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Field Tested: Two Blooper Products In Africa

Sometimes tried and true gear wins out over shiny and new.

The shine and glitz of new hunting gear quickly fades and tarnishes in Africa. I’m not talking about dapper new boots getting scuffed and worn or other forms of hard-won "character marks" on rifles, slings, binos and day packs. I’m referring to a nifty new gadget losing its shine because it turns out to be less than bargained for under actual field conditions.


On my recent safari to Tanzania, I took along two pieces of new kit that I had every expectation of being my new best friends. The first was Bushnell’s BackTrack, a simple-to-use GPS that I bought for around $50 from Amazon.com.


The BackTrack dispenses with many of the complicated GPS functions and offers elegant simplicity instead— press a button to mark up to four locations, press another button to be guided back to any of them.


Previously, I had carried a "normal" GPS with a whole range of functions that were more complicated than working calculus. As the client, I don’t need to know the location of every waterhole in the concession or every leopard blind that’s ever been built. I simply want to mark camp and where we leave the vehicle when we go on a stalk.


For those simple tasks, the Bushnell BackTrack seemed to be made just for me. I was so thrilled, I actually bought two of them, one for a back-up. The biggest problem with the BackTrack is that it rarely obtained a GPS "lock" on my position.


One time I took it on a stalk and after half an hour, it was still flashing its "I’m working" light. Even when I could get a signal, it took far too long to lock my location, more than the five or six minutes that are socially appropriate to make two trackers, a PH and a game scout wait for you while you stare at some round electronic gizmo.


I was equally disappointed with a sample set of the (relatively) new Zeiss Victory10x45 laser rangefinding binocular.


The problem is that the red numbers that are displayed in the field of view are totally invisible in bright sunlight. I don’t mean "hard to see," I mean totally and completely "not there.


I called Zeiss’s Rich Moncrief and asked if perhaps I either didn’t understand the directions correctly or somehow I got a broken pair. "There’s nothing wrong and you didn’t misread the directions. Zeiss made a decision to not compromise the quality of the binocular’s image, and that means the distance indication is not as bright as it could be. A bright image quality is our first priority."


I understand that German hunters sit in tree stands overlooking grain fields and wait for roe deer to emerge at last light. It’s dark in the Black Forest, so a bright range finder isn’t necessary. But Africa is sunny and while dawn and dusk are important hunting times, the majority of shots are taken in daylight. I’m afraid the Victory 10x45 gets two thumbs down from me for African hunting.


I used my go-to range finder instead, which I'd luckily brought along. It’s a Leica 1200 monocular— simple to use, lightweight, compact. It was especially useful in the sitatunga blinds where it’s so hard to judge distance over open, flat ground. I’ve used the Leica on several safaris and it’s a winner. So much for all the shiny near gear on this trip. Tried and true won out this time.


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