Archive for the 'Gear Reviews' Category

New for 2013 Zeiss Victory HT’s

I got a chance the other day to take out the new Zeiss Victory HT’s for a test drive on a beautiful January day shed hunting.  I had just received the pair in stock from Zeiss and had been really excited to check them out.  I personally used the new Zeiss Conqeust HDs for hunting in 2012 and was absolutely blown away by them.   My hunting buddies and I compared the Conquest HD’s to just about every other binocular in the high end market and could not believe how crisp and clean the image was.  We preferred them heads and heals over any other bino in the $1.000.00 range and felt they out-shined even the Swarovksi EL’s in a few areas.  If the Victory HT’s were supposed to be better I really wanted to check them out.

My overall first impression of the binoculars was that the build quality and construction was exceptional.   The very large focus wheel feels really good and with thick gloves on is extremely easy to operate.  The overall ergonomics of the binoculars and how they feel in your hands is great as well.   The multi-stage twist up eyecups snap into position at each stop and give you the confidence knowing they are going stay there and not slide down.  The pair I was testing out was the 10×42 model which I prefer for western hunting as at times it is very easy to be glassing for miles looking for just a piece of antler sticking out from behind brush.   They have a really good FOV of 330′, not quite as good as the Conquest HD’s which have 345′ but still very good for a 10x bino.  At only 28 oz they are fairly lightweight as well for a full size bino.

Now on to the glass!




The image was exceptional, they have a very neutral color which I really like and they are razor sharp from edge to edge.  In comparing them with the Conquest HD”s I would say under normal circumstances you could not tell a difference in the middle of the field but there is a definite difference as you get to the edge of the field in the resolution.   Glassing conditions were very tough that day as it was sunny and snow on the ground with a definite haze in the air.  The Victory HT’s seem to cut through that haze and still offer excellent resolution.   I tested them glassing with the sun at my back and directly into the sun, there wasn’t any apparent glare of sun ray issues.   As the sun set on the day it was time to check out the low light capabilities and there is where they really shine.  The Conquest HD’s are in my book superb compared to what else is on the market but the Victory HT’s out shined them again, the biggest difference wasn’t so much in overall brightness but they managed to stay razor sharp all the way until I couldn’t glass anymore.  Where as the Conquest HD’s still let the light in but the darker it got the image began to get fuzzy.


If I was in the position of buying new binoculars this year and was on a budge the Conquest HD”s are the clear winner, they are by far the best $1,000 glass I have ever looked through.  But if I had the budget to spend over $2k on new binoculars the Victory HT’s are probably the best option available on the market today.  I was absolutely blown away by them in every aspect.

Steve Speck


Zeiss Conquest HD 10×42 Review

I had the pleasure this year of testing out the new hunting binoculars from Zeiss called the Conquest HD.  The Conquest HD’s are a big improvement over the original Conquests and that is saying quite a lot as the originals were very good.  What struck me the instant I put my eyes to the binoculars was just how bright and sharp they are, in fact on my first high country mule deer scouting trip it took me a little bit of time to get use to the focus.  They image is so sharp and crystal clear that I found myself adjusting the focus wheel a lot.  What was happening is when I thought the image was in perfect focus I would give it another 1/8 of turn or so and the image would get even sharper.  After a few hours though I figured it out and was able to jump right to perfect focus without messing around too much with the focus wheel.

Another one of my first impressions was just how well built and designed they are.  The build quality, ergonomics, size, eyecups; everything about the binoculars to me was perfect.  I am very picky about eyecups for some reason and most binoculars on the market they are too large to fit comfortably for me.  The eyecups on the Conquest HD’s are perfect and very comfortable, which pays off after spending hours up on hours behind the glass.

Another area where they shine for me is the very neutral color that they show.  Some binoculars tend to have a yellow bias but the Conquest HD’s are very neutral.  When glassing behind them you have the feeling of watching something in HD compared to standard definition, everything just seems to jump out at you.  They really excel when glassing into dark areas and shadows.  I remember one specific instance this hunting season when I was trying to point out a bedded buck I had found in a clump of trees to my hunting partner   He could not find the buck and when I handed him my binos he instantly could make him out.  He was packing the Cabelas Euros which are very good glass but not even close to the brightness of the Conquest HD’s.

