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Sage One Fly Rod and 4250 Reel combo

Sage Fly Rod

Normally I’m all blast and no cast. But even the toughest bird dogs need to take breaks. Sage convinced us that during these down times we should try slinging some flies. It is addictive. The Sage One Fly Rod and 4250 Reel combo ($995) and a handful of flies gave us everything we needed to chase fish while the dogs recuperated from tough days afield. We’ll have the One in the truck on all our trips now.

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The Brute Cooler

Brute Cooler

The Brute Cooler is appropriately named — hard core, roto-molded, large handles, rubber latches — it’s got it all. Made in America by Brute, a family run company with excellent customer service. The 50 qt. ($319) will keep your birds chilled for at least five days, but go with the 75 qt. ($369) if you want to throw lunch and drinks on board too.

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Mud River Duffel and Crate Cushion

Mud River

My mom always told me to invest in nice luggage, well, that goes for toting your hunting gear, also. My Mud River Rolling Duffel ($192) has been to Africa, Saskatchewan, and multiple states in the US, and still looks as good as the day I bought it. The hard-sided bottom adds an extra measure of protection, as well as a great storage space. Mud River also offers a host of dog accessories to make your travels easier, including the Crate Cushion ($20 – $27) that gets “two paws up” from my GSP Wesson.

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Rudy Project Magster

RudyProjectMags

Everyone considers eye protection at the range required equipment. But vision is probably more at risk when bird hunters are afield. I’ve grown tired of taking sticks to the eye when busting cover. I didn’t think there were glasses that could perform in all the varying terrains and conditions I choose to hunt especially when those change throughout the day. I was wrong. Rudy Project Magster with ImpactX-2 photochromic clear-to-red lenses ($275) transition to any light condition afield. Insanely lightweight with what seems infinite adjustment, I often forget I’m even wearing eye protection. Rudy Project is adding shooting sports to their lineup for elite athletes. Other lens options exist, all with lifetime warranty and frames have a 3-year warranty. I expect these Magster will be with me for a long time because I’m no longer willing to risk my sight while hunting.

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UST Wetfire Tinder

UST Wetfire

A human can survive without food for three weeks. Hypothermia and exposure are the real killers in the wild. I’ve added the UST WetFire™ Tinder ($7) to my vest as part of my mobile first aid and survival gear. In the event I can’t make it back to the truck due to weather, injury or poor navigation skills I will now always be able to start a fire and stay warm.

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Benchmade Steep Country

Benchmade Steep CountryI’ve lost two knives to briars and saplings snagging the pocket clip. Maddening. I decided this season I would teach the pick pocket coverts a lesson and hunt with a sheathed fix blade. To be honest, I still like the feel of a knife in my pocket, probably because most of my brush pants have a permanent impression from years of carry. But the edge retention, hunter orange santoprene polymer handle, the heft of this Benchmade Steep Country ($98) feels great in the hand. Whether it’s an upland bird or a Ponderosa pine, when I have this knife I feel like I can render it to pieces.

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Blitz Firearm Wipes

Blitz Wipes

Blitz had it’s origins in jewelry cleaning but has expanded their offerings to include hunters’ bling. Besides being non-petroleum based and made in the USA, the Blitz Firearm Wipes ($7) just work really well. I’m not sure what proprietary oil is used, but every bird hunter should have a pack of these in the truck to wipe the stink off guns before returning them to the case.

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Garmin Fenix 3 and VIRB XE

Garmin VIRB

To list all the features of this duo in a gift guide is daunting. Garmin used to be known simply for preventing hunters from getting lost.  But it seems they are doubling down on their commitment to outdoorsman offering wearables, cameras and sporting dog gear. They are becoming an outdoor brand.

The Fenix 3 ($400) hasn’t left my wrist for anything but charging since the spring. It’s tracked my preseason workouts, warned of coming storms, pointed me in the right direction, foretold sunrise and sunsets, showed distances I’ve travelled and marked the truck’s location. An amazing piece of wearable tech that I still am not utilizing a fraction of its total potential. And now I can use it to control the VIRB XE ($399) action cameras to take first person video and stills.

