By Jeff Murray
-- Hunters looking for cool gifts to give (or receive) often fall prey to last-minute decisions and trite point-of-purchase displays. Do everyone a favor and look for this year's hottest gear ahead of time. For the budget-minded, here are some of the best options:
* All dedicated deer hunters need a trusty wind detector. I had a chance to test the Pro's Wind Gauge from The Sportsman's Edge ($7). Its proprietary suspended particles seemed to defy gravity, hanging like fog to catch the slightest wind currents and thermals. Expect about 3,500 "puffs" per bottle. (phone: 406-273-0677)
* Winchester's 270 Series Shooting Glasses from Jackson Safety (I like orange for contrast, yellow for low light) can be had for only $12 (800-238-7120).
* If you've ever had a treestand stolen, you'll really appreciate the Stand Guardian ($30) from Fool Moon Press (www.standguardian.com; 800-449-6645). It's about 4 times thicker than standard cable locks (one inch!), comes with 3 keys and is coated with a techy polycarbonate finish.
* The Fat Factor ($10) isn't the food lure that it appears to be at first blush. Though it's laced with an alluring scent (choose from apple, peanut and vanilla nut) to attract deer, its 22 percent fat content is what keeps the deer coming and coming and coming. Simply spray Fat Factor on anything deer like to eat - from browse near your treestand to the corner of a food plot - and sooner or later deer will hone in on it. The Fat Factor Deer Lick (open bottle, hang upside down) is a great complement to the original formula. This stuff really works: I field-tested a prototype potion last fall. (www.fatfactor.net; 800-955-6380)
* The "world's smallest, brightest flashlight" could very well be the Key-Mate, a 1-ounce, single LED from Streamlight ($15). Features of this 2 1/3-inch mighty mite cover the gamut: unique reflector optics increase range up to 400 percent over conventional penlights; attaches to anything with a clip; 96 hours run time; water resistant O-ring; powered by alkaline button cells (included); and 100,000-hour lifetime LED. The white LED produces 10 lumens of power, and the Realtree Camo model (green LED) is rated at 2.6 lumens. (streamlight.com; 800-523-7488)
* The Gear Keeper ($20-$32), a retractable gear attachment device, conveniently stores hand-sized accessories at arm's length. Different tensions are designed for different accessories with different weights. (www.gearkeeper.com; 805-658-9922)
* The 4 -in-1 Scrapemaker looks like one of those "what will hunters think of next" products. But you'll change your tune when you realize that it takes a sharp knife, a whittled stick and maybe a machete to make authentic-looking mock scrapes and mock rubs. This kit has it all - scents plus an injection-molded scrape/rub "tool" to get the job done in seconds. It even leaves an unmistakable buck spore print in your mock scrape! (1-888-572-7273)
* Browning markets more than 100 knife models and is introducing a fistful of new designs for '07. An intriguing concept is the titanium-coated Mountain Ti ($20). Made from 440-A stainless steel, it sports a handsome two-tone 420Jt gray handle, a pocket clip and ambidextrous thumb stud. (www.browning.com; 800-333-3288)
* I consider myself an accomplished chef of wild game, especially venison. But I'm in no mood to slave over a hot stove after an all-day hunt. Enter Stoney Wolf's Game Gourmet, a complete "dinner in a box." Each packet ($7) contains all the ingredients necessary for a succulent meal. What's more, there's absolutely no mess to clean up - included is a plastic bag where the cuts cook inside. Simply place the bag in a roaster and bake for 3 hours at 325 degrees. (You can add chopped carrots and onions, if you wish). The lineup also includes a Soups & Steaks, Ducks & Geese and Upland Game version. (www.stoneywolf.com; 800-237-7583)
* If you want to grill it after you killed it, you'll definitely want a Jaccard; the ideal model for deer and big game is the SB45 with stainless-steel columns ($40). Its scalpel-sharp blades tenderize most any cut and also allow marinades to work their magic deeply into the meat. (www.jaccard.com; 866) 478-7373)
* An old secret for making boots custom-comfortable is an orthodic footbed. The folks at the Heat Factory now market one that adds warmth to comfort: Superfeet technology insoles accept charcoal foot warmers. (www.heatfactory.com; 800-993-HEAT)
* G5 Outdoors' new META Peep, made from magnesium, is one-third lighter than conventional aluminum peeps, meaning it could add 2 to 5 feet per second to your arrow velocity. Check out the 1/4-inch and the brand new 5/16-inch-diameter peeps for exceptional low-light performance. (www.G5outdoors.com; 866-456-8836)
