Mathews Chill X Review

mathews chill xI want to start by saying that there is no such thing as a bad bow nowadays.  The technology gap has effectively been closed and just about every manufacturer makes a solid product.  People are fiercely brand loyal and just about any conversation about bows will quickly will devolve into an uneducated brand bashing.  Everyone is after the same thing.  That being a comfortable bow that they can shoot accurately and confidently.  By confining yourself to a certain brand of bow you rob yourself of offerings by other companies that might suit your style a little better.  The only way to truly get the right bow for you is to remove all preconceived notions and shoot everything out there.  I switched from a Hoyt this year and you’re about ready to find out why I’m glad I did.  That being said, let’s get down to business.

The Chill X is Mathews’ newest bow for 2014.  This dual cam offering is a longer version of the popular Chill R.  Sporting a 35 inch axle to axle length with a 7 inch brace height, the Chill X is a good choice for someone who wants a bow that pulls double duty as a hunting rig and something that can shoot 3d as well.

The biggest thing that sticks out about this bow is the 35 inch ATA length.  I’ve shot short bows for the past several years and really thought nothing of it.  It wasn’t until I shot the Chill X that I realized how much those extra inches make a difference.  It is noticeably more stable than the shorter bows and at long distance that makes the difference between a hit and a miss.  Having a rock solid hold on something increases accuracy as well as confidence.  As far as it being too long to hunt with, as I’ve heard some say, that is complete b.s.  Bows with an ATA of 32 inches and shorter didn’t come around in mass until a few years ago.  Before then, people didn’t have much trouble maneuvering longer bows and they still don’t.  I seriously doubt I will ever go back to a bow with an ATA shorter than 35 inches.

The draw cycle on the Chill X is smooth.  Very smooth.  Again the ATA length comes into play allowing for a smoother draw cycle than what you would get from a shorter bow.  Utilizing Mathews’ proprietary Rock Mod system the back wall is very solid due to a cam stop the previous versions of the McPhearson Monster didn’t have.  Allowing for either 75% or 85% let off, the Rock Mods also allow an easy change in draw length.

The DYAD AVS cam.  The counterweight contributes to the dead in hand feel.  The cam stop that gives the rock solid back wall can be seen about and inch and half below the axle.

The DYAD AVS cam. The counterweight contributes to the dead in hand feel. The cam stop that gives the rock solid back wall can be seen about and inch and half below the axle.

One thing that really set the Chill X apart from other bows I’ve shot recently is there is no shock upon pulling the trigger.  It is about as dead in hand as you can get.  This is partly due to the perimeter counter weight on the cams.  When the limbs fire forward, the counterweights go in the opposite direction and thus deaden the shot.  There is simply no shock when you pull the trigger of the release and it really makes a bow sling unnecessary.

Now comes the one thing I don’t really care for.  The grip.  The Chill X has a very thin, minimal grip.  It is basically like holding the riser where the grip should be.  There is nothing to fill up your hand.  The reasoning behind this is sound, however.  The fatter the grip, the more apt you are to torque the bow.  This is fine, but the thin rubber grip rubbed a blister on the inside of my thumb .  I’m starting to get used to it and I’ll just have to toughen up.

Thin rubber grip on the Chill X

Thin rubber grip on the Chill X

I almost neglected to put anything about speed in this write up.  All bows are fast.  It’s just that simple.  But I did get to shoot this one through a chronograph so it’s worth mentioning.  The bow is rated at up to 336 fps with 75% let off.  It is worth mentioning here how bow manufacturers come up with their speed figures.  They use a 30 inch draw length and shoot the lightest arrow out of the heaviest draw weight available.  Shooting a 380 grain hunting set up I normally use, I was able to get an average of 284 fps with a 29 inch draw length at 70 pounds with 85% let off.  That is plenty fast enough.

So in summary, what is the Chill X boiled down to bare bones?  It is a bow that veers away from the popular trends now seen in the archery industry.  A 35 inch ATA with a 7 inch brace height make it very stable and very forgiving.  The Rock Mod system gives an incredibly solid back wall and the ability to easily change draw lengths.  It has a really dead in hand feel with no jump upon pulling the release trigger.  Most importantly, it is butter smooth and easy to shoot.  That’s really all we’re after and why I’ll be shooting the Chill X for the foreseeable future. They’re available in Lost Camo, Black, and my personal favorite, Desert Tan.  $1099 Retail.  Check out Mathewsinc.com to find a dealer and go shoot one to see for yourself.

