By Jay Pinsky
Some people think Virginia is the south. I reckon it is to northerners, but to those of you in the deep south, Virginia may as well be Maine.
Ok, maybe not Maine, but the point is the deep south is different. The people are different, the geography is diverse, and the deer are different.
How so? Well, some Alabama deer are a bit more romantic, seeing how they like to hold their rut around Valentine's Day in February. That's at least what the plan is and has been for years for the deer around Banks, Alabama, where I hunted with Racknine Outdoors.
So, why is the rut so late? Well, Alabama's rut periods vary based on the map, literally, and can range from early November or as late as February. Why? One of the biggest reasons can be attributed to deer genetics. You see, deer in Alabama aren't all related. Many of them are transplanted from a massive restocking program Alabama did in the late 20th century. Alabama used deer from all over the United States, and those deer brought their rut characteristics. The deer I hunted in Banks, Alabama, most likely are descendants of the southwestern Alabama deer. Their rut, which is the predominant one for Alabama, runs much later in January and runs through February. But wait, there's more; Alabama's rut doesn't fit into a textbook two-week cycle like so many Americans are used to. Nope, down in Alabama, they have what the locals call a trickle rut where it comes in and goes out numerous times. Several factors contribute to a trickle rut, including an unbalanced buck-to-doe ratio for the herds, hunting pressure, and weather.
There's a lot more science to know to fully understand Alabama's unique rutting habits, but the bottom line for me was I got to hunt whitetails during the peak of the rut in February. Happy Valentine's Day to me!
My February trip was sponsored by Mossberg. I took a Mossberg Patriot Predator in the Cerakote/Strata Camo pattern chambered in the ultra-modern 6.5 PRC. I'd like to tell you all about why I chose Hornady's ultra-fast 6.5 cartridge by bragging about its superior ballistics, modern case design, and superb accuracy. Still, the truth of the matter is I asked for a cartridge I already had ammunition for because getting ammunition these days is the most challenging trophy hunt any of us hunters have. I had four boxes of HSM's superb 140 grain Berger VLD hunting ammo on my shelf, so that's what I asked Mossberg for, and they were able to send me one. I topped the super light and smooth bolt-action rifle with GPO-USA's new Spectra Series 1.5-9x32i riflescope.
Contrary to popular belief, a small, fast, and well-balanced riflescope isn't a handicap on an ultra-modern rifle. In fact, it's a balanced match in Heaven because I didn't have to mount the scope high to accommodate a huge 50mm objective. The Patriot Predator comes threaded, so I was finally able to use my freshly tax-stamped CZ-USA 7.62 Ti suppressor.
So, how does the Mossberg Patriot Predator shoot? It's great. I only had one brand of ammo to test and sight it in with, so my review is limited. But I know all of you understand just how hard it is for us to find and keep ammunition these days. The HSM Berger 140 grain VLD bullets grouped well under an inch with the suppressor installed on the rifle and paired with the GPO-USA Spectra 1.5-9x32i optic. Once I zeroed the rifle, I shot two groups of five shots to verify my zero, and I saved the rest for Alabama. Noteworthy comments about the Mossberg rifle are how simple and mechanical it is. Everything worked well and deliberately. I enjoyed Mossberg's LBA Adjustable Trigger the most and would compare it in look and feel to Savage's Accutrigger. My only "meh" comment about the rifle was that I found the grip on the synthetic stock was a bit narrow for my tastes. The Cerakote finish and synthetic stock would later prove ideal for what turned into a very wet hunt.
After a few years of brutal and disappointing experiences with hunt brokers, I decided to test my luck with Bookyourhunt.com. No one directed me to use them, nor was I sponsored, paid, or leveraged to use them. I just wanted to hunt, and my internet search led me to them, and I tried it. It was the smoothest, most reliable, and most transparent hunt booking process I have ever used, and I highly recommend anyone at least visit Booktyourhunt.com. I was able to find lots of hunts for the animal I wanted when I wanted it, and where. All of the guides and outfitters have real reviews, and you can compare them.
My research on Bookyourhunt.com led me to Racknine Outdoors. The reviews were good. I could see who my guides were, and I saw many reviews from hunters who were both prosperous and not successful, and no one had anything wrong to say. I sent an email to ask a few questions, and Racknine Outdoors responded within hours. Racknine Outdoors began guiding me while I was in Virginia by bringing the right gear, the proper licenses and tags, and the right attitude to be successful in Alabama. I eventually learned that I was talking to one of Racknine's two owners, Stephanie Ferguson, and I half-jokingly asked if I could get some collard greens and sweet tea while I was down there since I grew up in the south and missed it. Guess what, when I got to Racknine Outdoors, she had both waiting for me. The other owner, Terry Garrett, takes great pride in the family-style atmosphere at Racknine Outdoors, and that's exactly how I felt there. In my review of their service, I think I wrote that Racknine Outdoors isn't an outfitter but a family who likes to hunt and treats you like a guest. I think you get the point. These are good folks.
