Let’s face it, gear makes a difference. Whether it’s good gear that makes our hunting easier or more enjoyable or bad gear that makes us suffer or cuss a blue streak, gear can make or break a hunt. Here are the Wingmen Top 5 pieces of gear from 2019/20.
Benelli Super Black Eagle III - I’ve shot an SBE II for 15 years give or take, and have taken everything from pheasants and ducks to geese and turkeys with it, even a few doves and grouse have fallen to old “black death.” So I was both excited and conflicted with Benelli’s introduction of the SBE III. Until this past year that is, now I’m just extremely happy I got to hunt with one.
Gone is the “click” that some folks claim to have experienced in the past, by tweaking their uber-reliable Inertia System the SBE III is even more rugged and reliable than its predecessors, which is hard to accomplish. I never experienced this supposed issue over more than 30 days of using an SBE III this year in some truly grueling conditions.
I never realized that the handling of my old SBE II could be improved upon either but Benelli proved me wrong and they did so without me knowing it until I started dropping birds with ease. Between the 28” barrel, sleek design and well thought out ergonomics I fairly rained birds from the sky… well, that may be an exaggeration but my shooting was much improved with the svelte new SBE III.
All in all, the Super Black Eagle III should be on your short list if you’re looking for a new shotgun in 2020. MSRP: $1899
NOTE: While at SHOT Show 2020 we were introduced to Benelli’s new B.E.S.T (Benelli Surface Treatment) and we cannot wait to bring you a breakdown of this revolutionary new finishing tech. https://www.benelliusa.com/
Tanglefree Panel Blind - Every now and then a product comes along that makes you rethink how you’ve been hunting. Tanglefree’s Panel Blind is one of those products for me. Light, portable, easy to use and highly effective make this blind a must have and one of the pieces of gear we use with great success.
Being able to truly hide almost anywhere is an invaluable asset for the waterfowler and this blind makes hiding in plain sight downright easy. For example, in the waning days of the Wyoming duck season I found a loafing area holding a couple hundred mallards, the problem was that there was literally no place to hide. The birds were tucked into some shallow water along the base of a sheer cliff with no cover for hundreds of yards other than sporadic clumps of grass and brush… it was impossible! That is until I thought about putting the panel blind to work.
The design of the Tanglefree Panel Blind allows the hunter to vary the blind’s pitch or upward angle. In this case I needed the blind to lay almost perpendicular to the cliff walls in order to hide us. I also needed the blind’s camo and stubble straps to allow us to blend in, as these were highly pressured end of season birds.
We marched in well before daylight and set up the Panel Blind, titling it back as far as we could and still having it stand up, we grassed it and brushed it to match the surroundings and then we got tucked in just as the birds began to filter into the loafing area at daylight.
The blind kept us hidden and we had full limits in short order, the birds never knew what hit ‘em.
The Tanglefree Panel Blind retails for $299.99 and can be ordered direct at https://tanglefree.com/
Federal Premium Black Cloud & Black Cloud TSS - Bang, Whop, Splash! When you’re shooting Federal Premium’s Black Cloud, whether the highly effective all steel loads or ridiculously deadly TSS version, those sounds become the norm. To say that Black Cloud is wicked stuff isn’t even close to enough but to truly understand its devastating killing power you need to shoot the stuff.
Federal offers both Black Cloud FS Steel and Black Cloud TSS which is a blend of proprietary Flitestopper Steel and TSS shot. Each is deadly and designed to hit a specific price point with the FS Steel loads retailing at a starting point of around $22.99 per box of 25 and the TSS retailing at $42.99 for a box of 10.
We shot both exclusively this season and dropped birds with authority up close and out at Holy Crap ranges. In the Black Cloud FS Steel our go to loads were the 3” #2’s and we used them on mallards and honkers. For smaller birds like teal, in the early season, we opted for the TSS in the 3x9 blend for its denser patterns. We also used the 3.5”, BB load in the FS Steel to great effect on late season geese but the real star of that show was the TSS BBx7 load, it was like shooting geese with depleted uranium… no cripples and zero survivors.
Federal Premium Black Cloud is just plain deadly. To see the full lineup of loads visit https://www.federalpremium.com/shotshell/black-cloud/
Sitka Gear - “Talk of your cold! Through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.” That line from the famous Robert Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” pretty well sums up one of our most successful hunts of the 2019/2020 season and I can honestly say that without certain items from Sitka Gear we could not have been out there long. It was in Montana in January and the ambient temperature was 1, that’s right, 1. Add to that a 15 mph North wind with driving snow and you get the idea… negative 20 or thereabouts. Only waterfowlers would willingly hunt in such conditions and to do so requires the right gear, here’s what I wore and stayed warm, while still allowing me to shoulder my shotgun and swat decoying geese.
