Calling fishing a hobby is like calling brain surgery a job.” While my brain apparently isn’t working well enough to remember who penned that gem, I still agree with it and would even expand the metaphor to include hunting. After all, a hobby is something you do in your free time; the outdoors is something you just do – a lot. We dream about trips, obsess over tackle and spend the time when we can’t be involved wishing that we could. The tangible manifestation of all this passion is our gear and anybody that has been a outdoorsmen for very long has a ton of it and likely wishes they had more.

As my gear collection has expanded over the last 30 years, I have noticed that specialization has become more pronounced. Each piece of equipment has a specific purpose with very few, say, “general use” items in the line-up. It makes sense, too; as our skill level and experience grows, so too does our ability to take advantage of performance benefits afforded by specialized gear.

It’s like this; if a kid that learned to drive in a Corolla last week is suddenly driving in a Ferrari, it is highly unlikely that kid could coax even a hint of the car’s performance potential out of it, probably wouldn’t even know what to feel for and therefor, wouldn’t get much value out of the Italian supercar. However, after a few years of driving a variety of cars with increasing performance characteristics, our kid will slowly grow to get more out each car, learn what characteristics they enjoy and that inspire confidence and will generally get more of his money’s worth out of the driving experience. With increased driving skill and experience, the Ferrari becomes a better value.

High quality, specialized outdoor gear is exactly the same as the Ferrari, only cheaper.

Confidence is the single most important key to success in outdoor pursuits. Quality, purpose-built gear, inspires it. When every component in my lure presentation is spot-on, I feel it and fish with confidence. It starts with the lure chosen for the conditions, which then dictates the line type and size to be used. The lure/line combo is paired with the appropriate rod in terms of length, power and action and that in turn is paired with a reel with the right retrieve speed. When it all comes together to feel “right” based on my experience, I fish better.

Same with a deer rifle and as I’m currently setting up a new gun to be my long-term companion in the field, I’ve really considered every aspect of performance that I desire out of it. Since I’ve been hunting deer my entire life and hunt similar terrain all the time, I have a pretty good idea of what I need from the gun. I know the size and structure of my quarry, the playing field characteristics, my own hunting style and shooting tendencies and what generally feels right in my hand. So, I’m taking the same track as with the lure presentation I broke down above, meaning it starts with the bullet performance.

I desired an extremely flat shooting round first and foremost, not because I’m jumping on the long-range shooting bandwagon, rather because I want to be able to shoot zero to 500 yards without too much consideration of bullet drop. That same bullet speed will reduce wind drift significantly, which is a definite advantage in the open country I hunt. The reduced drop and drift allows me to shoot faster with less calculations. Since I sometimes “jump shoot” deer bedded in very tight coulees, I need a gun that swings like a shotgun, topped with low power scope with forgiving eye relief and a bullet that holds up to penetrate at weird angles and close ranges. Overall, the gun must be light enough to carry many miles, yet heavy enough to be stable for longer shots, balance well in hand and durable to all weather conditions.

I purchased a composite stocked Browning X-Bolt in .26 Nosler – just about the flattest round out there. The rifle is long and balanced, so it swings great and has a muzzle brake, so I don’t develop a flinch. I settled on Doubletap Ammo’s semi-custom load; a 127 grain Barnes solid copper bullet leaving the muzzle at 3,625 FPS that flies great in the wind, penetrates deeply at any angle and hits with more than 3,200 foot pounds of energy at 100 yards. With the right zero point, I can hold center-body on deer-sized game out to 400 yards and it’s only 14” low at 500 yards; very manageable without “dialing” or major hold over. Lastly, the Steiner GS3 scope is simple and durable, has a huge eye box for quick shots and 3-15X to cover my full range of yardages. Based on my last 15-years hunting this area, I now have the perfect deer gun for it.

Is this a specialized rifle for MY hunting style and terrain? Yep. After a summer of practice with it, will I go afield with supreme confidence? You know it! Same with each rod and reel combo I put together. Next time you start to consider new tackle, seriously look at each performance trait you desire and choose your purchases based on that consideration, your skill-set and then practice with it. I know you’ll find your time afield filled with confidence if you do!