Field & Stream's Best of the Best Awards: 2012 Hunting Gear | Field & Stream

Field & Stream's Best of the Best Awards: 2012 Hunting Gear

What separates gimcrack novelty from designs that stand the test of time? Inspiration, innovation, and craftsmanship no doubt play a large part. So does dedication to a job well done. Our winners this year all share those attributes, whether found in a $3,000 shotgun or a knife that retails for less than $100.

Continue reading to see which 25 items made the list.

2012 Jeep Wrangler
$22,045-$29,995

Although the latest version of this iconic 4x4 has amenities such as heated seats (heresy!), it retains the round headlamps, as well as the seven-slot grille, to carry on the hallowed Willys tradition. As part of that legacy, the Wrangler Rubicon model I tested rode on heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles and benefited from a Rock-Trac NV241 two-speed transfer case with a 4:1 low-range gear ratio. The Rubicon also had electric front and rear locking differentials, a disconnecting front sway bar, and 32-inch tires, all of which were needed on a demanding offroad trail in Ore­gon's Tillamook State Forest. Also on board: a new, more powerful (but far more fuel-efficient) 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Yes, the interior is noticeably more comfortable, but it also has pull-out washable carpets. A removable plug drains water so you can hose down the floor, if needed--something sportsmen can appreciate.
--Slaton L. White

Eddie Bauer MicroTherm Featherweight Hunting Jacket
$200

A featherweight in the literal sense, the Micro­Therm has micro-channels stuffed with 800-fill down, the finest insulation nature provides. Unlike traditional puff jackets, which make you look like a hand grenade, this one is form-fitting, with stretch panels that flex when you do, whether mounting a rifle or scaling cliffs.

Originally designed for mountaineers as a technical layer, it was refined for hunters with the addition of a fleece-lined collar, a water-­repellent coating, and durable Cordura overlays on the yoke, forearm, small of back, and shooting patch. Although it isn't intended to repel pouring rain, I did stand in a drizzle for half an hour and needed nothing more than a brisk shake to remove the beaded water drops.

This is a highly updated version of the jacket Jack O'Connor, the late, great shooting editor of Outdoor Life, touted as the perfect hunting layer.
--Keith McCafferty

Cabela's Air Revolution by Meindl
$240

Early and midseason hunters who prefer to walk, rather than wait, for deer, antelope, or elk will appreciate the special air-pump insole of these lightweight 11-inch-high boots. The Air Revolution technology pushes out hot air and draws in cooler air with each step, and combined with the soft foam footbeds, it makes walking in rough country as comfortable as stepping on a feather mattress.
--S.L.W.

Taurus Tracker Model 992
$619

This nine-shot .22 features an innovative button-release system that lets one cylinder pull out to be replaced quickly by the other. That allows you to convert it from camp-duty .22 Long Rifle (for assorted vermin and snakes) to .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (if defensive loads are called for). The ­double-​action pull was lawyer stiff but smooth. The single-­action, however, broke crisply. It produced good groups at 30 yards.
--Thomas McIntyre

2012 Kawasaki Teryx4 750 4x4 EPS LE
$15,199

All new from the ground up, the agile and comfortable Teryx4 is adept at work and play and fills a huge void in the four-­passenger sport-­utility side-by-side market. For epic family adventures, the rear stadium-style seats, mounted higher and toward the center, give backseat passengers an unobstructed view, and the potent fuel-injected V-twin (now matched to a continuously variable transmission) can conquer any trail.
--Lance Schwartz

Federal Mag-Shok Heavy-Weight Turkey
$25 for five

Federal's 23⁄4-inch, 11⁄4-ounce 12-gauge turkey loads of Heavyweight shot kick like field loads and hit turkeys like magnums. Less is more is a tough sell to the American hunter, but Federal is sensibly offering a low-recoil alternative to shoulder-busting turkey loads.

Ever since denser-than-lead nontoxic shot appeared, the potential has existed to make light loads that can outperform heavier lead loads. Federal's tungsten-iron Heavyweight shot is the densest on the market, meaning the 6s hit like lead 4s, the 7s like lead 5s. I have killed turkeys with both sizes and can vouch for its downrange punch even on long shots. Its density and hardness help it outpattern lead. When those pellets are combined with Fed­eral's FliteControl shotcup, even 11⁄4-ounce loads (at 1300 fps) offer 40-plus-yard performance.