A Few Words on Ozonics

Just about everyone in the bowhunting world has heard about Ozonics.  If you haven’t, it’s a little portable ozone generator that renders your human scent inert.  Deer supposedly can’t wind you and it will turn you into the epitome of stealth in the deer woods.  It’s a popular product and has a legion of  dedicated users that swear by it, but before you go plunking down $400 on one of these units, there are a few things you should probably know.

What is Ozone?  Ozone is an allotrope of oxygen that is very unstable.  The oxygen we breathe exists in nature as two oxygen molecules that are double bonded.  This is how oxygen wants to exist.  It’s happy this way.  Ozone is the normal double bonded pair of oxygen atoms with an extra oxygen atom stuck on it.  Oxygen is not happy in this state and is very unstable.  It wants to revert to its normal state of two molecules instead of three so it will readily give the extra oxygen molecule away.  What does this mean to us as hunters?   In very, very, simplified terms, when ozone encounters a molecular compound of human smell (or any smell), it gives away its extra oxygen.  This changes the human smell to something different that is non threatening to deer.  This is oxidation and what makes ozone effective at destroying scent, mold, bacteria, and viruses.

Ozone has a variety of commercial applications, from sanitizing laundry in hospitals, to treating water in wastewater treatment plants.  Ozone generators are used in fire and water damage restorations to remove weird smells like mildew or smoke.  It is a very useful industrial tool, and like most industrial tools, it can also kill you deader than Custer’s nuts.  OZONE IS TOXIC GAS!  Ozone is listed as a primary irritant and will go to work on your respiratory system and eyes even in low concentrations.  The EPA has set regulatory guidelines on how much exposure is safe, however, and the Ozonics system “meets or exceeds” these safe levels.   Herein lies the problem.  The EPA states there is “evidence to show that at concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone is not effective at removing many odor-causing chemicals, viruses, bacteria, mold, or other biological pollutants.”   So there you have it.  Ozonics is meets or exceeds safety guidelines, but according to the EPA, anything under the limit isn’t effective at at destroying odor causes. Even more, the EPA is talking about these things in closed environments.  Trying to use an ozone generator outside to kill your scent is like trying to raise the level of the ocean by peeing in it. Further, the Ozonics company doesn’t release how much ozone the thing generates because it is “business confidential.”  You better get an industrial grade ozone generator cranked up because I smell bullshit.

The second biggest thing that makes me a non believer is there are no scientific studies to back the product up.  Yeah, there are a lot of “tests” on the internet, but there are no true scientific tests.  It is all based off of anecdotal evidence and tests that don’t utilize the scientific method.  It’s conjecture at best, bullshit at worst.  Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and there simply is none.  For every person who swears an Ozonics unit saved their hunt, there is another person who has had a deer walk 5 feet from them downwind with no Ozonics while smoking a cigarette and not spook.  People believe what they want to believe, hard facts and evidence be damned.

Hunters are a predictable bunch.

Hunters are a predictable bunch.

People are predictable, especially hunters.   They seem to always be looking for shortcuts or instant gratification.  The beauty of a product like the Ozonics is that it doesn’t even have to work, just give the illusion it is.  You don’t need  scientific backup or proof, just anecdotal evidence.  Couple this with some savvy marketing and you’ve got yourself a million dollar business.  I don’t fault the Ozonics people one bit for doing what they do; get that cash.  I fault hunters for being so damn desperate.  Put in your work, be patient, and you will be successful.  Drop all the extraneous gadgetry and just go hunt.  It’s more fun that way.  There’s a level uncertainty that makes hunting fun and exciting, and unlike the effectiveness of an ozone generator,  that much I can guarantee.

 

The Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2: Confessions of an Airgun Neophyte

Benjamin Trail NP2 The last time I shot an air rifle on a daily basis, I was 12.  A Benjamin 397 was my weapon of choice at the time and I shot it every day.  I killed countless squirrels with it and could drop shot after shot through the same hole with iron sights and a blindfold on.  That was 18 years ago and a lot has changed since then.

