Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review - Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack bi-pod

Opening day of squirrel season last year found me in the woods with my beloved .22 Magnum rifle. My .22 Magnum is a tack driver. I can hit a dime at 50 yards every time....with a good rest. Free hand... well, I could probably hit a coke can. I'm not a great shot with a rifle.

Anyway, I was slowly stalking what I though was the sound of a squirrel running through the fallen trees, when I saw movement to my right. About 50 yards out, a squirrel was burring an acorn. I knew I didn't have a chance at a clean kill freehand. So, I slowly extended my bi-pod, sat down, and carefully took my shot. I placed the bullet exactly where I wanted and added a squirrel to my bag.

I always have a bi-pod attached to my rifle. Whether it is my .22, .308, or even my muzzle loader, a bi-pod is always attached. I have missed many game animals while shooting free hand, but I have never missed when using a bi-pod.

I recently won a contest over at the Outdoor Blogger Network for the opportunity to review a Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack bi-pod. I was excited at this opportunity because I feel that I am especially suited to review it. I own a wide range of bi-pods, from cheapo's to some of the very best.  I have used them for years and know the good from the bad.

After several weeks of impatiently waiting, I received a Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack bi-pod in their 13" - 23" size. This is their top of the line model and my favorite size. It sells at Cabela's for $74.99.

A bi-pod tip: Unlike lots of hunting gear, with bi-pods, price usually does indicate value. Expect to spend this much or much more for a good bi-pod.

The Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack bi-pod I received is infinitely adjustable from 13" to 23" with spring return legs. This is perfect for a comfortable sitting position. This is the position I use most when hunting. When fully extended to 23" it is possible to sit in a low chair and still use it comfortably.

It allows both horizontal traversing (used for tracking moving game) and pivoting (used for leveling the scope on uneven terrain.)

It uses all metal construction and attaches to your rifle via the front swivel stud.

I attached the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack to my .22 magnum with ease. A small thumb screw opens some jaws that clamp around the swivel stud and tighten to the stock. This system is very common with bi-pods, including the Harris bi-pod I normally have attached to this rifle. I don't like it. The screw has a tendency to unscrew itself, literally dropping the bi-pod off your gun as you carry it. A better system would be to permanently mount the bi-pod to the rifles forearm. This is much less convenient, but much more secure. While the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack's mounting system is not ideal, it is the industry standard.

The legs pull down and are positioned easily, but not so easily that brush or sticks will accidentally do it. Even better, they extend silently. There is no noticeable "spring" noise. This is a big plus and few bi-pods manage to do it.

It is just as easy and quiet to extend the legs and position them. A thumb screw on each leg allows you to choose whatever height you want, from 13" to 23" on my model. With practice this can be done in the dark in just a few seconds.

I was concerned about the horizontal traversing. Often, on cheaper bi-pods, this can either be so loose it is hard to achieve a steady aim, or so tight that it jerks along while you are trying to track. This is not the case with the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack. It traverses as smooth as silk, but is firm enough to allow a rock steady aim. I found this to be most impressive.

Its pivoting action also works well. There is an easily accessible lever that allows you to release and lock the pivot head. It could be done in less than a second in a hunting scenario.

I did not weigh the the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack I received, but it is light. This is both good and bad. A light bi-pod is obviously very important to someone who hikes long distances. However, this lightness also makes it feel delicate. It did hold up without a scratch to my field testing and it withstood the recoil of a .308, but I can't help but wonder how many seasons it will withstand. Bi-pods are inherently delicate. They have a lot of moving parts and cannot be heavy. I worry that dirt will foul its horizontal traverse and pivot. I can say that this did not happen at the range, but every hunter knows that a desert or corn field is a lot harder on equipment than the range.

Over all I liked the the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack. It functions flawlessly, allows for rock solid aiming, and is quiet. I don't like its mounting method and am concerned about its durability. It is priced low for its features. I will be using it for squirrels this season.

As with all reviews on The Unlucky Hunter, this review is my honest opinion, I received the Blackhawk Sportster Traversetrack bipod free of charge and agreed to provide a review in exchange. The Unlucky Hunter is not sponsored by or associated with Blackhawk and is accepting no other compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this review. My independent status may change in the future but, as of the date of publication, no relationship other than described above has been pursued or established.

Friday, July 13, 2012

One year down....

Sometime this month is The Unlucky Hunter's birthday!

I'm not sure what the exact day is, and frankly, I don't really care. I'm not big on anniversaries and what not. Just ask my wife....

I can say that this year was a success. I had a goal of 100,000 page views and 200 GFC followers. 206 posts later, I made that goal almost to the number. In addition I scored over 1000 Twitter followers and about 260 RSS subscribers.