Now, good folks, fine food, and dependable accommodations are all well and good, but I was there to hunt deer, not chow down on collard greens and as good as Terry's cooking was, his deer hunting skills are better.
Terry paired me with fellow southerner and head guide Ryan Elfid. I saw deer every time I went out, and I saw bucks every day. On the second day of a three-day hunt, I saw a shooter buck but could never get a clean, ethical shot on the nose-to-ground rutting buck. I was allowed to take one buck and one doe. Racknine wants its hunters to shoot 8-pointers or better but more than points; what they want and coach their hunters to judge is a deer's age. This buck was young, and the first two days, I saw several spikes, does, and button bucks. As the sun began to set on my last day of hunting, I thought I'd go home empty-handed.
It rained most of the time I was in Alabama, and it was cold. 30 degrees in 80-100 percent humidity isn't any fun. My First Lite Chamberlin Down jacket was warm, quiet, and durable. It was worth every penny I paid. While it never rained hard enough to worry the deer, it certainly dampened my spirits as I wondered if and when Id ever get a chance to see how a 6.5 PRC worked on deer. The rifle got wet and stayed wet during my hunts. I always cleaned it off after I got back to the lodge, but I also didn't worry too much about the rifle because Cerekote handles moisture well.
During the last evening sit of my hunt with Racknine Outdoors, I sat in a covered shoothouse near a small pond. Ryan and Terry both told me the deer can come from anywhere, but most parks would probably come to my right and be patient if the younger guys came in. Their scouting told them big bucks were in the area.
The rain got worse. It sounded cool in the woods, especially since I wasn't getting wet, but I was well past the romance stage of hunting in the deep south. I wanted a buck. It got darker. Sunset was at 5:22 p.m., and before I knew it, sunset arrived, and my deer didn't.
Now, like most places, Alabama's legal shooting light laws give me another 30 minutes after sunset. As it would turn out, I'd need every last second. So, I still technically had time, but it was getting pretty dark. Thank goodness I had some world-class optics. I used the GPO-USA RangeGuide 2800 10x50mm range-finding binoculars to scan the heavy brush around me. I could see quite well through the glass despite the heavy canopy cover, rain, and sunset. When a mature doe walked out in view with about five minutes left of legal shooting light, I saw her cleanly. I instantly switched to my rifle scope and, without losing any visibility, found and quickly anchored her with one shot at 65 yards.
No buck. But the Mossberg had spoken, and I had a nice-sized doe to donate to the local community church food bank.
Then another doe came out. I couldn't shoot her because my tag was full, so I watched her. She spooked, and I wondered why. Then a larger doe came in, and she brought her boyfriend. As soon as I saw his rack, I knew he was a shooter for the area. Was he massive? No. But, man, was he unique. Then with my crosshairs waiting for his chest to clear the pine tree covering him, I waited. Just one more step …
Boom. Two deer. An eight-point buck with as unique a set of antlers as I have ever seen and a doe both fell to the Mossberg Patriot Predator chambered in 6.5 PRC within five minutes of each other and right at the end of legal shooting light. There's no doubt in my mind that the optics I used had the most to do with me being successful under less-than-ideal conditions. Like I said, it was raining pretty hard, and I was in heavy cover, and it was several minutes past sunset. The GPO-USA optics not only enabled me to spot the deer but cleanly identify them and take good, clean, ethical shots. I don't know what else you need your optics to do. The rifle, ammo, suppressor, and optics all worked precisely as they should, when they should. The outfitter and guide put me on the deer daily, and I finally connected.
Read on to learn more about the optics I used as I interviewed GPO-USA’s Mike Jensen about his products.
A Conversation with GPO-USA’s Mike Jensen
I recently had the opportunity to take GPO-USA’s new Spectra 1.5-9x32i riflescope and their RangeGuide 2800 10X50mm range-finding binoculars on a Mossberg-sponsored hunt for whitetails in Alabama. Optics made a huge difference on this hunt due to the weather and limited light shooting opportunities, which I touched on in the story.
1. What motivated GPO-USA to introduce the Spectra line of riflescopes?
Riflescopes are competitive, and the market is saturated. Customers want more bang for their buck, more features and with technology advancements, every company has to keep innovation alive and fresh. The GPO riflescope line needed additional sku's, more features, more value to meet more customer demands, so the Spectra line was born. The company also needed to add reticles and turret features that were missing from the original lineup.
