Category Archives: Gear

SPOT Gen3 on sale..


I am a big fan of sattelite messengers and the SPOT Gen3 is on sale at Cabelas for $75.

I run a DeLorme InReach on the SAR team and an ACR ResQLink while hunting, but have handled the SPOT. At only 4 ounces and $13 subscription fee per month, it is some of the best survival insurance out there, when paired with a trip plan.

Cabela’s SPOT sale

Survival 101 Graduation Special…

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At the Virginia SAR Conference this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Trisha Fitzgerald, the owner/operator of SAR Gear Plus. Trish has decades of SAR experience under her belt and after watching portions of my class has extended a special offer to all Survival 101 grads.

20% off orders over $100

If you are interested, email me for the coupon code. Include your name and class number in the subject line. Example: Bo Cephus 32/40

And thanks to Trish for making the woods a little safer!!


Bowhunters Pro Shop…


This is Jeff Ledbetter. Not only is he the owner of Bowhunters Pro Shop in Maryville, but he is the friendliest store owner I have ever run across. And that is no exaggeration..

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Assuming that other hunters might be interested in upcoming tracking and survival classes,, I ventured in to ask about putting out some brochures. Thirty minutes later, I left with a new friend, some cool stories, and a T-shirt!

As soon as the budget allows, I will be headed back to pick up some arrows for the old recurve.

And speaking of recurves, they are still alive and well in Jeff’s shop..

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Along with a full offering of compounds and crossbows…

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Arrows and accessories…

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And ranges to sling your arrows..


Not only can you buy a bow there, but you can shoot it at the practice range, get professional lessons, and compete in monthly 3D tournaments. They have a full service repair shop, can build you custom arrows, and tune your bow.

In our world of mega-hunting stores, it is refreshing to walk in to a shop, shake the hand of the owner, and receive undivided attention. You won’t find that at the national chains, but you will at Jeff’s store. It’s small business at it’s finest.

Stop in sometime if you are already slinging arrows or if you want to get started off on the right foot..

Bowhunters Pro Shop 1421 W Lamar Alexander Parkway Maryville TN (865) 984-6111


Knox Tactical – Finally…


Two weeks ago, after visiting every gun and surplus store in my wife’s Florida hometown, I lamented to my wife:

“I just wish there was a gun or surplus store that actually had good gear. It is like they don’t even use this stuff. If they did, they would know it was crap”

Fast forward to today and everything changed. Knoxville Tactical on 7609 Blueberry Rd is that “good gear” store.

When an early birthday check arrived, I call up my shooting buddy to see if he could escape from work and daddy duties to quench my thirst for a mag pouch I had been eyeing on the internet. With four women in the house, three of them under the age of two, it didn’t take much convincing.

The funny thing nowadays is that guns don’t really excite me as much as good support gear. I have had all the “cool” toys at work, but it is rare to find a store that you can actually get your hands on quality accessories . Usually, I am relegated to late night sessions perusing SKD Tactical, but now I am going to have to find excuses to drive over to north Knoxville. Same internet price on the mag pouch, but I got to handle it and try it out with my mag.

In Florida, I walked into a police supply store and asked..

“Do you have any HSGI Taco pouches for rifle mags”

“Is that a brand?” was the confused clerks reply

Contrast that to Knox Tactical, where I walked into a wall of them first thing..


If you haven’t seen a HSGI Taco pouch, they are the ticket if you have multiple caliber guns.

Here is the pouch with an AK mag..

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Here is it with an AR mag..

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And here is the pouch with a Gunsite Scout mag..

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“One mag pouch to rule them all” should be in their marketing plan!! You can have one plate carrier or chest rig set up with them and run different weapon systems. That solves a lot of headaches if you are like me and bounce between calibers.

Knox Tactical also has THE best selection of medical gear that I have ever seen in a brick and mortar store. Chinook Medical was my online supplier for the past fifteen years, but now I can support a local business that has a great selection for blow out kits or IFAKs.


For less than the price of lunch, you can set your car, workplace, home, or backpack up with the gear to handle  vehicle accidents or any other trauma. There are no excuses not to stock up. “Watching someone you love die, sucks!”, was my friend’s sober reminder when he pushed medical skills and gear.



There is a “Survival” section with a variety of firestarting gear and some emergency food..


