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Filson and Leupold, Two Great American Outdoor Firms

Time for a quick Thank You to two great outdoor products firms, Filson and Leupold.

Filson has been around since the 1890s Alaskan Gold Rush, providing rugged clothing to rugged men and women.

They use the best virgin wools, waxed cotton and canvas, brass fittings, bridle leather…this is super quality clothing that will never, ever wear out. Virgin wool is the washed wool right off the sheep, with super long fibers that hold warmth like a sheep would want, and it also wears like iron.

I have had the pleasure of owning many Filson sweaters, vests, socks, jackets, and canvas coats. They are made in America and of unsurpassed quality, especially in contrast to today’s mass produced Chinese junk.

Yes, they are more expensive than most clothing, but as soon as you wear them, you will agree they are worth every cent. Ten years later, when your garment has begun to show a bit of wear, you will be utterly amazed. In a world of built-in obsolescence, Filson’s is throwback, old-timey bomb-proof.

Just yesterday morning I was retrieving a live coyote I had trapped on a grapple (a drag that gets caught in brush). He had managed to go through a massive wall of brush made of multiflora rose, Japanese honeysuckle, Russian olive, Asian bittersweet vines, raspberry brambles, and other assorted sharp, pointy, and painful trash brush that is impossible for humans to get through.

At first I used a chainsaw to cut my way in close to the growling, barking, gnawing alpha male. Then, I went back to the truck and put on an old Filson “Tin Cloth” hunting jacket, turned my back to the brush, and began bulldozing my way backwards through it. The various sharp things just bounced off the coat and in seconds I was standing in front of the nest raider (I trap predators to save ground nesting birds and for no other purpose).

There isn’t a Carhartt or Dickey’s anywhere that can do that, nor a Barbour, either. The downside to Tin Cloth is that when it goes on cold, you feel like a medieval knight putting on his steel armor. It is pretty stiff. But as you move and it warms up from your body heat, it flexes easily, and is indestructible. The way around this is to put it near a stove, heating vent, or in a warm vehicle before putting in on.

Anyhow, Thank You to Filson’s for their incredible garments. Nothing else comes close.

Leupold is the other firm I have had such good fortune with.

Leupold has made scopes and binoculars in Washington State since the early 1900s, and to most hunters their scopes are a household name.

What is amazing about their firm is not just the high quality products, but the incredible customer service.

To wit, this past November I fell while bear hunting in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Falling flat on my face in the thick mountain laurel, my chest crashed into a bunch of laurel trunks. They stick up like pungi sticks. A pair of Leupold Mojave binoculars was harnessed to my chest, and they took the brunt of the fall.

The diopter setting control popped off, and although I was able to find it and more or less get it back on, it did not work.

So I sent it to Leupold and asked them to fix it.

Instead, Leupold sent me a brand new pair of their latest model, the Pro Guide HD. Shrink-wrapped in the box and all.

This new binocular is really just the culmination of a series of slight improvements and modifications to the now discontinued Cascades, Mojaves, and other mountain-name-themed models I cannot recall now. But think about that, a company takes something you broke and gives you a new one.

Buddy, THAT is customer service!

Yesterday while flintlock hunting in the afternoon at French Creek State Park with my friend George, we met another hunter who joined us. We ended up doing three-man deer drives through the western end of the park. This new fellow, Gary Yoder, had around his neck a nice pair of Leupold binoculars.

When I told him my story about the brand new Leupolds on my chest harness, he told me the same story! He, too, had broken his previous pair, sent them in for repair, and instead had received this upgraded new pair, new in the box.

Needless to say, we were both very impressed by Leupold’s dedication to their customers.

A note about the new Pro Guide HD 8x42s: These have high quality glass, excellent, really. Looking through Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, I do not see much of an improvement over this Leupold glass. When you look at the price difference, there is no comparison at all, because the German glass is two to four times the price of the Leupold and only slightly, marginally better in terms of clarity and crispness.