Many new shooters get their hunting start with turkeys. This ammo lets them do so without feeling the pain of turkey gun recoil.
--Phil Bourjaily

Federal Premium Vital-Shok Trophy Copper
$40-$70 depending on caliber

When tested for accuracy, velocity, penetration, and expansion, Federal's Vital-Shok Trophy Copper ammo scored virtually perfect results. It's made in calibers ranging from .243 to .338 Federal, and for the tests, I used .30/06 in 165- and 180-grain bullet weights, in two rifles of proven accuracy, a Shaw and a Jarrett. In the Shaw, the 165-grain bullets averaged 1.071 inch in overall group size; in the Jarrett, the average was 1.645. The 180-grain slugs went into 1.351 inch in the Shaw, and .668 in the Jarrett.

Velocity was exactly as advertised. Federal says 2800 fps for the 165s; I got 2803. For the 180s, 2700 is the factory spec, and my chronograph said 2703, consistency that borders on the eerie.

Penetration and expansion were both uniform and superior. The bullets mushroomed perfectly. The 180-grain bullets kept 99 percent of their copper; the 165s hung on to 100 percent. You can't do any better.
--David E. Petzal

Meopta MeoStar B1 10x42mm HD
$1,200

There is no denying the cachet of the term European optics--except when it's just a euphemism for overpriced. Nearly 80 years old, Czech manufacturer Meopta has been distributing its products under its name in the U.S. for about a decade. In its complete line of hunting, tactical, and law-enforcement optics, Meopta makes what are widely regarded as reasonably priced quality binoculars, and its new MeoStar B1 10x42mm HD is another step up. The objective lenses are ­extra-​low-​­dispersion fluorite glass with ion-assisted coatings--​and virtually undetectable chromatic and spherical aberration (in simple English, color fringing in greens and violets on objects and blurring at the outer ring of the image, ­respectively).

Tester Leroy Van Buggenum liked the closed-bridge, green-rubber-armored binocular's compact length that "fit the hand very well," with thumb indents, raised dotting for the fingers, and subtle palm swells on the housings. The ­positive-​click diopter focus is conveniently located on the center focus knob. Optically bright and sharp, with a generous field of view and a solid feel, the MeoStar B1 is a top choice for big-game hunters.
--T.M.

**Tenzing TZ2220 **
$200

Naming a hunting pack after one of the most famous mountaineers in history (Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay) is an act of either unmitigated gall or supreme confidence. Hunters who shoulder this internal-frame 2,220-cubic-inch pack with adjustable shoulder straps will most likely think it's the latter. The TZ2220's deep, well-thought-out main storage compartments and side pockets can store whatever is needed for a day afield.
--S.L.W.

Millennium M50 Hang-on Treestand
$150

Attention to detail, rugged construction, and innovative features make the M50 stand out in a forest of hang-ons. The CamLock Ratchet Strap Receiver system lets you preset multiple locations for easy and quick stand changes. In addition, the Interlock Leveling system (the seat and platform can be adjusted independently) fits the M50 to leaning trees.
--Scott Bestul

Bowtech Insanity CPX
$999

This bow surprised my testing team, a group of guys known to bash "speed" bows. Nothing wrong with a fast arrow, of course, but speed usually comes at a price--a rugged draw, unconquerable noise, thrumming vibration--that most bowhunters don't want to pay. The Insanity, however, managed to solve those issues and nose out some heavy competition.

It broke the 300-fps barrier while flinging a 425-grain hunting arrow, only the second manufacturer's bow to accomplish that feat in the history of our test. That speed comes from Bowtech's aptly named Overdrive Binary Cam, which rolled over nicely at the 70-pound test weight; crank the weight down 10 pounds and the draw would be effortless. The back wall was rock solid, and the bow had wonderful balance.

Bowtech has incorporated a lot of new technology, too, including the FLX-Guard, which reduces riser torque and nock travel.
--S.B.

Traditions Vortek Ultralight LDR
$460-$480

The two most appealing advantages of the 30-inch chromoly barrel on the Traditions Vortek Ultralight LDR (Long Distance Rifle) are its downrange energy and improved accuracy. This muzzleloader consistently shot the highest velocities, measured with a chronograph, with a number of different powders and bullets. It was as much as 300 fps faster than the other rifles tested, all the while maintaining accuracy.

