About this time each year, with the holidays upon us, the same question confronts many of us: what to buy for the outdoors person?
This holiday season, two of the strong items in a weak market are muzzleloader weapons and fly rods.
Sarah Gardner of Anglers in Annapolis theorizes that the firearms deer season has more hunters thinking of the black-powder season for deer, which opens Saturday.
"The interest in black powder has been building since firearms season closed," Gardner said. "It is exacting, more interesting than conventional firearms, and I think there is a feeling among some hunters that muzzleloaders take them back to their roots in this country."
Getting back to one's roots may cost from $165 for a CVA Missouri Ranger .50-caliber to $320 or more for a .50-caliber Hawken rifle -- and prices go much higher.
Then, of course, one needs powder, ball and wadding, etc.
Fly fishing is enjoying a surge in interest among the public, and it seems to be peaking at some stores as the holidays arrive.
For less than $100, a novice angler can purchase a get-started kit for fly fishing -- rod for 6-to-7-weight line, single-action reel, backing, line and tippets, and perhaps a handful of flies -- and for $400 one can pick up a Sage saltwater fly rod that will tame a marlin. In between, there are fly rods and reels to suit about any budget. A few questions asked of a reputable sporting-goods retailer also should result in where to find lessons and then where to find fish.
"Fly rods have been the up-and-coming thing all year," said TonyTochterman of Tochterman's on Eastern Avenue. "But as far as Christmas shoppers go, we seem to be doing the usual things, fillet knives, rod-and-reel combinations, surf rods, tackle boxes, fishing vests and clothing. Books have been very good, too."
Among the books that will benefit the fly-rodder are:
* "Fly Fishing in Saltwater" and "Saltwater Fly Patterns" by Lefty Kreh, The Sun's former outdoors writer, an internationally acclaimed expert.
* "The Fly Tyer's Primer" by Richard W. Talleur.
* "The Book of Fly Patterns" by Eric Leiser.
Tochterman's and Anglers are not the only retailers whose sales have been off this year. Hunting, fishing and outdoors sales are off throughout the area, as are retails sales elsewhere.
Still, there are the usual requests for stocking stuffers.
One stocking stuffer that has been selling well at Anglers is a chemical hand-warmer made by My Coal, the Mini-mini Heater. Selling for $1.59, the packet is activated by crumpling and mixing the chemicals inside. The result is a reasonable warmer that will last for six hours, but which is not designed to be used more than once.
The traditional alternative is the Jon-e Handwarmer, a small, metal canister that is filled with fuel and ignited to produce warmth. The advantage of the Jon-e ($13.95) is that it is refillable and reusable.
Buck Knives offers a decent stocking stuffer for the boater, the Yachtsman, a rigging knife ($33.95) with single clip blade and a marlinspike that has plenty of backbone.
Game and animal calls in a range of prices also attract interest each holiday season. Three that are within most budgets are manufactured by Glynn Scobey Duck and Goose Calls, OLT Game and Animal Calls and Quaker Boy Inc.
Of those three manufacturers, the Glynn Scobey duck call ($29.95) is traditional, functional and well-decorated. The OLT call costs less than half as much ($12.95) and looks it, although it is functional. The Honkin Tube by Quaker Boy ($11.95) is a step further down.
"Binoculars are doing well, too," said Gardner. "And not just for hunting. We are getting a lot of bird watchers in."
Binoculars come in a range of prices, but for about $30 on sale at a sporting goods chain such as Herman's, one can purchase a pair of 7x35 glasses that will serve well if they are not thrown into the trunk of the car, banged against tree branches or left out in the rain.
If rough use is expected, spend a little more and get a pair of rubber-coated binoculars. E&B Marine discount centers sell a pair of 7x50 glasses for about $80. There are, of course, better brands and more painful prices, but unless one is planning night maneuvers with Operation Desert Shield, they will not be necessary.
If all else fails, try a fillet knife, a fishing vest or a tackle box.