As the years passed, I moved on to other things and I’ve been totally oblivious to the advancements made in air rifle technology.  My air rifle knowledge began and ended with my old Benjamin 397 and after a short bit of research I realized how far behind the curve I really am.  I quickly found out that pellet rifles of today are viable mid sized game weapons and capable of accurate shot placements at distances I previously thought impossible.

I reentered the air gun world when I got my hands on the Benjamin Trail NP2 at the end of May.  This is Crosman’s second generation of its popular Nitro Piston rifle and I was excited to shoot it.

Once my work schedule slowed to a manageable pace, I started shooting the NP2 almost every evening.  Unlike the Benjamin Marauder which I loosely equate to a rimfire .22, the Trail NP2 is a break action piston driven air gun and it’s the first piston gun I’ve shot.  I’ve shot a spring driven gun before, but that’s not even on the same level as the NP2.  I started plinking at the air rifle range where I work, shooting off hand at a variety of targets.  I was really impressed by how accurate and hard hitting it was but it’s a different style of rifle than I’m used to and it took a little time to get adjusted.

The Trigger: The biggest difference that stood out in shooting the NP2 versus what I’m used to shooting is the trigger.  I’m used to shooting guns that have a single stage trigger that is no heavier than 4 pounds.   The Trail NP2 has a dual stage trigger that breaks crisply around 5.5 pounds.  In the air gun world though, this is pretty standard.  You take up the slack until you hit “the wall,” then slowly squeeze until the shot is fired.  This took a lot of getting used to and I flinched for at least the first 25 shots.  Once I got over that, the flinch disappeared.  The weight of the trigger on the NP2 is non adjustable, however there is a screw located behind the trigger that adjusts the where the second stages starts.  You can basically make the first stage as long or short as you want.  Neat feature.

If you start with the screw all the way in, the first stage is pretty well non existent. Back it out a half turn at a time until you find your happy place.

 

Recoil: I shoot a lot of centerfire rifles.  They have recoil.  Backward, shoulder bruising recoil.  When the Trail NP2 is fired, the piston in the receiver travels forward, creating recoil in the opposite direction of a powder burner and at first it felt like there was a lot of muzzle jump.  It really wasn’t that big of a problem  but a lot of times, I found myself anticipating the shot and sometimes would tense up or flinch, pulling the shot down and right.  This was a bigger issue later when I was trying to get the gun to group from sandbags.   Once again, a little practice made the difference.

After shooting one hundred rounds or so, I wanted to see how this thing grouped.  I was hitting everything I shot at from an off hand position so I figured when I threw this thing in some sandbags, there wouldn’t be anything to it.  I backed it off to 30 yards shooting the Crosman Premier 14.3 grain pellet.  The first group was a little wide.  No problem there, I just wasn’t warmed up.  Group 2 was even wider group 3 was still pretty bad.  Here’s where I started to get really frustrated.  I can shoot.  I’m confident in my abilities and know what I’m capable of doing and this wasn’t it.Trail Group

I blamed the trigger and my air gun inexperience on spraying pellets all over the target.  With some practice, my grouping improved but it was still lacking.  In search of answers, I did what any red-blooded American would do and turned to Google.   I was immediately overwhelmed and my search returned vague answers related to piston gun break-in periods, faulty optics, alloy versus lead pellets, dieseling and a bunch of other things I had no clue about.  In short, I was still at square one of why my rifle wouldn’t group.

I was fairly confident the Centerpoint 3×9 scope wasn’t the problem.  I secured all the screws with red Loctite and since shots never wandered farther than an inch or so, I was fairly confident that the optics weren’t the issue.  I tried different ammo but the results remained the same.  Domed, wadcutter, pointed, lead, alloy, it didn’t matter.  No consistent group could be achieved.  Scratch that off the list.  My lack of grouping was starting to get to me, so I took a break.  When I returned to the shooting bench, I had a revelation…I’m not holding on tight enough.

When shooting a rifle from sandbags, I typically have a very loose hold and just kinda touch the trigger off without moving anything.  This is the way I’ve always done things and it has always worked.  The Trail NP2 doesn’t like this hold at all. You have to hold on to this thing.  Not death grip hard, but you have to be in control of it without shaking the crosshairs all over.  It’s a fine line but is easily achieved.  It made sense because shooting off hand when I first got the gun, I was hitting 2 inch steel flipper targets with no issue.  I also had the rifle sucked up tight to my shoulder with a good grip on the fore end.  That is what makes this rifle shoot.  It’s all about the hold.  After this realization, things got a lot better.