From starting bullets to seating them on the powder charge, the Vortek is easy to load. Its firm trigger broke cleanly, helping shooters obtain consistent results and impressive groups. Cleaning is quick and easy; the breech plug can be removed by hand (no tools required), and the drop-out trigger can be removed by backing out a single screw. In addition, the barrel's Cerakote finish improves corrosion resistance.

Even with the longer barrel, the LDR weighs just 6.8 pounds and is easy and comfortable to shoot. For a lightweight gun, the recoil is very manageable, and barrel lift is minimized.
--Brad Fenson

Ruger American Rifle
$450

The Ruger American Rifle is a departure for that company. Unlike its other long arms, it's not based on an older design. It's completely 21st century, and one of those comparatively rare rifles that you can go over feature by ­feature and find nothing whatsoever to criti­cize. Ruger was not being innovative to show us how clever it could be; it used its smarts to produce a world-­beating rifle.

Sleek, light, and accurate, it feels terrific in the hand. It has an ingenious bedding system and rotary magazine (highly unusual in a centerfire rifle), an effective recoil pad, a good adjustable trigger, and a matte finish that will not spook game. Maybe most important, at around $450, it's a rifle that all but the most impoverished can afford. Right now the American comes in a limited number of calibers--​.243, .308, .270, and .30/06--but I expect that will change in time. Who knows, they may even make it left-handed.

If the shooting public has the sense God gave a billy goat, Ruger will be back-­ordered on this rifle for years to come.
--D.E.P.

Browning Citori 725
$3,140

Tinkering with a classic rarely makes it better, but Browning accomplishes the difficult feat of making over a legend with the new Citori 725. Fellow tester Peter Kasper, a shooter and a woodworker, loved the workmanship. While he called it "a facelift on an old friend," the changes are much more than cosmetic.

The rap on the Citori has always been that it is overweight and that its action is tall and ungainly. So, Browning engineers trimmed metal from the bottom of the receiver and thinned the barrel walls. The result is a slimmed-down Citori that weighs nearly 3⁄4 pound less than the standard model. I hunted with and shot the 725 in both field and sporting models last fall, and it is by far the best-­handling, liveliest Citori ever. As if improving the gun's ­dynamics wasn't enough, Browning also made the ­welcome change of converting the triggers from an inertia design to a mechanical system. The nicely figured Grade II/III walnut with a satin finish won't show the inevitable dings you'll put on this gun, because the 12-gauge 725 is one you won't want to leave behind on any trip to the field.
--P.B.

TenPoint Turbo XLT II
$919

Winner of last year's crossbow test, Ohio-based TenPoint snapped up a repeat crown with the Turbo XLT II, a high-­performance bow crammed with hunter-friendly features. Cutouts and openings in the Fusion Lite stock have shaved weight without compromising strength. The barrel is nearly an inch longer than on previous TenPoint models. That added length increases the power stroke for the IsoTaper limbs, which sent out bolts through a chronograph at 325 fps. Even better, the narrow limbs make the bow highly maneuverable in a blind or stand.

But three critical factors shot the Turbo XLT II to the winner's circle. First, the bow was incredibly accurate.Second, it was safe to operate due to an intuitive ambidextrous safety and anti-dry-fire device. Third, the innovative Acudraw cocking rope (which retracts into the stock, the handles secured by a slick magnet system) was a joy to operate and nearly silent, proof that this is a crossbow for hunters.
--S.B.

LaCrosse Swamp Tuff Pro Max-4 Wader
$290

Pulling them on is like wrestling into a deep-sea diving suit--they're that stout. But if you're a waterfowler who smiles when the wind is howling and the mercury is dropping, these thickly insulated (1,000 grams of Thinsulate) waders are just the ticket. The combo Velcro and buckle strap system (and adjustable waist belt) helps provide an individualized fit.
--S.L.W.

EOTech Holographic Hybrid Sight II
$1,059

Although labeled For Law Enforcement/Military Use, the EOTech Holographic Hybrid Sight II is a rugged combo with definite varmint hunting applications. It consists of two units--a 1X EXPS holographic weapons sight and a G33 3.25X magnifier--with individual lever-operated quick-​detachable bases. The former provides fast target acquisition for close-range shooting; the latter is used for longer shots.
--T.M.

Alliant Black MZ
$25 for a 1-lb. bottle

This noncorrosive powder virtually eliminates ignition problems and stubborn fouling, greatly reducing the need to swab the barrel between shots. The blackpowder replacement performed so well, in fact, that the test team was able to fire muzzleloaders repeatedly without any cleaning. And when a patch was run through the barrel, there was far less fouling than is normally seen. The loose grains also can be packed tightly, producing great energy results while maintaining low barrel pressure.
--B.F.

