Wednesday, June 24, 2015

2015 Crossbow Guide

Last summer, I wrote about getting back into hunting.  After being away from the sport for the past 20 plus years, I wasn’t exactly certain on which weapon would be suitable for me since I have experienced gradual muscle loss and now confined to a wheelchair.  After consulting with those closest to me who are into hunting, I settled on a compound crossbow.  Since it was the first one, I didn’t want to spend any more than I absolutely needed to.  All of this was very experimental.

Scott Anderson - Handicapped Outdoors
First Deer - Pass Through Shot - Gig 'Em
I purchased a Barnett RC-150 for $169.00 at Academy.  It was a blast. I was enjoying shooting again and being very accurate even out to 55 yards.  Having come from a rifle back ground, the crossbow gave me the feel of a rifle with the experience of a bow.  I fell in love.  In October, I bagged my very first deer with it.  To say the least, it was a resounding success.

Since that initial experiment went so well, I needed to upgrade to a more serious crossbow and 2015 witnessed the introduction of several new models from trusted manufacturers that I took a long hard look at.  I was looking for something to exceed 300 FPS with a price tag I could live with.

Barnett Recruit
Barnett Recruit
My first stop was Barnett.  After all, they were my initial choice.  They introduced the Recruit in 2015. It was built to be a little smaller and a little lighter to make it easier to handle for younger shooters or those who might have a disability. Priced at $300, it was decent.  The speed generated with the recruit was a mere 250 FPS which wasn’t a true upgrade from what I had in the RC-150.

Barnett Buck Commander
Barnett Buck Commander
Barnett also came out with the Buck Commander Rage that shoots 330 FPS and has a draw weight of 155 lbs.  It is a reverse compound bow set up which places the majority of 6.4 lbs in the center of the bow instead of the front end.  It was a serious contender but at $750, I was happy to continue looking around.

My buddy Kyle shoots a PSE standard compound bow.  He knew I was looking for a good upgrade and sent me a text one day.  He saw where PSE was introducing a remake of their Fang Crossbow for 2015.  I followed the link and was blown away by the spec’s on this bow.  It had string stops.  Most crossbows with string stops start in the $700-$800 range.  It shot 345 FPS which meant I could reach out to 40-50 yards with confidence.  It comes standard with a 5-bolt quiver, rope cocking device and a 4x32 multi-reticle scope.  It has an ambidextrous anti-dry-fire safety.  On top of all of this, the upper scope and lower forearm mounts are both picatinny rails.  This means you can trick this bad boy out with just about any gadget known to the AR-15.

PSE Fang
PSE Fang
I was expecting the price tag to be in excess of $500 for sure…but it wasn’t!  For $300, you get a lot of bow.  I was elated.  I immediately called our local archery pro shop.  I love the name of this place – “Hoot-N-Holler”.  I wanted to order one but was told that PSE was backordered on the Fang.  Not just any simple backorder, they were behind by about 5,000 bows.

To anyone else, this would have been a sign to them to buy another crossbow.  Not me!  It meant that 5,000 other people had figured out exactly what I did.  Awesome bow at an awesome price!  I finally got one after about 3 months of waiting.  At the time of the writing of this article, they are caught up and supply is very good, so you won’t be waiting as I did.

So, how did they get away with the super low price-point?  My first best guess is you will likely want to change the scope.  Although decent, the one that comes with the crossbow just wasn’t clear enough for me and likely a cheap one.  So, I picked up a medium priced 4x32 scope at Bass Pro.  The quiver is also not incredibly impressive but will definitely do the job.  Chip, the pro who owns Hoot-N-Holler, instructed me to remove the quiver when shooting the bow.  At 345 FPS, the string does create a lot of energy.  The quiver connects to the crossbow via a plastic piece and this could break over time due to the energy exerted when shooting.  Truth be known, you may want to check yours regardless of make or model, as it too, could susceptible to break on any bow that exceeds the 300 FPS threshold.

The only other explanation for the lower price is that the stock is built as one composite piece.  The limbs attach very easily on the front end of the crossbow.  It is manufactured just like the majority of the crossbows in the marketplace today.  I will always encourage you to take it to your local pro shop and have them assemble and tune it for you.

The last thing you want is a crossbow coming apart during a shot.  You could get hurt very seriously.

