Step Outside WELCOME TO STEP OUTSIDE! Find the best outdoor fun near you! en-us 30 http://stepoutside.org/ Step Outside 144 144 http://stepoutside.org/ https://cdnstep-americantownscom.netdna-ssl.com/img/stepoutside_logo.gif Sat, 15 Dec 2018 22:09:05 -0600 Buying Your New Bow Made Easy It seems that the flagship bows from most companies are released earlier and earlier each year, with some showing up the first week of October. It’s common for companies try and get a jump on the new year by showcasing their latest offerings by mid-November, which means that anyone interested in a new rig can check out nearly anything in the entire bow market right now.

That stated, it’s up to the individual to decide which way their research should go and what types of bows they should zero in on. This will vary a lot based first on your budget, and then on individual hunting or target shooting experience and needs. In other words, upgrading your bow takes some careful consideration. Here are some simple tips that will help you through the upgrade process to find the bow that’s just right for you. 

If you haven’t purchased a new bow in a decade, brace yourself. Whatever you paid for your last one will likely only cover about half the cost of a new bow in 2019. Flagship offerings ranging from $700 to $1700 are available, with most of them carrying a $1000 to $1200 price tag. And this doesn’t include accessories. This goes for the hunting market as well as the target bow market. It’s not all doom and gloom, however.

One way to offset costs is to purchase a kit bow. These are much less expensive and come fully accessorized, but you’ll sacrifice some on quality and performance. That’s just how it is.

Another way to offset costs is to keep an eye out for last years’ models. Some retailers will push out there older stock at a solid discount, which means you can sometimes pick up a great rig at a deeply discounted price.

Perhaps the best way to get over the sticker shock is to think of your new bow purchase as a longer-term investment. In other words, if you are comfortable wringing five years or more out of a bow, the overall cost of your new bow amortized over that time makes it much easier to stomach.

There’s also one more important thing you shouldn’t forget: quality costs money. It just does, and if you’re really itching to enjoy the experience of shooting both in the field and at the range, it’s worth it the investment. 

Quick tip: Some bow manufacturers offer payment plans so that you can not only order directly to customize a bow to your personal preferences, but also pay it off over several months.

 

Today’s high-end compounds are efficient, and any bow that generates enough energy to blow an arrow through a whitetail will most likely put down a bull elk as well. Arrow speed and efficiency aren’t much of an issue across the board these days, so it’s best to factor in personal preference for the type of shooting you do and the terrain you’ll be hunting.

For the mountain bowhunter, less weight is always welcome. Many of today’s bows are built upon carbon risers, which means they tip the scales at fewer than four pounds. Once accessorized, these rigs will often weigh in at around six pounds. Other bows, especially those with aluminum risers, will start out a little heavier.

If you have to climb 1000 vertical feet to start your morning elk hunt, you’ll probably want to start with the lightest bows you can find. Conversely, if you walk 300 yards to your deer stand and hang your bow up for the majority of your hunts, or if you’re just looking for a good rig for target shooting at your local range, you probably don’t need to focus on bow weight. In fact, you might want to lean toward a bow that is a bit heavier because as a general rule, a hefty bow will be a quieter bow. Shot-sequence noise in the mountains on mule deer or elk isn’t much of an issue, but when you’re dealing with cagey, string-jumping whitetails it is, so keep that in mind.

Your experience level will factor into a new bow purchase as well. How into bowhunting or target archery are you? If you’re diehard, you probably don’t need to be talked into anything. If you’re not, you’ll probably argue with yourself over whether a new bow purchase is worth it or if it’s even necessary.

No one can make that call for you. The thing is, a new bow will almost undoubtedly shoot better than your old bow. That will produce two very desirable effects. The first is enjoyment. Watching an arrow go where it’s supposed to over and over is fun, and that’s the main reason to shoot a bow—and it’s a good one.

The second positive outcome to buying a new bow is confidence. Shooting confidence increases enjoyment, and makes you want to shoot more. Confidence is a must-have for target-archers and bowhunters alike, so while it’s a great intangible in the overall process, it’s not to be undersold. A new bow won’t guarantee you Olympic-caliber results, but it will inevitably nudge you in a direction to get (and be) better. 

Quick tip: Check out discount sites like Archery Warehouse archerywarehouse.com or BowHunting Outlet bowhuntingoutlet.com to find the best deals on last year's bow models.

 

Buying a brand new bow should be a process. Be patient, and find a pro shop that will work with you. Shoot as many bows as you can that are set up to your exact specifications. Whether you’re simply into target shooting or plan to hunt moose in Alaska someday, focus on how the bow feels in your hands throughout the entire shot cycle. There will be a few models that just work for you, and you’ll know it after a dozen shots. At that point, it’s a matter of narrowing down your choices and making the final decision, which is always fun.

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Photograph By Tony J. Peterson New target and hunting bows aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it if you’re interested in wringing the most enjoyment out of your time spent shooting as possible. http://stepoutside.org/article/buying-your-new-bow-made-easy http://stepoutside.org/article/buying-your-new-bow-made-easy Thu, 06 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Florida Fun: Fish Your Way From Disney World To Tampa It’s December. For those in northern states that means cold and snow—the kind of weather you want to escape from. Maybe you’ve been planning to take the family on a holiday vacation or perhaps you have your eye on a winter break getaway with the kids. If Florida’s not yet on your destination list, it should be. Few states offer as much warm sunshine and family fun. From white sand beaches to major attractions, like Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort, Florida has it all. And if you like to fish, few states are better.

Want to make some family memories? Pack up the kids and head to Orlando where you can enjoy (and even fish) at the Walt Disney World Resort. But don’t stop there. Just a short drive away the saltwater fishing, beaches, and outdoor fun of Tampa await. Here’s a fishing road trip the whole family can enjoy, with lots of adventures along the way to keep everyone happy.

Few people visiting Walt Disney World in Orlando are aware that you can actually fish the bass filled lakes right in the heart of the theme park itself. Best of all, the Disney folks make it super easy by offering a variety of options. 

Photograph Courtesy of TakeMeFishing.org
In addition to rides and attractions, visitors to Walt Disney World can also book a guide who supplies everything you need for a great fishing adventure right on the waters surrounding the park.

Guided fishing adventures can be taken on a 21-foot pontoon boat, which accommodates up to five guests or you can book a tournament-style bass boat for one or two people. Book a 2-hour or 4-hour fishing trip and let the guide do the rest. They supply everything you need—rods, reels, baits, the works. Solo anglers can also book an entire afternoon trip at reduced rates.

Fishing excursions are available out of a number of marinas, so you have plenty of options depending on where you’re staying. Reservations can be made up to 180 days in advance. All you have to do is call (407) 939-BASS or (407) 939-2277 and they’ll set you and your kids up for some memorable fishing fun.

Want to go it alone? Grab a rod and cash in on the well-stocked opportunities right off the dock. All casting-rod fishing gear can be rented from the Fishin' Hole at Ol' Man Island at Disney's Port Orleans Resort—Riverside. Note: all fishing at Disney World is catch-and-release only.

After a few days in Orlando, you’ll be ready for a change of pace, so grab a rental car if you need one (there are a number of locations near the Convention Center,) then head west.

Following several days at the ICAST fishing show in Orlando, my daughter, Kelsey, flew in to join me for a little father-daughter road trip. The drive to Tampa is just under 90 minutes from the Orlando airport, but it’s like traveling to a whole different Florida.

If your schedule permits, you can hit the Butler Lakes chain along the way, where long-time Florida fishing writer, Frank Sargeant, says the bass fishing is good, but the chance to cruise the shoreline and check out the many celebrity homes along the water may be worth the visit all by itself.

The nearby Kissimmee River chain, which starts at the town of Kissimmee (right at Lake Tohopekaliga) and runs nearly 100 miles south to Lake Okeechobee, may offer the best chance in the state to catch a true Florida-strain bass according to Sargeant, with many fish in the 10-pound range caught and released every year.

My daughter and I were anxious to get to Tampa so we didn’t stop, but we’ll explore these destinations on our next trip down for sure.

Fishing With Captain Ray

With over 40 years of experience as a licensed guide, tournament fishermen and casting competition winner, Captain Ray Markham is an excellent instructor and can have anyone catching fish in minutes. Just be sure you book early as key months for tarpon and redfish fill up quickly. Contact: Capt. Ray Markham, (941) 723-2655, Ray.markham@gmail.com, www.CaptainRayMarkham.com

Photograph by Kelsey Smith

On the day that we fished together, Ray told us to meet him at the Maximo boat ramp, so after our walk on the beach and a quick swim we hit the local Publix store near the park for sandwiches then headed to the boat ramp. When we arrived, Ray was just backing his boat in and a few minutes later we were headed out.

You can tell a lot about a guide by the way he keeps his equipment. Ray’s sleek flats boat and all of his fishing tackle were in tip-top shape and his easy style made us feel right at home from the moment we stepped on his boat.

