For the last three years, Petersen’s Hunting has awarded manufacturers with the Editor’s Choice Award for best-in-class products. This award is given to products that embody the ideal combination of quality, craftsmanship, ingenuity and value. Hundreds of products are thoroughly tested by staff writers and editors in real-world conditions. Where scientific measures can be used for quantifiable results, they are. Where they can’t, years of hunting experience and practical field knowledge become the yardstick.
The Annual Gear Issue lists the best of the best products for over 20 categories spanning from centerfire rifles to treestands to sleeping bags. To make the cut for inclusion is a testament to a product’s quality, but there can only be one Editor’s Choice winner per category, so let the games begin.
Check out the winners here, and be sure to buy the Annual Gear Issue, featuring all the products tested here. –PH Editor Mike Schoby
Centerfires: Merkel RX Helix
The Merkel RX Helix combines Old World beauty with a new straight-pull bolt-action design that is, perhaps, one of the only truly innovative rifle designs to be unveiled this year. The Helix employs a rotating bolt head with six locking lugs. Moving the bolt handle transmits motion to the bolt head at a ratio of two-to-one thanks to a revolutionary transmission gearing system. It cycles silky-smooth and lightning fast. Oh, it’s also a takedown. It is available in three action lengths and 12 calibers, from .222 to 9.3x62.
Rimfires: Anschütz MSR RX22
Judged on looks alone, the new Anschütz MSR RX22 is the King of Cool. The semi-auto rimfire is available with a fixed or folding stock in several colors, but the Desert Tan SCAR version with a folding stock and 22-round magazine is the way to go. The RX22’s controls will be very familiar to anyone with time behind an AR-15, and the stock is adjustable for comb height and length of pull. Adjustable iron sights, an excellent adjustable trigger, and an Anschütz match-grade barrel round out one feature-packed package.
Muzzleloaders: Traditions LDR
Based on the proven Vortek action, the Traditions LDR has a 30-inch tapered and fluted barrel to get every grain of propellant to burn in the barrel. Increased muzzle velocities (with a flatter trajectory and more energy) is the result. Even with a 30-inch barrel, a naked LDR weighs only 6.8 pounds, lighter than a lot of rifles with barrels four inches shorter. A Cerakote finish and a dropout trigger unit that is easy to clean are standard. The Accelerator breech plug is easily removed with a few turns, but more importantly has an O-ring seal to keep all the nasty stuff in the barrel and out of the action. There are several different versions of the LDR, including a package gun with a 4-12x40mm scope and bipod.
Shotguns: Franchi Affinity and Instinct
Making big news this year, Franchi introduced two new guns: the semiauto budget-wonder Affinity and the lightweight over and under Instinct. I spent tons of time, and several thousand shells, with both, and I am blown away. The Affinity is billed as a great value, but really it is a great gun at any price. Period. It just happens to not break the bank. Utilizing the proven Benelli Inertia Driven System, it digests about anything thrown into it.
Handguns: Freedom Arms Single Shot
For the dedicated handgun hunter looking for one gun for everything, Freedom Arms’ Single Shot is the perfect choice. This single-shot is sleek, trim, and elegant, just like Freedom Arm’s legendary revolvers. In .223, it’s perfect for small game and varmints, while the 6.5x55, .260, 7mm-08, and .308 are perfect for deer and pronghorns. The .454 Casull is magic on big game, and I can’t think of better bear medicine than the .338 Federal. The Single Shot is offered in a 11 total calibers, and changing calibers takes seconds—simply switch one $495 barrel for another.
Binoculars: Zeiss HT
Utilizing the most efficient Abbe Koenig prisms, Zeiss’ 8x42 Victory HT binocular was built specifically for hunters, and by incorporating proprietary High Transmission glass, they claim it’s the brightest premium binocular in the world with 95 percent light transmission. For hunters, it may also be the most ergonomic as well, featuring a new, slower-focusing mechanism placed further forward to avoid hat brims and fit hands. Editor Mike Schoby used them on a factory tour a few months back and described them as “the sharpest, brightest binoculars I’ve ever used.” Before you upgrade your glass, I’d recommend checking out the Victory HT first.