Let me be crystal clear about something.  I am in no way running down any of the other crossbow manufacturers.  They all do a great job of giving us a tool that we can use to get back out there.  From the “Cadillac” version like Ten-Point Crossbows all the way down to the old RC-150, the weapon will only be as good as the shooter who is holding it.  I do want to applaud PSE for building a very good crossbow at a price that anyone can live with.  Kudos to them!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Walk The Dog For Explosive Summer Action

Well, hello to summer.  It officially begins this coming week.  And, with it comes arguably one of the neatest ways to fish.  The top water bite is visual, exciting, and suspenseful.  You can almost sense when a fish could explode on a lure.  When it doesn’t happen, you feel as jilted as a freshman boy at the high school dance.  But, that’s okay.  Just keep casting and the big dance will eventually happen.

This week’s article is focused on a particular type of top water fishing that has become known as “Walking The Dog”.  Check the video below of a top water mouse to view this erratic, back and forth action.

Sorry there was no fish exploding on the bait.  It was the only video of a close-up on the action.  Put simply, it is deadly.  Big fish love to kill lures that are presented in this way.  In order to get a handle on the how to’s, check out the video below of Scott Martin, son of legendary angler Roland Martin, as he demonstrates and expounds on how to best achieve this action.

So which baits do this the best?  For many years, there was the one-and-only, Zara Spook.  It was this lure that coined the now famous phrase, “Walk The Dog”.  However, it has not always been the easiest lure to force that famous action to occur.  Other companies have come along to make it easier for anglers to do it.  Rapala X-Rap, Rebel T-10 Jumpin Minnow, Strike King’s KVD Sexy Dawg just to name a few that come to mind.  All of them take a little practice to get the best action out of them.  Don’t get discouraged.  The reward is worth witnessing a voracious strike on the surface.

I am not going to lie, I am a little on the cheaper end.  You don't have to break the bank to enjoy the outdoors.  Many times you can find the Rebel Jumpin Minnow in a bargain been at Wal-Mart.  It casts long and is relatively simple to achieve the erratic action.

If money is no object, then KVD’s Sexy Dawg is a good option.  Also over the years, the Zara Spook is still a fisherman’s favorite.

From freshwater to saltwater and every point in between, fish love to hit this type of action.  Let us know how it goes with an email or a tweet and post a pic or two also please.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Custom Truck Solution

Hit Show
A few weeks back, I wrote about accessible trucks through a company called ATC.  That was the macro, turn-key, assembly line style conversion.  This week I want to shift gears, pun intended, and give you a taste of the micro.  In growing popularity, TV shows featuring a crew of people customizing cars and trucks is taking over.  Shows like Top Gear, Overhaulin, Monster Garage and Counting Cars are all centered on creating your dream vehicle.

Andrew Kuster
Andrew Kuster
In that same vein, meet Andrew Kuster and Rocky Homestead Lifts of Mountain Grove, Missouri.  Andrew became paralyzed when he was helping a friend move and a gun inadvertently discharged.  The bullet struck him in the neck and his life was changed forever.

Now Andrew had been a farm-boy and a mechanic his entire life in Missouri.  He now found himself depending on others to help him get around which was a tough pill to swallow.  Longing for independent living, he began searching for solutions to give him back some measure of freedom.  The minivans that are widely available for wheel-chair bound drivers aren’t exactly suited for the Ozarks.   After quickly growing tired of being driven around, and having micro switches on vans going out, he decided that what he needed and wanted was a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Andrew Kuster
His father being a licensed mechanic began to help him design and tinker with an old 1979 Chevy pick-up truck.  After cutting it, reconfiguring it and fabricating the necessary systems, Andrew did indeed have a viable, running, dependable work truck that was 4-wheel drive.  In fact, it is still in use today…amazing!

The downfall was that they designed it as a rear entry vehicle.  In other words, he used a lift to get into the bed of the truck and then entered the cab via an entrance in the back of the cab.  This was great until it snowed about 4 months a year.  Back to the drawing board!

Rocky Homestead Lifts
Rocky Homestead Lifts
Remember, these are men who have been around farming equipment, backhoes, bulldozers and the like.  They arrived at a concept that actually falls right in between two of the most popular truck solutions out there.  They cut the entire side of the cab off of a Chevy Suburban like an SVM vehicle.  Next they inserted a hydraulic lift in it like the ATC vehicle.  You know, like one of the hydraulic actuators on a backhoe, like nothing you have ever seen on a vehicle.  The lift is powerful enough to pick the entire car off the ground (Suburban weighs about 5,000lbs).  The hydraulic pieces are never going to have an issue of lifting you and your chair regardless of weight and they are designed to last 10 times the life of the vehicle.   This is where Andrew’s design begins to jump light-years ahead of anything out there to date.  They have kept this attitude into every conversion they have done.

