Best of the Best: The Top Hunting and Fishing Gear of 2020
After months of testing the latest guns, bows, rods, reels, and accessories, we award the most innovative and outstanding gear of the year
Even in 2020, we managed to put virtually every new gun, bow, rod, reel, knife, broadhead, and more through its paces. Some were very good. A few were truly outstanding. And the 20 products featured here were in a class entirely by themselves. While most gear items are offered with the mundane goals of meeting a need and separating you from your money, these are meant to raise the bar—to set new standards of form and function. That deserves recognition. And it’s what makes each an F&S Best of the Best Award winner.
Mathews VXR 28
Mathews bows with the CrossCentric Cam System have been so good that they’ve won or finished runner-up in every F&S flagship bow test since 2016. The VXR 28 was the smoothest-drawing, quietest, most vibration-free bow in our 2020 test. That it was also one of the fastest, at 326.7 fps IBO, made it the runaway winner. It’s packed with user-friendly features, too, like a new mod system that lets you adjust peak draw weight without touching the limbs. —Will Brantley
Daiwa Kage LT
With a butter-smooth drag, flex-free body, and silky retrieve, this $200 spinning reel performs like it costs three or four times that. The LT stands for Light and Tough, and this Daiwa reel is both, featuring a high-density Zaion body that’s 20 percent stronger and 50 percent lighter than reels made of traditional materials. Daiwa’s Air Bail and Air Rotor systems further decrease weight. Still, the reel feels capable of handling bonefish, steelhead, and giant trevally, so you can be sure that no hard-pulling smallmouth is going to faze it. There’s no startup resistance on the drag when a fish takes off with your lure, which means you’ll lose fewer on the hookset, and the reel stays smooth and consistent throughout the fight to help ensure that hooks won’t work free from a fish’s mouth. A unique premium cork handle knob looks sharp, feels good in the hand, and is a nice finishing touch. —Pete Robbins
Related: Best Daiwa Reels
Wasp HV 125 and SIK SK2
This spring I suspended cattle rib cages from chains and smashed a thousand dollars’ worth of broadheads through them. My test evaluated consistency, accuracy, durability, penetration, sharpness, and reliability, and the Wasp HV 125 and SIK SK2 came out on top. The Wasps were scalpel-sharp and accurate, and they punched through the ribs virtually unscathed. The SK2 was the only mechanical head of the test to leave 2-inch entry and exit holes in the ribs and to pass through the heavy bone undamaged. —W.B.
Abu Garcia Revo EXD
Abu Garcia Revo EXD • $300 Abu Garcia
This 6.7-ounce beauty comes in two gear ratios—a slow-grinding 5.4:1 and a speedy 8.0:1—to accommodate a range of fishing techniques, and you get a total of 11 bearings for smooth operation. As lightweight as the EXD is, the Power Stack Carbon Matrix drag provides up to 20 pounds of power, giving the Revo EXD unbeatable versatility; you can finesse fish and power-crank equally well when using it with the proper technique-specific line. —P.R.
Zeiss Victory SF
Zeiss Victory SF • Starts at $2,299 Zeiss
Any elite-quality binocular makes the world look brighter and sharper. But compared to the competition, the remarkable new Victory SF also makes the world look bigger and wider, thanks to a huge field of view (130 meters at 1,000 meters with the 10×32). It seems to pull the entire landscape in and place it before your eyes for inspection. Resolution and image quality are nothing short of stunning. Ergonomics are impeccable, and the focus is smooth, precise, and very fast. Available in 8×32, 10×32, 8×42, and 10×42. —Dave Hurteau
Beretta 694 Sporting
There’s nothing radically new about this shotgun from Beretta; instead, it benefits from a series of small refinements. Each tweak might not seem like much, but when they’re taken together, the result is one of the best competition shotguns you’ll find at this price. Beretta lengthened the 694′s pistol grip, giving it a more pronounced palm swell, and it refined the stock’s geometry for improved handling. The receiver and opening latch have a lower profile for a better field of view. Overall the shotgun balances extremely well and manages recoil like a champ. The metalwork is tasteful, the wood is lovely, and the craftsmanship that went into its build is evident throughout. —John B. Snow
Traditions NitroFire with Federal FireStick
You’ve never seen a muzzleloader quite like this one. The new NitroFire is designed to work with the Federal FireStick ignition system, an encapsulated, premeasured charge of either 100 or 120 grains of Hodgdon’s new Triple 8 powder combined with a built-in 209 primer that you pop into the hinged breech just like a .410 shell into a shotgun. The bullet is tamped down the barrel as usual, where it rests against a small shelf in the chamber. There is no breech plug, nor is there any doubt as to whether the bullet is seated or the powder charge is correct. You can quickly take the charge out of the gun at any time, and it’s likely as weatherproof as a muzzleloader can be. The gun I’ve been shooting couldn’t be easier to load or clean, and it turned in groups of just under 2 inches at 100 yards with Federal B.O.R. Lock MZ copper bullets and 100-grain charges. If we had an innovation award, the NitroFire would get it. —W.B.