To top it all off the 10×42′s have one of the widest field of views at 1,000 yards in any 10×42 on the market.  At 345′ it really allows you to see and nice wide image and you don’t get that feeling of looking through a narrow tunnel.  Normally I recommend that an 8x bino is better for most people but with the extremely wide field of view of these that would change.

In summary I wouldn’t hesitate to put the Zeiss Conquest HD’s up against any binocular on the market.  I cannot imagine where something else could be better.  About the only area for improvement is the edge to edge sharpness of the glass.  The Conquest HD’s do an amazing job for about 95% but that last 5 isn’t quite as sharp.  With the new arrival of the Victory HT”s coming out in a few weeks I would guess that will be the only difference.  But when you look at the price tag of only $949-999 for the Conquests to over $2k for the new HT’s or a pair of Swaros I think you would have an exceptionally hard time justifying that.

My 2012 Bull Elk (notice the Conquest HD’s around my neck)
Filmed by Pure Elevation Productions


Custom Bow Sights from Black Gold and Spot Hogg Archery

For  last year I built a feature into my website, S&S Archery, that would allow you to customize any Montana Black Gold sight.  You could match up different heads with different bases, do custom pin colors and sizes.  Some of the more popoular options was to put a Vengeance or Surge head on the Montana Black Gold Ascent.  Another popular option was doing custom pins where the top ones were .19 and the bottom .010 to prevent flare when shooting longer distances and doing custom pin colors.

Black Gold Vengeance


For 2012 I am excited to continue doing that with Black Gold Archery Sights and I have also added the option for all the Spot Hogg sights as well.  With Spot Hogg for basically and extra $10 you can have a custom sight with custom pins.  Color options for the pins are Green, Yellow, Red and Blue.  Pin size options are .29, .19 and .010.  I have already had quite a few people take advantage of this great feature and hope more will in the future.


Spot Hogg Hogg It Archery Sight

New from First Lite Wool in 2012

Update: The 2012 First Lite Wool is now in stock at  Supply is very limited on this first run so I would highly suggest ordering quickly if you want to get in.  The next shipment won’t be in until June.


First Lite Wool has added some great new items to their lineup for 2012 and they have also completely revamped all of the older items like the Kanab pants which feature an improved cut to allow for more flexiblity and movement.  They have a new cut which they call the “Shooters cut” on all the shirts that promotes movement through the entire range of body motion; from crawling up rocks to drawing your bow the clothes are designed to work with you and not against.  They have also added a lot of branding images which add a nice touch to the lineup from “First Lite” being embroidered on the back of the neck to along the leg of the pants.  From top to bottom the entire line up has changed for 2012 and I am really looking forward to putting it to the test.


Some of the new items that caught my eye are the Chama Hoody.  Taken from the

extremely popular Chama they have added the hood portion as well as added a zippered pocket on the left sleeve for quick access to calls and mics gear.  This is going to make a great base layer as well as outer layer on those cold September mornings.






First Lite has taken the very popular Llano base layer shirt and added three different versions of it for 2012.  This year you will have the Llano SS (short sleeve), Standard Llano and the Llano QZ (quarter zip) which adds raised collar and quarter zip for extra ventilation on those hot days.

First Lite Llano SS

First Lite Llano QZ













In addition First Lite has also added some new accessories for 2012 including a neck gaiter and a new beanie.

New First Lite Beanie

Black Gold Bowsights 2012

I just received the Montana Black Gold 2012 catalog and am really impressed with the changes they have made for 2012.  They aren’t releasing anything new or groundbreaking but they continue to improve up on their line making slight changes to make the sights more user friendly.  The first thing I noticed was that they really cleaned up their line for 2012, in 2011 they had a lot of sights that besides different names really didn’t have different features.  The Flashpoint, Rush, Flahspoint HD, Flashpoint Solaris and Flashpoint Redzone HD were all pretty much the same sight with a few different twists here and there.   For 2012 Black Gold cleaned all that up and what is left is the Flashpoint HD and Rush, they also combined the SD (short draw sight) into the Rush SD.

The upper end sight in the Black Gold line; the Ascent, Vengeance and Surge have a few changes and new features that are worth looking at as well.  One of those new features is the optional rear facing sight tape on the Ascent sight.  If I had one complaint about the Ascent in 2011 it was having to basically look at the sight tape from the side to adjust it causing unnecessary movement.  While this doesn’t seem like a big deal I can easily see a hunting situation where the less movement the better and being able to see and adjust the sight tape from the rear of the bow is a great feature to have.