The beauty of fishing Tampa Bay (and what keeps Ray excited about fishing there), is that the area offers so many options. While fishing is excellent year-round for sea trout, grouper and snook, if your heart is set on catching a tarpon, you’ll want to book during the key months of May through July, when the giant Silver Kings (most over 100 pounds) migrate north along St. Petersburg’s shores.

Redfish fans can find plenty of line-screaming action almost any time year-round, but the peak season runs from August through October with the biggest fish coming in September and October. This is when you can find bull redfish up to 40 inches in Tampa Bay’s shallow backwaters.

The spring and fall months are the peak times to catch Spanish and King mackerel and strong runs of pompano hit the area in the cooler months from September through May. In short, the game is always on here no matter when you visit, but hiring a guide like Ray will get you onto fish a lot quicker.

This was Kelsey’s first saltwater fishing experience and though she has spent many days with me fishing in the Adirondacks, she had never caught anything larger than a small trout. Ray remedied that in a hurry only minutes after we motored out of the harbor.

We were fishing along a mangrove choked shoreline, tossing 3-inch silver C.A.L. shad up into the shadowy holes where the mangroves hit the water (a perfect place for snook) then doing quick retrieves over big sandy potholes interspersed in the eelgrass. So, if we didn’t catch a snook, we’d have a good chance of getting a hefty sea trout to strike.

Kelsey’s rod soon bent over and after a few minutes of quick runs her first jack crevalle was brought to hand.

A little while later we motored east around Pinellas Point to a series of shallow reefs Ray likes to hit for sea trout. Here we were experimenting with some new 2.5-ounce sinking top-water poppers from Odin Lure Co. that allow you to inject fishing scent (“smack”) into the body of the lure to lay down a scent trail fish can’t resist. Sure enough, Ray hooked up on his very first cast and landed a huge sea trout. Kelsey and I traded turns catching and releasing fish as we fished our way back toward Maximo Park.

The tide was running hard when we passed under the bridge that separates St. Petersburgh from Palmetto and the southern portion of Tampa Bay. Ray nosed the boat up toward the massive pilings where the water churned and boiled. “Toss straight up toward the foot of those piles,” Ray offered, hoping one of us might tie into a tarpon, but there were no big boys hanging around that afternoon.

Steering west into the red glare of the setting sun, we had one more surprise that Ray’s sharp eyes caught before we saw them—a massive school of dolphin feeding and racing across the harbor. Backing the motor down we idled right up to the school and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by mothers with small babies, blowing and diving. The lights along the shoreline were just coming on as we idled back in to the boat ramp, the end of a perfect day on the water with my favorite fishing lady and our new friend, Ray.

 

Arriving in Tampa we found the downtown hopping with a lively riverfront walk, lots of restaurant choices and fun activities for everyone. The Hillsborough River runs right through the heart of town, so you can grab a rental bike and pedal along the water, explore it in a rental kayak, or simply head out on foot. 

Photograph by Kelsey Smith
Tampa’s Riverwalk offers great restaurants right on the water. Watch the boats go by or grab a water taxi or kayak rental to explore the area’s waterways.

Looking for a fun excursion? Jump on one of the big yellow water taxis that takes visitors up and down the river and jump off at any of the 15 stops along the Tampa Riverwalk. It’s a fun, guided trip where you can kick back, enjoy a cold beverage and get a feel for the whole of Tampa itself. This is also a great trip to take in the evening when the city lights up.

Come nightfall, enjoy one of the many riverside eateries or venture out (as we did) to sample some of the fine dining options along the nearby beaches. We had a great dinner and caught a fabulous sunset at Oystercatchers. This restaurant is about 25 minutes from downtown, but it offers one of the best spots in the Tampa area for enjoying a great seafood and incredible sunsets. And since the restaurant is located on a quiet, out-of-the-way spot on the Hyatt’s property, you’ll feel like you’re escaping to your own private hideaway.

Photograph by Kelsey Smith
Fort de Soto is just one of the many beaches that offer sugar-white sand and great swimming—all within minutes of downtown Tampa.

The nearby beaches of St. Petersburg are also easily reached and well worth visiting. The water here is shallow and clear (perfect for swimming) and you can wander for miles while cooling your feet in the warm waters of the Gulf. We spent a lovely morning strolling along the sugar-white sands at Fort de Soto Park. There is great nature watching to be found here, ruins of the old fort to explore, kayak rentals and more.

What really makes a trip to Tampa worthwhile for outdoor enthusiasts, however, is the fabulous saltwater fishing. We booked a half-day charter with Capt. Ray Markham and my only regret was that we didn’t book a longer stay in Tampa to fish more. 

Photograph by Todd Smith
Kelsey is all smiles after landing her first saltwater fish, a scrappy jack crevalle.

Ray grew up on one of the little barrier islands in Tampa Bay and he knows these waters like few others. He also knows where the fish are going to be depending on the tide and weather.

“I like to wait until I get closer to the fishing date to look at the fishing and weather to determine where the fishing will be best and what the weather conditions will be like,” Ray explained in an email prior to our trip, “because while some conditions favor one place, they may not favor another.”

Photograph by Kelsey Smith
Sea trout are catchable year-round in the waters of Tampa Bay and Captain Ray knows just where to find them.

Depending on the day, if he launches in St. Petersburg, Ray likes to head to Maximo Park near the southern tip of the city. The park has a nice boat ramp, plenty of parking, and it’s just off highway 275, so it’s easy to get to from Tampa or any of the surrounding areas. If he launches on the other side of Tampa Bay, Ray likes to run out of Palmetto, which is about 20 minutes south of Ruskin on the Manatee River.

Florida Fishing Essentials

Come prepared for your Florida fishing adventure with these essential pieces of gear.

Photograph by Kelsey Smith

Clothing

It goes without saying that sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) is mandatory here no matter what month you come to fish. I also like to wear a light UV protective long-sleeve shirt that breathes well. If it’s really hot, I can always roll the sleeves up.

Photograph Courtesy of Costa Del Mar, Inc.

Sunglasses

I’m a big fan of Costa’s as I like the way their serious fishing styles wrap around the corners of my eyes to kill harmful glare. Their new Untangled Collection, which uses recycled fishing nets in the frame design, is definitely worth a hard look.

Photograph Courtesy of SoftScience, Inc.

Footwear

Want to score points with your guide? Don’t wear shoes that will mare the deck of his boat. Look for styles with a non-slip/non-marring sole. I recently tried a pair of Fin 2.0’s from Soft Science that are so light you’ll hardly know you have them on. And they provide excellent support for fighting fishing and moving around on wet decks.

Photograph Courtesy of Buff, Inc.

Headgear and Hands

While I love ballcaps, having a lightweight Buff along will keep your neck and ears from getting fried. I’m also a big fan of UV protective gloves that keep the backs of my hands covered.

Photograph by Kelsey Smith

Waterproof Case

I don’t go anywhere without a dry box for keeping my smartphone, wallet and keys from getting drenched or going overboard. The model 3250 Series from Otterbox is practically bullet proof. It seals totally to keep your valuables dry and it has slots molded right in that you can slip a strap through to secure the box to the gunwale of your canoe or anywhere you have a handy place to tie to on the boat.

Food and Water

Flats boats are not huge, so be judicious in what you bring on board. Ray has a cooler handy so it was easy to throw our sandwiches and drinks on ice. Just bring plenty of liquids and drink constantly as the sun can be fierce here almost any time of the year.

 

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Photograph by Kelsey Smith Guide Ray Markam shows off a scrappy snook taken with a simple jig. Snook are one of the species you can count on year-round when fishing Tampa Bay. http://stepoutside.org/article/florida-fun-fish-your-way-from-disney-world-to-tampa http://stepoutside.org/article/florida-fun-fish-your-way-from-disney-world-to-tampa Thu, 06 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Snowshoeing: Get Your Family Started The Easy Way Bummed that the summer hiking trails will soon be covered in white? That’s okay…it’s snowshoeing season! Snowshoeing is a great family activity, and it's a relatively easy and affordable sport to get into. Almost any hiking trail can become a snowshoeing trail in winter, making the options for enjoying the sport nearly endless.

For families getting into the sport, snowshoes are easy to store and pack in the car. And once the initial purchase of gear is made, a day’s excursion is often free, since enthusiasts can snowshoe on most public lands and backcountry trails. Here are five easy-to-follow steps to get your whole family snowshoeing this winter.

When it comes to selecting a specific snowshoe model, however, keep in mind that most major snowshoe brands will offer an advanced backcountry exploration model and a touring or recreational model. The latter works best for almost all beginners. Here are your basic options along with some gear and technique tips to have your whole family enjoying a snowshoeing adventure in no time.

Flat Terrain Snowshoes

As their name implies, flat-terrain snowshoes are designed for easy walking on flat terrain. They’re the easiest snowshoe models to manage, and usually feature easy-to-adjust bindings and less serious traction systems, so you don’t trip yourself up.
Best For: Beginners.

Rolling Terrain Snowshoes

These snowshoes are designed for hiking on rolling-to-steep terrain, off the trail or on steep trails and are suitable for all but very steep or icy conditions. If you think your hike will start out with flat terrain and then advance to hillier trails more quickly, opt for a rolling-terrain snowshoe.
Best For: Hikers and backpackers.

