Field Test: The Best New Hunting and Fishing Gear of the Year
We review the hottest hunting and fishing tools of 2020
All year long, new hunting and fishing products show up at the offices and front stoops of F&S editors. As I write this, there’s a new turkey decoy, a binocular, and a fly rod sitting in my house, waiting to be unboxed and tested. It’s our responsibility to get them into the field and put them through their paces. I know, it’s a tough job. But what actually is a little tricky is deciding what makes the cut. It comes down to a couple simple rules. We have to really use it before we can write about it, and we have to really like it in order to recommend it. In other words, of the hundreds of products we put our hands on, this is the cream of the crop—the very best hunting and fishing gear of the year. —Dave Hurteau
Editor’s note: We will be adding new entries to this list as the year goes on, so stay tuned.
The Best New Hunting Gear of the Year
Around this time last fall, I was tucked inside a layout blind in North Dakota, waiting for the first group of greenheads to come into the spread. The scene alone was reason for excitement, but on top of that, I was among the first to hunt with Savage’s new semiauto—the Renegauge. The 3-inch 12-gauge’s DRIV (Dual Regulating Inline Valve) system has twin valves that vent excess gas, allowing the Renegauge to cycle light target loads and heavy magnums with minimal recoil. Another selling point is a stock that easily adjusts for length, drop, and cast to fit just about any shooter. By the end of that fall morning, our group of eight hunters had all limited out on ducks—and killed a few honkers for good measure. The Renegauge definitely passed the test. —Colin Kearns
Proof Elevation MTR
All the rifles that Proof Research churns out are shooters, and the new Elevation MTR is no exception. Using one of Proof’s carbon-wrapped barrels, a Zermatt Arms Origin action, and a well-sculpted but trim composite stock, my 6.5 Creedmoor weighs exactly 7 pounds. The action gives me the ability to swap cartridges, should I want, and it’s fed by detachable AICS magazines. This is a high-performance rifle that would be equally at home at an endurance precision rifle competition or on a mountain hunt for sheep. —John B. Snow
Bergara B-14R Bolt Action .22LR
Bergara’s first bolt-action rimfire rifle mirrors its excellent centerfire HMR rifle. It sits in the very same aluminum-infused, injection-molded stock. It takes modified 10-round ACIS magazines. The two-lug, floating-head bolt feels like it belongs on a big gun, and the Spanish-made barrel produces sub-MOA groups at 100 yards (and beyond). Built on a Remington Model 700 footprint, it is compatible with other Model 700 stocks, bases, and triggers. It’s easy to forget that this 9.25-pound beast is a humble .22LR, but that’s the point. It’s designed to be the perfect trainer for centerfire precision-shooting practice, but the B-14R will be a hit in the exploding world of precision rimfire matches too. —Michael R. Shea
Weatherby Backcountry Ti in 6.5 Weatherby RPM
With this rifle and cartridge, Weatherby has reestablished itself as an innovator in the hunting realm. The rifle combines titanium, carbon fiber, and 3-D printing technology in a 5-pound 1-ounce package that’s a delight to shoot. The 6.5 RPM is a high-performance, but balanced, 6.5mm round built on the principles of modern cartridge design. Available in your choice of three bullets, the cartridge drives the 140-grain Nosler Accubond at 3075 fps, the 140-grain Hornady Interlock at 2975 fps, and the 127-grain Barnes LRX at 3225 fps. Together, rifle and cartridge are a dream combo for mountain hunting. —J.B.S.
Fabarm ELOS N2 Allsport XL
With interchangeable ribs that can be swapped in seconds, the Allsport XL is a do-it-all competition gun for trap, skeet, and sporting clays. The high rib gives a 65/35 POI for trap targets; the low rib delivers a 50/50 pattern for sporting clays and skeet. Recoil-pad options let you alter length of pull. Trigger weight and reach are tunable, and the comb is fully adjustable. It’s available with 30- or 32-inch barrels; left-handed versions cost an extra $125. —J.B.S.
Elite Ember Bow
The Ember is perfect for youngsters, but it’s no toy. Riser, limb pockets, cams, and mods are made of aluminum, plus you get a Winner’s Choice string and integrated limb stops. Draw length adjusts from 15 to 29 inches, draw weight from 10 to 60 pounds. Specs are 31¼ inches axle-to-axle, 6¼-inch brace height, 3.6 pounds, and up to 310 IBO. —Dave Hurteau
Elite Kure Compound Bow
The flashy new feature on the new Elite Kure is its S.E.T. system, which allows you to adjust cam lean, at both ends, with just the turn of a few bolts—no press, no twisting cables. It’s slick. It works. And it offers a level of tuning not available on all compounds. But my favorite thing about the Kure is that the new Asym Tri-Track cams allow for decent speed (335 IBO) while delivering the perfect draw cycle that the company was known for but seemed to get away from in recent years. In short, the new Kure is both innovative and classic Elite. —D.H.
