Unknown to unbeatable

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The guns, you know will be here. Ditto the bullets and bags, the camo and the camping stoves.

Occasionally, though, you turn a corner somewhere the 700,000-odd square feet of floor space at the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade Show, and some brilliant burst of serendipity unfolds in front of you. A laser-guided shooting game, or an innovative deer skinning device, or a six-shooter etched to the nines, like a relic from a stagecoach hold-up.

And once in a while, you'll run across some tool or gizmo or other that you didn't know existed, but which seems indispensable once you see it.

Take, for example, Gerber's assortment of blades and butterfly tools. Yes, yes, yes, you say — until you notice an 18-inch swath of high carbon steel with 80 wood-chewing saw teeth running up its spine. This implement is called a Gator machete. It doesn't appear to have much to do with alligators, per se, but if you were tromping through the sort of overgrown environs in which alligators tend to inhabit, and could bring only one blade to hack and saw your way through, this just might be the one.

Need to measure and score the rack of a recently deceased whitetail? You could drag a tape measure around those tines, like a tailor fitting a tux, or you could use the Rackulator, a gadget that looks like an oversized thermometer with a wheel on one end.

Rackulator co-inventor Scott Wolff said he'll score 160 deer in a big buck tournament in North Dakota in a week, and will rely on the Rackulator to do the heavy lifting of tallying and computing scores. When you get a team of guys doing it by hand, amid conversation and commotion, "There's just tons of adding mistakes," he said. "There just is."

So why score your deer manually? For that matter, why drag your turkey to the garage or back porch to deep-fry it? Masterbuilt has built an electric turkey fryer about the size of a microwave that needs just 45 minutes to fry a 14-pound bird in idiot-proof fashion. The stainless steel pot sports a spigot at its front, for easy draining, and also works for boiling the likes of crawfish and vegetables.

Similarly warm and snug are the battery-heated clothes of Venture. The gloves are light and warm. The glomits are light and warm. The kidney wrap is light and warm. The jackets are light and warm and can be connected to the battery of a motorcycle or snowmobile to keep you warm when you're moving fast through the cold. Next time a wind is clawing its way through your hands, you'll wonder why you don't own gloves that run on battery power.

Then there's the thumb-sized, 100-lumens flashlight Leatherman is hawking this year, the Serac 3. It's small and light enough to clip onto the bill of your cap, but bright enough to signal a low-flying spacecraft. Staring into one of these suckers is an exercise in Why Did I Do That?

It's hardly the only flashlight on the market. But then, once you know something that strong and svelte is out there, settling for any other feels like settling.

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