Quick tip: Be sure to go into a brick-and-mortar store to try on snowshoes instead of buying online. You’ll want to see how easy (or not!) various bindings are for your children to use themselves.

 

Mountain Terrain Snowshoes

Families getting into the sport are unlikely to need mountain-terrain snowshoes, which are designed for icy, steep terrain. They feature climbing-style crampons and aggressive bindings that can be difficult for first-timers.
Best For: Mountaineers and advanced snowshoe enthusiasts

Okay, but how do I size my family’s snowshoes, you might ask? Snowshoe size is all about getting the right amount of surface space, or floatation. Two key factors are at play: the weight of the person, and the type of snow (light and dry or heavy) you’ll be traveling on.

Start the sizing process the obvious way, by gender and age. Men’s snowshoes will have a larger surface area, to accommodate larger boot sizes and heavier loads. Women’s snowshoes tend to have a narrower frame, with smaller bindings to fit smaller boots. Children’s snowshoes, of course,  are ‘shrunk’ even further to be sized accordingly.

After gender and age, you’ll want to select your snowshoes by terrain and snow conditions. See above to identify the type of terrain your family will most likely to navigate, then consider the snow pack you’re most likely to encounter in your area.

Quick tip: Bring a pair of gloves so everyone can practice getting into and out of their snowshoes with mittened hands!

 

Will you be on packed trails? If so, opt for a more compact snowshoe, with a more aggressive tread to bite into ice and packed snow. Will you mostly hike through powder? Choose rotating (floating) bindings, that can turn more easily and give you more flexibility. Young kids may do best with ‘fixed’ bindings, where the heels stays put, making the shoe easier to walk in (but you’ll get snow kicked up behind).

Once you have your snowshoes, you’ll need to consider a few other gear options before heading out. Quality, weatherproof clothing is a must and you’ll need poles to make your time outdoors on snowshoes more enjoyable. Here’s your shopping list:

  • Wool base layer and socks: choose a dedicated snow sport sock to ensure it will wick away moisture and cover your calf for best protection. Wool tights and a long-sleeved base layer shirt protect you from wind chill while still allowing your body to breathe.

  • Waterproof outer layers: choose a ski pant designed for backcountry skiing or snowshoeing. It will have more flexibility in the joints than a standard downhill ski pant. It will also be lighter and thinner yet still remain waterproof. Select a jacket that can be used as a shell, with a sweater or mid-layer underneath. This allows you to shed layers as you work out.

  • Hat and gloves: Gloves should be waterproof. Consider a glove with a liner, so the outer gloves can be taken off if you heat up during your workout.

  • Gaiters: Consider investing in gaiters to cover your ankles and calves. They provide more protection from snow exposure than ski pants alone and are especially useful in heavy powder.

  • Boots: You have your pick here: any well-made, waterproof snow boot will work, provided it has enough traction and covers the ankle.

  • Poles: While not essential, I think snowshoeing with poles is vastly easier, and makes for a more enjoyable time. If you already own ski poles, use those. If not, any trekking or hiking pole will work, once they’re outfitted with a snow basket (they usually come as an optional add-on to trekking poles).

Now that you’re outfitted, it’s time to learn a bit of technique. Don’t worry, snowshoeing is essentially just walking! It really is that easy. The difference is that snowshoeing requires a wider stance and a need to lift and place a wider surface area than your foot (that is, your snowshoe instead of your sneaker). Therefore, new snowshoers will definitely feel some previously underworked muscles. To ease this transition, hike with wider steps and keep your toes pointing slightly outward when ascending hills, and keep your knees bent when descending. 

Quick tip: Many trails at snow parks and Nordic centers rate snowshoe trails by the downhill ski system: green means beginner, blue means intermediate, and black means advanced. Expect advanced trails to include steep grades and tight turns.

 

Finally, time for the fun part! Now that you’re outfitted, you’ve practiced a bit, and your family is enthusiastic, you can easily find a great place to snowshoe, at low or no cost. Here are our favorite options:

  • Snow parks: Most counties in snowy areas have public snow parks where winter sport enthusiasts gather. Expect to see motorized snow sports as well, and some dedicated ski trails. Look at signage to see where you’re allowed to snowshoe, as some trails will be ski only (to avoid snowshoe tracks messing up their lines). Snow parks usually come with a low annual (seasonal) fee that varies by state and allows access to all parks.

  • Nordic centers at ski resorts: With ready-made, often groomed Nordic trails, cushy warming huts, and services such as rentals and a pro shop, Nordic centers at ski resorts can be among the easiest and most enjoyable snowshoe destinations. Be sure to ask ahead of time where snowshoes are permitted, and expect to pay a daily pass fee.

  • Meadows or pastures: Flat, open spaces, like meadows and pastures, are great places to learn to snowshoe or ski, and can often be found locally. Remember to get permission if the pasture is on private land.

  • Hut-to-hut systems: For the advanced snowshoer, hut-to-hut organizations offer trail systems that connect backcountry huts or cabins where skiers can overnight. Most come with food and water provided in the huts, freeing you up to carry only personal essentials on your back.

  • Guided Snowshoe Trips: Taking a guided snowshoe day trip can be a great way to try out the sport (and rentals are provided) and this option is available at many ski resort destinations and mountain towns. Kids can get playful on the best of these trips, with guides making time to stop to build snow forts, have snowball fights, and the like. Our favorite is Wanderlust Tours in Bend, Oregon.

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Snowshoeing is something the whole family can enjoy almost anywhere. You just want to make sure you match the kinds of snowshoes you buy to the types of terrain you’ll be hiking in most. http://stepoutside.org/article/snowshoeing-get-your-family-started-the-easy-way http://stepoutside.org/article/snowshoeing-get-your-family-started-the-easy-way Wed, 05 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Bird Hunting's Best--6 Top Spots To Hunt Right Now For diehard bird hunters, the season gets going just as the snow begins to fall and birds settle into their seasonal habits. For waterfowlers, the migration is in full swing. For upland hunters, birds are moving to thicker, more secure cover, which might be tougher to hunt, but it’s bound to hold cackling roosters or explosive quail or a limit of tight-holding grouse.

There is as much variety to bird hunting across the country as there are regional accents and distinctive foods. Local traditions can vary even across county lines, which means a roadtrip for birds is really an exploration of the texture and variety of America. Here are some destinations to consider for consistently hot action on birds and some very distinctive local hunting—and culinary—cultures.

By December, this is the throat of the duck funnel across the interior West. Orange-legged northern mallards by the thousands are dropping into the wetlands along the northeastern shoreline of this mammoth salty sea, but that’s hardly all. This may be the best place to go for fully plumed pintails and canvasbacks, and for layout-boat hunters with long blocks of diver decoys, redheads, ruddy ducks, shovelers, and ring-necked ducks fill out mixed bags.

Big game is on waterfowlers’ minds, too. For those who drew tundra swan tags, the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge offers almost guaranteed shot opportunities. Farther south, there’s great public access in the Farmington Bay Wildlife Management Area, and for those with big fan-powered airboats, the phragmite marshes in the shallow interior of the lake offer wonderful shooting, especially just after a cold front blows piles of northern birds into the Salt Lake basin.

Local Flavor: The best way to end a cold, wet day on the Great Salt Lake’s duck brine is over a plate of chicken-fried steak at Maddox Ranch House Restaurant in Brigham City. The warm, buttery rolls are legendary.

The economy of greater Aberdeen is so reliant on, and happy for, pheasant hunters that a local group has worked to open access to private farmland to welcome more hunters. The result is quantities of wild birds, abundant access, and one of the most hunter-friendly towns you’ll ever visit.

And the pheasant hunting ain’t bad, either. By December, the easy roosters have been picked off, and the veterans are wild and wise. They’ll head to thick cover at the first hint of hunting pressure, so bring your A-game: be stealthy, keep your dogs in check, and use a combination of post-and-push hunting and working heavy cover like cattails. Your reward will be heavy straps of long-tailed roosters.

There’s decent access around Aberdeen through the state’s Walk-In Hunting program, but the best way to find private land that’s open to hunting is to check out the website of the Aberdeen Pheasant Coalition and check out its directory of enrolled properties. Not all will be rooster factories, but they’re good places to start hunting to see the patterns of pheasant behavior. To tilt the odds even more in your favor, hunt just after a heavy snowfall. The snow will make the birds hold tight in dense cover.

Other ways to increase your bag: bring a tightly choked shotgun and heavy field loads to reach out to wild-flushing birds, bring a dog that’s happy working cattails, and place your blockers before the flushers start to push a field. After you’ve limited on pheasants, hit Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge for mallards, but remember to leave your lead shot in the pickup.

Local Flavor: The Brass Kettle does a whole bunch of dishes right, but it’s hard to go wrong with the ultimate comfort food—brisket mac & cheese—to take the edge off a cold day chasing long-tailed roosters.

Across much of the Midwest and Southeast, bobwhite quail are about as rare as one-owner Parker shotguns. But in Oklahoma’s Panhandle and across parts of adjacent northern Texas, coveys are large and abundant for hunters willing to stretch their legs.

