You need a boat that can fish hard on day one, and take the family to the beach on day two? Maybe water skiing or wakeboarding is in the plans? And, you also need the maximum amount of deck space available for the LOA? Then Nautic Stars 203 SC is a boat youll want to check out.
When I tested a 203 SC rigged with a Yamaha F150 four-stroke outboard, the first thing that struck me was the huge bow area with a bow boarding-platform and ladder. Nautic Star found extra room up there by using a deck boat design for the topsides. But deck boats often have a bumpy ride, thanks to their wide, low-V hulls. So, the 203 SC is built on a traditional V-hull bottom, with 15 degrees of deadrise at the transom. How does it ride? When we poured on the coals and ran at speeds in excess of 45-mph, one-foot boat wakes barely made a bump. Re-entries were vibration-free and solid, thanks to the boats all-composite construction and one-piece molded fiberglass foam-filled stringer grid.
Nautic Star 203 SC Photo: Lenny Rodow
Anglers take note: Youll want to get the Fishing Package, which turns the forward cooler into a livewell and adds some must-haves, like the trolling motor wiring harness. Otherwise, the boat comes well equipped with goodies, including a removable 25-qt. Igloo cooler, an in-deck ski locker, under-seat stowage, and a rockin JBL stereo system with four speakers and a MP3/USB port.
Nautic Star shows some unique construction touches on the 203 SC, especially in the Bimini top. It has ball-and-socket connectors, over-sized supports, and the fabric is Sunbrella. In fact, its so stout that you can run the boat with the top up, without worrying about damaging it. Another construction perk is hidden from view, below the waterline: At the keel and chines, the fiberglass is doubled up to provide extra strength.
While hard-core fishers might gravitate to a dedicated center-console bay boat, those of us with multiple personalities to please are going to find the 203 SC quite interesting. Because whether your goal is jumping wakes, catching rays, or catching redfish, this is one platform that can do all of the above.
Alumacraft Dominator 175 CS: Heavy Metal
When you want maximum ruggedness and safety, one hull just isnt enough---so Alumacraft gives you two on the Dominator 175, with double 0.08" aluminum plating from bow to stern. But that extra heft wont slow you down. Rigged with a Yamaha F115 four-stroke outboard, the Alumacraft I tested blasted past 40-mph.
Having a fast top-end speed is great, but considering todays fuel costs, efficiency is also a high priority. With the throttle pulled back to 3500 RPM, we cruised along in the low 20s and the engine sipped a mere 3.3 gallons per hour, delivering an eye-opening 6.5 miles to the gallon. This Yamaha is a new and improved model for 2012---the F115 now has single throttle body fuel injection for more precise fuel delivery, and it also has a knock sensor, which can retard the timing to protect the engine from low octane fuel.
Alumacraft Dominator 175 CS Photo: Lenny Rodow
The boat has a single-piece keel, and the hull rivets are aircraft-grade. Alumacraft is backs them up with a lifetime warranty. Is the rest of the boat just as tough? You bet. The deck, for example, is secured with aircraft-grade nylock locking nuts on each and every bolt. And take a gander at the transom---a high-stress area of the boat---which is notably thicker than those found on most competitors.
Just because a boat is tough doesnt mean it will ride well. So during my sea trial of the Alumacraft Dominator 175, I made sure to hit plenty of waves while running full-tilt. No disappointments. Landings were solid, vibration-free, and surprisingly dry. Of course, dryness has nothing to do with how well the boat rides; in this case, its due to the use of spray rails on the bow, which are unusually large. Handling was also good thanks to the standard hydraulic steering, which is a feature usually considered optional on boats of this size.
Once you get where youre going and grab your rods out of the locking rod boxes, youll appreciate the fore and aft livewells, which hold a total of 35 gallons between them. There are also a half-dozen fishing seat pedestal bases (with grab rails smartly located near each seating position), and a battery box for the triple 12-v deep cycles youll want to power the bow-mounted trolling motor. Put it all together and you get a ruggedly-built, well-equipped boat---with hull plating thats double the norm.
