Best of the Best: 41 Top New Products for This Hunting Season

Best of the Best 2015 Before a product earns recognition as Best of the Best, it must undergo field testing by our experts. In all, more than 150 products were tested, and 41 were deemed fit enough to earn this honor. Test procedures included slopping through mud with hunting boots, running ATVs over challenging offroad trails, and shooting rifles from a benchrest (three shots at 100 yards with three different types of ammo). In addition, guns were inspected for overall fit and finish, trigger-pull weights were verified, and barreled actions were removed and inspected with a borescope. Optics were assessed for optical quality in varying light conditions, and our experts also tested the riflescopes with a series of live-fire exercises. —The Editors
Remington Ultimate Muzzleloader $949–$999 • remington.com The first production muzzleloader capable of 200-grain loads (four pellets) uses an ingenious ignition system of primed centerfire brass (with a 91⁄2 large magnum primer) that closes snugly into the breech with the bolt action. It's a total package of power, range, and aesthetics. The Model 700 receiver is machined from solid-steel bar stock; the Bell & Carlson stock (in which four primed cases can be stored) adds to this rifle's overall versatility. —Brad Fenson
Rocky Athletic Mobility Fleece Jacket $109 • rockyboots.com For bowhunters, mid October can be the best time to be on stand—and the hardest to dress for, as temperatures can swing quickly from near freezing to sweltering. Though this soft shell is built with 380-gram fleece in the torso, it feels much lighter. Breathable stretch-fleece panels along the sides and under the arms really enhanced the comfort and fit, especially while I was drawing a bow. —David Draper
Sig Sauer Whiskey 5 2–10x42mm $800 • sigsauer.com Best known for firearms, Sig Sauer has branched into optics. The Whiskey 5 hunting riflescope—a 2–10x42mm, 1-inch scope—includes a zero-stop turret custom-lasered for your rifle's ballistics. Windage and elevation adjustments are crisp and precise. The 12-setting illuminated duplex reticle has an automatic shutoff. Optics are excellent, with generous eye relief. This is an elegant design. —Thomas McIntyre
Winchester Deer Season XP $20–$22 per box • winchester.com Made in .243, .270, .270 WSM, .30/06, .300 Win. Mag., .300 WSM, .308, and 7mm Remington Mag., Winchester Deer Season XP ammo employs a bullet with a huge exposed lead tip. Deer Season XP is loaded to advertised velocity, is accurate, and works exactly as advertised on the real thing. Given the performance, the prices are quite reasonable. —David E. Petzal
Dead Air Armament 7.62 Sandman-L $1,199 • deadairsilencers.com Legal in 39 states and in 35 for hunting, silencers preserve hearing, enhance accuracy, and spook less game. Dead Air Armament's 7.62 Sandman-L installs on any threaded-barrel rifle up to .300 Win. Mag. to reduce the report to a safe 135 decibels. It features a quick-detach collar as well as a durable baffle system. It's not cheap (and you'll need to fork out an additional $200 for the mandatory BATF fee), but it's still thousands less than hearing aids. —Jeff Johnston
Honda FourTrax Foreman Rubicon 4x4 Automatic DCT EPS $9,149–$9,599 • powersports.honda.com Electric power steering, dual-clutch transmission (DCT), and four-wheel independent suspension are the platform for Honda's best Rubicon yet. The chassis is small, lightweight, and very maneuverable on tight trails. A locking front differential lets the Rubicon plow through low-traction situations with assurance. —Lance Schwartz
SOG SwitchPlier $64 • sogknives.com With a simple push of a button, this 6-ounce multitool provides a hunter one-handed access to the spring-loaded pliers, making it quick to deploy for a host of jobs big and small in the field or around camp. It has 12 tools in all, including, of course, a bottle opener, a can opener, a saw, and a pair of screwdrivers. The SwitchPlier is a fresh take on what many outdoorsmen consider to be an indispensable tool. —Slaton L. White
Can-Am Outlander 6x6 XT 1000 ** $13,649 • can-am.brp.com** Featuring Can-Am’s potent 976cc fuel-injected, liquid-cooled V-twin engine and dynamic power steering, the Outlander 6x6 brings exceptional cargo-hauling capability to the ATV market segment. The bed section not only tilts and dumps, but it converts to a flatbed that also offers a large under-bed cargo hold. Despite its girth, handling is impressive at trail speeds, and the six tires supply the traction to tackle the worst possible conditions. —L.S.
