Time once again for the annual All Outdoors Christmas Gift shopping list, providing guidance and suggestions for family and friends who want to put something practical and useful under the tree for their favorite sportsman.
As I sit in blinds, tree stands, on fallen logs and cold stone walls during the hunting season or paddle around in canoes and kayaks all summer I try to think of things I’d like to have to make my outdoor experience more enjoyable. In most cases the best gifts for sportsmen are easy to acquire and ridiculously affordable. For example, a Maine resident hunting or fishing license renewal can be purchased online for about $26. Options vary all the way up to several hundred dollars for a lifetime license, but generally you can give your sport a year’s worth of outdoor fun for less than the price of a tank of gas. All hunters and fishermen over the age of 16 must have a valid license, and every one of them would appreciate seeing a new 2018 license clipped to the Christmas tree.
Believe it or not there are all sorts of useful gifts for sportsmen that cost under $15. Wool-blend socks are always appreciated, as are chemical hand warmers, gloves, face masks and hats. This year I noticed that the temperatures were quite cool at daybreak and then warmed up significantly around noontime, so I ended up bringing two hats with me. A traditional baseball-style orange hat is great for walking around or sitting in warm temperatures, but I also bring a knit wool hat for sitting on the ground or in tree stands because they are much warmer. Another good reason is that ball caps have a long, wide bill that deer can see for quite a distance; every time the hunter moves his head the bill turns with him, practically waving at the whitetail that may be 100 yards away or more. The knit hat has no brim and so a hunter can turn his head and not give away his position as he watches and listens for approaching game. Most of these hats sell for less than $10, and purchasing one of each would not be considered bad form.
Two of the worst weather conditions are wind and rain, and when they arrive in tandem most hunters head for home. However, I have found that if I carry a lightweight, waterproof windbreaker and pants into the woods I can stay on the job throughout the day without getting soaked. A good set of wind- and rain-proof gear will cost about $100, more if you go for name-brand items, but with minimal care a rain suit will last five years or more.
I am especially fond of spending the entire day in the woods, which means I’ll be heading out before dawn and leaving well after sunset. This means I’ll be walking around the woods in the dark, not the safest thing to do when everyone in the woods is looking for deer and has a loaded gun in their hands. Last year we had three shooting accidents which could have been prevented for the price of a small headband flashlight. These cost about $30 (more if you want name-brand recognition) but are priceless on those dark, stormy days when visibility is poor and even hunter orange clothing blends in with the foliage. I wear my headlamp into and out of the woods every day – one can hardly say, “It looked like a deer,” when it has a headlight attached to it!
There are many other small but important items a Maine sportsman would love to see under the tree, but when all else fails a gift card from his favorite sporting goods store will do the trick. This way he can buy exactly what he wants and needs because, let’s face it, most adult hunters and fishermen have more stuff than they can possibly use – may as well let them decide what is lacking or missing from their outdoor kit.
The same goes for outdoor clothing, which these days has become pricey enough that the sport should be the one deciding what he is going to wear while hunting or fishing next season. Gift cards win out in this category as well because there are issues of size, fit, function and fashion that only the sportsman can understand or appreciate. Deer season will be nearly over by the time this column is delivered to your home, but there is still plenty of ice-fishing, rabbit hunting, snowshoeing and other outdoor sports to enjoy in the coming months.
Higher up the financial ladder comes rifles, shotguns, fishing gear, canoes, kayaks, boats, motors and a bewildering array of associated accessories that can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Anything in this category should be up for discussion simply because most sportsmen know what they want and would rather buy it themselves. Gift cards, a generous check or an envelope full of cash will be a step in the right direction. Provide the financing while your sportsman decides what high-end gear he can’t live without.
An excellent gift for the sportsman who already has two of everything is a hunting or fishing trip to some exotic, dream location. These bucket-list destinations will set you back anywhere from $1,500 to $15,000 depending on where and what your sport desires. Most seven-day fishing trips are relatively inexpensive but top-end hunts for elk, moose, sheep, mountain goats and similar exotic critters will end up costing more than a compact car. There are all sorts of ways to divide the cost or adjust the options for exceptional trips like these; just keep in mind that hunts for 2018 are likely booked up so you’ll be looking at 2019 or 2020 before all is said and done. Simplify the Christmas gift-giving process by asking your sport what he wants, needs or lacks and then find a way to get it from the best, most reliable supplier. No matter what you decide, he’s going to love you for it!