GiantMouse Ace Grand
Based on the limited-edition GM5 folder, the more affordable Ace Grand cuts no corners. The canvas Micarta scales are sleek and artful. A titanium backspacer adds strength to deeply nested liners and a solid liner lock. The pelletized Elmax steel gives a near-perfect blend of edge retention and sharpenability. The blade’s high, flat grind makes it a cutting machine, and the dramatic swedge gives a fine point to a knife that still sports a bit of skinning belly. Weighing 4.75 ounces, with a 3.3-inch blade, it’s just enough knife to give you a sense that you’re holding something serious in your hand, yet it won’t pull your shorts down when clipped to a pocket. —T. Edward Nickens
Kawasaki Mule Pro-FXT
One machine that does it all: I used to wonder if that was too much to ask for in a side-by-side. Not anymore. Thanks to its Trans Cab system, the Mule can quickly convert from a double-row six-passenger setup to a single-row three-passenger setup with lots of extra storage space. No more compromising payload for seating, or vice versa. The 812cc three-cylinder provides up to 1 ton of towing capacity, with a max load of just over 1,600 pounds. It has 10.2 inches of ground clearance. Another nice feature: actual doors. The EPS model adds power steering, and if you just love the smell of diesel, the Pro-DXT is your pick. —Tony Hansen
Winchester AA Diamond Grade
These premium shells contain copper-plated, precision-sorted shot made with 8 percent antimony content, making them harder than any other lead target pellet. The result is tighter patterns and harder breaks at long range. Made for serious sporting clays shooters, they could be your secret weapon in Annie Oakleys or when doves fly high. —Phil Bourjaily
Ross San Miguel Fly Reel
Ross San Miguel Fly Reel • $595 Ross Reels
By popular demand, Ross has brought back its iconic San Miguel—and done it exactly right. The incredibly smooth freespool, the flower-petal porting, and the high-gloss, hand-polished solid back all harken back to the original. But a hidden large arbor, a super-grippy canvas Micarta handle, and a carbon-and-stainless sealed drag with virtually zero startup inertia make the new San Miguel a thoroughly modern classic. —D.H.
Browning Patriot • $199 Browning
In my tests, the Patriot performed at another level. The dual lens-and-sensor system takes great pics day and night. The camera has a fast trigger and the widest detection zone of any I evaluated. It even outperformed itself, snapping shots at twice the advertised range of 90 feet. It’s simple, bulletproof, and effective. —Scott Bestul
The most anticipated handgun in this strangest of years was a relaunch of a classic propelled into pop culture by a show about the zombie apocalypse. We haven’t had zombies yet in 2020, but there’s time. My test gun—with the 6-inch barrel—shoots like a dream, with excellent sights and the silky-smooth trigger that made the Python famous. You could hunt with this gun, enjoy it on the range, use it to defend your home, keep it to pass down to your children, or do all of the above. —W.B.
Falcon Expert Series
Falcon Expert Series • $200 Falcon Rods
Of all the new spinning rods we tested this year, these stood out for being remarkably lightweight, strong, and well balanced. Falcon will tell you that’s because of its CrossMatch composite, which features multilayer, cross-directional fibers. What I’ll tell you is that with these rods, you can feel a fish whisper on your drop shot at 50 feet, or slam a Shad Rap on a windy day, and the blanks have exactly the right design to load up and fire pinpoint casts. All components come from Fuji, including the tangle-free K Frame guides. Top-quality cork at the forefinger and the butt makes the split-grip reel seat comfortable enough to cast with all day under a wide range of conditions, whether you’re dragging a Ned rig down gently sloping gravel banks, or dropping a grub down to suspended bass gorging on bait. —P.R.