One of the biggest contiguous pieces of quail country is the Black Kettle National Grassland, more than 30,000 acres of rolling sand hills and brushy draws located near the town of Cheyenne. The property is managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and it’s almost all accessible for hunters, though there are some property-specific rules to follow.

You’ll almost certainly see other hunters, but if you’re willing to work the rough interior of the grassland, you’ll find good numbers of quail. Take good notes where you see turkeys and come back in the spring for some excellent public-land Rio Grande gobbler hunting.

If you’re interested in straying from the Panhandle, consider knocking on doors around Amarillo, Texas, and working fields for sandhill cranes. The birds aren’t especially beloved across the Panhandle, and access is more likely for these “flying prime ribs” than for quail or deer.

Local Flavor: Ode’s Drive-In in Cheyenne is a favorite spot for locals, and lunchtime is so busy that you might have to wait a bit for your burger-and-fries. However, the wait is worth it for huge portions of classic diner fare. Alas, it’s not open on weekends.

Most national discussions of New England upland hunting focus on Maine’s North Woods and for good reason: it’s big and mostly accessible, and it holds good numbers of not only ruffed grouse but woodcock as well.

But the North Woods also gets hammered along its access points. To escape the crowds, look just west of the Maine border, to northern New Hampshire, for great public hunting without all the crowds. The Connecticut Lakes Wildlife Management Area and nearby state forest offer classic big-woods grouse hunting—plus bonus snowshoe hares—and virtually limitless opportunities to explore.

For grouse, look to regenerating softwood timber stands and head-high brush. Some of the best mix of habitat is around both First and Second Connecticut lakes in the center of the area. Both are accessible off U.S. Highway 3.

Another option is to head up to either Big Brook Bog or Scott Bog for decent riparian-corridor grouse. Woodcock are seasonally abundant, but by December they will have likely moved to lower elevations and around seeps and other open water.

This forested property on either side of Pittsburg is New Hampshire’s largest block of public habitat, and you may need to drive around a bit to find out seasonal small-game use. Because the habitat rises to over 3,000 feet, snow depth will likely determine not only your ability to cover ground but also where you’ll find grouse. Try hunting the elevations just below the heavier snow line for good bird action.

Local Flavor: You can’t go wrong with a name like the Buck Rub Pub, and the food and staff at this Pittsburg institution are just as welcoming to hunters as you’d expect. Great pub fare and a wide-ranging chophouse menu.

There’s a very good reason that Louisianans kill more ducks than hunters in any other state. This is where nearly all the birds in the Mississippi Flyway end up. Over the past 13 years, The Sportsmen’s State has accounted for fully 10 percent of the annual U.S. waterfowl harvest, according to Ducks Unlimited. Half of all the ducks in the Mississippi Flyway are bagged in Louisiana, and the state’s hunters take over 30 birds per person per season.

The reason is latitude, of course. This is where birds are wintering, but the other reason is habitat. Dabbling ducks like mallards and teal love the fresh and intermediate salt marshes along the shoreline, plus there’s abundant rice and other grain production in the area to keep birds fed as they transition from south to northward migration patterns.

State and federal agencies, realizing the wealth of waterfowl possibilities in the bayou, have established a number of public properties where you can bag your share of birds. Among the best: Pass A Loutre State Wildlife Management Area on the very tip of the Mississippi River delta and the 44,000-acre Sherburne Wildlife Management Area closer to metro New Orleans.

Local Flavor: There is no shortage of excellent Cajun fare across the state. In fact, just about any crossroads café will have memorable etouffee, jambalaya, and po’ boys. But here’s a local tradition that’s worth a look: drive-through daiquiris. One of the best is Iguana’s Daiquiri Express in Buras, a little fishing community on Highway 39 between New Orleans and the end of the earth at Pass A Loutre.

If you want to prolong your wingshooting season, then consider following the northbound migration of snow geese as they move with the receding snowline. The Central Flyway is your spot, but more specifically, you’ll be hunting refuges and adjacent grain fields along the Missouri River from about Kansas City north to Sioux Falls.

This is a moveable feast, because the best spots will change from day to day and even hour to hour as the winds and hunting pressure bump birds from one township to the next. If you’ve seen videos of snow-goose cyclones, where the sky turns monochromatic with the beating white-and-black wings of snows, then you have an idea how good the action can be here. This is unplugged shotguns, no bag limits, and electronic calling. It’s high-volume wingshooting at its best.

Some hunters do well freelancing this season, but if you’re a first-timer, consider hiring a guide service like Minnesota-based Top Gun Guide Service. You’re paying for the use of hundreds of decoys and top-notch calling, sure, but the real value of a service is that they’ve done all the preliminary scouting and have a good idea where to set up, saving you at least as much time as you’ll spend hunting. They have also handled the permission side of the private-land hunting equation, another time-saver.

Local Flavor: Some people call snow geese “flying carp” for their ability to make a living off the leavings of agriculture and their general unpalatability. If you want to taste real carp, however, hit Joe Tess Place in Omaha, where they are famous for their fried-carp plates.

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Photograph by Andrew McKean http://stepoutside.org/article/bird-huntings-best6-top-spots-to-hunt-right-now http://stepoutside.org/article/bird-huntings-best6-top-spots-to-hunt-right-now Wed, 05 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
12 Best Gift Ideas for Off-Roaders Tis the season! With the holidays right around the corner, you may be wracking your brain to find something new and different for your favorite four-wheeler. Allow us to help. We recently returned from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show, the automotive aftermarket's biggest display of new products. We scoured miles of aisles at the Las Vegas Convention Center to bring you the latest 4x4 and off-road-related accessories. From hardcore recovery gear to fun mini 4x4s, you’ll find something here to please any off-roader this holiday season. 

ARB, which has made vehicle protective gear and traction aids since 1975, has added a new recovery tool to its lineup called, simply, Jack. Unlike the traditional mechanical farm jack, ARB’s Jack is hydraulic, capable of lifting up to 4,400 pounds with just light force applied to the handle. The red lever at the top of the jack lowers the vehicle and controls its speed on the way down. Jack’s body is made from aircraft-grade 6061 T6 aluminum, and it can pivot a full 360 degrees around its base to align with uneven terrain. 

If you’re into radio-controlled trucks but looking for something different than the usual monster truck or desert racer, check out this very well detailed 1969 Chevrolet Blazer by Axial, which was demonstrated in the Horizon Hobby booth. The 1/10th-scale Blazer is an accurate reproduction of the factory K5, albeit one that’s been lifted and is running giant Falken tires. Solid axles front and rear are joined to the chassis with steel suspension links, and adjustable coilover shocks keep the tires planted for optimal traction. The transmission gears can be adjusted for high cruising speeds or low-speed rock crawling.

Where to Buy Off-Road Accessories

SEMA (shown above) is where the off-road industry just unveiled its new products; many of which are now available for holiday purchase. If your hometown or city doesn’t have a well-stocked off-road parts retailer, you can still get these products in time for holiday gift giving by shopping online. Here are just a few sources to explore.

Photograph by Drew Hardin

4 Wheel Online

4 Wheel Online offers products to improve both the looks and functionality of a truck or SUV. Its website features not just parts, but also videos and articles that explain how the parts work and how to install them. Having all of its inventory contained in one warehouse helps keep costs and shipping charges low, says the company. 

4 Wheel Parts 

In addition to a massive inventory of parts and accessories available online, 4 Wheel Parts has 73 brick-and-mortar retail stores nationwide, many of which include service centers that can install the parts after purchase. Its website also offers free shipping for orders of $75 or more.

Summit Racing Equipment

Yes, “racing” is in its name, but Summit sells far more than just competition-oriented parts. It has specific web pages for truck, SUV and Jeep accessories; towing and trailering equipment; and an outdoor recreation section with items like the Napier Sportz tents and Pittman Outdoors Airbedz.

 

Serious off-roaders know a 4x4’s muffler is at risk when crawling over rocks. Dynomax has developed a stainless-steel Elimination Pipe for the 2018 (JL) model of Jeep’s Wrangler that replaces the canister-type muffler behind its rear axle. This mandrel-bent, 2.5-inch pipe is tucked neatly out of harm’s way, and is designed to work with stock-height or lifted suspensions. Dynomax says the pipe will give the Jeep a “deep performance tone,” but not a completely unmuffled one, since its installation does not affect the factory resonator behind the catalytic converter.

Are trailer mirrors becoming obsolete? The Full Display Mirror (FDM) from Gentex streams the feed from a rearward-facing video camera to a mirror-integrated LCD to provide you with an unobstructed view behind your truck and trailer. The latest version of the FDM can toggle between two different camera inputs. That would allow, for example, one mounted in the bed to keep tabs on cargo while the second is on the back of the trailer. (A new wired, detachable auxiliary camera was also introduced by Gentex for this application.) 

A Hi-Lift or other farm jack is invaluable when you need to raise a 4x4 with tall tires, but the narrow base on those jacks doesn’t always conform to the terrain. Enter the Alien Jack Base by Hard Core Trail Gear. Each of its articulated legs can be adjusted and locked in place to provide a stable platform for the jack. Or, when all four legs are folded up (as seen with the Base in the photo’s background), they present serrated, tooth-like edges that can grip rocks or even be jammed in between them. 