As good as the clarity is, all Leupold binoculars come with the worst and strangest eyepiece covers of all binoculars. While hunting in Scotland last October, I did a belly crawl up a hill to take a shot at a distant red stag. On my chest harness was that prior pair of Leupold binoculars. Behind me lay a trail of Leupold eyepiece covers, all of which came off and lay in different places in the bog. There has to be a way for Leupold to improve this one odd, inconsistent anomaly. Otherwise, their products are quite perfect and their customer service is even better than that.


Kudos to Filson clothing

Filson is a clothing manufacturer in Seattle, making pretty much the most basic American clothing styles for the past 130 years.

Little has changed in their styles or fabrics. Boring? Maybe.

Flannel and wool shirts, wool and canvas coats and pants, wool long underwear, leather boots with wool insulation, tote and carry bags and purses, every item is made in America of virgin wool or different weights of canvas.

One short phrase describes Filson products: Brutally tough.

Or, “Last a lifetime.”

In an era of cheap Chinese crap and Asian sweatshop “designer” clothes, Filson stands alone, or probably alone. I am a consumer of top-quality outdoor clothing, and I cannot think of another manufacturer who makes anything like Filson’s clothing line.

Oh, sure, there are plastic and Gore Tex outdoor clothes galore. Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Mountain Hard Wear, and others make some pretty good ones, which our family wears. Fleece coats, mountaineering parkas, super-sophisticated PhD plastic fiber clothes for the outdoor lifestyle. Some are married to goose down, which is genuinely warm.

But all of these synthetics catch on fire and turn the wearer into a large, running, screaming torch when exposed to flame. Or at the least they wilt, melt, smell very bad, and cease being useful when exposed to a camp fire hot enough to dry your damp undies and wet socks. In other words, the newfangled modern synthetics may weigh next to nothing and stop wind faster than a speeding bullet and locomotive, but they lack certain basic physical properties necessary to truly enjoy or survive the outdoors.

Wool and waxed heavy cotton canvas are nearly fireproof and can withstand tremendous force before tearing. Wool keeps the wearer warm even when wet. Yes, it is heavy compared to synthetics, but it is a lot quieter, actually it is silent, whereas even the best of synthetic fleece hunting clothes will leave a telltale “zip” sound when dragged across a sharp branch.

Filson forms a big part of my winter clothing selection. Mackinaw vests and coats of different colors and patterns form the core of the selection, and the double mackinaw coat in “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” red-and-black buffalo check plaid has kept me toasty warm in sub-zero temperatures day after day. This past week I wore the double mackinaw coat while flintlock hunting, and I never got cold. It was sub-zero every day.

Other wool clothes I wear are heavy camouflage Columbia hunting pants, Bass Pro Redhead heavy wool socks, Danner wool socks, knee-high SmartWool ski and hunting socks, and SmartWool long underwear. Yes, once in a while I break out the Eddie Bauer and Woolrich Adirondock plaid pants, jackets, and so on. They are real testaments to a world long gone, which dinosaurs like me cling to in misty eyed memories.

David Petzal is the gun writer for Field and Stream Magazine, and among many other witticisms and pithy one-liners, years ago he noted that all synthetic long underwear makes you smell like someone slaughtered a cow after a day, but wool long underwear can be worn for days without you or them being cleaned, and yet you don’t smell…too badly.

That’s the thing. Wool is natural. Like leather and fur, it is natural and fits the human body perfectly. We can sweat into wool for days on a hunt, and it just doesn’t smell bad. Oh, it may not smell fresh, but compared to the polypropylene synthetics, it does.

My Filson Mackinaw coat accompanies me on all my Adirondack wilderness hunts, serving as a blanket at night when the temperature inside the tent dips to 18 degrees. And yet after many years of being worn through thorn patches and rugged mountain brush, it shows zero signs of wear. That says it all.