Besides the 1080p video, 12MP capabilities and waterproof to 50M without a case, the stand out feature of the VIRB XE is the incorporation of data overlay which can track speed, g-force, position….. attach the VIRB to a bird dog and the possibilities become mind boggling. You’ll be seeing more and more video from Ultimate Upland in the coming months as we continue to explore this Garmin duo in bird hunting applications.

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Wearable Tech for the Bird Hunter: Fenix 3

Garmin Fenix 3 For Bird Hunting

Geeks everywhere are about to lose it; the Apple Watch delivers today and now everyone can be Dick Tracy. The annoying people talking into their bluetooth earpieces are about to be replaced by even more annoying people talking to their wrists. As much as I want to hate these gadgets, wearable tech is here to stay for a reason: It takes something we already use and adds functionality that elevates the device. And I honestly can’t hate that.

While hunting, traveling light and having duplicity is one of my highest priorities. A watch is a natural fit for doing more than just keeping time. But the Apple Watch is just too metro, too dainty, too indoor. Enter the Fenix 3 from Garmin, likely best known for their navigation equipment. Garmin appears to be migrating toward a total outdoor experience for the adventure seekers already using their GPS gear – a move that seems to be a good fit.

The Fenix 3 has core functions that take it well beyond timekeeper. Maybe most useful for the bird hunter who likes to wander far from camp or vehicle is the ability to mark waypoints. In the event you get turned around in the sandhills or a new grouse covert, a few clicks through navigation prompts will have your watch highlighting direction, distance and estimated return time to your jump-off point. Well-designed beefy buttons with good spacing let sausage fingers still smoothly steer. When hunting in new areas I often tally waypoints on multiple devices (see duplicity). But there is a level of convenience to having the capability on an arm without having to dig in pockets or packs for other tech. For the directionally challenged there’s no longer an excuse to keep the truck in sight. Walk until your legs are jello, your wrist will show you the way home.

Fenix 3 Wearable Tech

This watch is multi-sport capable: biking, climbing, hiking, swimming, skiing — hoping an app update may one day even include hunting as a category. By starting a ‘hike’ the Fenix 3 will keep time, speed, distance and your actual path. Other basic sensors include altimeter, barometer, temperature and step counter. Another feature extremely useful for hunters is sunrise, sunset and moon phase indicators.

You can extend the functionality of all this tracking by pairing it with your smartphone via the Garmin Connect app to monitor days afield. Garmin Express is the desktop version of the service which allows you to set up wifi connections for the Fenix 3 and add other devices. There still seem to be some minor kinks in software, but the amount of data and tracking is really pretty astonishing for something wristwatch sized.

How is all this data relevant to bird hunting? Say you have a particularly good day afield. Once you upload the data to Garmin Connect you’ll be able to see all the details that were part of that day. It combines location, weather conditions, time, distance, elevation and overlays that on a map. Add a comment about your bird dogs or number of flushes and you have the ultimate journal for your hunt just by wearing the Fenix 3. One can even share activity via email with hunting buddies, on social media or on a blog – if you don’t mind everyone knowing your honey hole.

 Garmin Connect data

I have become a fan of utilizing the Fenix 3 this off-season to help track fitness levels, then being able to smoothly transition to days afield. I expect more apps will be developed for increasing functionality, new watch faces and widgets all available through Connect IQ.

Maybe one of the most exciting new developments, Garmin released an action camera called the VIRB which incorporates video and still photography along with similar data collection of their wearables. The Fenix 3 can be used as a remote for the VIRB camera, talk about adding functionality to a watch.

I have no interest in talking to friends via my wrist. But a watch that helps track fitness levels and days afield in so much detail is too cool to ignore. All this functionality comes at a price; the Gray model I selected will set you back $499. The Sapphire model which incorporates the metal band and indestructible sapphire lens will cut you an extra $100 — given some of the terrain I hit, I may wish I would have gone for the full boat.

Now I just need to save up for the VIRB Elite Action Camera. Sure, the whole package will end up costing more than a new autoloader. But my old shooting stick should work just fine this year and now I’ll have video and data records of all the places I drag it. Maybe I’ll even accidentally hit the share button a couple times. Stay tuned.