Its manufacturer may call it the Thunderbird, but it sure looks like a kid-size flat fender “Jeep,” a fun way to get the youngest members of your family into four-wheeling. It’s powered by a 125cc four-stroke engine hooked to a semi-automatic three-speed transmission (with reverse). Dual A-arms in front and a swing-arm rear suspension provide a reported 9.8 inches of ground clearance. Behind the 8-inch aluminum wheels are disc brakes at each corner. And with a weight capacity of 265 pounds, a grownup can try it out, too!

As overlanding becomes more popular, companies are pulling out the stops to design gear that will turn 4x4s into self-contained, rolling campsites. Yes, the Jeep Wrangler in the MorRyde display at the SEMA Show had the requisite roof-top tent, but it also had a very well equipped galley thanks to the company’s Jeep Trail Kitchen products The Trail Kitchen includes a sliding tray and collapsible table, a drawer with 300 cubic inches of storage, and a platform that will accommodate most of the popular makes of onboard refrigerator/freezers, like the Dometic unit seen here. In addition to the Trail Kitchen, the inside of the Jeep’s tailgate is equipped with MorRyde’s Storegate, which will hold up to 35 pounds of gear behind its diamond-plate door. (A Storegate with a netted front is also available.)

Napier’s Sportz SUV tent is actually two tents in one. The vehicle sleeve provides a pass-through between the tent and an SUV, allowing easy access to gear or extra sleeping space. The tent can also be used by itself by zipping off the sleeve. The 82000 model shown here has a 9-foot-square floor, 7 feet of headroom, and sleeps up to five adults. Two doors, two skylights and three mesh windows provide lots of ventilation, while a full rain fly and built-in storm flaps at the windows and doors offer protection from the elements. (The awning shown on the tent is optional.) Bigger versions of this tent are available from Napier, as are truck-bed tents for pickups.

Pittman Outdoors is known for its Airbedz line of inflatable mattresses, with wheelwell cutouts that turn any truck bed into a cushy place to sleep. The company is now turning its attention to SUVs with the new Airbedz XUV. It, too, is contoured to fit around an SUV’s wheelwells; and, at 66 inches long, will cover the entire rear cargo area when the back seat is folded down. It’s made with a built-in air pump that’s powered by a rechargeable Ni-MH battery, and its heavy-duty fabric is puncture-resistant. The Realtree camo fabric shown is one of three color choices; blue and gray are also available.

“Light cannon” is a great way to describe the performance of this auxiliary driving light. The 8.7-inch ADV Light Cannon throws a narrow beam of light as far as 2,300 feet down the trail, while also casting a wide beam at the front of your truck to brighten the terrain immediately at hand. The white “halo” around the multiple LED reflectors acts as a daytime running light, or can be wired on a separate switch to supply custom lighting on demand. Smaller, 6.7-inch versions of the ADV Light Cannon are also available; they cast “just” an 1,800-foot light beam.

Storage space is at a premium inside a Jeep, so Warn Industries has developed a full line of what it calls Epic Trail Gear to address those needs. The Passenger Grab Handle Bag provides a secure space for phones, sunglasses, and other personal items, while still allowing the Jeep’s grab handle to be used for those off-camber moments. The bag comes in two sizes, this Full-Size model and a Slim bag for a little more knee room. The Epic Trail Gear line also includes bags that strap to the rollbar, fire-extinguisher holders, rollbar-mounted grab handles, and triangle bags that fit in those spaces where the rollbar’s downbar meets the Jeep’s body.    

The Zues Open-Eye Rope provides an alternative to closed-eye ropes that require heavy metal shackles to attach to a 4x4. This 100-percent nylon rope has open eyes woven into the rope with a cordura chafe guard over the open eye. This makes the rope lighter and easier to stow without the worry of shackles banging around in your truck bed or cargo compartment. The rope is available in multiple sizes, and thicknesses from 7/8-inch to 1-1/4-inch.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/12-best-gift-ideas-for-offroaders http://stepoutside.org/article/12-best-gift-ideas-for-offroaders Wed, 05 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Save Big Money With These 9 Amazing Ski Resort Hacks Whether you’re a die-hard powder hound or simply curious about why people subject themselves to a gear-intensive sport that takes place outside in cold, snowy conditions (hint: because nothing comes closer to feeling like you can fly), you no doubt know that skiing and snowboarding are expensive.

For decades the slopes were the purview of the elite, but thanks to changes in how we pay for a day of skiing, where we buy gear, and how to shop for accommodations in ski towns, it’s never been easier to ski on a budget. Here’s how.

What’s that, you say? You’re not sure you’ll use it that much? Not a problem. These days, season passes are good for multiple mountains, as opposed to the one-stop passes of yore. It’s too late to buy a Vail Resorts Epic Pass because the last day to buy was 11/18, but you can purchase an Ikon Pass through 12/13. This pass offers a range of unlimited and limited skiing at 38 destinations around the world (the bulk are in North America). The pass costs $750 (it’s cheaper in the spring). Given that most resorts charge upwards of $125 for a day pass at the ticket window, this is a great choice if you’re going to ski six days or more.

Another pass to consider is the Mountain Collective, which offers two days at 17 resorts around North America along with a suite of other discounts for $470.

Ski and snowboard boots are expensive and it’s worth buying them new from a boot expert at a specialty shop because they are the piece of gear that most impacts the quality of your experience. Not only are they critical for comfort, they impact how well you can navigate your board or boards, and a proper fit is critical. Don’t skimp on ski boots. Also: buy a helmet. Your head is worth it.

Do, however, skip on the price of new skis or a snowboard, especially if you’re not sure whether you love the sport and want to keep doing it. Today’s rental shops have everything from top-of-the-line equipment to anyone-can-turn-these-boards quality, and you can rent a package for as little as $35/day. Plus, renting lets you try out a bunch of different brands so you know what you want if and when you decide to purchase.

On-mountain dining is no joke, especially when it comes to price. At many resorts, a $15 hamburger would be considered a steal and $5 French fries are par for the course. Pack a lunch. And snacks.

Keep energy bars or things that could freeze in pockets close to your body, and either throw your sandwich in another pocket or in a fanny pack or small backpack. Most resorts have at least one or two base lodges where bringing your own grub is smiled upon.

If you’re headed to the mountains for a multi-day ski trip and packing up food, remember to throw in some plastic sandwich bags and other food carrier things, otherwise you might end up with a PB&J leaking jelly through a napkin in your jacket pocket.

Or instant coffee. Or even ramen noodles. Yes, we’ll admit this is taking the save-money-ski-bum thing a bit far, but most mountain cafeterias will give you a cup of hot water for free or for a nominal price. That’s one way to save $5. The same thinking applies to carrying your own water bottle that you can refill at any restroom on the mountain.

Resorts don’t charge to park just to make buckets of money. They also want to encourage people to carpool more or to take public transportation when it’s available. Whether you drive to the mountain solo or with some friends, you should always search for free parking in advance. Most of the time there’s parking on a frontage road or nearby lot and often there will be a free shuttle to take you from there to here. Worst case, you might have to schlep for five to 10 minutes, but it’s worth it if you consider that fees at most day parking lots at resorts start around $20.

Got little kids? Bring friends. It’s easy to carve out space for a toddler in a resort base lodge. Rather than shelling out $125/day on nursery fees, bribe a friend (for the price of a beer or latte) to watch junior for a few hours. You spin laps, then they can head off on their own time. This works even better for parents who can take turns. If you have friends who have children, consider doing a kid swap for a couple of hours so that everyone gets some ski time.

The most important thing about what to wear on the slopes is comfort, which means warmth, nothing itchy, and nothing too tight. Sure, a person could drop $1,000 on a new get-up (Bogner for some, Patagonia for others), but that’s unnecessary. Costco and other big box stores in cold country always sell gloves and warm jackets this time of year.

If you have any technical wear at home that you use for running, biking, or even going to the gym, wear that instead of buying new base layers. You’ll need a thin, technical top and bottom, wool socks, a fleece or wool insulating top layer, possibly a down vest (if you get really cold), and a waterproof jacket. You’ll also need mittens or gloves and goggles.

Second-hand gear shops, like Play it Again Sports, often have a range of options. And you can find amazing deals on ski and snowboard wear at online sites like Sierra Trading Post

Sweeter words have never been whispered in a ski town where throngs of restaurants competing for tired, happy diners slash prices between the time lifts shut down and dinner time. With $7 pizzas and $2.50 beer (common prices/items on happy hour menus), a diner could have dinner for less than $10 before tax and tip.

Headed up overnight? You’ll pay top dollar for the privilege of walking from your condo to the gondola. But you can score major last-minute deals at basic, budget hotels by simply calling and asking for availability and their best price (nine times out of ten this is more efficient and effective than searching online).

Air B&B can yield great deals, but finding them can be a time suck. If you don’t mind basic lodging, search for a hostel in the town where you’re headed or one of the trendier “Adventure Lodges,” to find shared rooms at double-digit prices.