TenPoint Vapor RS470
If you want to know what the most expensive crossbow we’ve ever tested looks like, here it is. It’s also among the best and is certainly one of the most powerful—clocking 429 fps with a 465-grain bolt and producing nearly 200 foot-pounds of energy. Plus, during our annual bow test, I averaged 1.75-inch three-shot groups with it at 50 yards. The new AcuSlide cocking mechanism is easy to use, safe, and silent. At just 6½ inches wide when cocked, the crossbow is also handy in a blind. And it comes with outstanding accessories. —Will Brantley
Vortex Diamondback 15×56 HD
Vortex Diamondback 15×56 HD • $475 Vortex Optics
Decent glass, a reputation for toughness, a rock-bottom price, and a killer warranty have given the Vortex Diamondback something like a cult following among Western hunters, including guides. And that’s sure to grow with this new 15×56 model. To be clear, there’s better glass out there, but not in this configuration, at this price. (I’ve seen it as low as $315 online.) And if resolving fine detail, like antlers a mile away, is what you’re really after, this 15X will outperform even the best 10X models. (I tested it using a resolution chart against a high-dollar German-made 10×42.) In short, you’re going to see a whole lot of Diamondback 15x56s in camo backpacks and on truck dashes this fall. —D.H.
Brownells MPO 5–25×56 Scope
Quality optics for precision rifle competitions usually induce sticker shock akin to jumping into a North Woods lake in February. This first-focal-plane scope from Brownells takes some of the sting out. For a grand, the MPO is a capable mil-based system that checks all the important boxes for a scope of this type. It has a useful Christmas-tree-style reticle, clear glass, good controls, a capped windage knob, and a zero stop. For a shooter on a budget looking to get into the sport, this is an excellent option. —J.B.S.
Leupold RX-Fulldraw 4 Rangefinder
Leupold RX-Fulldraw 4 Rangefinder • $714 Leupold
Most rangefinders will give you a true horizontal distance—a shoot-to number that accounts for shot angle. But over longer distances and steeper angles, this can be off by as much as a few yards—enough to miss a 3D target or, worse, an animal. Why? Because precisely how far your arrow travels depends on other factors, such as trajectory. The new RX-Fulldraw 4 is the first rangefinder that factors in arrow weight, velocity, and peep height to give you a custom ballistics solution, resulting in more accurate shoot-to distances. Most bowhunters will never need it. But for those who shoot competitively at known-distance events, hunt at longer ranges and steep angles, or are generally obsessed with accuracy, this is the new state of the art. —D.H.
Mystery Ranch Pop-Up 38 Pack
On the hike in, this is a superb daypack with 2,746 cubic inches of space and all the right pockets and clasps. On the trek out, it’s a serious meat hauler, carrying up to 80 pounds. It’s perfect for Western hunters, but it’s also my new favorite public-land whitetail pack because I can carry a climbing or lightweight hang-on stand between the pack and the frame. —D.H.
Tetra AlphaShield Hearing Protection
I always wear hearing protection on the range but rarely when I’m hunting, because it’s uncomfortable and keeps me from, well, hearing. Most of the enhancement-and-protection devices out there don’t help much because the sound ultimately funneling into my head isn’t real. But I wore these a fair bit last duck season, and they’re genuinely helpful. You don’t hear the world around you exactly as you would without them, but it’s close enough that you can hear ducks, have a conversation with your buddy, and run a duck call, all while being protected from the sound of 12-gauge blasts. They’re not cheap, but they’re designed and built by audiologists who are also serious hunters, and you can order them custom-fit to your ear. —W.B.
Danner Trail 2650 GTX Mid
Danner Trail 2650 GTX Mid • $180 Danner
I spent part of my 2020 spring turkey season hunting some pretty mountainous terrain. But instead of wearing my usual trekking boots, I decided to try out Danner’s Trail 2650 GTXs, which have a waterproof Gore-Tex liner. Every time I reached ground high enough to let out a locator call, I found that my feet didn’t hurt like they usually do, which was surprising. But these boots borrow a lot from the footwear of ultralight thru-hikers—making them perfect for run-and-gun-style hunting. They feel more like sneakers than traditional hiking boots, and while I wouldn’t wear them with a full load of meat on my back, they are remarkably sturdy. I plan on sporting them well into deer season this year. —Matthew Every
Benchmade 533 Mini Bugout
Benchmade 533 Mini Bugout • $160 Benchmade
This new pocketknife from Benchmade may be the perfect expression of an EDC knife. As its name suggests, the 533 Mini is a scaled-down version of Benchmade’s popular Bugout. The Mini weighs just 1.5 ounces and is less than 4 inches closed. It comes with a reversible, “deep-carry” clip, and the drop-point blade is made of CPM-S30V steel, measures 2.82 inches, and keeps an edge that’s more than sharp enough to tackle whatever you encounter in your everyday life. —C.K.