Benjamin Trail Target

Here is my first 5 shot group with a firm hold.  5 shots produced 3 holes that could be covered with a dime.  Now we’re talkin’.  My frustration was finally alleviated and for the first time, I felt like I was shooting the NP2 to its full capability.  I kept clipping off 5 shot goups until I felt totally comfortable behind the gun.  The recoil, trigger, and all the other stuff that felt alien to me now felt normal.

10 shots at 30 yards.

10 shots at 30 yards.

It only took 2 months of feeling like an idiot before I realized you have to hold on to this thing when shooting from sandbags.  I still shoot it almost every day and have no problem putting the shot where I want it.  I dropped a Starling a couple mornings ago and when I hit it with a range finder after the shot, I was pretty surprised to see the distance was 71 yards.  I’m really enjoying sliding back into the air gun world and the Benjamin Trail NP2 is to thank for that.  I’m slowly getting versed on the ins and outs of air gun shooting and learning more every day.  I think it’s safe to say I found a new truck gun.

 

Why I stopped carrying a traditional hunting knife

Havalon PirantaI’ve carried the same hunting knife every deer season ever since I was 6 years old.  It was a gift from my grandfather.  He bought it for me when I was an infant and I’ve carried it dutifully every fall since I was 6…until 3 years ago.

I was deer hunting in northern Missouri and killed a great buck the first evening of the hunt.  The following morning when I went to cape the buck out, my buddy Shane tossed me this weird folding knife with an orange handle.  “Use mine,” he said.  “You can repay me by caping my deer.”

The knife he tossed me was a Havalon Piranta and 30 minutes later, I was a firm believer.  It’s a simple plastic handled folder that accepts scalpel blades.  I made short work of caping that deer and later in the week, I repaid my debt by caping Shane’s 160 inch 10 point.

I don’t get too excited about hunting gear.  I’m the eternal skeptic when it comes to hunting products but this thing is the real deal. It comes with 12  of the 60xt blades which are 2.75 inches long.  It will accept other sizes but I’ve found the 60xt perfect for field dressing, skinning, and caping the head so there’s no need for swapping sizes.  It’s most useful for caping heads and doing the delicate work around the eyes, nose, and lips.  It also makes zipping around the antler burr pretty easy.

The Havalon makes up all the shortcomings a traditional knife has.  You never have to deal with a dull knife.  When it does get dull, you simply snap off the blade and get another.  And unlike my old standby knife, there is no sentimental attachment to it.  If I lost it, I’d just buy another.  It’s also orange so losing it in the fall leaves is pretty difficult.

There are some drawbacks, however.  After a lifetime of using a knife that I thought was sharp, using a scalpel blade took some getting used to.  It makes a traditional knife, no matter how sharp, look dull.  Over the years, you get used to being sloppy without consequence, but with the Havalon, one slip can spell a trip to the E.R. for stitches.  You learn fast to keep this thing away from what you don’t want cut like fingers and deer stomachs.  Two years of heavy use later, mine is still going strong and I couldn’t imagine life before it.  Get yours here.

 

First Shots with the Marauder

Since I got it, I’ve been itching to shoot my new Benjamin Marauder.  I’ve gotten to shoot it a handful of times but never got a chance to sit down and actually see what this thing can do.  Today I got my chance and all I can say is…Oh. My. God.  What a rifle.  Airguns aren’t typically known for being super accurate or having a great trigger but this thing covers both.  I put about 25 rounds down range and I can’t say enough good about it.

Benjamin Marauder

After starting out at a close distance, I familiarized myself with its trigger and feel.  I still need to adjust the comb and dial a couple things in but out of the box, I must say I was impressed.  After checking the zero on the scope, I stretched this thing out a little bit and what I saw would rival any .22 rimfire on the market.  Smooth as silk, this thing delivers.  I only scratched the surface with this rifle this afternoon, but my mind is blown.

pardon the flier, but at 100 yards, you have yourself a stone cold killer.

pardon the flier, but at 100 yards, you have yourself a stone cold killer.