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Purchasing a season pass and shopping online for skiwear bargains are just two of the many ways you can save big money this ski season. http://stepoutside.org/article/save-big-money-with-these-9-amazing-ski-resort-hacks http://stepoutside.org/article/save-big-money-with-these-9-amazing-ski-resort-hacks Tue, 04 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Escape The Cold At These Amazing Glamping Destinations Glamping is typically defined as a mix of glamor and camping. The result is an outdoor experience unlike any other, where campers spend their days doing all of the things they generally enjoy outdoors, while their nights are spent in surprisingly luxurious accommodations that rival those they find back home.

Large tents with full-sized bed and hot showers are often the norm on a glamping trip, as are gourmet meals and plenty of fine wine. For glampers, the experience is all about getting back to nature while still enjoying plenty of amenities along the way. This has made glamping especially popular with those who don’t typically enjoy sleeping in a tent, although frequent campers love the experience as a nice change of pace, too. 

If you’re looking to escape the icy grasp of Old Man Winter this year, why not consider taking a glamping excursion into America’s Deep South? Not only will you get the chance to escape the cold and snow for a time, you’ll also have the opportunity to experience the food and hospitality that the region is so famous for. With that in mind, here are five outstanding places to go glamping deep in the heart of Dixie. 

Located just 20 minutes outside of Asheville, NC, Asheville Glamping provides visitors with everything they need to reconnect with nature for a little while. 

The 15-acre site offers several different types of accommodations, ranging from Airstream campers and spacious geodesic dome tents large enough for entire families to smaller, cozier shelters made for couples or groups of up to four. Those tents come equipped with queen-sized beds, pull-out sleeper couches, built-in lights, and charging stations to keep your smartphone and other gadgets functioning. 

Other amenities include private fire pits and propane grills for prepping meals. Some of the accommodations also include heat, air conditioning, and even hot tubs. Prices start at $80 per night.

Quick tip: One of the joys of glamping is that everything is provided for you and you don’t need to bring a lot of gear. Pack light, leave the tent and sleeping bag at home, and enjoy some unexpected comforts in unexpected places.

The aptly named Fancy Camps operates at two different locations offering visitors the opportunity to go glamping at Florida’s Grayton Beach or Topsail State Parks. 

No matter which location you choose you’ll be camping in the lap of luxury however, as the spacious canvas bell tents boast queen-sized beds, heating and cooling units, and interior and exterior lighting, as well as comfortable outdoor seating. The tents are perfectly sized for couples, although Fancy Camps can add a kid’s pallet to the tent to accommodate little ones, too. 

Other add-ons include firewood for the private fire pit and a two-burner propane camp stove for cooking meals. The campsites are quiet, peaceful, and dog friendly, and the company will even set up your own private glamping site at other locations if you want. Prices start at about $128 per night.

For a completely different glamping experience, book a stay in one of two luxury treehouses operated by Treetop Hideaways. The company’s rustic –– yet refined –– cabins are situated deep in a forest setting and are actually nestled high up in the trees themselves. 

The Elements Treehouse is located near Chattanooga, TN, while the Luna Loft is found in northern Georgia close to the Appalachian Mountains. Both come stocked with snacks, wine, coffee, and tea, while also boasting gigabit Internet for those who want to stay connected to the outside world while on their winter escape. 

Both cabins sleep up to four people, include luxurious showers, comfortable living quarters, a stocked kitchenette, and fire pits that come complete with a fresh supply of wood. Prices for the Elements Treehouse start at $375 per night, while the Luna Loft is available at $295.

Quick tip: Nearly every glamping site is outfitted with a fire pit. Don’t forget to pack the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, because you’re going to want to make some s’mores.

Florida is probably the last place you’d expect to find a western-style wilderness adventure, but that’s exactly what the Westgate River Ranch offers. Located just an hour south of Orlando, Westgate gives visitors the chance to channel their inner cowboy by going horseback riding and attending rodeos. The resort also features a nine-hole golf course, bungee jumping, fishing, and some of the best glamping in the entire South

Guests can choose to stay in a luxe teepee or an upscale tented cabin. Both are nicely equipped with king-sized beds, sleeper sofas, and twin beds, too. These luxury glamping accommodations also include private bathrooms, complete with hot showers, ceiling fans, mini refrigerators, and a microwave.

If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also find heating and cooling units, patios decked out with mosquito netting, a private gas grill, and a private picnic table for personal dining.

Westgate even offers a glamping concierge to help manage activities and morning coffee delivered directly to the tent. Prices for the teepee start at $200 while a night’s stay in the tent begins at $238.

Most of the glamping locations found on this list are privately owned, but it turns out the state of Alabama has created an outstanding glamping experience that you’ll want to have on your radar as well. Located inside Gulf Shores State Park, the Outpost Campsites are both primitive and luxurious at the same time.

What they lack in electricity and other modern amenities, they more than make up for with an abundance of romance and charm. The large, rustic tents come with four sleeping cots, a sink with running water, and a private fire pit for cooking and communal bonfires. Beyond that however, the sites also offer a wonderful view of the surrounding beach and the Gulf of Mexico, which sits close by.

Reaching the campsites requires a 1.5 mile hike, but that just means the tents are located in a more out-of-the-way spot. The best part is that the Outpost Campsites cost just $50 per night, but since there are only three of them, they tend to book up fast. Be sure to reserve your dates early if you want to enjoy a winter escape along the gulf shores this winter.

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Photograph Courtesy of Westgate Resorts Glamping allows you to “rough it” while enjoying upscale comforts like king-sized beds, private bathrooms and more. http://stepoutside.org/article/escape-the-cold-at-these-amazing-glamping-destinations http://stepoutside.org/article/escape-the-cold-at-these-amazing-glamping-destinations Tue, 04 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
Why The .22 LR Is America’s Favorite Cartridge To Shoot There is a reason the world consumes millions of rounds of .22 LR ammunition each year. The popular .22 offers almost no recoil, so it’s easy for both kids and adults to enjoy, it’s versatile enough to handle small-game hunting chores, and it’s a great cartridge to improve your marksmanship skills with because ammo is relatively inexpensive. But perhaps the most important reason the .22 LR is so popular is that it’s just plain fun to shoot. Whether you like punching paper targets or plinking cans, few cartridges offer as much shooting fun potential as the venerable .22 LR.

The first successful American, self-contained metallic cartridge was the .22 Short. It was developed in 1857 for Smith & Wesson’s First Model Revolver and was marketed for self-defense. And it’s still with us today.

Short of a zombie-chipmunk uprising, the idea of using a .22 Short for serious self-defense is a bit laughable by today’s standards. However, even though it was badly underpowered for the intended use, the .22 Short spawned a dynasty that evolved through many cartridge variations to get us to the .22 Long Rifle we enjoy today

The modern .22 LR uses smokeless powder and a non-corrosive primer compound, but other than that it’s not much different than the cartridge introduced in 1887. Except we now have machines capable of producing a million or more cartridges a day that are running constantly to feed the demand.

The modern .22 LR comes in several variations, the most common being: standard velocity, high velocity and hyper velocity. The latter often uses a slightly longer case and a lighter bullet. Common bullets are solid lead or hollow point. They might have a thin metallic coating. The bullets are lubricated, usually with a wax of some sort. The standard bullet weight is 40-grains while hollow points usually weigh in at 38-grains. 

The hyper velocity bullets are lighter, usually 32 grains. Muzzle velocity can be pretty wide ranging as well. Low noise ammo runs about 700 ft/s where the hyper velocity ammo can hit 1,640ft/s. There are a multitude of variations in bullet weights from 30-grains to 60-grains. 

Four Great .22’s to Consider

There are a great number of firearms chambered for the .22 LR. Rifle shooters can choose single-shot, bolt-action, lever-action, pump-action or semi-auto models. Handgun models include revolvers, semi-autos and single-shots. There are far too many guns chambered for .22 Long Rifle to ever consider listing, but here are a few I have tried and can recommend.

Ruger 10/22

Photograph Courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc

This semi-auto rifle is probably the most successful modern .22 LR rifle on the planet. The sheer number of aftermarket upgrades for the Ruger 10/22is mind boggling. It’s fine right out of the box or if you are like me and unable to leave well enough alone, this is the ultimate kit gun. I have several 10/22 rifles, but I am partial to the takedown model as an easy transporting hunting gun. MSRP: Starting at $309.00

Savage A-22

Photograph Courtesy of Vista Outdoor

The Savage “A-Series”of semi-auto, rimfire rifles started with the .17 HMR, then the .22 Magnum and finally the .22 LR, which was released at the 2017 SHOT show. I have used them all, but find the A-22 the most versatile, simply because it’s chambered in .22 Long Rifle. I have used mine on several squirrel hunts and have found it to be accurate and reliable. MSRP: $281.00

Henry Classic Lever Action .22

Photograph Courtesy of Henry Repeating Arms

There is something about a lever-action riflethat stirs up the cowboy in all of us. This rifle is perfect for hunting squirrels, shooting tin cans or holding off imaginary rustlers. MSRP: $378.00

Ruger Mark IV 22.45 Lite

Photograph Courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc

This semi-auto pistol is a lot of fun. I fitted mine with a red-dot sight and have found it perfect for small-game hunting or just plinking at targets in my back yard. MSRP: $559.00

 

A modern centerfire cartridge has a primer fitted into a cup in the back of the cartridge case. There is a small hole in the case to allow the fire from the primer to reach the powder. Usually these primers can be removed and replaced, allowing the cartridge case to be reloaded. This is a much stronger case design that can utilize the high pressures needed for the performance expected from a modern cartridge. 