Other favorites include the now discontinued styles of Tin Cloth logging jacket and Double Tin field coat, both of which I wear when hunting for small game in January and February, when thorns are a big part of the day. Some of these discontinued tin cloth coats have become collector’s items. Each one will last you your entire lifetime, and if you wax it at the end of the season, it will serve your kids, too.

So, kudos to Filson for making Best-quality, “old fashioned” clothing for a tech-happy generation. www.filson.com

Giant Food’s punishing self checkout

Does Giant have self checkout to punish its customers? To prove that loyalty takes a long time to undermine?

It’s miserably time consuming, it never works, it hangs up, people standing in multiple lines waiting for help from a single clerk. Giant thinks they’re saving a few pennies in labor cost. But the truth is that Giant is following a traditional path to failure.

By building up customer loyalty, and then giving them less and less, many businesses have milked quality, alienated customers, and then crashed.

Another sign of cheapness is Giant’s slow conversion of name brand foods for its own generic label. But I don’t want Giant’s mediocre quality food. I’m willing to pay for better quality.

Capitalism 101 says our family begins shopping at the Wegman’s on the West Shore.

Court testimony proves criticism of Corbett natural gas policy is partisan, unfair

If you have been following the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund lawsuit against the Commonwealth, over its natural gas policies on public lands, then you’ve no doubt been reading the testimony of former political appointees from the Pa Gov. Ed Rendell administration.

The lawsuit is being ably reported in the Patriot News.

Former DCNR secretaries DiBerardinis and Quigley have testified that their boss, Governor Ed Rendell, was the one who dropped the natural gas extraction bomb on the State Forests in his gluttonous rush to gain as much money as he could to fund his wild history-making over-spending.

I won’t bother to repeat their testimony here, but it is not pleasant.  They are not covering up for their former boss.  Instead, they are laying it all out there, describing how the public interest was subverted by greed and political malfeasance.  These are two good men, devoted to the public interest.  Kudos to them.

Here’s the thing: Rendell is a Democrat.

Here’s the thing: Then, and now, Rendell was not roundly criticized for his public land gas drilling policies by the very environmental groups who represent themselves to the public to be non-partisan, fair-minded, honest brokers on environmental policy and issues.

Instead, in extreme contrast, since even before his first day in office, Governor Tom Corbett has been vilified, excoriated, badmouthed, cussed, maligned, and blamed for everything that is wrong, and right, with the public policies he inherited from the Rendell Administration.

And this gets to the point here: A lot of the heat that is created around environmental policy issues is accompanied by very little light.  That is because most environmental issues are innately politicized, and partisan, before a valuable discussion about their merits can be had, in the public interest.

In other words, the by-now old narrative goes like this: Republicans always stink on green issues, and Democrats are always blameless little innocent blinking-eyed babes on environmental issues, even when they are wearing the red devil suit and sticking Satan’s trident deep into the public’s back.

In the interest of good policy, this partisanship must end.  The mainstream media, run by liberals, is only too happy to carry on this unfair, inaccurate narrative.  But conservatives can overcome that if only they will cease ceding the battlefield to the partisan groups who roam it at will.

Instead of cavalierly writing off everyone who cares about environmental quality as an “environmental whacko,” which is the standard conservative reaction, and it is wrong, recognize that environmental quality is important, but what is also important is how one goes about achieving that goal.  This critical policy nuance seems to be lost on most conservatives.

Also, call out the Statists/ Socialists who mis-use environmental policy as a means to achieve their larger Marxist goals of wealth redistribution.  These people are not ‘environmental whackos’, they are anti-American socialists who have hijacked an important issue and commandeered it to suit their larger purposes.

Want to win?  Want good government?  Want fair coverage of political issues?  Then fight back!  Meet these folks on their own battlefield, and defeat them using good policy that is grounded in science and public-interest goals.  The Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund lawsuit court room testimony is an excellent place to begin this fight.  It is loaded with ammunition in the interest of honesty, accuracy, and fairness.


What the heck is in EPA’s water?