Once converted, the vehicle gets you in or out in about 14-22 seconds!  The modern SVM Truck takes almost a minute to cycle one way in comparison.  Who wants to wait 45 seconds to load or unload?

JA Fabrications LLC
Non-Accessible Customized Truck
At some point you have asked the question, where were you going with all the custom car shows earlier?  Glad you asked.  Andrew has partnered with a guy named Grady who owns JA Fabrications LLC.  These guys are right out of one these shows.  You have Grady, who after taking the shop over from his dad went a completely different direction with the business to a customization shop.  Next in the crew is Colby, the comical guy who does electronics and sound.  Then there is Doc, who is the imaginative fabricator/mechanic.  And lastly you have Cory, who is the detailer/mechanic and motorcycle maniac.

Andrew provides the design to fit the wheelchair to the vehicle and these guys provide the magic.  How imaginative you ask?  One customer recently requested a wheelchair accessible truck that would also allow him to scissor-lift above the level of the cab in his wheel-chair so he could deer hunt right out of the truck!  The sky and money is the limit…really!

JA Fabrications LLC
Another Custom Ride
So by now you are likely wondering how long, how much, etc., right?  The process looks something like this.  First step would be to determine what you need or what you want.  This entails getting the dimensions of your chair and understanding the vehicle you want to convert.  A standard conversion on a Chevy truck or suburban is $17,500, which sounds like a lot but is in fact less expensive than other retail conversion specialists.

The conversion takes about six weeks to two months.  Extra stuff like Easy-Lock systems, hand controls, etc. are all extra but can be installed on site.  They do not mind working on older model trucks which may save you some money.

Although they are only located in Missouri at the time of this article, you can still get your conversion through them.   For a reasonable fee, they can pick up your vehicle, convert it and then deliver it back to you.  The fee depends on where you are located so just give them a call.  As an example, it recently cost someone $1300 to have their vehicle picked up from Maryland round trip.

In the unfortunate event that a fix is necessary, all the parts can be replaced through their shop.  Repairs can be done by your local mechanic shop with a call to Andrew’s guys, which is nice.

So there you have it!  Good luck on your next vehicle.  May it be a 4-wheel drive that can get you into the woods, lake or beach.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Boat Guide for the Handicapped Outdoorsmen

It’s summer and ever since I was a little-bitty boy, I can remember this time of the year being filled with days on the water.  In a boat with my dad, fishing until reaching terminal sunburn.  It was my favorite place to be.  In 1984, I was diagnosed with FSH Muscular Dystrophy and my very athletic body began to break down over time.  I realized rather quickly that I may never own and operate my own boat one day.  Or so, I thought.  What are the options?  What is actually available out there from tooling around in a pond to roaring in the open ocean?  This article will give you the tip of the iceberg on this very hot topic.  Ready?  Let’s go!

On many occasions I have written about fishing in ponds.  For a disabled angler, they represent one of the very best solutions for getting your fishing fix.  If you had a boat however, you could access these amazing holes with even greater precision and thoroughness.  But, let’s be real.  A wheelchair and a john-boat aren’t exactly complimentary to each other.  There are inherent dangers in attempting to DIY a solution.

Let me introduce you to Custom Pontoons Boats.  I spoke with Joe Collier who is their designer.  They specialize in building work platforms set over pontoons on just about any scale you can fathom.  I have selected them specifically for this part of the article because of their boat called, The Bass Sniper.  It comes in a 10, 12 and 14 foot editions.  Made specifically for trolling around a pond, the 10 footer can support up to 740 pounds of weight.  Ramps are not included but can be purchased separately.  Interesting tidbit – They have built floating classrooms for Penn State University and Fire Truck Boats.

Staying in the same genre but with a bit of a twist is Hotwoods Compact Pontoon Boats.  I spoke with the owner, Dan and I love that they broke out of the mold a long time ago to rethink how pontoons can and should be utilized.  Most boats like these are made with large round pontoons and then weld a platform on top of that.  The typical pontoon is usually very wide in diameter and does not make for an easy transition sometimes at the water’s edge due to their height.  Hotwoods created smaller diameter pontoons and use four of them for greater stability and weight differential.  The diameter of these pontoons is only 12” making for a much easier transition.  They offer two different styles of boats depending on how economically minded you are.  The Lil Sport is 12’10 x 5 and has a plywood deck for less of an impact on the budget.  They offer a 15’ x 6’ Fishin Sport also with plywood decking.  If strength is what you desire, then you can go with their Allumisport series.  Same lengths and widths as before but the deck is all aluminum welded.  Interesting tidbit – You can add a small outboard to these boats with 10-15 horsepower being the maximum and venture onto a lake.  You can even get one powder coated for duck hunting which is nice.

