Rifles photo

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Cabela’s, perhaps because it’s their 50th anniversary, or because they’re getting soft in the head, or because they felt sorry for me, sent me a whole sleighload of gear to play with this past hunting season, so much so that our UPS guy developed a conspiratorial smirk each time he drove up with a new package from Sidney, Nebraska. Everything that follows, I’ve used, but first a note:

All of this gear comes in the company’s Outfitter camo pattern, which is the only one I’ve ever seen that you can take anywhere without standing out like a zit on your daughter’s forehead the night before the prom. You may, if you wish, opt for a pattern such as Redbug and Pellagra, but eventually you’ll regret it.


Bow and Rifle Pack It’s 2400 cubic inches overall and weighs 4 pounds. The pack has a 2-litre water bladder, holds a reasonable amount of small stuff, plus shooting sticks and a spotting scope, and lets you carry your rifle down the center of your back, making it a hell of a lot easier to lug, and freeing both hands. The Bow and Rifle Pack has an excellent suspension, a waist belt big enough to go around the guts of even the calorically challenged, and no flaws that I can find. If you’ve never carried a rifle this way before, the Bow and Rifle will make a believer out of you. $150.


Meindl 400-gram Ultralight Hunter Boots – Unlike the rest of the Meindl line, these are built on American, rather than European lines, and as the name says, they are very light indeed at 3.2 lbs per pair. They’re warm (down to 10 degrees at least), break in quickly, and allow you to walk quietly. They do not grunt, chirp, or squeak as a number of American boots seem to. They would not be my first choice if I were hunting in the mountains or carrying a heavy load, but for anything else, they’re terrific. One note: The EE width is very wide, so unless your foot is shaped like Donald Duck’s you may want to try the mediums first. $210.


Alaskan Guide ½ Zip Pullover – A layering garment, I believe the expression goes. It has hardly any bulk or weight, but is very, very warm. Right now it’s on sale for $50 to $55, depending on size.


50th Anniversary Limited Edition Boot by Meindl–which has been making boots for 300 years and has it down pretty good–has turned out 1,000 pairs of these, and they are special. The LE boots are for very rough country and/or very heavy loads. They are 200-gram Thinsulate, made of a special dark leather, and come in a presentation wooden box with a goatskin (!) wrapper. Meindl makes this model in medium width only, but I take an E-width shoe and they fit me fine. What’s surprising about them is, despite the fact that they are very firm, they are very comfortable, not a problem to break in, and quite light for what they are. All the bells and whistles aside, this is about as fine a pair of boots as it is possible to buy. $300 to $400, depending on size.


Microtex Lite 6-Pocket Pants. Over the past dozen years I’ve used the regular-weight Microtex pants more than any other hunting trousers by a factor of 10 or 12. They’re quiet, very tough, and dry quickly. However, once it gets above 60 degrees, they’re too warm. This is where the Lite version comes in. Try them and you won’t wear anything else. $30-$40.


Alaskan Guide Thermocline Pants This is for layering. Put a light pair of longjohns underneath and a rainsuit over them, and you are set, period. They are very warm, light, and stretchy. The one drawback is that they come with a 32-inch inseam and can’t be shortened, so you’ll have to tuck them into something. Other than that, just fine. Around $60.