Something bad is in the water the EPA staff are drinking in DC.  It is making them nuts.

EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency, a place I once worked, a job once fraught with much philosophical disagreement) has proposed new regulations on air and water that basically put the agency in charge of every breath you take and every glass of water you drink.  It is an unconstitutional power grab by regulation that flies in the face of existing law.

EPA now asserts control of every body of water in the country, and that includes farm ponds, man-made drainage ditches along your hunting camp road, little intermittent rivulets that run for a few days in the spring and winter and then sink into the ground all other times, etc.  It is a remarkable effort to control, control, and control Americans.  The stories now emanating from citizens clashing over this rule change with heavy-handed EPA staff are extraordinary.  What amazes everyone with a bit of knowledge of these issues is how little the new rules do to actually protect water quality.  In fact, they create incentives for private landowners to take matters into their own hands, before some bureaucrat shows up for a show down over an issue totally, completely outside the purview of federal government.

Of course, promoting centralized decision making and big government is what this is all about, not environmental quality.

Second issue: EPA’s new air regulations, basically putting a heavy damper on wood burning stoves.  Yes, it is true that EPA is trying to shut down America’s best source of sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, natural, native, cheap heat – firewood.  And firewood-burning stoves.

If you look at the new standards for wood burning stoves, the particulate emissions restrictions on new stoves are technically impossible to meet, and old stoves that are in stock are not grandfathered in; stove manufacturers might go out of business because they cannot sell off their existing wood stoves.

But like the water regulations, this is not about public health or air quality.  Rather, these new rules are about undermining those citizens who are most self-reliant, least dependent upon others, most off-the-grid.  You know, rural conservatives.

Even more than when I worked there, EPA has become a tool for inflicting harm on Americans, for advancing anti-American policies.  It is time to put this rabid animal out of its misery, and start over with a new agency that is devoid of the cultural residue that allows this sort of behavior to happen in the first place.  The role of government is to serve its citizens, not dominate them.

A brief, simple reminder

With the obvious flaws in the new religion of human-caused global warming/ global cooling/ climate change, way too many conservatives lump together all of the environmental issues and then dismiss them with equal carelessness.

Just a reminder: Clean air comes from nature’s natural processes, mostly from trees and other large plants that convert carbon dioxide to oxygen.

Another reminder: Clean fresh water comes from underground filtration through rock layers and sand, in undisturbed or otherwise healthy watersheds.

Both clean air and clean water are necessary for human life to continue as we know it. Both air and water are produced by free ecosystem services that nature perfected for a long time. Humans can kind of reproduce these processes mechanically, but they are energy-dependent and hard to maintain.

Yes, the whole global climate change religion thing is a political effort to shut down western civilization and transfer its wealth to authoritarian countries. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t real environmental quality problems. Fact is, humans pollute, and pollution needs to be resolved. Fouling our own nest is a sloppy, stupid thing to do. We don’t need to do it.

So quit lumping all environmental issues in with human – caused global climate change politics. Focus on the real, measurable problems and solve them. Ignoring them is foolish, and humans are not fools. Basic land and water conservation are necessary to keep people healthy.

Toyota: What the Hell Happened?

What the hell happened to Toyota?

Toyota was once the world’s flagship car and truck producer. Since my wife and I married over 20 years ago, except for one Subaru Forester, new Toyotas have been the only vehicles we have purchased. Overall we have been very happy with those purchases. Until now, when we joined a growing list of unhappy Toyota buyers.

A couple of years ago, Toyota experienced odd problems with cars taking off on their own, crashing, and killing the occupants. Some of those occupants can be heard crying, screaming, yelling to Toyota and 911 dispatchers as they unsuccessfully struggle to control their vehicle. Toyota sales plummeted. Significant inward analysis followed.

