We have a tendency to use words to death, to the point where they lose their meaning, and foremost among these is iconic. Today, if something works reasonably well and keeps our attention for 15 minutes, it’s “iconic.”
The dictionary says iconic means “widely known and acknowledged, especially for distinctive excellence.” In the case of hunting and fishing equipment, it also means gear that’s proved itself not over a few years but over half a century or so.
In compiling this highly nonscientific list, the editors selected items that not only are still made in America, by American companies, but that also established a standard when they came out and maintain that standard today.
Coming up with these selections was a brain-buster, because a great deal of the hunting and fishing gear on the market today was undreamed of a few decades ago, never mind half a century. Add the fact that a great many of the things we most valued years ago have now become obsolete. Finally, America is no longer a country that, first and foremost, makes things. Once upon a time, someone who had a bright idea would set up shop in his garage to produce the idea himself, and a business would be born. Today, that same person is likely to learn computer repair. All this, combined, really winnows down the list.
What’s here has personal meaning for each of us. We’re not picking gear out of a catalog. We’ve used this stuff, and used it for a long, long time. These items have handled their assigned tasks about as well as anything made by man. And that, as nearly as I can see, means they’re iconic. —David E. Petzal
Shooting • Style • Tools • Fishing
1. Remington Model 870
I could get rid of the rest of my guns and do all my hunting with the three 870s I currently own. And I am hardly alone. There have been more than 11 million 870s made—everybody has one, or five, in the gun cabinet.
The most popular shotgun of all time, the 870 is a triumph of mass production far greater than the sum of its cast and stamped parts. Designed to replace the finely machined, expensive-to-manufacture Model 31 pump, the 870 could have been depressing and cheap, but instead it was great. Slick, shootable, endlessly reliable, and affordable, the 870 has been made in Ilion, N.Y., since its introduction in 1950, at a factory that originally fronted the Erie Canal in the 1800s, where finished guns were dropped onto passing barges.
With stock dimensions designed to fit the average shooter, the 870 has earned the reputation as the shotgun that everyone shoots well. So while I might miss some of the fancy checkering or scrollwork of my other guns, I wouldn’t miss any more birds. —P.B.
2. Savage Model 110
Debuted in 1958, the Savage 110 was an unlovely collection of inexpensive parts that, because those parts were designed by a genius named Nicholas Brewer, worked fine and shot quite well. But by 1988, Savage was weeks away from shutting its doors forever. The company’s new president, Ron Coburn, asked his engineers, “What do we make that works?” The answer was the Model 110. And so that was all Savage turned out for a while, and the company did not go bankrupt.
Coburn decreed that any money put into the 110 would go toward accuracy, not looks. And it has paid off. Now, the once humble 110 comes in target and tactical and varmint versions that compete alongside the most accurate custom rifles. Somewhere, Nicholas Brewer is smiling. —D.E.P.
3. Ruger Single-Six Revolver
The story goes that Bill Ruger released the Single-Six in 1953 to capitalize on the popularity of TV Westerns and the demand they helped create for single-action revolvers. It was a good idea. The Single-Six, still made in multiple versions, became one of the bestselling revolvers in history.
One Christmas morning when I was in high school, Dad left the New Model Super Single-Six shown above under the tree for me. He’d found it at a pawnshop, used, with only the .22 magnum cylinder in place (the guns come from the factory with both Long Rifle and WMR cylinders). It became my constant companion on fishing trips, squirrel hunts, and general walks through the woods. A deep scratch in the left grip panel happened during a coyote hunt, when I was crossing a barbwire fence, and the few rust spots on the barrel are reminders that I should’ve oiled it after a late-night frog hunt. I’ve never had a malfunction of any sort out of it, and it’ll still put six 40-grain hollow points in a soup can at 25 yards.
I own a bunch of handguns, but when I’m feeling like a cowboy—which is most days—this is the revolver I carry. —W.B.
4. Ruger 10/22 Rimfire Rifle
Introduced in 1964, this classic rimfire hit a perfect trifecta for a .22 that would grow up with you: It was accurate, inexpensive, and exceedingly customizable. And you didn’t have to be a gunsmith to tinker with the thing. You start off like I did, happy as a clam with the off-the-shelf version and a decent scope for all the squirrel hunting and plinking a youngster could ever want to do. But as your shooting skills sharpen, and your rifle interests mature, it isn’t long before you are sucked into the aftermarket 10/22 playground. I added a target barrel. Laminated stock. Drop-in trigger. Custom-woven paracord sling. Scope that can read a squirrel’s mind at 70 yards. I did all this with an English major’s workbench skill set. The Ruger 10/22 is not just the rifle you grow up with. It’s the rifle that grows you up. —T.E.N.