In 2011 Black Gold had a lot of great sight options that in order to get you had to go through a custom shop which can be a little expensive.  For 2012 they have made a lot of those features available as an option on a standard sight, for example the Ascent can come with a 4″ dovetail this year for only $20 extra.  The Vengeance now comes with a 6″ dovetail for $40 extra.

Black Gold has also listened to it’s customers and is now offering a 2″ Big Dog Guard option for most of the 2012 sights.  The Black Gold standard sight guard has been 1-3/4 diameter for the last few years.  The option of going to a 2″ guard does two things; first it will allow you to use a larger peep sight and still be able align the peep sight with your sight ring.  The larger peep is ideal for low light situations and will allow more light into your eye.  The second is the larger sight housing will accept more pins if you are wanting to put 7 or even 8 pins in the sight.

Black Gold has also entered the Target sight market for 2012 with the introduction of the Target Ascent Sight.  This is the standard Ascent body with a 10/32″ thread to allow the use of any 10/32 scope housing on the market.  It comes standard with the Black Gold 6″ dovetail.  At a retail of only $170 it’s a phenomenal options for the target shooter.

New Black Gold Target Ascent Sight

First Lite wool Kanab Hunting Pants


I got an opportunity today to get out and test the new First Lite kanab Pants on a 4 mile, 1500ft hike. To say that I was impressed is not doing the new pants justice.  It was  84 degrees outside and I was as comfortable as if I was wearing shorts.  The 100% merino wool breathes exceptionally well and keeps you  cool.  The pants are also extremely comfortable to wear as the merino wool stretches and moves with you vs: binding up like polyester would do.

For 2011 First Lite has made quite a few changes over their 2010 Gila pants.  The first thing you’ll notice upon wearing the new Kanab pants is that they have a lot more room in the legs and seat area for freedom of movement.  They also added an elastic back to the pants and raised the seat area to make them more comfortable.  They added gussets at the knees and hips which allow the pants to move with you as you hike up and downhills.  Reinforced Knee and Seat areas will make the pants extremely tough for crawling through the brush.

They have kept some of the great features from the Gila pants like the elastic suspenders, low profile cargo pockets and the button at the knee which allows you to quickly pull the pant legs up for crossing a stream.

The Kanab Pants seem to be very tough but they are lightweight.  I personally feel that they will be outstanding pants for those hot August scouting trips and early September weather when the temps go from 30-75 during the day.  Much colder than that and paring them up with the First Lite Allegheny long johns would make for a great combination.   Another plus is due to them being made of merino wool and being thin they will dry very quickly.

For 2011 the pants come in Dry Earth, Mossy Oak Infinity, Realtree Max 1 and ASAT camo.

I can’t wait to for some summer scouting trips to get out and really put these to the test.


In this picture you can see the Knee and hip gussets that allow the pants to move with you when hiking up and downhills.




In this picture you can see the reinforced seat area as well as the elastic waist. You'll also notice the rear suspender attachment. If you have ever packed out a 100 lb load of meat you'll appreciate not having to wear a belt and have it dig into your hips because of the load on your packs hipbelt.




In this picture you can see how easy it is to use the button and strap to raise up the legs


Eberlestock Mini Me Backpack

The versatility of the Eberlestock Mini me is what makes this little pack so great.  From a simple day/hydration pack to a rifle carrier to a meat carrier the Mini Me Backpack can do it all.  At first glance the Mini Me Pack looks like any other hydration pack similar to a camelback.  When you get the pack in hand though and start seeing all it’s features it’s quite amazing.

The main pocket is large enough to stuff your hunting accessories and food in and also contains the hydration bladder pocket.  Outside of the main pocket is an external pocket that runs all the way down the pack allowing you to stuff a spotting scope or tripod into.  The smaller outer pocket features multiple inner pockets for organizing smaller items and also features a waterproof outer pocket for important items like cell phones.  If you look underneath the pack you will see a zipper that when unzipped contains a pull out mesh game bag capable of hauling as much as you want to put into it.  On both sides of the pack you will also find two zippers that contain a foldable hipbelt.  When unzipped a hipbelt comes out allowing you to carry more weight in the pack if needed.