Scopes: Nikon P-22
ARs are like pet elephants. Sure, they’re a blast to play with, but they’re also expensive to feed; hence the booming popularity of AR-based .22s that are fun and affordable to shoot. Nikon’s newest member of its AR-based sighting system is the Nikon P-22. Like the M-223, which was designed for the ballistics of the .223, the new P-22 scope provides compensation for the drop of the .22 LR. Available in 2-7x32, the P-22 accounts for bullet drop between 50 and 150 yards. Choose either the Nikoplex reticle with the Rapid Action Turret System for dead on holds out to 150 yards or go with the BDC 150 reticle with circles and hash marks for drop compensation.
Micros: Aimpoint Hunter
Tired of missing out on deer that slip by your stand at the end of shooting light? It’s time to change the game and increase your ability to place low-light bullets or slugs by topping your favorite freezer filler with Aimpoint’s Hunter scope. As rugged as an Arctic icebreaker, Aimpoints work in the most extreme heat or cold and in the wettest of all environments. Simply place the 2 MOA dot where you want to hit and squeeze the trigger. There’s no parallax issues, eye relief, or magnification to bring on tunnel vision. For your deer rifle, hog rifle, or a gobbler getter, few sights are as durable, dependable, and as quick on target as the Aimpoint Hunter.
Bows: Bowtech Insanity CPX
Every year, companies boast that their latest products trump the old, but with the Insanity CPX, BowTech really does it. They combined all the best features of their hot-selling Destroyer and Invasion CPX models and improved upon them to create a bow that is fast, super-accurate, and smooth. The bow boasts an IBO speed rating of 355 fps on a 32-inch-long package with just a 6-inch brace height. Draw lengths are adjustable between 25.5 and 30 inches. The Insanity CPX tips the scales at 4.3 pounds. Draw weights are adjustable from 50 to 80 pounds with an effective let-off of 80 percent.
Crossbows: TenPoint Carbon Elite XLT
The Carbon Elite XLT brings a lightweight, yet super-durable carbon fiber barrel to TenPoint’s compact XLT bow assembly capable of launching their 370-grain Pro Lite Arrow at 352 fps from a draw weight of 185 pounds. The Carbon Elite XLT weighs 6.9 pounds, has an overall length of just over 38 inches, and is 17½ inches wide. The power-stroke is 12.63 inches. The bow comes with the company’s RangeMaster Pro Scope, ACUdraw cocking mechanism, a four-arrow HX quiver and ambidextrous side-mount quiver bracket, a BowJax noise-dampening kit, GripGuard safety shield, a soft carry case, and six Pro Elite arrows.
Sights: Archer Titanium Xtreme
This sight employs precision-cut titanium components in the bracket and 2-inch sight housing for reduced weight, maximum durability, and long-lasting, high-end performance. The Archer Titanium Xtreme employs a Fiber Guard Ring system for easy alignment and sighting of the peep within the housing along with stainless-steel tube pins for strength and protection. The Fiber Harness bracket system allows for maximum light for all three fiber-optic pins, which come in red, green, and yellow. Includes both second and third axis adjustment, micro-adjustment, and optional zero pin-gap spacing for blazing fast bows.
Rests: NAP Apache
The NAP Apache Carbon weighs in at a flyweight 4 ounces and delivers the same ease-of-use and reliability that made NAP’s previously released Apache drop-away rest a hit with archers. The new model offers the same qualities—but at much less weight. Features include a new side-loading slot, which makes it easier and quicker to load arrows onto the rest. Laser-etched super-fine graduations make fine-tuning the rest in the field quick and easy. Available in black and right-handed models only.
Releases: Scott Longhorn Hunter
The Longhorn Hunter is Scott Archery’s answer for hunters who desire a quality back-tension archery release. The release features a large, ergonomic handle suitable for use when wearing gloves, a micro-adjustable bracket system, a draw-optimizing hook with an auto-locking band, and a bracket stop for quick and easy loading by reducing overtravel. The micro-adjustable Rope Connector System is more rigid than nylon and easily tucks away and is fully adjustable to fit your hand size.
Broadheads: G5 Havoc
The G5 Havoc is a two-blade mechanical broadhead that employs precision German-made Lutz blades. There are no O-rings or rubber bands to hassle with as the blades lock in position with G5’s Posi-Lock blade retention system. The broadhead also features what is called
a balanced blade deployment system designed to ensure that both blades open simultaneously upon impact for more consistent wound channels. Available in both 100- and 125-grain models.