Montana Rifle Co. Extreme X2 $1,299 • montanarifleco.com Here is a controlled-feed all-­stainless synthetic-stocked take-​it-­anywhere do-anything-to-it shoot-​anything-​with-​it rifle, available in 28 chamberings. You can get it in right- or left-hand and long- or short-action versions. It is, for all intents and purposes, a custom gun at an over-the-counter price. If that isn’t a bargain, it’ll do until the bargain comes along. —D.E.P.
Swarovski Optik STR 80 $3,689 plus $810 for 25–50x80mm eyepiece • swarovskioptik.com A pro’s optic, the STR 80 is the ­ultimate for long-range shooters. It starts with Swarovski brightness and clarity and adds an illuminated reticle marked in increments of minutes-of-angle or milliradians. The reticle includes a scale for rangefinding, based on the average body height of whitetail deer, and brightness is adjustable to 10 daylight and five low-light levels. —T.M.
Killer Instinct Machine $850 • killer-instinct-crossbows.myshopify.com The Killer Instinct Machine is quiet and fast (376 fps with 398-grain bolts). Its 2-pound TriggerTech trigger is the best I've tried, which no doubt helps explain why it put every bolt through the same hole at 20 yards. Features include a folding stock, CNC-machined-aluminum construction, and a lifetime warranty—all for well under a grand, including accessories. —Will Brantley
Sig Sauer Kilo 2000 7x25mm $500 • sigsauer.com The Sig Sauer Kilo 2000 displays an elegant simplicity. Capable of ranging out to over 1,000 yards, the small, slender Kilo measures in yards or meters, can compensate for shot angle, and adjusts brightness for ambient light. It goes the distance for you. —T.M.
Zeiss Terra XB75 2–7x32mm $444 • zeiss.com/us/sports-optics Zeiss’s new lightweight, 1-inch-tube XB75 is ready for new crossbow hunting opportunities. Tested on a TenPoint Stealth SS, the crossbow scope has a reticle with six crosshairs numbered from 20 to 70 yards that provides you with 21⁄2-yard increments for aiming. Properly calibrated, the scope is William Tell–accurate from 10 to 75 yards. —T.M.
Night-N-Day Trail Markers $7 for a pack of 10 • huntersafetysystem.com These low-tech chartreuse-and-­orange vinyl trail markers light up like a neon sign when struck by the beam of a flashlight (even in red-­filter mode). They quickly attach to branches via a spring-loaded metal clip and take up little room in a pack—so you’ll always have them handy for marking a blood trail or locating a stand. —S.L.W.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center Model 629 $1,399 • smith-wesson.com/pc With an 83⁄8-inch fluted barrel, the S&W Performance Center Model 629 (shown with optional sights and light) optimizes the .44 Magnum. Testing with Hornady .44 Mag. 240-grain ammo, I gauged the single-action trigger at under 5 pounds, clean and crisp for excellent groups with the adjustable rear sight and orange front blade. Custom wooden grips with a satin finish give it a nice look, and the revolver is tapped and drilled for an included Picatinny rail. —T.M.
Kawasaki Mule Pro FXT $12,999–$15,599 • kawasaki.com Kawasaki is known for reliability, but the Mule Pro FXT takes the brand to new heights. Powered by an 812cc in-line triple-cylinder engine with a continuously variable transmission, the Mule is optimized for torque. In less than a minute, the rear seating area for three can be transformed into a full-blown bed, or vice versa. A three-year warranty that’s three times better than that of its closest competitor helps make the Mule an impressive option. —L.S.