Tactical .22LR Rimfire
Ammunition costs continue to rise without any sign of a decline in the near future. This has led to manufactures offering some very unique and affordable ways to enjoy your beloved tactical rifles without the high cost of standard ammunition. Now .223 ammo is fun to shoot, and doesnt have punishing recoil, but for the price of one 30 round magazine of .223 you can enjoy 500 rounds of .22LR in the same tactical rifle platforms.
Firing the .22LR Tactical Solutions SB-X Suppressed Upper on a Standard AR-15 Lower PHOTO: Cody Conway
There are various conversion kits available to give you an option of shooting more affordable .22LR ammunition in your existing AR-15 platform. One I have used extensively is the CMMG "Alpha" model. This simple conversion converts your .223 AR upper into a .22LR fun gun by simply replacing your existing bolt carrier. Conversion can be done in a matter of seconds out on the range. You can tuck the conversion kit with the 25 round .22 mags in your range bag and switch back and forth effortlessly. Since the .223 bore size is so very close to the .22LR, your round can travel shortly through the extended chamber, engage in the rifle barrel, stabilize and fly downrange. Its surprisingly simple, fun, and affordable. There are unfounded concerns on online forums about excessive leading in the rifling or fouling of the gas port, but all my research and experience shows this to be just fearful speculation. The .22 bullets obviously stabilize consistently because suppressor manufacturers like GEMTECH actually recommends these .22LR kits for suppressor use. The CMMG kit recommends having a rounded type AR hammer as opposed to the square design for reliable functioning, yet I found my mil-spec square hammer to function just fine. But better yet, both of my newly installed Geiselle trigger systems function excellently, and give an amazingly crisp 2-stage trigger press. Accuracy seemed to be ammunition dependent, because Federal 550 bulk pack would yield about a 3.5" group at 25 yards, yet the GEMTECH and CCI Subsonic ammunition tightened the groups down to 1" at the same range. The obvious advantage of using these conversion kits is that you are using the exact same rifle with controls, weight and optics and you arent trading it out for a smaller lighter AR version.
Now if you want to invest a little more to shoot a rimfire cartridge out of a tactical carbine you could purchase a dedicated 22LR AR upper for your current rifle system. Simply remove the two takedown pins on your AR and replace your current upper, insert a 25 round .22LR magazine and you are ready to rock. This setup is can be quite light because you wont need near the heavy metal required for firing a .223 cartridge. I ordered the Tactical Solutions SB-X AR upper because of its unique suppressor ready flashhider thats permanently attached to the 12.25" barrel. This system fits your .22LR silencers so you may have a legal compact package without the hassle of purchasing a separate tax stamp for a short barrel rifle. The 1/2x28 threads are simply concealed in the flashhider with enough clearance to slide in any 1" suppressor. This lightweight aluminum upper provided some impressive groups with a variety of match and subsonic ammunition. The barrel isnt short enough to keep high velocity ammo under the sound barrier as a 5" pistol will, but still yielded plenty of velocity to strike 100 yard steel targets with ease. The only disadvantage to this system is you will have to purchase another optic or sights whereas the conversion kit utilized your current setup. Yet the light weight of this package make it ideal for allowing children to shoot with a lightweight, tacticool looking adjustable stocked carbine.
SavageRascal - The Perfect Starter Rifle
For a while, Crickett has been the household name for a child sized .22LR starter rifle, but thats all fixing to change with Savage Arms new "Rascal" series.
The first thing most shooters will notice when they see the Rascal is that it contains Savages admired AccuTrigger. This is quite impressive for a pint-sized single shot .22. In addition to the manual safety the AccuTrigger ads an invaluable safety option to this rifle, but best of all is the crisp break. Trigger control is everything for shooting accurately and younger shooters will be able to pull off much better shots with a light, crisp trigger. The one my six-year-old son Kody tested came set at 3 pounds. Some folks might think that is too light, but youll need to remember the strength of the little shooters index finger for which this was designed. But if you want it heavier, simply insert the adjustment tool and give it a few twists until you find it to be to your liking.