Zeiss Victory HT 2.5-10x50mm
$2,667

Due to a slight miscommunication concerning the subzero riflescope testing procedure, we wound up freezing the Zeiss Victory into a 10-pound block of ice--and it survived the ordeal. The aberration-free 30mm HT features a 50mm objective lens, Schott glass, and Zeiss's T* multicoatings. The second-­focal-plane No. 60 duplex reticle utilizes an ultrafine illuminated dot operated by a large knurled side knob that pulls on to light up and dials a wide band of brightness levels.
--T.M.

Buck Haley Heath ErgoHunter Adrenaline Series Avid
$95

Designed for women, the Avid has a scaled-down ergonomic handle with a lavender inset (which will keep any real man from using it). The sheath is a tasteful gray. Buck offers three blades in this hunting series, each of a different steel, with or without a gut hook. What you want is the midpriced model, made of 12C27 Sandvik steel, with no gut hook. A ferocious cutter, it allows loads of control over the fixed blade, which is a 41⁄2-inch-long drop point with plenty of belly.

I'm not wild about the sheath. The blade can rattle against the hard liner, and if the snap opens, you're going to lose the knife. Keep the Avid in your pack. You don't want to lose a knife this good.
--D.E.P.

2012 Can-Am Outlander XT 1000
$12,099-$12,599

The heart and soul of Can-Am's newest Outlander is a 976cc liquid-cooled fuel-injected Rotax V-twin engine pumping out 82 hp. The massive power plant is housed inside a chassis that's more durable and better handling than in previous generations.

Tri-Mode Dynamic Power Steering gives the pilot three selectable levels of power-steering assist that can be cycled on the fly via a simple ­handlebar-​­mounted button. The Outlander XT 1000 has selectable 2WD and 4WD and utilizes a ­quick-​­engaging automatic locking-unlocking front differential, all of which help this ATV deliver superior performance in the field.
--L.S.

MeoPix iScoping Adapter
$70

It may not look like much, but the MeoPix iScoping Adapter--an interface between the iPhone 4 and any binocular or spotting-scope eyepiece­--is just as revolutionary as the phone. Taking advantage of the iPhone camera, the adapter lets a hunter or guide capture game through optics, turning the smartphone into the ultimate long-range image-capturing tool. I used it to record shooting groups on targets at my gun range and game activity in my area. This will become a must-bring accessory for anyone who wants to send real-time photos ("Some buck, huh?") back to buddies while on a hunt.
--S.L.W.

Eddie Bauer Stargazer 2
$300

Would you really like to camp out under the stars? The Stargazer 2 is a lightweight three-season backpacking tent with a removable fly. On a clear night, pull off the fly and you can stare at the heavens to your heart's content. Color-coded poles make for fast setup and takedown, and at less than 5 pounds it's easy to carry. Best of all, it's a real two-person tent, with enough room so you and your hunting buddy won't feel like you're sleeping in a sardine can.
--S.L.W.

SOG Bladelight
$85

At first, the Bladelight sounds like something you might see in a "Why don't they invent…" article. It's not a bit odd, however, but a highly useful survival tool: one item taking the place of a separate knife and flashlight, and a very good folding knife and flashlight at that.

The blade is a drop point, just under 4 inches long, made of stainless steel, and razor sharp as it comes from the factory. The handle is glass-­reinforced nylon, well shaped, and the flashlight comprises six LEDs that put out 34 to 37 lumens of white light at the blade. It's good for five hours on two AAA alkaline batteries. The Bladelight weighs only 4.3 ounces and comes with an excellent nylon belt sheath.
--D.E.P.

Swarovski EL Range 10x42mm
$3,187

A late entry among rangefinding binoculars, Swarovski's new EL Range utilizes the EL 10x42mm binocular's open-bridge, armored magnesium body. It also takes advantage of the same fluorite-​­containing glass lens ele­ments, along with EL coatings on the lenses and prisms and a Swaroclean coating on the outer surfaces to help keep off dust and water. There are four-position twist-up eyecups and individual right and left dioptric adjustment rings. The 1,500-yard laser Swaro-Aim rangefinding system has multiple functions and programs. At first these seem complicated, but once set up, they are relatively simple and very useful.
--T.M.

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