Arrows: Easton Injexion
Easton’s A/C Injexion arrows generated plenty of talk at the annual Archery Trade Manufacturers’ show earlier this year and for good reason. Combining Easton’s Deep Six downsized technology, hunters can now use broadheads and inserts with target-sized micro shafts for bowhunting, obtaining Olympic level performance in the woods. The arrows are made from a high-strength carbon fiber bonded to a precision 7075 alloy core for superior rigidity and downrange kinetic energy maintenance in a super-slender profile. A/C Injexions come with preinstalled deep red G Nocks and Deep Six steel G HIT inserts. Weight tolerances are +/- .5 grains, and straightness is guaranteed to +/- .002 inch. Available in 330, 390, and 450 sizes. With this technology, accuracy is almost guaranteed, which is good since at the price they sell for, you really don’t want to lose one!
Tents: Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II
Bye-bye, bivy sack! Even a bivy is no match for this feathery badass. The Hyperlite Mountain Gear Echo II is a double-wall shelter that consists of an impervious-to-H₂O tarp made of cuben fiber (lightest material known), a detachable mesh inner tent (for bug control and ground moisture), and a cuben beak/vestibule for nasty storm protection. Geared for backpackers who use hiking poles, the Echo II doesn’t come with any, so we used Black Diamond’s hiking poles for setup and testing. You could also use shooting sticks, branches, or aluminum/carbon fiber poles. And while it can sleep two, this 32-ounce, condensation-free shelter really lives one. The price is steep, but so are the mountains, and this shelter can’t be touched for weight.
Sleeping Bags: Feathered Friends Raven
Feathered Friends is a small company in Seattle that has been hand-building top-of-the-line, down-insulated equipment since 1972. From the tallest mountains of the world to backyard campouts, you name it and FF has been there. Rated to keep you cozy down to 10° F, the Raven is a 2.5-pound Cadillac of sleeping bags, as perfect for late-fall elk camp as it is for a Canadian spring bear hunt. The baby-soft fabric of the bag will lull you to sleep while the 23.4 ounces
of 850+ fill down will keep you there. Warmth, low weight, compressibility, and the best of build quality all make the Raven a bag for the serious hunter.
Sleeping Pads: Klymit Inertia X Frame
I know it looks funky, but the Special-Ops tested, Delta-team approved Klymit Inertia X Frame pad is cutting-edge in the sleeping pad world. At sub 10 ounces, with a packed size of a pop can, this baby features body-mapping technology to caress your carcass only where needed, leaving gaps where it’s unneeded. It’s not for catching forty winks in the frozen tundra, but for where and when most people hike and hunt, this pad is perfect. Also included is a pocket pump to boost the pad’s psi to preference. When light and fast is your prerogative, the Inertia X Frame is your pal.
Backpacks: Kuiu Icon 3000
Kuiu founder Jason Hairston (of Sitka fame) built this 4.5-pound beauty. The Icon 3000 looks NASA designed, and wearing it, you can’t even feel the 13-ounce carbon frame that supports this versatile, modular-system. Also, with the 40-ounce frame and suspension, you can swap the 3,000ci bag perfect for minimalist hunting with the 6,000ci bag for weeklong hunts. Pick it up; it’s like a feather. Load it heavy; it carries like a dream. Houston, we have a winner.
Stoves: Trail Designs Sidewinder Tri-Tri
Versatility is the key to the Trail Systems Sidewinder Ti-Tri system that uses alcohol, Esbit tablets, and even wood to cook your backcountry meals. Start with the titanium windscreen/pot support that Trail Designs created years ago: the Caldera Cone. It’s nearly weightless, shields the flame from wind, increases efficiency, and stores inside the short/fat pot of your choice. We used an Evernew titanium pot for our system. Although it’s not the quickest way to cook wilderness cuisine, it may be the coolest, lightest, and most unique outfit out there.