The Rascals bolt is also very user friendly. Whereas older designed .22s required the young shooter to work the bolt, then pull a cocking knob, the Rascals is all internal. This makes the rifle less complex and safer to operate especially when you consider a younger, less coordinated marksman attempting to decock a bolt while manipulating a trigger in an attempt to unload the action. My son naturally picked up the bolt action and had no issue dropping cartridges on the feed ramp each shot.
The rear peep aperture was easily adjustable for both windage and elevation, and once again, I was pleasantly surprised how naturally Kody picked up this concept. In no time, he was ringing steel at 15 yards and moving on to shooting clay pigeons placed on the berm. The rifle was also surprisingly accurate, after a few small adjustments, I was able to hit a golf ball every shot at 15 yards. Shots at that range presented a half-inch group with cheap bulk ammunition, and thats with a full size shooter attempting to shrink himself down to utilize the child-sized stock. Although I firmly believe in teaching shooters the basics of iron sights before adding a scoped optic, the Rascal does come drilled and tapped to accept scope mounts.
In addition to the small-scaled stock the rifle is also lightweight tipping the scale right under three pounds. As another added feature, it comes in almost every color of the rainbow: black, blue, green, red, orange, pink, yellow and of course wood. Some critics have expressed displeasure in making stocks "fun" colors. So, for those Mayor Bloomberg like-minded folks Id encourage you to train your children the basics of firearm safety and practice safe storage. Because I believe my daughter is going to love her pink rifle and treat it just as safely as if it were an "evil black rifle."
Savages new Rascal is the perfect starter rifle for that new shooter you are training. Retail price is $174 for the colored option composite stocks and $213 for the wood stock. An excellent value for a rifle designed for younger shooters and full of great features that should last until the next generation.
Vortex Optics Strikefire
I bought my first assault rifle in October of 2011 and immediately recognized its potential for becoming both a money-pit and obsession. Having spent a little over $650 at Cabelas on the Smith & Wesson M&P-15 Sport, I knew it would be a while before I was ready to hammer down on outfitting the weapon. I made a list of wants and needs and arranged them in order of importance and cost, choosing to purchase a front sight tool and grip before quad rail and optics, and went to work building my dream rifle.
When the time came for me to purchase an optic, I returned to Cabelas to research my options. I had known since before purchasing the rifle that I would want an optic capable of quick target acquisition and some form of magnification. I quickly realized I could easily shell out more for the optic I wanted than I originally paid for my gun. It was then, while speaking to an outfitter whom Ive known and hunted with for many years, I was introduced to the Vortex Optics Strikefire "red dot" scope.
Priced at $150, my first thought was "you get what you pay for." I handled and played with the small optic and was impressed by its sturdiness as well as its ability to switch from a red to green reticle. A separate button activated the night-vision function, which significantly dimmed the LED. The optic even came with a threaded 2x magnifier to turn the sight from a simple red dot, to a low-powered scope. Even the rubber flip-up lens covers seemed stout enough for ranch use.
Never one to take anything at face value however, I went home and researched the product and was pleased at what I found. Numerous reviews and YouTube videos swore by the Strikefire and a week later, I purchased my own.
First thing out of the box, I inserted the included CR2 battery and was pleased to see the optic come to life. The on/off switch is a round, covered button, soft enough to press with relative ease, but stout enough to prevent accidental activation. A quick test revealed that if the button was accidently pressed and held down for more than a couple of seconds, the optic would not activate. Similarly, to deactivate the optic once on, a user must hold the power button down for more than three seconds to prevent accidental deactivation, a potential tactical nightmare. Momentarily pressing the power switch changes the color of the reticle from red to green and a separate switch will turn the optic to its dimmest, night-vision setting. Two additional buttons allow the user to increase or decrease the brightness of the reticle to their liking and a non-volatile memory allows the optic to remember the users last color and brightness setting.