5. Marlin Model 336
Because there’s one in just about every big-woods deer camp—and because of all the classic lever deer guns, the 336 is the only one still made here by the original company. —D.H.
6. Colt M1911
Because the 107-year-old design is the American fighting pistol, having proved itself from the trenches to the jungles to the deserts. Nothing points like it. And it rides pretty well on your hip while you’re checking trail cameras, too. —W.B.
7. Smith & Wesson Model 29
Because for decades Dirty Harry’s hand cannon, which introduced the .44 Magnum cartridge, was the most powerful handgun in the world—and it still makes an impressive boom. —W.B.
8. Ithaca Model 37
Because it’s been made for 80 years, first in New York, now in Ohio, and there are over 2 million out there. The Model 37 makes a great bird gun and an even greater slug gun. —Phil Bourjaily
9. Leupold VX-3 Riflescope
Lyman. Unertl. Stith. Bausch & Lomb. All American scopes, and all gone. Leupold, which first drew breath in 1907, is still here, and is still the premium American scope. The VX-3 line in particular—from the original VX-III, which debuted in 1973, to the latest VX-3i—has been a paragon of big-game scopes for decades. And Leupold’s warranty service is so good that it will not only repair your scope but restore your faith in humanity as well. —D.E.P.
10. Nosler Partition Bullet
Because very few objects made by the hand of man work all the time—and Partitions are one. They always expand and they always penetrate. —D.E.P.
11. Hoppe’s No. 9 Bore Cleaner
Who among us didn’t grow up, as I did, learning to clean guns by watching Dad, and breathing in the sweet aroma of Hoppe’s No. 9? Some believe banana oil is the secret ingredient that makes No. 9 smell so good. Whatever is in it, it works, and has since 1903. —P.B.
12. Bear Grizzly Recurve Bow
Bear originally marketed the Grizzly as “the working man’s bow.” But when my dad bought me one, I was neither working, nor a man. I believe I was 9 when he took me to a shop crowded with all things archery. There were plenty of other bows to admire, but after watching me ogle the Grizzly, the shop owner strung it, grabbed a handful of arrows, and led me out to the parking lot. I flung a few shots at a target and that was it.
Like all Grizzlys, mine was 58 inches long and weighed about 2 pounds. Not that the specs mattered; my idol Fred Bear had designed and made the thing and that was enough. There were other pioneers of modern bowhunting, but no man brought the sport to the masses like Bear. He debuted the Grizzly in 1950 and sold the heck out of the sleek one-piece, known for easy handling and accuracy.
The first year I could bowhunt, I toted my 40-pound Grizzly through the woods as proudly as a knight hoists a lance. I shot rabbits and carp and poked holes in many a target. By the time I got serious about deer hunting, I’d moved on to a different model. I eventually took several bucks, including my first Booner, with a recurve. But it all started with that Bear Grizzly. It’s the bow that made me a bowhunter. The other day, I took it down from the wall and strung and drew it—and never heard a creak, pop, or groan. Not bad for a bow I’ve had for 47 years. —Scott Bestul
13. Danner Canadian Boots
In 1936, four years after Charles Danner opened the Danner Shoe Mfg. Co. in Chippewa Falls, Wis., he took note of the calked logging boots that foresters were wearing in the Pacific Northwest, and thought, Now those are some damned tough boots. Rugged people, he realized, needed rugged footwear and were willing to pay a premium for it. So he moved the operation to Portland, Ore., where the company has been making hard-wearing kicks for loggers, ranchers, trappers, and hunters for more than 70 years.
It may seem ironic that my favorite piece of authentic American-made gear is Canadian by name. But then, so am I.
In the mid 1990s, Danner introduced this 10-inch, all-leather, waterproof hunter, understanding rightly that Canucks are sturdy folk, worthy of being the namesakes of such a badass boot. Growing up in northern New York, just a few miles south of Quebec, I first saw a pair of these Danners on a French-Canadian hunting hero of mine who was the very picture of a rugged outdoorsman, from his wool cap and scouring-pad beard, right down to his footwear. Now those are some damned tough boots, I thought.