RCBS Matchmaster • $899 RCBS
The new Matchmaster is a major improvement over RCBS’s Chargemaster line. Two powder tubes combined with intelligent software allow it to deliver hyper-accurate powder charges quickly while minimizing overthrows. The scale is accurate to within .04 grain. Depending on the setting and powder type, it will throw a competition-worthy charge in 25 seconds or less. —J.B.S.
Grey Ops CNC Reloading Stand
Imagine a college fraternity of robots puking up their metallic guts on a Friday night. That should give you some idea of what my reloading bench used to look like. This stand from Grey Ops CNC has helped me tame the madness. An interchangeable system of trays lets me neatly organize dies, shell holders, neck bushings, and other accessories. The stand is ideal for tight spaces too. All the pieces are milled from aluminum and are as attractive as they are functional. —J.B.S.
Federal Non-Typical Whitetail .350 Legend
I’ve been a fan of the .350 Legend since Winchester introduced it, not because it’s any miracle of ballistics or accuracy, but because it’s truly useful to the thousands of deer hunters who live in states that restrict rifle hunters to straight-wall cartridges. Last fall, I used Federal’s Non-Typical Whitetail version of the .350, which is loaded with a 180-grain soft-point bullet, and found that it does exactly what it promises to, which is kill whitetails to 200 yards or so without much fuss, recoil, or money. —W.B.
Winchester AA Diamond Grade Target Loads
Winchester has packed the best pellets available into its new target ammo. The lead is alloyed with 8 percent antimony (other premium shells use 5 or 6 percent) to make it extra-hard for more efficient patterns. The copper-plated pellets are sorted for uniformity. The loads (12 gauge, 1- and 11⁄8-ounce) have recoil-softening AA wads and reloadable AA hulls. —Phil Bourjaily
Helle Kletten • $199 Helle
This compact folder became my everyday carry knife during last winter’s ice-fishing season. The drop-point blade is just over 2 inches long and folds away into the knife’s curly-birch scales. Closed, the knife is 3.1 inches, small enough to be stowed in a pocket or worn unobtrusively around the neck with the included leather thong, which is what I did. The stainless blade is razor sharp and deft for fine cutting tasks, but it can handle larger chores when called upon. —J.B.S.
The Best New Fishing Gear of 2020
St. Croix Legend Xtreme Rods
If you can’t live without the latest and greatest, and you’re ready to pay for it, you’ll want one of these space-age sticks. St. Croix has retooled its Legend Xtreme rods, using best-in-class components from tip to butt. The company has taken high-modulus SC-V graphite and reinforced it for strength and maximum sensitivity. These seven rods—four baitcasting models and three spinning—come with Fuji K-R Concept Tangle Free guides with SiC rings for long casts and no nicks. And the Xtreme-Skin handles repel moisture, so you’ll never lose your grip. —Pete Robbins
Falcon Lowrider Traveler Rods
Falcon Rods is now offering its excellent Lowrider model in a pair of multipiece sticks purpose-built for travel. Offered in a 7-foot medium-action spinning model and a 7-foot medium-heavy casting version, the new Traveler rods come in three pieces and feature Tangle-Free K Frame guides and Fuji blank-through reel seats. They also come with a three-sectioned, Cordura-covered hard case with the rod’s specifications written on the outside. Most important, both the rods and their cases are built to take a beating, on the water and in the airport. And given the quality, they’re a solid value too. —P.R.
Okuma Avenger ABF 500
Okuma Avenger ABF 500 • $50 Okuma
Okuma Avenger spinning reels are known for being smooth, reliable, and easy on the wallet. This ABF 500 is all that, plus it’s the smallest spinner on the market with a bait-feeding feature, which is essentially a secondary drag system that allows fish to take and eat your bait while feeling very little resistance from the reel—until you turn the handle, which automatically engages the main drag. It’s a handy extra to have if you’re running dough balls or meat rigs for trout, panfish, or bullheads. —D.H.
Abu-Garcia Revo SX Rocket
Abu-Garcia Revo SX Rocket • $180 Abu-Garcia
Abu-Garcia has made the Revo Rocket series even more affordable for 2020, but the company hasn’t sacrificed any quality on this 9:1 burner. The SX has a sturdy alloy construction, nine ball bearings and one roller bearing, and a powerful Carbon Matrix drag system that was once thought to be incompatible with ultrafast retrieves. The reel picks up 37 inches of line for each turn of the handle, which is perfect when you need to quickly fire another cast or gain line on a fish. Plus, the black frame with red accents just looks fast. —P.R.