Later this week, when I get a fresh charge of air, I’m going to do an in depth torture test to really see what this thing can do.  As it sits right now, I think it’s safe to say I won’t be disappointed.

 

I suck at shooting video

561765_351316744991544_1715610368_nI’m not a very good videographer.  In fact, to call myself a videographer is an insult to videographers.  Hobbyist?  Close.  Rank amateur?  Now we’re talking.  I’m not alone.  With the advent of Youtube, every asshole with a Sony Hanycam has a hunting show.  There’s good and bad out there.  Mostly bad.  You’ve seen the videos.  Animal out of focus while the tree branches three feet in front of the lens are crystal clear.  Audio so hot you can hear the camera man’s heart beat.  And my personal favorite move, a frame so shaky you need dramamine to watch the footage.

Last year was the first full season I messed with videoing hunts and I had mixed results.  It was a learning experience.  I didn’t really care and while I still don’t, I’m going to try to apply the things I learned and get a little more serious.  While I am in no way an expert on the subject, here’s what I learned from what I did right got close to right and what I did wrong (which was mostly everything).

Getting close enough to an animal to kill it is hard enough as it is.  Add a camera to the mix and you’re really handicapping yourself.  If you’ve ever tried to film a hunt, you know what I’m talking about.  It made me step back and prioritize.  Am I doing this insane amount of leg work scouting and putting in countless hours on a stand to get video of a hunt or kill the animal?  I choose the latter.  If those two things overlap, cool, but if not, I’m not losing sleep over it.  This is my biggest obstacle to obtaining quality footage.  I’d rather drop the hammer than roll tape.  For those of you who don’t have this problem, keep reading.  

Camera/audio:  If you want to do this right, you’re going to have to spend some money. The sad truth is a cheap point and shoot camera like a Sony Handycam is not going to cut it for most hunting applications.  The biggest reason is there’s no manual mode.   You’ve seen the videos on Youtube where the guy is videoing a turkey or deer and all of a sudden, the subject goes out of focus and a big cluster of tree branches in the foreground becomes crystal clear.  That’s autofocus at work and it is not your friend.  Using a premise similar to sonar, autofocus works by bouncing an infared beam off of whatever is in front of the lens.  The camera judges distance by how long the beam takes to return.  Once the distance is determined, the camera focuses to that distance in a fraction of a second.  In non-geek this means that whatever the infared beam hits first is what the camera focuses on.  It isn’t a smart bomb.  The camera doesn’t know you’re trying to video a Booner walking toward your tree stand and not the tree limb five feet in front of it.  Ditch your point and shoot and get a camera that has a manual mode.

The Sony NX70U

The Sony NX70U

I use a Sony NX70U.  It isn’t overly complicated and offers good video and audio quality and a manual mode that allows you to change the focus, zoom, and iris from the same ring behind the lens.  You just select which variable you are changing and then adjust the ring.  The camera is water and dust resistant which is nice because most cameras aren’t.  Most importantly beside the manual mode, the NX70U offers 2 channel audio which brings me to my next point.

Audio controls on the NX70U

Audio controls on the NX70U

Most people don’t realize how important quality audio is.  Bad audio can distract from good video.  It’s pretty simple to do correctly with the right equipment.   Having a camera with 2 audio channels allows you to use a camera mounted microphone to cover most of the sounds of the hunt and a lapel mic for recording any talking you might have to do such as an interview or giving the play by play of an approaching animal.  The shotgun mic mounted on the camera allows you to use a windscreen (the big furry thing) to cut down on wind noise.  Integrated camera microphones don’t have these and the make a slight breeze sound like a hurricane.  Experiment with your audio settings to come up with a good baseline that you can make slight adjustments to depending on your situation.

Set Up:  One thing that separates good video from bad video is stability. Unless you’re videoing bigfoot, shaky video is not acceptable.  Most entry level professional cameras (sometimes called prosumer grade) have a pretty good image stabilizer.  The Canon XA10 is exceptional in this respect.  It helps smooth things out when you have to shoot off hand.  If you’re set up videoing a hunt, use a tripod on the ground or a camera arm when you’re in a tree.  The footage is still and won’t make you motion sick when you watch it.  Also, the camera won’t jump when the gun goes bang.