Boreal Jacket - Sitka’s warmest outer layer; this thing is like a fortress. I honestly felt naked and afraid until I shrugged into the Boreal Jacket. The best thing about it though? I could still shoot and didn’t look like Ralphie’s little brother from A Christmas Story. This bad boy is a home run and if you regularly hunt extreme conditions you need one. MSRP: $599
Gradient Hoodie - Warm, comfortable… a new piece for me this year and honestly, my new favorite from Sitka. On the day in question it was the perfect mid-layer under the Boreal and over the Merino Half-Zip but I wore it over a baselayer all season and most of the time it was all I needed. It’s also perfect for lounging around the house in, almost too comfortable to take off. MRSP: $159
Merino Heavyweight Half-Zip - I love Merino! Nothing is as warm against your skin and this shirt features a polyester backing to eliminate any possible itch. Warmth for weight is outstanding but weight usually isn’t much of a concern for waterfowlers. This shirt is a game changer and I was extremely glad to have it when the temps plummeted. However, I also wore it under the Dakota Vest for most of the season and it was perfect. MRSP: $159
Layout Bib Pant - The name says it all, it’s the perfect outer layer for layout hunts but, don’t be fooled, these bad boys work equally well for every type of waterfowl hunt where wet and cold need to be kept out. We particularly like the knee pads and reinforced legs, along with the body mapped insulation. Rugged and reliable, I am going on my fourth season abusing the same pair of pants with zero issues. If I could only have one Sitka product these just might be it. MRSP: $549
Gradient Pant - Warm and comfortable I rarely need a base layer when wearing the Gradient Pant. Under waders, bibs or other pants these things are warm, don’t bunch up and dry fast when needed. Like your favorite sweatpants but so much better it’s mind blowing. They’re also durable… I’ve put mine through hell and they are like new. You honestly forget you’re wearing them, which is a solid measure of gear, good gear isn’t noticed because it works flawlessly. MRSP: $119
Heavyweight Bottom - I’m super warm blooded so my uses for these base layer pants are different than many folks - I wear mine solo under my waders or bibs during all but the coldest days and they are perfect. However, when it gets really cold they truly shine against your skin providing an extra layer of coziness that has meant the difference between staying out crushing limits or going home early. MRSP: $99
Gradient Glove - I hate wearing gloves! That said, there are days when you simply must have them unless you like frostbite. I must have the lightest weight, most form-fitting, highly functioning glove possible, enter the Gradient Glove. Again, I rarely even notice I’m wearing them, they just flat work and I dig that. MRSP: $35
Avian X Decoys - Decoys need two things above all else: realism and durability. For the past two seasons we’ve been putting Avian X’s duck and goose decoys to the test and from below zero goose field hunts to slushy duck sets on western rivers the decoys have put birds at our feet and never let us down.
For geese on land we’ve been abusing the AXP Honkers in the company’s Fusion Pack. This kit of dekes comes with three different feeders, two walkers and one sentry (6); the perfect blend of body poses from which to build a spread. They also feature superb paint schemes that we’ve not seen chip or sluff off, and factory attached heads that we have not been able to break despite tossing them in and out of trailers, sleds and boats. The collapsible stands have held up to our abuse and we love how they make the decoys more compact for storage. MSRP: $269
On the water we’ve gunned over the Topflight Honkers and have been very impressed with their natural movement and soft, flexible bodies that we can easily break ice off of. Having the same realistic paint scheme and adhesion quality as the AXP Honkers means that we’ve been able to mercilessly beat these things with no ill effects. MSRP: $159 per six.
The Foam-Filled Oversize Mallard decoys from Avian X are quite possibly the toughest decoys we’ve ever used and that’s saying something. All waterfowlers tend to be hard on equipment but western waterfowlers just may take the cake. The conditions we hunt in coupled with rocky rivers and swift currents just flat beat the snot out of gear, decoys especially. We’ve seen these bad boys take a full charge of steel shot at mere feet, shrug it off and keep doin’ work!
But what about looks? In a word… superb! The realism of these blocks is breathtaking especially after a full two seasons of abuse. The paint doesn’t chip or flake or even rub for that matter and they move like a real bird on both still water and in current. If you need new duck decoys these should be on your list. MSRP: $149
To see the full line of Avian X decoys visit https://www.avian-x.com/