With a rimfire cartridge the hollow rim is folded and shaped using the same thin material used to make the cartridge case. The priming compound is then spun with centrifugal force to fill the rim. Because there is no anvil for the firing pin to strike against, as with a centerfire primer, the priming compound in a rimfire will have something like ground glass mixed into the compound to help pinch the priming compound against the firing pin to ignite the priming compound. The rim’s metal must be relatively thin so the firing pin can dent it and fire the cartridge. That means that the pressures with a rimfire cartridge must be kept low as this is not a strong case design. Also, there is no practical way to reload a rimfire case. 

Few cartridges can rival the .22 Long Rifle’s diversity. There are .22 LR target loads designed for precision accuracy as well as “plinking” ammo designed to keep the cost down. There are several hunting loads and even some .22 LR loads designed specifically for use in modern sporting rifles. There are low-noise loads, sub-sonic loads and even loads with bullets that segment on contact. If you live in a place where lead has been banned, there is no-lead .22 Long Rifle ammo to keep you legal. 

There are even shot-shell versions used for pest control. At one time these were popular for shooting aerial targets using a smooth-bore rifle. The mild report and the safety of the low powered cartridge made it a favorite for exhibition shooters as well as plinkers.

Cost is a huge factor in the success of the .22 LR. It’s inexpensive to shoot as the price per shot is a fraction of the cost of centerfire ammo. Within any budget you can do a lot of trigger pulling with a .22 Long Rifle that is not possible with any centerfire rifle or handgun. 

A quick check of the internet shows that name brand 9 mm pistol ammo costs about $0.18 per shot, while .223 Remington runs about $0.28 per round. The price per round of .22 Long Rifle is about four cents—big difference. 

The .22 Long Rifle is an inherently accurate cartridge and is used in a wide range of competition and target shooting endeavors. From precision bullseye pistol shooting, to Olympic Biathlon through the newer Rimfire Challenge competitions popular today, this cartridge performs at a multitude of levels.

The .22 LR is well suited for small-game hunting for squirrels, rabbits, raccoons and similar size game. There are reports of the .22 LR killing an elephant, but trust me, it’s not an elephant cartridge. In fact, it’s not a deer cartridge, either. The .22 LR is an extremely effective small-game and small-varmint cartridge, meaning squirrels, gophers and, if they are close, prairie dogs. It’s a bit light for bobcats, coyotes or foxes but if you call them close and place the shot with precision, it will work. Woodchucks or rabbits raiding the garden are no match for a well-placed .22 hollow point.

Actually, the .22 LR s a great choice for pest control around a farm or rural home as the report is mild enough so the neighbors or livestock are not bothered. In fact, there are some that are some low noise, sub-sonic .22 LR loads designed just for that use.

Of course, the number one use for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge is just shooting for fun. The age old practice of lining empty cans up on the fence and knocking them off burns up a lot of ammo every year. Inexpensive commercial targets, like a dueling tree, can pit shooter against shooter for fun family competition.

The .22 Long Rifle has been around for a very long time and is not showing any signs of slowing down. Like most of my generation, my first rifle was chambered in .22 LR. My grandfather and my father both learned to shoot and hunt with a .22 Long Rifle and I think we can expect our grandchildren and great grandchildren to be to be introduced to shooting and hunting with a .22 Long Rifle. It truly is the king of cartridges and long may it reign.

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Photograph Courtesy of Howard Communications, Inc. The low recoil and mild report of the .22 LR make it a favorite for plinking and target shooting. http://stepoutside.org/article/why-the-22-lr-is-americas-favorite-cartridge-to-shoot http://stepoutside.org/article/why-the-22-lr-is-americas-favorite-cartridge-to-shoot Tue, 04 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0600
VIDEO: Hang gliding adventure turns into a nightmare

 

What was supposed to be a fun first-time hang gliding experience in Switzerland transformed into a near-death event for this man. The instructor failed to secure the safety harness and well…you’ll have to see what happens.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/video-hang-gliding-adventure-turns-into-a-nightmare http://stepoutside.org/article/video-hang-gliding-adventure-turns-into-a-nightmare Tue, 27 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
WATCH: Majestic sea eagle lands on woman’s arm

 

On average, the Steller's sea eagle is the heaviest eagle on the planet, weighing anywhere between 11 to 20 pounds. This enormous eagle can be found in coastal northeastern Asia as well as the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. Watch as it flies to perch on a woman’s arm and munch on a few rodents.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-majestic-sea-eagle-lands-on-womans-arm http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-majestic-sea-eagle-lands-on-womans-arm Wed, 21 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
VIDEO—Unlikely companions: A dog and a dolphin

 

While swimming in the waters off the coast of the Bahamas, Bella the dog started splashing around with a new-found friend: A dolphin. Cuteness overload.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/videounlikely-companions-a-dog-and-a-dolphin http://stepoutside.org/article/videounlikely-companions-a-dog-and-a-dolphin Wed, 21 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
10 Craziest Mountain Biking Wipeouts and Close Calls Mountain biking is not for the faint of heart. This sport is reserved for the boldest and bravest. With the introduction of iPhones, GoPros, and helmet cameras comes some pretty incredible footage from all over the world. Whether it’s navigating rocky terrain on the edge of a cliff or speeding down densely forested trails, mountain bikers have captured some mind-blowing close calls and wipeouts over the years. Here are some of the craziest.

 

It looks like this guy just wanted to join in on the fun?

 

He’s certainly going to feel that one in the morning.

 

Almost had it.

 

This one will make you cringe.

 

Only in Australia.

 

It’s essential to follow the rules of the trails.

 

Luckily he braced the fall with his face!

 

This guy was really lucky.

 

Yikes.

 

No worries. He’s all good.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/10-craziest-mountain-biking-wipeouts-and-close-calls http://stepoutside.org/article/10-craziest-mountain-biking-wipeouts-and-close-calls Wed, 14 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
WATCH: Baby bear climbs up snowy cliff to Mama Bear

 

While following its Mama on the edge of an incredibly steep and snowy cliff, a baby bear lost its footing and fell down the side. Watch as it resiliently climbs its way back up to its mother.

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http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-baby-bear-climbs-up-snowy-cliff-to-mama-bear http://stepoutside.org/article/watch-baby-bear-climbs-up-snowy-cliff-to-mama-bear Mon, 12 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
18 Amazing New Fishing Products For Holiday Gift Giving ICAST is the trade show produced by the American Sportfishing Association. At this annual gathering, tackle manufacturers showcase their latest fishing products. This year’s show in Orlando was the biggest ICAST ever with 626 manufacturers participating and more than 15,000 people from 71 countries attending. From new rods and reels to the latest in clothing, fishing kayaks and electronics, there were hundreds of new products introduced.

Choosing my favorite introductions was tough because there are just so many great products to choose from. One noticeable trend (and a real bonus for fishermen) is that many of the high-tech features introduced a year or so ago are now trickling down into more affordable rods, reels and gear.

Buyers and media voted on ICAST 2018 Best of Category and Best of Show Awards, but before I looked at the winner’s list I walked the show aisles choosing products that caught my eye as being stand-out innovations as well as just plain fun.

Some of these products are available now (just in time for your holiday shopping) while others will be hitting your local tackle retailer’s shelves in early 2019. Here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of my favorite products from ICAST 2018.

Baitcasting reels have always presented backlash challenges, especially for new fishermen. The new Curado DC Reels have a special Digital Control braking system that uses a microcomputer to monitor spool speed 1000 times per second. The result? The braking system applies just the right amount of pressure to prevent backlashes. Best of all, you get this flagship technology in reels that retail at a very affordable $249.99.

Strike King has added literally dozens of new products and color extensions to their line this year, but one lure that really caught my eye was their new KVD 1.5 Deep Diver. This lure is designed to BassMaster Classic Champion Kevin VanDam’s specifications and utilizes a deep diving bill that quickly gets this lure down to 9 feet and beyond—perfect for those times when fish are hanging just a little deeper. MSRP: $7.49

Saltwater fishermen will love the new line of G. Loomis E6X rods designed especially for inshore saltwater use. With 14 new models to choose from, there is a rod in this lineup to meet just about any inshore saltwater challenge from lures to live-bait use—all using G. Loomis’ Multi-Taper Technology that offers great balance and strength. Both spinning and casting models are available with prices ranging from $199 to $229. 