I was published in a print magazine that is distributed worldwide and I wrote a couple articles for a digital magazine. Several of my posts have been picked up by media outlets and republished. I know I am not a great writer by any means, but this is a nice validation.

Just for fun here are a few of my favorite posts:

At the Lake With My Daughter

 Fire From A Traditional Flint And Steel

Myth or Fact - Are Strike Anywhere Matches Illegal?

Myth or Fact - Are Summer Rabbits Safe To Eat?

The Great Outdoor Weekend - Day 3

Do Animals And Fish Feel Pain?

Explaining Death To A Toddler

What does the future hold? Your guess is as good as mine!

Posts will be few and far between this summer. I am simply to busy at work and home, plus I have finally learned how to catch fish consistently. Much of my free time is spent doing just that.

I am going to participate in a fishing tournament in a few months and I am lining up hunts for next year. So, stories will continue. I have a pile of gear to review, how-tos to write, and recipes to share. Content is not an issue right now, time is.

Thanks to all you who read The Unlucky Hunter for making this past year a success!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Biolite Camp Stove - Full review

Quite a few months ago my sister emailed me a link to the BioLite preorder page. I signed up to be notified when they are preorderable. When they became available, I ordered one. About two months later I became one of the first people to receive one. I paid $129.

I normally don't get excited about new gadgets, but this one captured my attention. The BioLite camp stove is a wood burning camp stove that has an electric fan to feed oxygen to the flame and a charging station that allows you to charge almost anything that can be charged from a USB port.

Yes, you heard right. It can charge your iPhone from a fire.

Very cool.

But does it work? We shall see....

The first thing I would like to clarify is its size. The manufacturers web site compares it to a Nalgene bottle. This is deceptive.

I did not have a Nalgene bottle handy to compare it with, so I used a standard aluminum bottle for comparison.  At its skinniest the BioLite is about as thick as a Nalgene bottle, but at its widest it is much larger.

It collapses nicely, but is still quite bulky. It takes up a lot of room in all of my packs.

Another drawback is its weight. The BioLite it marketed towards backpackers and day hikers. At over two pounds, I doubt I will ever put it in my day pack. It is heavy. It does eliminate the need to carry stove fuel and a solar charger, so the weight issue might balance out for you.

The fire box does not hold much wood. This should not be seen as a negative. It is amazingly efficient. You can basically cook a meal with a solid stick about three feet long and an inch wide. My biggest frustration was breaking twigs in small enough pieces to fit in. You do not want anything sticking out of the top.

Starting the fire is a little tricky. If you do not have a decent fire to begin with, the internal fan will blow it out. I use fatwood to start the fire.

Once the fire catches, it is an inferno. Literally shooting out like a jet engine. Amazing.

The flame you see in the picture above is shooting out sideways like a blowtorch. It is a very hot flame, much hotter than a normal campfire.

Here is a very short video showing the flame:

And another shot of a stoked flame.

It is so hot, adding fuel is tricky. I had to add more fuel about every five minutes.

The BioLite boiled a half full kettle in less than ten minutes. The fan system absolutely works. I give the BioLite an A+ in the stove department. It truly amazed me.

The draw of the BioLight is not in its cooking ability, it is in its charging ability. Does it actually charge stuff?

Yes. Quite nicely.

After about three minutes of having a nice fire going, the light on the front turns green. This means it is ready to charge.

Simply plug in your device......

....and charge!

How fast does it charge? Certainly not faster than your wall charger. It is not ideal for completely recharging a device, but it is great for topping one off or bringing a dead battery back to life.

Unlike a solar charger, it can charge at night and on cloudy days. This is a big plus in my book.

The construction of the BioLite is decent. Wouldn't want to drop on on concrete, but it will hold up well to careful use. The legs are of most concern. Their hinges just look and feel delicate.

Clean up is easier than I expected, but still messy. If you let the fire die down naturally, all that will be left is a white ash. However, there is still a sooty build up on inside of the fire box and on the heat probe. The sooty heat probe is difficult to clean and will get soot on your stuff.

So, in conclusion:

The BioLite camp stove is big, heavy, and messy.

It is convenient, fuel efficient, cooks well, and charges electronic devices.

Will I use it on a day hike? Probably not. Will I use it camping? Oh, yes! More importantly I feel more secure owning it. The knowledge that no matter what, I can cook food and charge a battery is very comforting. I have a generator and keep five days worth of fuel on hand. I also keep three weeks worth of camp stove fuel on hand. But sometimes disasters last for months, not days or weeks. The BioLite is something I recommend everyone get for their emergency kit.

DreamHost Promotional Code