L.L. Bean Outdoors Hybrid Hunter Knife $89 • llbean.com This skinner doubles neatly for gutting, courtesy of its sharp false edge. It is made of 440C steel, has a G10 handle, and comes with an excellent ballistic nylon sheath. Finger holes allow you to choke up on the blade and give you a super-secure grip while dressing out an animal. The Hunter Hybrid takes a razor edge and resharpens easily. You’ll come to love it. —D.E.P.
Prime Ion $999 • g5prime.com We've been predicting greatness for Prime bows the past couple of years, and when the Ion tied for first place in F&S's 2015 bow shootout, it marked Prime's arrival to the big time. Like other bows that have won our test, the Ion does nothing wrong and so many things right. It is plenty fast (330 fps IBO), with a back wall that will stop a freight train, as well as a smooth draw cycle. —Scott Bestul
Southern Grind Jackal $230 • southerngrind.com Bushcraft is a set of skills needed to successfully survive life in the wild. It calls for an uncompromising blade. With a tensile strength of 320,000 psi and a 5-inch blade cooled to minus 300 degrees for extreme durability, the Southern Grind Jackal is capable of cutting down a red oak if the need arises. Furthermore, it's built to stay in your hand no matter the task. And it's sharp enough to shave with when you're done. —Richard Mann
Midland X-Talker T75VP3 $90 • midlandusa.com All but forgotten in the world of smartphones and Bluetooth technology is the old-fashioned two-way radio. But it has its uses, especially if you hunt beyond the reach of a cell tower. Midland’s X-Talker T75VP3 offers 38 channels (including NOAA Weather Radio) and 121 privacy codes as well as hands-free, ­silent-operation, and vibrate-alert modes. It has a reach of nearly 40 miles, and the charging station can plug into a wall socket or, via a USB port, a portable power pack. —S.L.W.
X-Stand The Duke $240 • x-stand.com X-Stand cemented a reputation for innovation and solid construction when its climbing stand won an F&S Best of the Best Award in 2011. And it has applied that know-how to ladder stands. The Duke features its ingenious cable Jaw Safety System, which secures the stand to the tree before the hunter scales the ladder. There is fantastic attention to detail here, with HeliX oval tubing for strength, a comfortable mesh web seat, and nylon washers for total silence. —S.B.
Maven B.2 11x45mm $1,050 • mavenbuilt.com Newly founded Maven Outdoor Equipment Co., headquartered in Lander, Wyo., makes an ideal binocular for wide open Western spaces. The B.2 11x45mm is built with armored magnesium frames, ED glass, and ultrabright Abbe-Koenig prisms to deliver superb light transmission and close focus. Best of all, a hunter can custom design and order the binocular direct from Maven. Varmint hunter and fellow optics tester Leroy Van Buggenum was downright effusive about Maven as a field glass. —T.M.
Yamaha Wolverine R-Spec EPS $13,199–$13,799 • yamahamotorsports.com The Wolverine injects excitement into Yamaha’s lineup with a crossover UTV that is exceptionally smooth on the trail, with the flexibility to adapt to both sport- and ­utility-​­focused outdoorsmen. Powered by an all-new 700cc engine with a plush long-travel suspension, the Wolverine confidently navigates the gnarliest terrain. A modular bed, electric power steering, and a plethora of cool Yamaha accessories allow the Wolverine to be tailored to each specific user’s needs. —L.S.
Cabela’s Minimalist Frame Pack $300 • cabelas.com Don’t be fooled by the name—there’s nothing minimalist about this top-loading 3,500-cubic-inch external frame pack. The main storage unit (which includes a hydration reservoir) is flanked by a pair of long, expandable storage panels, either one of which can swallow a large spotting scope. There’s a simple rifle-attachment system. A detachable daypack means the main unit can stay in camp while you scout, and an integrated meat tray and separate meat bag will help you haul out what you harvest. —S.L.W.
Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket $200 • kuiu.com This solid midlayer is as remarkable for what it doesn’t have—a lot of bells and whistles that would weigh it down—as for what it does have: an ultra­quiet shell over an advanced synthetic insulation that uses continuous, coil-shaped fibers to deliver maximum loft and warmth. And yet the entire jacket compresses into a small bundle, meaning there’s always space for it in a pack. Designed for active hunters, it’s breathable with lengthy pit zips for venting during cold, strenuous climbs to high aeries. —D.D.
Remington R-25 GII $1,697 • remington.com It’s not the Remington Model 8 Grandpa trusted or the 740 Woodsmaster Dad once carried to the deer woods. But at 71⁄2 pounds, the R-25 GII is lighter, more accurate, and certainly more reliable than either of its semiauto ancestors. Intense alteration of the AR-15 platform combined with hunter comforts, such as a thick butt pad and contoured hand guard, contribute to the latest (and very welcome) evolution of the self-loading hunting ­rifle. —R.M
Seek Thermal XR $299 • thermal.com Thermal imaging devices are a hot subject these days. The problem is, some can set you back $3,000 or so. But Seek Thermal’s XR ­smartphone-​compatible thermal camera and app can help you find a wounded animal after last light for one-tenth the price of some other units. The camera itself is hardly bigger than a box of matches, and you simply attach it to your phone via the charging slot. —S.L.W.
White River Scout $160 • whiteriverknives.com Scalpel-like in its precision, the White River Scout’s 21⁄2-inch blade is made of S30V steel that’s tempered hard and shipped with a razor edge. The Scout comes with orange, green, or black G10 handles and a Kydex sheath that is a model of excellence. It’s not cheap, but since it doubles neatly as a kitchen knife, you can keep it busy all year-round, thereby justifying your investment. —D.E.P.
Archer Xtreme Ronin $170 • archerxtreme.com A smart blend of performance and toughness, the Ronin is a sight that will appeal to 3D shooters and hunters alike. The machined-aluminum frame is light, and the stainless-steel hardware protects adjustment knobs and screws from corrosion. In addition, the micro adjustment knobs dial the pins in neatly, and the fiber optics are bright but small enough for pinpoint aiming, even at distant targets. —S.B.
Coleman FyreChampion HyperFlame 2-Burner Propane Stove • $180 • coleman.com The quaint cooking rituals of setting up the windscreen and pressurizing the fuel tank have been rendered obsolete by the ongoing modernization of the two-burner propane camp stove. Coleman’s latest entry utilizes a recessed cooktop along with lowered high-performance burners to help any camp chef prepare a hot meal quickly and easily, even when the wind howls. The grates serve as excellent wind blocks; remove them to make cleanup a snap. —S.L.W.
Muck Pursuit Shadow Tall $265 • muckbootcompany.com There’s light, and then there’s light. Muck’s 15-inch-high Pursuit Shadow Tall weighs just under 28 ounces per boot. The lace-up design makes it easy to get the boots on and off, and with a wider entry point you sure won’t have any trouble tucking in your pants in tick and chigger country. Completely waterproof and unbelievably quiet, these easy-on-your-feet boots would be a smart choice for early-season bowhunters and turkey hunters. —S.L.W.
Xpedition Xcentric $950 • xpeditionarchery.com The Xcentric—a bow from an upstart company in South Dakota—knocked the socks off the test team this year, tying for first in F&S’s annual shootout of the nation’s flagship bows. There’s a lot to love about the Xcentric, thanks to the XS Hybrid Cam that offers plenty of speed (354 fps IBO), a smooth draw cycle, and 80 percent let-off. Most important, we all shot the bow very well—and enjoyed the experience. —S.B.