Next the main body of the pack will come unzipped from the back panel allowing the pack to expand.  When expanded the Eberlestock mini me can accept many of Eberlestock’s accessories like the A2SS rifle scabbard and A1SS shotgun scabbard.  If that’s not enough you can also attach Eberlestock’s butt bucket for carrying your bow.

In conclusion the Eberlestock Mini Me pack is a great daypack/hydration pack capable of doing much, much more.  I wouldn’t hesitate to take this with me on any hunt.

Getting the most out of your backcountry bow

There is a pretty big fad in the archery industry right now to produce lightweight bows.  Mathews, Hoyt and quite a few other bow companies are coming out with lighter and lighter bows like Hoyts Carbon Element.  While a light bow feels really good when you pick it up it is not necessarily a good thing.  I hear people saying all the time that they are going to go on a backcountry hunt and want a light bow to take with them and usually I cringe a little to hear that.  If you pay attention to top target shooters they are shooting bows that weigh upwards of 10lbs loaded out.  They do this for a reason and that is simple, the law of physics.  ”An object in motion stays in motion until an outside force acts upon it”  This is to say that if your bow is not in motion it will take a force to move it and the heavier the object “your bow” the larger of a force it will take to move it.  So according to the laws physics the heavier the bow the more steady you will be when shooting.  There is obvioulsy a point of diminishing returns, you wouldn’t want to hold a 20lb bow at full draw for very long but if you were strong enough it would be a lot more stable than a 4lb bow.

So the trick for us backcountry bowhunters to is get the lightest bow possible yet still retain maximum accuracy.  You can do this with the correct placement of weight on the bow and proper balance.  At full draw you want the bow to naturally balance vertically in your grip and you want the bow to settle on the target your shooting at without too much extra force from your grip.  This is where the proper location of weight on the bow comes into play.

One of the keys factors to this is a bow stabilizer.  Real bow stabilizers work because they put a certain amount of weight out away from the bow.  The further the weight is from the center mass of the bow the more force it takes to move it.  I laugh every time I see a stupid simms s coil stabilizer (sorry limbsaver) on a bow because it is not doing anything for the accuracy of your bow, it should just be called a vibration dampener.   A true stabilizer will put a decent amount of weight at least 7-8″ from the bow, I recommend at the minimum a 10″ stabilizer.  You want the body of the stabilizer to be as light as possible (to save weight) and then a heavy weight on the end of it.  Look at the B-stinger stabilizers and you’ll see what a real stabilizer should look like.  A good stabilizer should come with multiple weight options so you can truly customize it to the feel and balance of your bow.

B-Stinger pro hunter stabilizer



Next to a good stabilizer a good quiver can be vitally important to the accuracy of your bow.  A fully loaded quiver can put a lot of weight out away from the bow, which is not necessarily a bad thing except for in this case the weight is out to the side of the bow.  In order to compensate for this and level the bow up while shooting you will be forced to torque the grip with your hand, that is not a good thing.  I have been making custom quiver mounting brackets for years trying to bring the quiver in as close as possible to the riser.  Many people use offset mounting brackets for their stabilizer to shift the weight back to the middle of the bow.  Hoyt this year in their carbon bows has just installed the stabilizer busing off to the opposite side of the quiver to compensate for this.

I recently came across Tightspot Quivers which after inspecting one first hand is in my opinion the most innovative quiver I have seen on the market.  The theory behind Tightspot is to bring the quiver in as close to the riser as possible.  In years past the quiver has always been mounted outside of the sight and thus limited to how large your sight mounting bracket was.  When I was making custom mounting brackets I would make them as short as possible which was always when my arrows would hit the sight mounting bracket.  Tightspot has fixed this problem by mounting the quiver behind the sight towards the string and now the only limiting factor is hitting your cable slide.  This is a dramatic improvement on shifting the quiver weight back to the center of the bow.  Just holding a bow mounted with a fully loaded Tightspot arrow quiver you can dramatically feel the difference in balance.

Another great aspect of how the Tight Spot archery quiver mounts is that it is acting as a reverse stabilizer.  Target shooters do this by using V-bars but the Tightspot is acting in a similiar fashion.

Tightspot quiver

Tightspot quiver mounted to bow





Eberlestock J34 Just One pack review


The Eberlestock J34 is back in stock on my site,  It is available in Hide Open Rock Veil and Mossy Oak Brush.