Enter the Toyota Tacoma, Toyota’s premier pickup truck. Tacomas have developed a loyal following, and an aftermarket add-on industry (bed extenders, cow pushers, roof racks, etc.) second to none. I myself owned a 2002 Tacoma for over eleven years and it performed flawlessly. It reinforced my brand loyalty.

But now, if you go on tacomaworld.com and other similar websites, you’ll see a growing chorus of buyer dissatisfaction. Tacomas apparently have been rushed to market without the kind of research and development necessary to work out the bugs. I myself can tell you my own very recent experience with the new Tacoma.

It has been a deeply disappointing experience. The brand new Tacoma I purchased is flawed, and despite four visits to Faulkner Toyota (the first within days of driving it off the lot) to have it fixed, the problem persists. The truck is not merchantable. It should not be in the channels of trade, and yet here I am, another unhappy Toyota Tacoma owner.

Attempts to get customer satisfaction have resulted in arguments, outright lies by Toyota dealer employees, vague promises to fix the truck over the next month. A month? It has already spent nearly as much time at the dealership as it has spent in my own possession, and another month is said to be needed to possibly resolve to the problem. May I say that I paid cash for the truck, and I perhaps unreasonably expect a brand new vehicle to perform flawlessly.

So here we go, watching Toyota self-destruct its last remaining stalwart vehicle. Very sad. Very sad, indeed. What happened at Toyota? No one seems to know.

For me, the Nissan Frontier is looking like my likely next pickup truck. On Consumer Reports it ranks much higher than the Tacoma with owner satisfaction. To Toyota, my lemon purchase is but one small statistic. To me, this experience is practically a change in lifestyle.

Ultimate Prosaic: What The Heck Happened to American Made Hunting Boots?

America made the best hunting boots, a fact known as surely as Einstein was the smartest person ever and Raquel Welch was the hottest babe, ever.

Until now. Now, hunting boots by even the most storied makers like Danner and Irish Setter are made in….where else…China.

Call me confused, but let me ask you, Are the Chinese big on hunting? Do they know how to hunt, what to wear hunting, are they gear hounds, etc. ? My sense, apparently now shared by a lot of other American hunters and outdoorsmen, is that the Chinese really do not know hunting or hunting boots. In fact, the Chinese suck at hunting (although I once watched a video of Chinese soldiers happily picking off gentle, unarmed Tibetans who were walking through the Himalayan snows to escape their China-occupied country, so I guess the Chinese are good at murdering, but that’s unrelated to hunting), if their products are any indication.

The proof that the Chinese stink badly at hunting is that they keep on manufacturing hunting boots, and the hunting boots keep on getting returned by increasingly surly buyers. Label says waterproof. Wallet says you just paid $200 for high quality, waterproof boots. Your wet feet say “These ain’t waterproof.” And back to the store they go.

Some guys (and ladies, too), are returning three pairs of the same model before they give up on either that model or on the entire brand. A lot of people seem to be migrating toward spending no less than $300, and easily up to $375, on a pair of hunting boots that they know will not fail them when they are alone, a long, long way from civilization, and dependent on their footwear to get them around and back home at the end.

Does three hundred and fifty bucks sound like a lot of money for hunting boots to you? Holy smokes, it sounds like a lot of money to me. A pair of fancy dress shoes by the best makers rarely go for that amount, even on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Something is afoot here, friends, and it is not pretty.

On the one hand, a lot of hunters are kvetching about their low-quality boots online and in product reviews. So hunting as a sport is clearly taking a hit. On the other hand, Chinese boot manufacturers are hazing hunters, forcing many of them to spend a small fortune on the only American-made hunting boots, thereby restoring comfort to their feet and honor to our crumbling nation. I am at that point myself, having purchased, worn, and returned several expensive pairs of boots by the most storied names in boot making history.

The question is, with boots this expensive, are guys going to begin comparing boots at camp? That will make me feel quite uncomfortable. The last thing I want is to be associated with effete city slicker behavior. It’s like pollution in a pristine environment. It’s a Chinese plot to destroy hunting, one way or another. God help us.