Clothes, packs, pouches and more..


A large selection of Bravo Company products, Magpul, and of course guns..



I have been told that I am hard to shop for and it is hard to find stuff on my wish list. Knox Tactical had five out of seven items right there! Maybe six, but I forgot to check the flashlight case.

Oh well, gives me an excuse to go back soon..

Edited to add: I got some great prices on used gear, if you want to help finance my next trip. first two safarilands SLS are for 229 w/o rails. The other 2 are for 229R, top right ALS only, and bottom right SLS with QLS, two platforms and extra mount.  Mag pouches for Glocks. Message me if interested.

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One Pack to Rule Them All – Part II – Cold Cold World Valdez…


The other day, I sat down to start my fire for lunch and I gasped in horror when I discovered that the fatwood stick that I have been carrying for 2 years was missing out of the mesh pocket of the Flash 45!!

Fatwood is easy to come by in my area, but having started hundreds of meals with this stick, I was  a little heart broken. My successful day on the front lines of the War on Swine had taken a sour turn and I cursed the open top mesh pockets of the Flash 45 for my loss and swore to break out Ole Faithful the next day.

Well, when I got picked up that afternoon, I found my beloved fatwood stick in the bottom of the pack cabinet on the boat. Relieved, I still decided to switch back to Ole Faithful, my custom built Cold Cold World Valdez pack, for a little while.

Back in 2010, I  found Cold Cold World packs through an online search of alpine packs. It seemed like a perfect fit when I found out that Randy, the owner of CCW, was willing to customize.

So I started off with the Valdez, his 40 liter pack.


I wouldn’t be climbing, so I asked to ditch the ice axe loops, daisy chains, ski slots, and crampon straps. In their place, I added a front pocket for my ticket book, a real hip belt with MOLLE compatible webbing, and MOLLE webbing on the sides, both low and high. Nowadays the pocket carries my radio, a saw, and my fatwood stick. The webbing holds my water bottle pouch and a roly poly pouch that I usually stuff with tinder, but can add another water bottle if needed.



One of my favorite aspects of this pack are the compression straps, seen here compressing two different loads. This, along with the slim profile, allow me to crawl through some hellacious rhododenron and laurel thickets, lovingly referred to as “Rhodo” and “Laurel Hells”. The 500 D Cordura has held up great under the abuse of daily work. The color scheme of coyote and olive drab blends in well, without being overtly camo for family vacations and other travels.

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At 2 pounds 4 ounces empty, I stuff a 4 ounce bivy pad in the designated sleeve and still have a lightweight, ultra tough pack that can double as a lower body bivy bag with the storm collar extended and a 3/4 closed cell pad.




The top lid has two pockets, one on top and one underneath. It is removable and I had two loops sewn on to allow use as a fanny pack if needed.




The Valdez is extremely well built and has a few finer touches, like the yellow lining of the pockets for better visibility while searching for contents and the reverse adjustment of the shoulder straps.

My only gripe would be that the torso length is a little short for my frame. This isn’t by accident, as the pack is designed for climbers wearing a harness. This worked out great when I was wearing a duty belt, but I no longer need that feature since I am only toting a rifle. With heavier loads ~ 30 pounds, this means it can be a little heavy on the shoulders, but my typical load is 15 – 20 pounds, and it handles that well.

I love this pack so much, that when my wife tried to take it to Florida last month, I gave her my “only one ever built” and “if something happened to it, it couldn’t be replaced” speech. Luckily, she caved under the pressure and took one of my other packs.

That story is only partially true. My buddy Jake, a LE Ranger in Yosemite, also had one built after mine. Jake’s pack has seen some cool stuff too and hopefully he will weigh in his experiences in the comment section. In fact when you read this Jake, send me a pic of your pack with El Cap in the background or something else cool.

Is the CCW Valdez the “One”? It is pretty damn close for my needs. All I need is some high tech fabric, 10 more liters of space, and some integrated water bottle holders.

The search continues…

Part 1 of “One Pack to Rule Them All” –

Class 22/140 – The Plastic Meltin’, Bivy Pad Sleepin’, Pennsylvania Game Wardens..


It didn’t take a genius to figure out something was up when a couple military vets and a bushcrafter at the Pennsylvania Game Commission Academy asked me what was the highest temp I had recorded in a super shelter.