A quality fluid head that connects your camera to the tripod is actually more important than the tripod itself.  They allow you to pan the camera in all directions smoothly.  I use one from Manfrotto that can be picked up for 150 bucks online.  Although not absolutely necessary, adding a wired remote to the handle on the head allows you to pan the camera and zoom and focus with one hand.  Pretty invaluable if you’re self filming.

Editing and other odds and ends:  Now you have hours of amazing raw footage, what do you do with it?  The coolest video in the world is worthless if it stays on your SD card.  There are a lot of editing programs available and the good ones are expensive.  Final Cut Pro is a very robust and you could make a feature film with it.  It is also expensive and it takes a lot of time to learn to use it correctly.

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

Mixing magic with GoPro Studio

There is, however, a simpler solution in GoPro Studio.  Developed by the makers of the popular point of view camera, it was designed so people with no experience could share their GoPro videos.  It’s very simple to learn and allows for multiple file types.  It has just about everything you’d need for mixing a hunting video.  Oh yeah, its free and you can download it here.  There might come a time where you need something as strong as Final Cut Pro but for most people, there’s no need to pay for a bunch of features you’ll never learn how to use.  GoPro Studio is one of the easiest ways to get your footage off your camera and on the internet while not looking like it was made by a 4th grader.

If you want to get quality shots consistently, get yourself a camera man.  Self filming sucks and is incredibly hard.  Trade places behind the camera with your hunting partner if you have one.  If you don’t, make a friend and go hunt together.  You might even get lucky and find someone who doesn’t want to pull the trigger but likes to shoot video.  No matter how you do it, having a dedicated camera operator will increase your chances of getting some top notch footage.

I stumbled around in the dark by myself for almost year before I even got close to doing anything correctly and hopefully this will help shorten your learning curve.   And if your video still sucks,  just take a couple pictures and write about your hunt instead.  I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are things called books and magazines and it seems to work for them.

Bomb Proof: The Pelican 1750

I’ve always been a firm believer that nothing is ever truly tested until it’s had the hell beaten out of it.  Consider this case tested.  Several seasons ago, I was in the market for a new travel gun case.  My dad had the SKB double rifle case and was pretty pleased with it.  It is one of the more popular cases on the market and  I almost got the same thing before I stumbled on the Pelican 1750.

Pelican1750_3

I’ve used Pelican boxes for years for keeping my camera and phone dry in my kayak.  I had never had issues with them and  figured if I could trust them to keep my expensive electronics safe, I could trust them with my guns.

The 1750 comes with three pieces of foam.  The lid is lined with a 1.5″ thick piece and the bottom is lined with two pieces also, 1.5″ thick.

At 50.50″ x 13.50″ x 5.25″ it can hold two guns or a bow with one layer of bottom foam removed.  The charging handles on my shotguns and the sight and rest on my bow are pressed into the upper layer of foam just enough to keep stuff from moving.

Although not necessary for most shotgun applications, you can lock your payload down pretty easily by carving out the top layer of foam.  Use a grease pencil to trace the outline of the shotgun or rifle and cut it out using the long blade out of a carpenters knife.  Just for grins, I did this with my turkey gun.

After tracing the outline with a grease pencil, cut it out.

After tracing the outline with a grease pencil, cut it out.

Nice and snug.

Nice and snug.

You can get replacement foam on the internet for about 20 bucks a sheet so you can do multiple guns for the same case. I’ve got one cut for my muzzleoader as well as my deer rifle and every time, they’ve held their zero after multiple flights.  After using the 1750 for about 3 years, I can think of no negatives other than there not being an integral locking system.  I solved the problem using some TSA approved locks from Wal Mart that were around $15.

3 seasons of hard travel and she's still ticking.

3 seasons of hard travel and she’s still ticking.

Pelican has been in the protective case market for a long time.  They know their stuff.  While this isn’t meant to be a comparison between the SKB case and the Pelican, I’ve been able to see how they’ve held up head to head.  My dads case feels a little more flimsy on the lid, the hinges are kinda floppy, and his case is missing both it’s wheels.  The Pelican, however, is unscathed.  Anecodotal evidence, yeah, but I think I made the better choice.

Enjoy dragging that through the airport.

Enjoy dragging that through the airport.