Sitka Dakota Hoody $249 • sitkagear.com The hoodie has replaced the four-in-one parka as a waterfowler’s go-to garment, and this one is among the best. Its stretch nylon shell features a Windstopper laminate backed by thick Berber fleece. The hand muff is also lined with the stuff, and the fitted hood gets a layer of grid fleece. A lengthy front zipper that ends just below the sternum makes it easier to pull on. If you get cold wearing the Dakota, it’s time to head for the truck. —D.D.
Remington V3 $895 • remington.com What this country needs is a really good semiauto shotgun for less than $1,000, and Remington's V3 fits the bill. The V3s I have shot functioned perfectly in cold goose fields and cycled my lightest 7⁄8-ounce reloads at the range. It's easy to maintain and will run a long time between cleanings. A 3-inch 12-gauge, the V3 has a fully adjustable stock (with shims) and a useful magazine cut-off feature. —Phil Bourjaily
Hard Core Deluxe Man Cave $350 • hardcore-brands.com A well-designed layout blind should provide maximum concealment as well as a modicum of comfort while you wait for geese to drop into your spread. Hard Core’s Deluxe Man Cave (decoys not included) does just that. It sets up quickly and easily, is reasonably portable (without disassembly), and has lots of pockets for accessories. A full zipper on the foot bag allows for easy cleaning at the end of a muddy day. —S.L.W.
Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight $344–$404 • traditionsfirearms.com The 53⁄4-pound Pursuit G4 Ultralight defines value and performance. Minimal effort is required for loading, and the trigger broke cleanly at 2 pounds 10 ounces. Maintenance is a breeze with the removable breech plug and CeraKote coating. —B.F.
Ford F-150 $25,800–$51,350 • ford.com By using aluminum body parts, the new F-150 pickup shed 700 pounds, which, in turn, allowed engineers to increase the tow rating by 1,100 pounds (to a maximum of 12,200 pounds). Improved engine technology also helps outdoorsmen go where they want, with the gear they want, when they want. —S.L.W.
Winchester XPR $550 • winchesterguns.com This is a thoroughly 21st-century rifle, and Winchester’s first truly new bolt action in ages. At this price point, the XPR is inexpensive, but by no means can you consider it cheap. The polymer-stocked long-action model comes with the Model 70’s M.O.A. trigger, which is a revelation. Right now it is available in standard calibers such as .270, .30/06, .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Win. Mag., but more are sure to come. —D.E.P.
Prois Archtach Jacket $400 • proishunting.com We tested more women’s clothing this year than ever. That’s the good news. The bad? Much of it is still, well, bad. Not this jacket. Inside the DWR-coated ripstop nylon shell is 800-fill-power, water-­resistant goose down. Lycra panels in the pits stretch to accommodate shouldering a rifle and offer some venting during high-activity hunts. Best of all, it’s built by women hunters, not menswear designers. —D.D.
Titan Stormproof Matches $10 for a box of 25 • ucogear.com When you need a survival fire, you need matches that will positively ignite even if soaking wet. The 4-inch-long Titan Stormproof Match burns like a road flare for up to 25 seconds—and it will do so even in a brisk wind. And the outsize match can easily be used while wearing gloves. Yes, you can sit at home and cover kitchen matches with paraffin, but this is a whole lot easier. —S.L.W.
First Lite Corrugate Guide Pant $160 • firstlite.com You won’t find a pair of camouflage pants more comfortable and durable than these. Those attributes come thanks to a tough nylon fabric and climbing-inspired cut. Add in slim, yet functional, cargo pockets on each thigh and First Lite’s highly adaptable Fusion camo pattern, and these pants are just as at home on the early-season deer hunter as they are over a set of merinos during late-season elk hunts. —D.D.

Innovation doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. This year, our test panel found great gear from across the price spectrum.

Photographs by Adam Voorhes
Styling by Robin Finlay