We believe there is no greater recognition of a company’s quest for excellence than having a product touted as “best in class”—the standard by which all others are measured. And so it is with great honor that American Hunter again presents its annual best-in-class awards to firearms and gear that clearly rise above the rest. “We are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 Golden Bullseye Awards,” said Doug Hamlin, Executive Director of NRA Publications. “This year’s winners exemplify what NRA members want in their shooting and hunting equipment—outstanding performance, innovative design and value. A new category for 2015—the Women’s Innovation Product of the Year—highlights the importance of what has become the fastest-growing segment in the firearm marketplace. We congratulate those who have created the industry’s best new products and look forward to recognizing them at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Nashville.”
Rifle of the Year: DPMS GII Hunter
DPMS is a leader in large-receiver, .308 Win.-based AR hunting rifles, so the company’s introduction of its GII series last year was no surprise. Though it’s most certainly related to the AR-10, the GII is almost as small and light as an AR-15, thanks to a redesigned upper and lower and a new bolt carrier. In addition to .308 Win., the Hunter model is chambered for .243 Win., .260 Rem. and .338 Federal. It sports a 20-inch barrel, low-profile gas block and a free-floating, carbon-fiber fore-end. The integral rail atop the flattop upper is ready for an optic. Other features include an ambidextrous safety, Hogue OverMolded rubber grip, Magpul MOE Rifle fixed buttstock and two-stage trigger. Field Editor Bryce M. Towsley discovered outstanding accuracy and dependability while firing his test unit more than 1,000 times. Now, returning troops used to carrying our military’s M16s can hunt big game with a platform to which they are accustomed in calibers suitable for deer, elk and even moose.
Shotgun of the Year: Benelli Ethos
The Ethos has “enough modifications to the inertia-driven, rotating-bolt mechanism to make Super Black Eagle diehards want to send in their guns for retrofitting,” wrote Editorial Director John Zent. That’s high praise for innovation that includes redesigned bolt linkage that runs faster than other Benelli actions to cycle even low-power 12-gauge, 3-inch loads with aplomb. Hunters should appreciate the fact it is easier to load/unload than earlier Benelli semi-autos thanks to a beveled port, redesigned carrier parts and an easy-to-reach shell-release button. Its polymer Progressive Comfort system, hidden within the buttstock, contains interlocking teeth that flex under force like dovetailed springs to self-adjust to recoil. They weigh less than the wood they displace—and don’t shift balance rearward. Another beneficial feature: easy-swap buttpads to help anyone to find his or her proper length of pull. With all that going for it plus racy good looks and accuracy and dependability on par with any competition, it’s hard to find anything to dislike on the Ethos.
Optic of the Year: Bushnell Fusion 1 Mile ARC
Ignore the bulk of Bushnell’s Fusion 1 Mile ARC rangefinding binocular—that’s a tradeoff necessitated by cramming two capabilities into one instrument. “If you believe pretty is as pretty does, however, the Fusion is downright gorgeous,” wrote Field Editor Ron Spomer. He saw that the sharpness at the center of its field of view extends outward as far as can be expected of most upper-echelon units. He noted a bright LED produces readouts in half a second on targets from 15 yards to a whopping 1,843. Angle Range Compensation (ARC) switches between rifle, bow, scan, bullseye and brush. It’s user-adjustable to match a variety of rifle trajectory groups, and holdover solutions are displayed in inches, MOA or mils. Precision construction is mated to top-tier ingredients: phase-coated Bak4 roof prisms with 60-layer mirror coatings, multiple anti-reflection coatings on air-to-glass lens surfaces and Bushnell’s Rainguard HD coating. In his final analysis, Spomer lauded Bushnell for combining good glass and rangefinding capability without compromising either function in a unit that costs less than $2,000. Good job, Bushnell.
Ammo of the Year: .26 Nosler
It took “considerable nerve” to introduce something “intended to be the ultimate small-bore, long-range hunting cartridge,” wrote contributor Terry Wieland of the .26 Nosler. After all, no 6.5mm cartridge has enjoyed even modest success in the States (see: .256 Newton and .264 Win. Mag.). However, the .264 Win. Mag. failed mainly due to a combination of unsuitable bullets and inadequate powders, wrote Wieland. Today, the .26 Nosler enters a market with a variety of ultra-slow-burning powders widely available and bullet construction unheard of decades ago. It’s a modern, high-capacity rimless cartridge that measures 3.340 inches long to fit standard-length actions. Befitting its bore size, it features long bullets that buck wind and maintain velocity at long range. One of Nosler’s factory loads is a 140-grain Accubond. Its other is an entirely new bullet: a 129-grain AccuBond Long Range. With them, the company boasts “fast, flat and dead-on to 415 yards.” If the .26 Nosler doesn’t become the 6.5mm/.264 cartridge that finally gains popularity stateside, nothing will.
