A holiday gift guide for outdoor adventure lovers
Mick Dombroski had a daughter, a crossbow, a desire to film her first deer harvest, but just two hands.
So the Burrell, Pa, elementary school teacher did what he had to do.
He invented the GameStick. It's a device that turns any smartphone into an action camera.
It's one of the products we're featuring in this, our annual holiday gift guide for the outdoor adventurer on your list.
The GameStick works like this: you put the camera into the adjustable holder, the screen facing you. Then, you attach the clip on the other end of the device to your crossbow, vertical bow, rifle, shotgun, scope, tree stand rail, tree branch, even a fishing rod..
Instantly, you've got a video camera.
It's adjustable, too. A ball bearing swivel between the phone and clip allow you to rotate the screen up, down and side to side. All the while, you can zoom in or out, too.
"But the biggest thing is that you can see what you're filming," Dombroski said. "Even if it's on your tree stand or your weapon, you just zoom in to where you want to go. There's no wondering if the camera's pointed where it needs to be, if the deer's centered in the picture, whatever."
Any video captured is available instantly, too, he noted. A hunter who wants to see if and where he hit a deer, for example, can check immediately after taking the shot.
Users can share videos online or with friends as the action happens, as well.
Developing the GameStick took a few years, Dombroski said. It's been available in its final form for a year or less.
But it's proven dependable — it can handle the recoil of large firearms, even — and gotten good reviews, Dombroski said. And at $29.95, it's far cheaper to buy one and use it with your existing cell phone rather than buy an action camera.
"People were buying the homemade ones I had originally and enjoying great success, so it's taken off from there," Dombroski said. "Now, I just want to make a good product and for everyone to have fun with it."
Phoenix Shooting Bags
Necessity is the moth of invention behind Phoenix Shooting Bags, too.
Anthony "Tony" Stallone is a hunter and long-range shooter who encountered the same problem so many others do. Namely, he could zero a rifle at the range, but in the field — under real-world conditions — it was difficult to replicate the steady rest necessary for accuracy.
He tried some assorted options — even going so far as to fill old socks and dry bags with filling from a bean bag chair — with limited success.
So, he invented his own shooting bags. They're tough, yet lightweight, and suitable for use on a shooting bench at the range. Then, when it's time to hunt, you attach them to your pack.
When needed, you lay them out under the front and rear end of a rifle to shoot, just as you did on the bench.
Stallone lives in the West, and the bags obviously work well there. But they've proven popular with hunters everywhere who shoot long range, hike some distance to hunt, want an in-the-field rest or all three.
They're as great for the groundhog hunter looking to help a farmer with nuisance control as they are with an elk hunter looking to make a 300-yard shot as they are with a whitetail hunter who just wants something easy to carry that he can lay over a tree stand rail.
The bags come in various sizes, the most versatile of them all being the "Tony Bag of Doughnuts."
Far too often – and to my wife's eternal dismay — I cook like Nolan Ryan pitched, with lots of high heat.
Oh yeah, I've scorched my share of pans.
Impatience is the reason. I love to eat, but don't like to give up too much hiking, fishing, boating or camping time to do it. So I always try to rush.
Fortunately for everyone's sake, we found the Can Cooker and Can Cooker Jr.
They're steam cookers that are essentially fool proof. Say you're pork chops, a stew, chicken wings, glazed ribs or whatever. You put in any vegetables you might want, add the meat, then put in the correct amount of liquid, be it water, pop, beer or whatever.
You put the lid on the cooker, set it over medium heat and — that's it. The Cooker works using steam. In 10 to 15 minutes after being placed on heat, it will start to steam. Then, you just let it ride — for anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes or so, depending in the recipe — before taking it off the heat, letting it cool a minute, then serving.
We often get to camp, get dinner starter in the Cooker, then set up our tent and otherwise get situated. By the time we're settled in, dinner is ready. And cleanup is quick and simple, too.