Start with an owner who was a carpenter. Add a healthy dose of fishing passion and a dash of Yankee ingenuity. What do you get? A cool new line of fresh and saltwater lures from Odin Lure Co. that allow you to inject liquid bait (“Fish Smack”) into the body of the lure to lay down a scent trail that fish can’t resist. Guide, Ray Markham, tied one of these lures on the day after ICAST when we fished together and landed a huge sea trout on the very first cast! MSRP: $19.95-$29.95 (depending on size of lure); Smack $12.95; Starter Pack (Lure and Smack) $32.95-$39.95

Simms, long known for their innovation in waders, has partnered with Veil to develop a new proprietary fishing camouflage pattern that they are now offering in their best-selling G3 waders. Designed using sophisticated technology that is based on how fish actually see, this new River Guide pattern is amazing. (Simms is also offering clothing tops and head coverings to match offering UPF 50 sun protection). And while the camouflage is color patterned for Rocky Mountain rivers, I can see a great application for fishermen in many regions as well as duck hunters. Look for this product in spring 2019. MSRP: $549.95

OK, we all know that Costa Del Mar sunglasses look cool. And we all know that their lenses are some of the best available for spotting fish. This year Costa is also putting their shoulder to the conservation wheel by introducing new frames made from discarded fishing nets. Called “The Untangled Collection” this new line represents a strategic partnership between Costa Del Mar and Bureo, who works with fishermen to prevent discarded nets from polluting our oceans and harming wildlife. Bureo recycles the nets, breaking them down into pellets of raw material that Costa then molds into The Untangled Collection sunglass frames. A cool concept that looks and functions great, too. MSRP $199 - $269 

Pulling fish up from deep water causes major barotrauma stress when fish who were swimming freely in the pressure and temperature of deep water are suddenly hoisted to the surface. The SeaQualizer is an innovative, new release device that clips to the fishes lower lip. You then drop the fish back down on a weighted line to the depth at which it was caught (up to 300 feet) and the release pops open, allowing the fish to swim away—back in the proper thermocline. Check out this video to see how it works. $59.99 SeaQualizer will also be marketing a new line of sunglass leashes soon made from recycled fishing line—very cool!

Looking for footwear that’s super comfortable and won’t mare the deck of your boat? Look no further than the full line of men’s and women’s fashion-forward styles from SoftScience. SoftScience utilizes Trileon—a closed cell copolymer that makes these shoes extremely lightweight, stable (for fighting fish), impact absorbent and odor resistant. I’ve been wearing a pair of men’s Fin 2.0’s. They’re super comfortable, and so light you hardly know you have them on. $89.99

Fishing kayaks were all the rage at ICAST with at least a half-dozen companies showing off their new models. The one that caught my eye, however, was the Topwater PDL (propeller driven) from Old Town Canoes. At just over 10 feet in length and weighing in at a mere 100 pounds fully outfitted, the Topwater PDL is easy to transport and nimble in the water, yet it sacrifices nothing in stability thanks to a  DoubleU hull that allows you to glide through the water with ease. And the Topwater PDL features one of the most reliable and easy-peddling drive units available. $1,999.99

Long known for its fly-fishing products, Orvis has introduced a new wading boot (available in spring 2019) that they are making in partnership with Michelin. As you might guess, the boots are made from virgin and recycled rubber and a new tread design (you can feel the Michelin influence here) offers a 43% improvement in traction over traditional Vibram styles. These boots are surprisingly lightweight and are designed with the idea that anglers are indeed athletes, so performance and foot fatigue is factored into the design to provide a comfortable boot for hiking into those hard-to-reach places as well as great wading performance. $229.00 You’ll also want to check out their new Clearwater rods that offer high-tech features at an affordable price. $198-$249

For those who just getting into fishing, L.L. Bean is offering their new Quest line of fully rigged spinning and fly-fishing outfits. These sets come with a rod, reel, line and a really nice travel case. Take them on an airplane or toss them in the back of your car for some quick casts on your next camping trip. Best of all, the prices are truly amazing at just $129 to $149 depending on which outfit your choose. For those looking to step up their game, check out the new Apex fly rods. These are Bean’s best top-end rods and they are simply gorgeous.

Everyone knows OtterBox for their practically bombproof cell phone cases. The company has now taken that same ultra-strong molding technology and applied it to a full line of hard and soft coolers. OtterBox’s new Trooper 20 cooler is perfect for short trips (they also make a larger LT-30 for longer adventures). It has a 20-quart capacity (it will keep ice for 3 days) and no zippers, so it’s easy to open and closes with a simple latch. The Trooper 20 is O-ring sealed, so it’s leakproof and it has a modular design with two accessory rails so you can clip on a dry box or gear pouch—perfect for keeping your lunch cold and your catch fresh for the trip home. $249.99

Yakima will be expanding its line of roof racks and accessories in 2019 to include some amazing trailers for hauling kayaks, canoes and gear. They’re also adding a new addition to their truck-top Sky Rise tent line. The current versions utilize lightweight backpacking tent materials (210D nylon) so they’re super lightweight. The whole thing folds out and sets up in just 5 minutes (no tools required) and provides a comfy, mattress that is easily removed for fast clean-ups. The small version ($1,099) sleeps 2 while the medium version ($1,499) sleeps 3. Coming in February 2019, Yakima will introduce the Sky Rise HD Tent. This will be a heavy-duty fabric version for 4-season use. $2,000.

This reel gets my vote for one of the most innovative (and reasonably priced) baitcasting reels I saw at the show. At just 6.9 pounces the Diawa Tatula 100 is the smallest and most lightweight reel in the series—super palmable and ultra-fast cranking with a 9mm handle. The T-wing system offers a larger line opening to reduce backlash while allowing longer casts. And the Mag-force anti-backlash system is easy to adjust. All you have to do is dial it in for your casting style and you’re all set. Priced at $159.99, you’re getting a lot of great high-tech features in a very nice reel here.

Patagonia has recently paired their expertise in fly fishing with Danner’s boot design team to create the new line of Foot Tractor and River Salt wading boots, which will be available in February 2019. Working with Vibram, Patagonia developed two different sole concepts: River Salt boots feature a Vibram Megagrip compound that is optimized for all-terrain and all-condition grip on both wet and dry surfaces—perfect for hiking into remote streams—while Vibram’s Idrogrip compound, used in the Foot Tractor, is specially formulated for use on wet rocks. Both boot styles feature full-grain leather and durable nylon uppers for strength and weight savings. Danner’s stitch-down construction also allows these boots to be resoled and the leather reconditioned by Danner’s expert staff, so you’ll not need to worry about replacing your wading boots for years to come. Foot Tractors will be priced from $499 to $549 while River Salts will retail for $449.

Coming in mid-September, Abu Garcia’s low-profile Revo Rocket has all the bells and whistles baitcasting fans are looking for, combining strength, speed and power. The 10.1:1 gear ratio provides incredibly fast retrieves of 41 IPT (inches per turn) and the Matrix drag system makes this reel the perfect companion when fishing heavy cover where fast techniques are employed. $299.95

You knew it had to happen. If you’re one of the top names in hunting circles, why wouldn’t you expand into fishing? Mossy Oak did just that in 2017 when they launched their new Elements Agua fishing pattern. Since then the pattern has taken off like a skyrocket to become the official pattern of B.A.S.S., Major League Fishing, the Cabela’s Collegiate Bass Fishing Series, and the Bassmaster High School Tournament Series. Elements Aqua has also been adapted by a number of manufacturers for use on everything from clothing to coolers. Huk’s ICON fishing shirts are just one example. These shirts are available in three Elements Aqua color options and the long-sleeve version provides +30 UPF sun protection. Best of all, these shirts (and pattern) look great whether you’re on the water or heading to your favorite dockside restaurant. MSRP Long Sleeve $49.99, Short Sleeve $39.99, and ¼ Zip $54.99.

Fishermen are keenly aware of needing sun protection anytime they’re on the water. Buff has just announced a new line of multifunctional headwear (available online in January 2019) that will feature Coolnet UV+ fabric. This new fabric is made with REPREVE fibers, which come from 100-percent recycled materials. Coolnet UV+ headwear employs both wicking technology, to move moisture away from your skin and keep your cool, as well as odor-control technology to keep garments smelling fresh. And Coolnet UV+ products deliver a sun protection factor of UPF 50+ allowing you to enjoy more hours on the water without having to worry about harming your skin. Coolnet UV+ headwear products will range in price from $15 to $28.

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Photograph Courtesy of Shimano Inc. http://stepoutside.org/article/18-amazing-new-fishing-products-for-holiday-gift-giving http://stepoutside.org/article/18-amazing-new-fishing-products-for-holiday-gift-giving Thu, 08 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600
VIDEO: Watch as a salty seagull snatches this guy’s phone

After a man dropped his phone while recording a video in Newport, Rhode Island, a sneaky seagull seized the opportunity to get a new iPhone. Watch to see how the adventure unfolds!

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http://stepoutside.org/article/video-watch-as-a-salty-seagull-snatches-this-guys-phone http://stepoutside.org/article/video-watch-as-a-salty-seagull-snatches-this-guys-phone Thu, 08 Nov 2018 00:00:00 -0600