In both of the previous two companies, the layout of the deck is intended to be wide open.  If you desire storage or rod-boxes, any of these things can be added or customized later.

It is also noteworthy that to enjoy a lake, many of your current pontoon boats can also be customized at your request.  Just simply ask your local Tracker Boats dealer or visit Bass Pro Shops to inquire about any changes to a current layout that you might like.

Okay, it’s time to jump into the deep end of the pool.  Remember those WWII videos showing the boats landing the men on the beaches of Normandy?  The Higgins boat had that wonderful drop-down front end and could transport men, tanks, etc.  That same concept is now being used to build some incredible boats that are also handicapped accessible.

Koffler Boats of Eugene Oregon makes landing craft boats with a ramp that can extend from there.  The boats are originally designed for the great northwest where getting heavy equipment such as ATV’s or Tractors to remote locations can prove difficult.  With their landing craft front end, this becomes relatively easy.   If you have always wanted to take the family camping on an island this boat fits the bill. They also make a drift boat if fly-fishing is your thing.  It too has a landing craft style front where a fisherman can roll into the boat and can drift fish with the best river anglers in the world.  Options are endless on any of the boats offered through Koffler and a true wheelchair accessible boat would need to be customized.

Next up in the landing-craft style is a company that makes a wheelchair boat as one of its standard offerings – w00t!  It began when Franklin Graham, who now runs his father Billy Graham’s Samaritans Purse, orchestrated for the Wounded Warrior project to use their lodge in Alaska to bring wounded vets to fish.  They called on Munson Boats to build a completely accessible boat and boy did they ever.

Munson’s Model 34-24 Sport is a 34 footer.  The beam is 12 feet wide allowing for plenty of space on the deck coupled with incredible stability.  Although the boat pictured is a mono hull, you can get the boat in a catamaran style that is even more stable than a mono.  Powered by twin Yamaha 250 horsepower outboards and 250 gallons fuel capacity, you can stay on the water for a very long time.

I spoke with the designer, Jesse, who was all too excited to speak about this incredible boat.  Munson started by making sure that the boat would be accessible whether at the shore or a dock.  There are two boarding doors on either side of the boat for dock access.  The bow ramp can also be lowered while on the water to be used as a platform to get disabled people in or out of the water or a jet ski, kayak, etc.  They also wanted a boat that a disabled individual could not only ride in it but pilot the craft also.  All of the chairs in the cabin can either fold down or be removed so that a person in a chair can roll up to the helm and take command of the boat.

The boat features a 36 inch door in the forward and aft of the cabin.  Although there is a four inch lip for a seal on the cabin, there are ramps that make for a smooth transition.  There is also a large fishing deck in the aft of the boat big enough for three wheelchairs to sit and still have room for others to move around them.  Grab rails are lowered and conveniently located in the cabin.  The floor is coated with non-skid paint like on a ferry so that traction is never an issue.  With lots of storage, rod holders and a fish hold to put your fish after catching them, this boat has it all.  Base package is $200,000 which includes the boat, trailer and outboard motors.

So let’s say you really want the fiberglass feel instead of the aluminum boats we have seen so far.  No problem!  I spoke with John Christianson of Catamaran Coaches in Florida who makes custom wheelchair accessible boats and yachts.  Instead of it being a Catamaran, it is a Trimaran (3 hull design) for even greater stability in big water.  The only words you will ever hear John say is, “Yes we can do that!”  They make a deluxe wheelchair accessible boat already for as low as $60-$80,000.  The options however are truly limitless.

The cabin can be enclosed and can be cooled and heated using the on-board generator.    All of the gates are hydraulic open and close by simply pressing a button.  The front deck is large, open and only limited by the size of your imagination.   On the left aft of the boat there are steps that are molded into the body that makes it much easier to aid the disabled in and out of the water.  The boat can be fitted with an ez-lock system so that a disabled person can roll up to the helm and captain the vessel.  But all of this is just scratching the surface as to what is available.  For more details, give John a call.

Hopefully I have at least gotten your brain to begin thinking that your days on the water aren’t as limited as you once thought.  Never give up!  Where there is a will, there really is a way!