The mount that came with my Strikefire was one of Vortexs extra high, absolute co-witness mounts, tailored for use with a flat-top AR15. The benefit of a co-witness mount is that it places the optic in such a way that both the reticle of the optic and the front sight are visible. Should a shooter choose to use iron sights, or in the event of optic failure, he or she still has an effective and familiar way to aim the weapon by simply looking through the optic to align the front and rear sights. The mount is affixed to the picatinny rail by a single knob, familiar to all AR users who have ever had a detachable rear sight, another plus should the optic become disabled and need to be removed.
Sighting the Strikefire proved to be quick and simple. From 25 yards, out of the box the Strikefire placed three rounds eight inches below the center of the target. With each click of the elevation knob shifting the zero by ½ inch at 100 yards, I calculated that at 25 yards each click would alter the zero by 1/8 of an inch. I shifted the zero up and was pleased with the accurate and consistent results. Later, I re-zeroed the optic for 50 yards following the same procedure.
With the optic effectively zeroed for a known distance and a number of subsequent practice rounds fired, I began carrying the rifle throughout my daily activities, ranging from feeding cows, to working on vehicles, to a relaxing hike through the woods. Over the next several weeks, I carried my AR equipped with the optic and after affixing a Streamlight Poly Tac LED flashlight to the front of it, began night shooting and varmint hunting with it. Never once did I detect a shift in zero or uncover any problems with the sight.
After one trip however, I did notice the sight cover spring had come out of place. I attempted to fix it myself and ended up further damaging the spring. I subsequently removed the front cover.
Ever since I was a kid, I have enjoyed still-hunting; slipping through the woods quietly, weapon in hand, hoping to walk up on game. Shortly after zeroing the sight, I found myself once again in the woods with my AR attempting to maneuver in behind a group of feral hogs I had spotted earlier that day. For nearly two hours I had the red dot turned on, dialing down the dots intensity as I moved into darker parts of the woods and as the sun set. Though this hunt was not successful, I got a good feel for the sight and its versatility.
Perhaps the ultimate testament to this sight however, came in mid-November. It was nearing dusk and I had been craving more range time with my AR. Driving my truck through a gully in the middle of my grandfathers ranch I spooked a white-tail deer. All I saw was the tail bouncing but, being the type to hunt for meat and not trophies; I promptly came to a stop and exited my vehicle.
I do own other weapons. A more conventional Savage .270 would have normally accompanied me on a hunting trip and my Mossberg 835 loaded with No. 4 buckshot would have certainly done the trick. But the situation I was presented with was not that unlike a real-world tactical encounter.
Exiting my truck, I pulled my AR across the center console from the passenger seat and activated the red dot sight. I had known this was a possibility and with an ever growing population of coyotes and feral hogs (despite my damndest attempts), I had learned to chamber my rifle before leaving the house and to set the safety.
Fast-walking along the treeline where I had seen the deer flee to, I began scanning the open fields back to the west and south. I could hear a squirrel barking a few yards away and I was hopeful that he could see my prey. Then from the tall grass I spotted movement. An eight-point buck came into view. Instinctively I shouldered my rifle and found the buck covered by the red dot. At 5:52 pm however, the dot was too bright. I fired a shot and missed. The bucks head snapped around and I knew it would be a matter of seconds before he spotted me and bounced off into the woods.
Practicing with the StrikeFire paid off in the next moment. Without hesitating or even giving it a conscious thought, I pressed down on the button marked "NV," for night-vision, and fired a follow up shot. The buck dropped in his tracks. The smaller, dimmer reticle had given me the precise pin-point dot I needed to make a surgical shot, striking the buck in the upper chest. It was in this moment that I was truly sold on the sight.
To offer a fair review however, on future models of the Strikefire I would like to see them designed to hold brightness "presets." At times and in certain lighting conditions, such as on an overcast day or in heavy fog, the maximum brightness setting I use during normal sunlight is too bright and immediately switching to NV mode drops the dot to a difficult to see setting. At the very least, having the option to adjust and preset the brightness in NV mode would be nice, though being able to cycle through at least three presets would be, in my opinion, best.
All in all however, as both a shooter and outdoorsman, Ive been very pleased with this sight. I would recommend it to anyone seeking a stout and effective red dot that wont break the bank.
"And being a family owned company based in Wisconsin doesnt hurt them either."