Canadian by ancestry and badly wanting to be tough myself, I had to have a pair and soon laced up my very own (shown above). I hardly took them off for the first decade. I wore them a lot for the second decade. And I still lace them up for the odd grouse hunt. Over those 20-plus years, I’ll admit that I’ve met plenty of people tougher than me. But I have never met anyone whose boots are as tough as my Canadians. And that’s not nothing. —Dave Hurteau
14. Woolrich Made in America Buffalo Wool Shirt
When my uncle passed away, I got his tobacco pipes and his Woolrich shirt. Woolrich started in 1830, selling fabric to the wives of Pennsylvania hunters, loggers, and trappers. Almost 200 years later, its stuff is still hard to beat for warmth when wet. I had Uncle Bob’s old shirt on when I shot my first whitetail. A blizzard had shut down New England that weekend, and I nearly went off the road driving to the spot in the storm. Soaked through from sleet, I was frozen but not dead when the little buck wandered through during a midday break in the weather. A few days later, boiling the skull in my parents’ garage, I lit one of Uncle Bob’s pipes in memory of the old codger. He would have been appalled at my stupidity for hunting in such weather, but he’d have happily loaned me his shirt. —M.R.S.
15. Realtree and Mossy Oak
Because virtually every American hunter (and many nonhunters) owns something decked in one of these two patterns—a gun or a coat, or just as likely, a cellphone case or bedspread. —Will Brantley
16. Filson Tin Chaps
Because frayed, worn, hard-loved chaps say you are neither a greenhorn nor a poser. But start early. Takes a solid decade to get them right. —T.E.N
17. Stormy Kromer Hat
Because you’ll look like a dork, but your head will be warm and the sun will be out of your eyes, so who cares? —D.E.P.
18. L.L. Bean Boots
Because while 90 percent go to people who would faint at the sight of a downed grouse, they cost just $120, keep your feet dry, and wear literally forever. —D.E.P.
19. Carhartt Duck Quilted Active Jacket
Because road crews and ranchers live in the cold, and this is their uniform. —M.R.S.
20. Buck Model 110 Folding Knife
In 1964, Buck Knives released the Model 110. It was a folder, and there was nothing new about folders; the Roman legions had marched with them. But this was different. It was big. It was heavy. It was clunky. But it had a brass frame and Macassar ebony handle scales, and it was gorgeous. It was also extremely strong. The 110 had a new type of locking mechanism that allowed you to do things that had heretofore been the province of fixed-blade knives.
The 33⁄4-inch stainless-steel blade could be gotten very sharp, and rust wasn’t a problem. All you had to do was put a drop of oil on the hinge pin every St. Swithin’s Day and you were set for life. The 110 was too big to carry in a pocket, and so Buck sold it with a leather belt sheath.
You saw 110s on the belts of just about everyone who worked with their hands, and I don’t know how many people I’ve hunted with who, when it’s time to start field dressing, reach for a 110. The new version is sleeker, but still does everything. Since 1964, Buck has sold 15 million Model 110s. Think of that. Fifteen million. —D.E.P.
21. Estwing Sportsman’s Axe
Every summer, my day camp had an overnight. We middle schoolers got to swim in the dark and sleep in tents, but nothing held our interest like the fire. We’d reach our greedy little hands into a loose pile of old Estwing axes and head for the woods, determined to cut more deadwood than our buddies. Eventually my parents bought me my own Estwing. That ax has been everywhere with me. Now it hangs in the shed next to the chicken coop. It will be my boy’s first ax, too, when he hits that golden age when fire and blades are the most mesmerizing things in the world. —M.R.S.
22. Rich-N-Tone Original Duck Call
The mallards were dots in the distance when I blew my new Rich-N-Tone for the first time. The ducks turned as if yanked with a check cord. Before I could call again, my friends pulled me back onto my 5-gallon bucket. “Shut up! They’re coming.”
Main Street, Stuttgart, Ark., is the Carnegie Hall of duck calling, and the Rich-N-Tone Original Duck Call is its Stradivarius. In 1976, RNT founder Butch Richenback—world-champion caller and mayor of Stuttgart—perfected the Arkansas-style single-reed call, and variations of it still win contests and fool ducks from coast to coast. —P.B.
23. Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet
Because it’s been making perfect campfire eggs and backstrap since before the West was won. —M.R.S.