At first glance many people would not consider the J34 Backpack or any other of Eberlestock’s Just One packs as ultralight but I would like to convince them a little differently.  Granted it’s not a 3lb ultralight Osprey or Gregory backpack, the specs do have it at 6lbs 14 oz.  In comparison with other hunting packs based off the daypack mode of the J34 pack at 2300 cubic inches it’s not light.  When compared to the other packs on the hunting market that are in the 4000 ci + range the J34 Just One is actually on the lighter side.  But what the J34 can do that others cannot is with the simple unzipping of one zipper transfrom into a meat hauling pack capable of handling loads much great than your legs can carry all the while at the same time carrying your rifle on your back.

I put a Just One pack to the test last year packing out my Idaho Archery Bull Elk, with both hind quarters de-boned and stuffed into the pack I had a load of over 125lbs pounds of pure meat.  I can say the pack handled it with ease, not so much so for my legs after the 4 hour hike out.

The ability of the J34 to have so many different combinations is what makes the pack to me considered to be ultralight.  I know more than a few guys who will actually strap a pack frame to their back and then load on top of that a daypack that they can hunt from once they get to camp.  They are taking two packs, a meat hauler and a daypack and when combined in weight are probably looking at 10+ lbs of just packs.

The picture below shows the transformation of the pack.  First in it’s 2300 cubic inch daypack mode.  Second how easily it can carry a bow.  Third it’s ability with the build in rifle scabbard to carry a rifle on your back.  Fourth with the main zipper undone showing the built in mesh pocket.  Fifth with the mesh pocket folded out and stuffed and finally with the Super Spike duffel zipped onto the pack and strapped in at over 7500 cubic inches.  Eberlestock also makes a Zip in Panel that will zip onto the outside of the pack to cover up the mesh pocket creating a 2400 cubic inch space perfect for backpacking gear.

So far I have yet to really talk about the built in rifle scabbard.  The ability to carry a rifle on your back with this pack goes unnoticed by some people.  They do not quite grasp the concept of how simple it really is to just reach back and pull the rifle out of your pack while it’s on your back.  The guys who do and came from carrying their rifle on a sling swear by it and will never go back to a sling.  The added benefit of having both hands free to navigate through rough terrain is also a great positive.  If you’re headed after bighorn sheep and rock climbing your way up to them having the rifle secure in your pack and both hands free to grab and climb you will fully appreciate the value of this pack.

Last but not least is the ability of the pack to fit any body size and shape.  The harness system is fully adjustable up and down to allow for different torso lengths.  The two Aluminum stays that make up the frame are removable and can be bent to conform to the shape of your pack (refer to this pack fitting video).  If you still need more adjustments Eberlestock makes small and XL hipbelts and shoulder harness to accommodate you.

Throw in the waterproof fabric, bullet proof construction and lifetime warranty and you have a pack you can count on for years to come.

Please watch the video I did on the Eberlestock J34 for more information.

Eberlestock X1E Euro Back pack

Today I am going to do a write up on the newer X1E for Eberlestock.  The X1E is based off of the X1 platform.  Basically what it came down to was a lot of people requesting the X1 without the bow bucket/pouch.  Eberlestock answered and came up with the X1E.  It has the same overall layout of the X1.

Starting with the suspension it’s like most other Eberlestock packs in that it’s fully adjustable.  The torso has almost 4 inches of adjustment and the waist belt is removable if you need to purchase a small or XL belt.  Also different shooters harness’ are available in small and Xl sizes as well.  This will allow the X1 (e) to accommodate from children all the way up.

The rifle scabbard is located right against your pack on the left hand side of the pack if you are wearing it and on the other side of the pack is two pockets, one for a hydration bladder and one miscellaneous.   The bottom of the scabbard folds out for use and back in when not needed.   The main body of the pack is about 2900ci and is one compartment but does have a divider on the inside that will separate them in two, an upper and lower.   On the outside of the pack on both sides there are mesh pockets ideal for holding water bottles or misc. gear that you might need quick access to.  I usually stuff my headlamp in there for quick access while hiking on the trail.

Where the X1E differs from the X1 is the front of the pack.  On the X1E there are two larger pockets, one on top and the other bottom.  Both unzip and expose internal organizer pockets ideal for holding small items like calls, tags, knives, etc.   There is also another pocket on the outside of the lower one that has a waterproof zipper.

The X1E comes in Mossy Oak duck blind, Eberlestock’s Dry earth and ranger green.