Gear of the Year: Huntworth Touch Tip Ranger Glove
Huntworth’s Ranger gloves are just the ticket for much of the hunting we do throughout the year. They provide solid base-layer insulation, water repellency and plenty of dexterity, too, thanks to a honeycomb fleece lining, stretch-fleece construction and a gusset system that provides full range of motion. Palms are coated with high-tack silicone for excellent purchase that isn’t too sticky and never wears thin—grip your gun or bow or treestand steps with confidence. Another benefit: The Touch Tip model is fitted with conductive index fingers and thumbs to enable smartphone operation without exposing digits to the elements. Fit is excellent, says Editorial Director John Zent, who’s used a pair of Rangers throughout the past year, including during a mountain goat hunt. “I’ve been impressed with them,” he says. “At first glance, I liked the feel of the Rangers’ high-tack palms and Touch Tip fingers but worried about durability. They surprised me: They survived my goat hunt and are still going strong.”
Vehicle of the Year: Chevy Colorado
The all-new Chevy Colorado is aimed squarely at urban/suburban dwellers who need a pickup but because of price or fuel mileage don’t want a full-size unit. Its 3.6L V-6 is a solid upgrade over its previous five-cylinder, delivering overall mileage of 20 mpg and dishing out 305 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque doing it. Go off-road in 4WD, tow your ATV, boat or camper with ease then take the vehicle downtown—the Colorado acts like a truck, except in traffic. Performance upgrades hunters will want include an automatically locking rear differential, downhill descent control and electronic trailer control. Inside, creature comforts make the Colorado feel like a luxury sedan—check out the touch screen with Wi-Fi, satellite radio, nav/weather/traffic advice and OnStar. DC connections and USB ports make for easy charging of most devices. The truck is even a hotspot: Within 150 feet your phone or laptop never lacks a connection. We think hunters could get used to life in a Colorado.
Women's Innovation Product of the Year: HSS Ladies Contour Harness
Supporting women as the fastest-growing segment of hunters, Hunter Safety System (HSS) answered the call for innovative products with its new-for-2014 Ladies Contour Vest-and-Harness System. As a hunter who scampers up trees on a regular basis, Senior Editor Karen Mehall Phillips field-tested it and immediately began blogging to tout its features as later noted in AH (“First Light,” November ’14). Designed for a woman’s form, the vest has three black Right-Fit stretch panels that trim bulk regardless of clothing for a contoured fit. Patented adjustment options keep it snug and comfortable while allowing mobility. At 2.5 pounds, it feels like a lightweight shirt! Included are stylish teal accent lines in front of the black panels, but even that was no afterthought as HSS surveyed female hunters on color preference. The vest sports a sliding, metal adjustment bar in between fabric layers for adjusting the internal straps before adjusting and securing the leg straps. It comes with a 1-inch Suspension Relief/Deer Drag strap, which ensures continued blood flow through your body in case of a fall as you simply step into it to remain upright, and it doubles as a hands-free deer drag. Adjust the strap to fit you and keep it handy in one of the two lined vest pockets. It’s Smart Fabrics are quiet and the rubber-coated leg buckles are strong but light. In putting safety first—a hallmark of the NRA—an HSS Lifeline keeps users connected to the tree when climbing, ideal as hunters often move in low light conditions. Last but not least, HSS skipped a bust strap in favor of a zippered-vest design. The “safety” zipper releases if pressured—unlike a standard zipper—and will not hinder your neckline. The Contour comes with a tree strap, lineman’s climbing strap and an instructional DVD. HSS thought of everything on this one!
Pioneer Award: Lewis Danielson
The winner of the 2015 Golden Bullseye Pioneer Award is Lewis Danielson, Chairman of the Board of Crimson Trace Corporation. Danielson’s company pioneered the firearm-mounted laser business, introduced the word “Lasergrips” into the lexicon of the shooting sports and remains the leader in its field. Where others tried and gave up on handgun-mounted lasers, Danielson saw the potential and persisted in the development of a working model with instinctive activation. After earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Oregon State University (which subsequently inducted him into its Engineering Hall of Fame), Danielson worked in the steel industry, then on agricultural machinery before moving on to engineering and prototype services. During the day, Danielson made parts for the aerospace industry; on nights and weekends he worked, often without pay, on an idea that would change the firearm industry. Crimson Trace started in 1994, and at his first NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits, Danielson and one other employee boldly manned a card table. That table was mobbed. As handgun design changed, so did Crimson Trace. While the M1911 and Ruger Mk II were ideally suited to Lasergrips, Danielson and his engineers devised ways to put Lasergrips on polymer-frame guns, then invented the innovative Laserguard that clamshells around a pistol’s trigger guard. Crimson Trace is also in the weaponlight business with its Lightguard series, and it has products for long guns as well, including the Railmaster series and MVF-515. Lew Danielson is a proud patriot, a man who steadfastly employs American workers and one with a strong passion for Second Amendment-protected freedoms. As is the case with all Crimson Trace employees, Lew is a staunch NRA member and a longtime supporter of the Association.