in backpack straps ($72).
With the gun covered, we turn to bullets. Apparently Carter read the story I wrote last year about the possible effects of high-speed lead-based ammunition in deer, because I see he also gravitated toward Barnes and its copper bullets
Lead ammo makes sense during target practice, but even a slim chance of lead contamination in my food is enough to splurge on copper bullets for a live hunt. (I know there's a debate on how much lead makes it into the venison, but I've seen the CAT scans of lead-infested meat, and I don't think lead concerns are a conspiracy or hysteria.)
Barnes makes copper bullets that flare open like a magnolia blossom as soon as they hit hide, creating a wound channel that's wide and clean. I'm picking up a box of 50 .270 cal, 130-grain bullets for $27. That may seem like a small load, but it's what the Barnes rep, who hunts in Illinois, swore by.
Last week the weather in Wisconsin got cold enough to extinguish hell. Mid-January would be late in the season for modern firearms deer season, but still, I'm going to assume it's going to be cold with a chance of miserable. One word: Layers.
Start with socks. For $15 I'm going to scoop up a pair of the new Cuff Sox. Their forehead-slappingly simple design allows you to pull the sock over your calf, and fold down a cuff over your boot top and laces. (They were designed by a construction worker who devised the sock while dumping debris out of his boots after he dug a trench.)
Next, boots. The coolest shoe in Rocky's new line is the warmer-weather Broadhead, which is so light and flexible you can wad it into a ball. Since it's cold, the new $139 Abominable boots, with their 1,400 grams of Thinsulate in a leather-and-nylon boot is the choice.
Under Armour is first against skin. Its Evolution line is built with a longer day in mind than its football compression garments, hugging less but still wicking away sweat and blocking scents with an anti-microbial finish. The legging ($60) and mock turtleneck ($60) form our base, and while we're here, we'll grab UA's new, lightweight Denison jacket ($175) to go over our next layers and a camo Coldgear hood ($31) to cover ears and nose.
King's makes a line of reversible fleece pants and jackets with a different camo inside and out-. We're going with the Woodland and Snow patterns, for $190.
Between the base layer and the jackets, I'm going to wear some of Buck Wear's novelty deer hunting garb. Hmmmm. There's the shirt depicting a dude in a deer stand, with the line over it: "I got your corporate ladder Right Here!" Or the hunter in blaze orange aiming a scoped rifle, "This is what I look like when I call in sick," written all around him. Classics both. Instead, I'm going to wear the "I shoot the deer you buy the beer!" shirt, $17.
Manzella makes gloves and gloves only. Its hunter-specific gloves include a whole line for bowhunters and a pair with two hand slots, to vary warmth against dexterity. The Ranch Hands are leather lined with wool and coated in Neoprene, making them waterproof and breathable, for $40.
Lawdy, can you go crazy on the accessories for a hunt like this. I finally elected to assume that I'm at a deer camp, not in dire need of a tent and sleeping bag and fire pit, etc. Some stuff, though, you just got to bring.
Knives, for one. The Outdoor Edge game processor kit retails for about $70, and is packed with the following: a caping knive, a gut-hook skinner, a boning knife, a Bowie style butcher knife, a bone saw, game shears, a brisket spreader, a sharpener, gloves, a carving fork, a cutting board and a hard-sided case. Sold!
Gotta have a deer stand, too, I figure. Big Game makes a fixed tree stand called the Boss — 20 pounds of steel and wire, with a flip-up seat. The Boss XL also has a little footrest, which may cost a little extra, but still puts us only at $129 retail.
Rather than track down real antlers to rattle, I'm grabbing Knight & Hale's Pack Rack. It looks like two mismatched plastic gears, but when you slap and rake them together, they sound like bucks tussling head-to-head. The rep said one of the company's pro staff had used them to attract a 171-class buck. This is an easy $20 to spend.
Streamlight's new Trident HP is a $40 high beam LED headlamp with optional green safety mode. We're throwing that over the hood.
I'm also going to blow a ridiculous chunk of change on a backpack. Camelbak's new Trizip is a manly, mainly military pack with a 100-oz. liquid reservoir, 2,318 cubic inches of storage, a Mystery Ranch-designed harness and a zipper system that fillets open the entire back of the pack in a Y-shape. It's $250 and will no doubt be a lifetime buy. On this trip, it also qualifies as a splurge, considering the company offers smaller hunting-specific packs for half that. But then, we'd have to think hard about what to bring instead of cramming a pack full of everything.
and speaking of everything, that's it. I'm down to $25. That's not enough for Highgear's $80 Enduro Compass watch, or Icebreaker's $40 Boot Blanket (like individual overboot sleeping bags for your feet this one hurts to lose). I was also hoping to snag one of Engel's new insulated game bags, $269 for the 35"x65" bag.
I'm also going out without binoculars. (Sorry, Monarch.) How will I see Carter clinging to his oak limb, like a cat on an inspirational poster, without such magnifying power? Instead maybe I'll just call him over with my Pack Rack and invite him to Curly's Pub at Lambeau Field for a beers and a basket of Wisconsin fried cheese curds. Probably won't need so many layers, and it's always free to tell lies.