“100 degrees when I tried to cook my buddy Jake” I replied

“We’re gonna break that” said the foursome that would be sharing a fire with me later that night

“I believe you” is all I replied

And break it they did… Roasting themselves at 140 degrees for un-explainable reasons that only other Type A’s jacked up on testosterone would understand. Maybe they missed the heat of the desert, but for the first time ever, I witnessed the plastic melt from the inferno they created in front of their shelter. And while the 22 degree night should make hypothermia a concern, hyperthermia was on my mind.

This class also had a couple other firsts for me..

It was the first time teaching with renowned tracker Rob Spieden of Rob is so good with tracks, he eats them for lunch..



First time instructing inside for the lecture part…

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And first time having 32 students that would need shelter and bedding material…


When Rob told me how many cadets and members of the PA tracking team we would have, I thought  “Damn, that is a lot of bedding material”

I knew we could manage the fires by building group shelters and a couple singles for samples, but to build a good bed that insulates you from the ground you need a lot of natural bedding.



But I didn’t worry too much, because I had a trick up my sleeve… well, really it was in my pack.

Experienced in the workload of making natural beds, years ago I started using cut down foam pads to replace the framesheet in my packs. I later found out that alpine climbers had been doing the same thing for years and they called them “bivy pads”.

Fast forward to my LE Ranger years and you would find me sitting on mine for every poaching detail or surveillance op, something that the game warden cadets will soon understand.

If you are injured, all the natural bedding is wet or absent, or you don’t have time to build a bed, a bivy pad is a great lightweight option to supplement your natural bedding or as a stand alone pad in dire straits. This multi-use pad can also provide flotation in your pack if crossing bodies of water or it can be used for a host of improvised splinting options.


Bivy pad in use by cadets, supplementing natural bedding..


So here is a quick tutorial on how to make a bivy pad for your day or patrol pack.

First, measure your pack to find the inside dimensions. The example I will be making is  for a pack 10″ wide and 19″ long.

Buy an army surplus pad. If you are in my area, go see Eva at Foothills Army & Navy One pad costs $11 and will make two bivy pads.

Measure, cut, and score (partially cut) your pad so it folds flat into three sections.


Seam showing 2/3 partial cut (score)



Cut off the extra width..


At this point, you are good to go. I have used a scored, partially cut pad, for years, but if you want extra security, you can gorilla tape the seams. Make sure to tape the open cut while folded, allowing it to fold and lay flat when opened.


So that gives me a torso length pad in my patrol pack at all times. Once my pack is empty, I can throw in under my legs or under worst case conditions, all 200 pounds of me can  curl up and fit on it.



“Wait a minute.. that pad in your pack is different than the one you just made” you say

You are correct. The game wardens could get the military pads for $1 through government channels.  The folded pad you see in my pack is a $24 Gossamer Gear Nightlight

Fifteen years ago, my prototype pad was a cut down Ridgerest that folded length wise. It is out in the shed somewhere, but here are a few other options. L to R – BPO pad, Gossamer Gear, pad from CCW pack, Z-rest cut to 6 panels. You will also see the size, square inches, and square inches per ounce.


Here you can see their folded size, weight, and R-value. (Those are straps on the BPO pad to keep it flat for the picture)


Folded thicknesses..


And pad thickness..


You can see why the GG pad is riding in my pack. Thicker, lighter, and a higher R-value. While the Z-rest folds better and has a marginally higher R-value, the denser foam on the GG has held up better.

I always say, “Once you know how to make a friction fire, you won’t ever go into the woods without a lighter”

Natural beds are the same. When you understand the importance of sleep, the workload of gathering enough bedding, the heat robbing effects of conduction and merge them with the realization that you may be injured or unable to build a sufficient bed, you will be hard pressed to argue against carrying four and a half ounces of lightweight “life insurance”.

Whether is is a commercial product or a homemade version, a bivy pad in your day pack helps fight against conduction and can make an awkward “Big Spoon, Big Spoon” night tolerable.


Congrats to the soon to be graduates of the 30th class of the Pennsylvania Game Commission!!

May your careers be full of action, your bivy pads serve you well, and I pray you don’t get assigned to the same county as Rosie-Vic!!