* Can't find your treestand in the dark? Hang an LED Lazerstik from Essential Gear, and you'll be able to see it from a distance of up to 1,500 feet. Expect 50 hours of continuous use. White, red, blue and yellow lights are available. (www.EssentialGear.com; 413-722-8984)
* The Lumenok ($25/3-pack) from Burt Coyote is a lighted arrow nock that helps dial in arrow impact to give bowhunters a leg up on arrow retrieval and tracking deer. Now a complete line fitting all carbon arrows - including the latest thin-diameter, thick-walled Easton, Beman and Carbon Impact models - is available. (www.lumenok.com; 309-358-1602)
* The E/Z Up Treestand Pulley System ($20) from Pine Ridge Archery is a godsend for hanging a portable treestand. It not only lightens the load, it suspends the entire weight of the stand as you secure it to your tree. Leave it in place when you hunt from the stand, and you can haul a heavy backpack and a bow or gun at the same time with half the effort. Comes with 50 feet of rope. (www.pineridgearchery.com; 877-746-7434)
* Buzz Off Apparel, from Mad Dog, has become a big hit among early season and Southern whitetailers who must deal with skeeters when they're at their worst. Now available is a Buzz Off Boonie hat ($20) and a Buzz Off Bandana ($15). (When you get down to it, the head and neck area are most vulnerable.) (www.maddoggear.com; 320-252-1642)
* The Broadhead Box ($7) from Packer Creek can help solve broadhead storage problems, especially on out-of-state bowhunts: the foam-lined compact box even stores odd-shaped mechanical designs. (www.packercreek.com; 406-471-3991)
* ThermalFeet ($25) is designed to wear over your boots while storing any brand of heat pack. ThermalFeet are guaranteed to keep your feet warm, regardless of boot design. One size fits most. (www.thermalline.com; 636-294-0370).
* Here's a decoy that's realistic, easy to store and transport, and least likely to spook the wariest of bucks: Renzo's photo-finish Feeder Doe ($35). It even has a "slot" for the tail. (www.renzosdecoys.com; 800-583-5416)
* The folks at BlueStar have been helping hunters recover wounded deer for several years. To improve shelf life and make life easier on blood-trailers, BlueStar is marketing a compact kit ($20). It contains four pairs of tablets, which make enough solution for a serious trailing session; just add 16 ounces of water. (www.bluestar-hunting.com; 877-948-7827)
* The PolarX is a poor man's body suit ($30-45) that works on the principle of regenerating the body's internally warmed breath. Choose from among a variety of fleece facemasks and balaclavas that are less cumbersome than first-generation heat exchange technology. And for those wearing glasses, an anti-fog accessory ($5) is available to enhance fit and comfort. (www.psolar.com; 303-463-7500)
* Tired of starting out a morning with cold, damp boots? It's a fact: dry boots are 25 times warmer than wet ones. The original DryGuy ($90) is certainly a prudent investment, but for tightwads the ShoeDry ($40) and the Circulator model ($30) merit full consideration. (www.dryguy.net; 888-330-9452)
* Need camo tape? Rifle, shotgun and muzzleloader hunters should hide their shiny firearms and protect them from inclement weather. And bowhunters should disguise their gear and accessories to the max. Camo Form from the McNett Corporation is a stretch latex tape that clings to itself, not the object, and doesn't leave a sticky residue. It's reusable for extra applications, is waterproof, weatherproof and quite durable. Ten camo patterns, including snow, are available. (www.mcnett.com; 360-671-2227)
* Establishing a nutritious food plot wherever water is scarce will be a lot easier, thanks to Whitetail Select's new Severe Sand & Drought formula ($45 for 4 pounds). Independent tests conducted at Michigan State University revealed that Whitetail Select varieties out-performed five rivals in terms yield (tons per acre) and quality (lowest in ADF and NDF fiber). (www.whitetailselect.com; 888-826-3849)
* The Butt Out ($10) from Hunter's Specialties makes the chore of gut-removal much less messy - this handy tool is designed to remove the anal vent and rectal canal to prevent feces and urine contamination of choice rump meat. (www.hunterspec.com; 800-728-0321)
* Tired of day-after-day sandwiches on stand (double-trouble for the gluten-intolerant crowd)? Bring a Thermos of hot water and enjoy a complete meal: Oregon Freeze Dry, world-renowned for its Mountain House self-contained meals, adds two new dishes to its extensive lineup: Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice and Mexican Style Chicken with Rice ($5.30 each); for your sweet tooth, consider Organic Freeze Dried Fruit Snacks and Bite-size Ice Cream Pieces ($4, $2 respectively). (www.mountainhouse.com; 877-366-8377)
* Editor's note: Product prices, where mentioned, are anticipated retail "street" prices.