Hardy Ultralite MTX-S Fly Reel
If “Hardy reels” makes you think of tweed and pipe smoke, you need to check out the Ultralight MTX line. Its blend of cutting-edge technology and slick industrial design makes for decidedly unstuffy fly reels. The MTX-S is an upgrade of the excellent MTX, the first fly reel to incorporate carbon fiber into the frame, making it stronger and lighter. This new version is even more so, on both counts. And the conical drag is now fully sealed, which is what the S stands for—though it could as easily stand for smooth. Or salt, as this improved system makes the reel far more suitable for saltwater fishing. One thing that hasn’t changed: This Hardy, like all of their other fly reels, exudes quality. —D.H.
Waterworks Lamson Guru S Fly Reel
Waterworks Lamson Guru S Fly Reel • Starts at $259 Waterworks
Since the original debuted in 2013, the Guru has been a hit because it’s a lot of reel for the money. This latest iteration is more reel than ever. Fully machined in the U.S. from 6061 aluminum and sporting Lamson’s sealed-conical drag, the S has a larger arbor diameter and
narrower spool for better line lay and pickup, plus an integrated counterweight for smoother performance. But it is less reel in one respect: This is the lightest Guru Lamson has ever made. —D.H.
Plano Edge Tackle Boxes
Plano Edge Tackle Boxes • $19 Plano Molding
Whatever complaints you have about your current tackle system, one of Plano’s new Edge Series boxes has the solution. Can’t see your lures? Edge boxes have clear lids. Lures are a mess? There are 10 bait-specific boxes designed to store tackle neatly. Boxes hard to open? These have a one-handed latch, perfect for when you’re already grasping a rod or a kayak paddle. What about water and rust? A rubber O-ring seal keeps splashes out; rechargeable Water Wick desiccant dividers suck up moisture; and a Rustrictor chemical vapor barrier keeps hooks from browning. The only problem left for Plano to solve is, what next? —D.H.
Simms G4 Pro Wading Jacket
Fifteen minutes earlier, we’d been casting flies to feisty northern pike beneath blue skies. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, clouds gathered, the wind strengthened, and the lake pulsed with whitecaps. It wasn’t long before the deluge began. These new conditions weren’t ideal for flyfishing—but they were perfect for testing this jacket, which kept me comfortable and bone-dry during the storm. The three-layer Gore-Tex fabric is not just waterproof and warm, but ultra-rugged. Among many smart features, the G4 has two oversize front pockets for fly boxes and other gear, two fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets, and a three-point-adjustable hood. Once I had the jacket on, I traded my fly rod for a spinning rig and a spoon, and went back to catching pike. —C.K.
AFTCO Overboard Submersible Shorts
AFTCO has been making excellent fishing-specific shorts since 1989. Its new Overboard model is made of a stain-resistant, lightweight, four-way-stretch material for all-day comfort and no worries from splashing fish blood. The key feature, however, is a waterproof cellphone pocket on the side, which will keep you from drowning your precious lifeline. —P.B.
JSJ/River2Sea Trigger Trout Swimbait
JSJ may not be known to a wide audience, but its creations are well-regarded among swimbait freaks. Now it has partnered with River2Sea, which markets lures like the Whopper Plopper, to offer the new Trigger Trout, a 7½-inch-long, soft-plastic rainbow trout imitation designed to temp the biggest bass. The lure weighs a full 3 ounces and comes with a custom screw-lock hook. But its coolest feature is the tail’s “dual plane tail rotation,” which is a fancy way of saying that it kicks like crazy to trigger bites from hawg largemouths. —P.R.
Molix Glide Bait
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Carl Jocumsen—a certified big-bait freak—worked directly with Molix over several years to develop this 7-inch, 2¾-ounce slow-sinking glide bait. With its single joint, it swims enticingly in an S pattern, but with subtle twitches and pulls of the rod, it can be made to behave more erratically, tempting indecisive bass to strike. It’s available in four ultrarealistic paint jobs and has upscale features like swiveling hook hangers, which prevent fish from pulling free on a jump. Despite its high-tech advantages, the Glide Bait retails for a fraction of what many of its competitors cost. —P.R.
Humminbird Mega 360 Imaging
The first sonar units allowed anglers to look down into the water. Then, side-imaging became available. Now, with the introduction of Humminbird’s Mega 360 Imaging platform, anglers can see all around the boat, all at the same time, up to 125 feet away. The image quality is so advanced that it’s possible to make out not just underwater logs, boulders, and other obstructions, but also individual fish. Mega 360 transducers are available with either a universal mount or with mounts tailored to Minn Kota Fortrex and Ultrex trolling motors. —P.R.