24. Leatherman Multitool
Because Yankee ingenuity beats the Swiss Army. The Leatherman put a tool kit on our belts. The original PST has evolved into the Rebar, one of a zillion tools Leatherman makes in Portland, Ore. —P.B.
25. Case Trapper Knife
Because with a clip point for gutting and a spey blade for skinning, it’s the original hunter’s pocket knife. Some elk guides still break down bulls with a Trapper and an ax. —M.R.S.
26. Ka-Bar USMC Fighting Knife
Because it was good enough for the Marines, who upon returning from WWII took to the woods with the knife they knew. —M.R.S.
27. Penn International Offshore Reel
Even from a distance, the gleaming gold of a Penn International offshore reel is unmistakable. Visit any marina from Honolulu to Hatteras, Miami to Montauk, and you’re bound to find some boats with these metallic heavy hitters sprouting from every rocket launcher and cockpit rod holder. Whether the target is blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, or monster mako sharks, an International will break their wills season after season, which may explain why I’ve used very few new Internationals offshore. Most have been in the hands of their owners for many years. They are often scratched, dinged, and scuffed, but when a big fish is on the line, this reel’s rock-solid guts winch it to the boat like a champ. I owe my first New Jersey bluefin to a mid-1980s International, and my first wahoo to a late-1970s model on a charter boat in Aruba. While many of Penn’s reels are now made overseas, these big, gold beauties are still machined in the original Philadelphia plant—the same plant that turned out your dad’s International, which probably still kicked butt offshore last summer. —J.C.
28. Eppinger Dardevle Spoon
No matter where you live, you probably have a red-and-white Dardevle spoon in your tackle box. So recognizable is this piece of metal that it’s become the go-to model when a lure needs portraying on anything from a fishing-themed birthday card to a Santa Claus ornament. I clearly remember my grandfather giving me a big Dardevle, and though I’ll admit I didn’t use it often, every time I looked at it, I imagined myself battling giant pike. Of course, while I was dreaming, thousands of anglers were (and still are) using the classic Dardevle to fool everything from huge muskies to heavy lake trout and trophy walleyes. Red-and-white will always be the iconic color scheme, but Eppinger actually produces more than 100 different patterns in an enormous variety of sizes, all of which are made in Michigan as they have been since 1912. —J.C.
29. Mad River Canoe Explorer
Rarely does gear designed to do everything do anything very well, but the Explorer can tackle 95 percent of America’s waters. The 16-foot ABS hull hit the market in 1975, and an olive-green Duck Hunter model was my first major gear purchase with my first job out of college.
It’s stable enough so that two decent casters can stand and flyfish at the same time, and it’s rugged enough to serve as a gear sled (or a deer sled) that I’ve pulled over ice and snow. Perhaps its only drawback is that it can handle so much weight that you’re tempted to carry far more beer than you probably should.
I’ve run my Explorer through Class IV rapids and 3,000-year-old cypress woods, dragged it through scores of swamps, and filled it with dogs, deer, and ducks. I’ve changed diapers and gutted smallmouth bass on its upturned hull. And I fish and hunt out of it every year, more than 30 years after I bought it, with every last cent I could scrape together. —T.E.N.
30. Mike’s Cheese Salmon Eggs
When I think of my early trout fishing days, I can still smell the cheese oil on my fingertips. Wisconsin-based Atlas-Mike’s has been producing a variety of scented and colored salmon eggs for over 80 years, but I’ve never wavered from Mike’s Cheese, which caught stockers faster than my buddies’ garlic eggs, I swear.—Joe Cermele
31. Cortland Fly Line
Because anyone who’s been flyfishing for 30 years or more probably made his first loops with a spool of Cortland’s classic 333 Trout line. —J.C.
32. Snag Proof Frog
Because every one of today’s flashy topwater amphibians is ultimately a spin-off of this original hollow-body frog—and because it still smashes bass. —J.C.
33. Eagle Claw Hooks
Because if you have hooks, there’s a very good chance this company made them, in Denver, as they have since 1925. —J.C.
34. Orvis Superfine
Because these small-stream rods have been beating cutthroats in canyon trickles and brookies in pocket water since long before you ever heard the word
35. Simms Waders
Because they’ll take a beating for years, and if you finally bust them, the same American hands that made them in Montana will patch them up good as new. —J.C.