Whitetail Boots: Dream Season Boa
This impressive spec sheet reeks of cutting-edge features. With BodyLock human odor control, S3 antimicrobial insole and lining, 3-layer wool insulation, completely waterproof construction, and Brush Blocker Shinguard protection, the Dream Season Boa 17-inch is a dream to wear and scent-producing bacteria’s worst nightmare. But what really blew our mind was the weight and comfort of this deer-slaying slipper. It slides on like a feather, but with just a few turns on the Boa lacing system, the boot’s fit goes from ordinary to athletic.
Alpine Boots: Schnee's Hunter II Pac Boots
Handcrafted in Bozeman, Montana, Schnee’s Pac boots are known to be the best. Sure, they keep the warmth
in and the snow, wet, and cold out, but any Pac can do that. What separates Schnee’s from other boots is their athletic fit; they are built for climbing, hiking, and hunting. What’s more to like? Well, the Hunter II Pac boot, like other fine footwear, is factory rebuildable and even warm enough for use down to -20 degrees. Add in the incredible traction afforded by the Air Bob outsole, and it’s easy to see why Schnee’s leave other Pac boots behind.
Treestands: Summit Viper Elite SD
You don’t need to discover the missing link to prove evolution exists—at least in the treestand industry. Just look at the Viper series of climbing stands from Summit, which has constantly evolved over the past 40 years. The most recent edition—the Elite SD—combines easy-to-use Rapid Climb stirrups with a sling-style mesh/foam seat on a lightweight, 16-pound aluminum frame. Dead Metal technology with foam-filled aluminum tubes keeps the whole package quiet. And it packs in easily thanks to the included backpack straps.
Blinds: Primos Double Wide
If the Switch is made for tall folks, then this blind, as the name suggests, is just right for those of us who are, ahem, pleasantly plump. In reality, the Primos Double Wide is for anyone (read everyone) who hates those narrow, zippered corner doors found on seemingly every hub-style blind. This blind replaces those with an easy-opening, super-wide door that measures 48.5 inches tall and 29 inches across for easy entry and exit, even while wearing a pack or otherwise loaded down with gear. The interior is huge as well at 60x60x67 inches, with room enough for a car’s worth of circus clowns, or maybe at least two adult hunters or one adult and a couple of kids.
Tools: Leatherman OHT
Until now there have been two types of one-handed multitools. Either the pliers opened one-handed or the blades did. Never both. Enter the Leatherman OHT (One-Hand Tool). This new tool features slide-out, spring-loaded pliers and eight separate tools—two knife blades, four screwdrivers, a saw blade, and a belt cutter/gut-hook—all deployable one-handed and each held securely by a locking liner. The tool also has replaceable 154CM wire-cutters, comes with a nylon molle sheath, and will be offered in black or Coyote Tan Cerakote.
Knives: Lone Wolf Landslide
I hate wearing blaze orange, but I love it on my easily lost equipment, because anything that can easily be set down—knives, radios, binoculars, flashlights—can also be easily left behind. That’s one reason why the Lone Wolf Landslide, with its dazzling orange handle, makes our list. Other reasons, like the backstrap-removing 3.5-inch N680 blade, simple and reliable lockback mechanism, and perfectly balanced 3.2-ounce heft, don’t hurt, either. Lone Wolf is also made right here in the USA.
Trail Cams: Wild Game Innovations Elite 8 LightsOut
We should have known it was only a matter of time before trail cams started looking and acting like Transformers. The Wild Game Innovations Elite 8 LightsOut stands out with its articulating battery compartments that fold back to grip thin-diameter trees or fences, a real boon for those of us who live on the treeless prairie and find ourselves hanging game cams on T-posts. A whopping 8-meg sensor
captures hi-res images and is flanked by 60 black, no-glow LEDs for complete invisibility to game and humans alike. FlexTime technology offers time-lapse capabilities. Includes a built-in viewer.
You want to prove to your buddies that you’re a serious outdoorsman? Ditch the D-cell Wally World flashlight and get a tactical light like these cop-designed models from Brite-Strike. Not only will the bright wide beam light up your late-night trips to the outhouse, you can use the crenellated crown to practice Mr. Miyagi pressure-point techniques on your sleeping friends. Easy-click button offers one-handed operation and is protected from accidental activation by the rear crown. Built from a single bar of aerospace-grade aluminum with a black anodized finish, all Brite-Strike lights are guaranteed for life.