G. Loomis NRX+ Freshwater Fly Rod
I loved the original NRX when it came out in 2010 and would have been happy to cast it forever. But I may never cast it again now that I’ve slung the new NRX+. It’s lighter, livelier, and better-looking; it’s more stable and accurate; and it’s much more versatile. What sets the NRX+ apart are finely tuned micro tapers throughout the rod blank that somehow give you as much control when you’re casting to close-range sippers as when you’re firing at the far bank. My 9-foot, 6-weight test rod is fast and powerful and begs to throw a streamer, which it does as well as any 6. What blew me away was how well it does everything else, too. Whether you’re casting meat flies or tiny dries, the NRX+ makes it easy to throw precision casts from 15 feet to as far as you can fling it. The Freshwater series comes in nine models, from 4- to 8-weight. —D.H.
G. Loomis IMX-Pro
G. Loomis makes the lightest technique-specific rods on the market, and the IMX series has long been its standard-bearer—not the most expensive, but what most Loomis fans will purchase for day-to-day use. The new IMX-Pro is not flashy and didn’t jump out at me during the Outdoor Life/Field & Stream tackle test. But I found myself reaching for it again and again. Not only did it excel in its intended lure class, but it was also much more versatile than promised. Compared with previous IMXs, the new Pro version is even lighter and more refined, with premium cork and Fuji K Frame Alconite ring guides. What really sealed the deal for me was the blank. It loads up effortlessly and performs flawlessly on both the cast and while fighting a fish. In the end, it’s a perfect example of efficiency winning out over cosmetics. —P.R.
Bergara B-14 Rimfire
Just in time to take advantage of the growing interest in precision rimfire shooting, this new Bergara is an absurdly fun heavy-barreled .22 that can be used in long-range rimfire competition, as a trainer for practical rifle competition, or for smoking squirrels and tin cans on the other side of the field. The rifle’s 10-round magazine mimics AICS magazine dimensions, loads easily, and functions very well. The action is smooth, and I can vouch that it runs more reliably than your grandma’s Honda Accord. The adjustable stock has dual swivel studs on the fore-end for a bipod and sling, and it is also equipped with a number of QD cups. The muzzle is threaded for a suppressor or brake. —J.B.S.
Ravin R29X • $2,650 Ravin
Few products have sent the competitors a-scrambling quite like Ravin crossbows. They have established a new standard for power and accuracy in an amazingly compact package, thanks to the company’s HeliCoil cam system. And this year’s R29X is the best Ravin yet, weighing 6.75 pounds and measuring a mere 6 inches wide when cocked. My test bow sent the supplied 400-grain finished arrows downrange at an average speed of 456.5 fps (producing 186 foot-pounds of energy), and it shot 0.7-inch groups at 50 yards from a bench. The newest Ravin is a lot like the ones before it, but it has some key improvements, including a new cocking system that is safe and easy to use for both cocking and de-cocking and eliminates the boat-trailer ratchet sound of previous models. The R29 isn’t cheap, but if you’re shopping for a high-end crossbow, this is the best one money can buy for 2020. —W.B.
Vortex Razor HD LHT 3–15x42mm
In a hyper-competitive field of new versatile hunting scopes (we tested 17), this Vortex took top honors. It comes with a useful holdover reticle in both MOA and Mil-Rad configurations in the second focal plane. The exposed turrets are functional for longer shots, and they lock down tight when they’re not in use. At $1,000, it is a good value, especially in light of the transferable lifetime warranty. —J.B.S.
It’s easy to look at this minimalistic chassis bolt gun and dismiss it as a clever toy. That would be a mistake. Yes, it is light (8.5 pounds scoped), and it does fold down compactly enough to carry inside a backpack. But it delivers a level of accuracy and handling on par with larger rigs. I don’t know if tactical mountain rifles will become the next big thing, but for now the Sig Cross owns that category. —J.B.S.