The Can Cooker makes enough food to feed 20 people, the Can Cooker Jr. 10. Both come with a carry bag and a book of recipes. They work on top of the stove, too, so you can practice recipes at home.
"Tiny but mighty," that's how Button Lamps are described. And that they are.
About the size of a quarter, waterproof and operated using a toggle switch, the lamps produce 13 lumens of light. Adhesive backs allow you to stick them to any smooth, flat, clean surface.
They were originally designed for use indoors, and they certainly work in closets, cabinets and the like.
But they really shine — pun intended — in outdoorsy applications.
Do you have a flip-top fishing tackle box? It's great to have one inside the lid, so that if you're still fishing at dusk you can see your gear, without ruining your night vision.
Do you fish, hunt or just explore from a canoe or kayak? Attach one or two to the side walls and you've got a convenient light source that doesn't necessarily have to be visible outside the boat.
They're good in glove compartments, for reading in tents, attaching to a tree stand rail, putting inside a backpack or on the wall of an Adirondack shelter (just be sure to take it with you) and more, too.
If you like to explore, sooner or later you're going to have to filter your own water. It's simply too heavy to carry all you need for extended outdoor outings.
There are all kinds of filters out there, too. I've tried many.
The Sawyer Mini has come to be my favorite.
It's small enough to fit in a backpack, even a daypack pocket, yet will filter up to 100,000 gallons. Think about that. It weighs just 4 ounces, yet if you filter 50 gallons of water a year — and for most people, that's a lot — it will last 200 years.
You'll probably lose it before you can wear it out.
I use mine when backpacking, fishing and hunting – though you have to be sure not to let the filter freeze – and even paddling. It attaches to its own pouch or even a water bottle, be it an individual-sized one or the two-liter variety. So you can be kayaking along and just dip it into the river every so often to get a drink and keep going.
It removes 99.99999 percent of bacteria, so it renders virtually any water source safe to drink.
I could tell you this is a fun toy to take outdoors if you've got children. And that would be true.
But let's not forget the adults.
The Pocket Shot slingshot — billed as the world's only circular slingshot — has a round, hard plastic ring that you hold in your hand. At 2.3 by 1.3 inches, it's smaller than a chewing tobacco can, so, as the name suggests, it fits easily in a pocket.
Remove the lid and extend the latex pouch and it's still less than 5 inches long. Yet it's now capable of firing small marbles, paintballs, airsoft pellets and round slugs – though not BBs – with pretty high accuracy.
It's loads of fun to play with. It requires some responsibility, too, as it propels targets at up to 300 feet per second with the standard pouch, and at 350 or more with the pro pouch. You get both with each purchase.
But each pouch lasts for 400 shots or so, depending on how well you treat them, then can be easily replaced.
They're great for backyard plinking or carrying on trips to the woods to shoot stumps, fallen leaves and the like.
2D archery targets
Let's admit it. Sometimes, practice — for whatever the activity — gets boring.
Lather, rinse, repeat, lather, rinse repeat.
It's no different with archery. Shooting a bow is tremendous fun, but firing arrow after arrow into the same target can get repetitive, especially if you do most of your shooting in the backyard, where opportunities to vary distances and angles are limited.
Sure, you can go to a 3-D shoot, but that's dependent on someone else's schedule, costs money and requires having to drive.
There's another solution of sorts.
The 2D archery targets from On-Core come in all shapes and sizes. They're inexpensive enough that you can afford more than one, too.
So, one day, you might shoot arrows into a life-sized whitetail target. The next you could switch to a black bear, them a zombie, then a dinosaur. There's even an apple, for the William Tell in you..
And they're easy to use. You attach the target to some kind of backstop — pinning them to a hay bale use a couple of bent wire clothes hangers is my go-to — and start shooting.
Each target is capable of absorbing thousands of shots. If you're good, and sink a couple of hundred arrows into the same spot, you'll have to pick a new aiming point. But then you can keep on going.