2. Why did you choose to go with a smaller, lighter riflescope for hunters when so many other manufacturers are making bigger and heavier scopes?
The Spectra line is fairly broad, with scopes small to large. We do offer the high magnification big scopes also. Yes, the market is moving bigger and heavier, but it is also forgetting about all those hunters who don't want big and heavy, who don't need big and heavy, but who want high technology modern smaller scopes. Our research told us that there was a gap in the offerings from brands to keep a compact scope, with high zoom features, illuminated reticles available. The current compact scopes were mostly older technology. We therefore made sure that we included a lower power sub-compact scope in the new product offerings. It has been welcomed by our customers with open arms.
3. Does a hunter who chooses a smaller scope, like the 1.5-9x32imm lose a lot of light gathering ability and optical quality versus a similar scope that’s a 40mm or even a 50mm? What does a hunter give up and gain with this series of scope?
There is this fallacy in optics that optics "gather" light. Technically this is incorrect... quality optics "transmit" light. A quality Spectra scope 1.5-9x32i is transmitting the exact same amount of light through the optical system as a new Spectra 3-15x56i. You don't need a big 56mm objective lens to have a high transmission low light scope. Big objectives only help at high magnification. So, what you sacrifice with a smaller objective scope is actually exit pupil.
All optics create an exit beam of light that exits the optic and enters your eye. This light beam diameter is called exit pupil, and the diameter size of this beam of light is normally a mathematical equation, the objective lens diameter divided by the magnification. For example, a 1.5-9x32 riflescope normally has a 21mm beam of light at 1.5X (32/1.5) and it has a 3.5mm beam of light at 9X (32/9). The larger the objective, the larger the beam of light if the magnification is the same. What's important is how large your eye pupil is dilated based on the current light conditions. On a bright day, your pupil is small, and in the dark, your pupil is open (actually asking for more light). If an optic is creating a beam of light larger than your actual pupil, then the light can't enter your eye anyway. Human pupils’ range in size based on current light conditions between 1mm (a bright day and older eyes) to 8mm (seeing in the dark and younger eyes). The bottom line here is that a small objective scope is not sacrificing light, it is sacrificing the exit pupil diameter beam of light, but this only comes into play if you are using a small objective scope at high magnification in low light.
The only advantage a larger objective scope gives you in normal light conditions (when you eye pupil isn't big anyway), is resolution - the sharpness of the center image. Optics bend light, and they bend more light at the outer edges of the glass to create an optical image. Always, the BEST sharpest part of the optical image (what you are looking at) is the center of the image. A larger objective lens will create better center resolution, because the image that is created from a larger center piece of glass on the front of the scope has to do less work to build the optical picture.
4. Why should a hunter use a set of binoculars with a built-in rangefinder?
Bottom line, you minimize the equipment you have to carry, or the number of pieces of equipment that might fail.
5. Optically and mechanically what are some of the thing’s hunters need to understand about range-finding binoculars so that they can have the best of both worlds optically and with ranging?
All range-finding binoculars sacrifice light transmission due to the splitting of the optical image to display a reading inside. Every brand will admit this, every brand does (or should) show this in their technical specifications. A premium 10x42 binocular will transmit more light than a same brand 10x42 RF bino. GPO chose a different path. We understand that most range-finding binos are 10x42's, and we also would have had a light transmission reduction if we made a 10x42 RF bino in our premium line. We got creative and chose to make a 10x50RF bino, but to build it on a 10x42 frame. This gives you a larger exit pupil beam of light to compensate for the light reduction created from the image split. So optically, a 50mm RF bino (RANGEGUIDE) offers a better option for what you lose with 42mm optics.
Mechanically, RF binos have more features to learn, but most people will pick up on these added tools quickly. Mechanically, you can end up with a great binocular, that when needed will display your range, calculate angle, laser targets in poor weather conditions... all at very far distances. If you are using a 10x42, or 10x50, and a separate rangefinder, it will make sense to combine them.
6. Are there situations where you would recommend a rangefinder and binoculars be separate? When should they be combined?
There are several reasons to keep your rangefinder and binoculars on separate platforms.
1. If you are using and carrying a high magnification binocular that you use on a tripod for long range glassing, you want a separate rangefinder. This minimizes the size and weight of carrying a second pair of bino-rangefinders.
2. If you are a bowhunter and you carry a very compact pair of binos, then you need a separate rangefinder for yardage calculations since there is not a quality compact rangefinder binocular product on the market - yet :-).
3. However, if you are using a standard 10x42 or 10x50 for most or all your hunting, and carrying a rangefinder, there is no reason to separate your devices. Combining them will make sense.