Sportsman’s Guide

Mrs. Yeoman Farmer and I have found a new supplier that we like a lot and have begun telling our friends about: Sportsman’s Guide. They are an online discount seller of outdoor goods, and their primary focus seems to be hunters and fishermen (note their name), but they carry an enormous variety of related products that just about anyone — especially those of us who live in the country — will find useful. And they have some of the best prices we’ve seen.

We’re big believers in buying things in bulk whenever possible. Not just to save money, but also to make sure we always have a supply on hand of things we need. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’re out of something, having to make a special trip to the store, and paying more than you need to.

In particular, I like to buy ammunition in bulk; prices for a 20 or 50 round box at Wal-Mart or the local gun shop can be pretty steep, especially compared to buying by the case. Ammo doesn’t go bad if it’s stored in a dry place, and I know I’ll eventually go through it. And given the unpredictability of supply in certain calibers, I like the peace of mind of knowing I’m immune to production disruptions. I’ve had good experiences buying bulk ammo from various online dealers, but in the last few months I’ve found Sportsman’s Guide tends to have the best prices, most consistent availability, and widest variety of calibers of pretty much anyone else out there. And their Ammo page on the website is easy to navigate.

Sportsman’s Guide has a “Buyers Club” that you’ll be asked to join when you place your first order. This is definitely worth the $30 cost. You not only get discounted prices on pretty much every product, but you’ll get extra savings and free shipping on your first order. Then, as a Club member, you’ll get frequent email offers for “$10 off your next order of $99 or more” or “free shipping on your next order of $99 or more.” Within two orders, my club membership had easily paid for itself. (The free shipping offers, in particular, were a nice opportunity to stock up on bulk ammo. That stuff can get HEAVY.)

The most interesting part of club membership has been the catalogs we get in the mail. We get at least one (and sometimes more) per week. I didn’t pay much attention to these, as I usually just go on their website and order when there’s something I need. I figured they send all these catalogs because so many of their customers are rural and therefore don’t have high speed internet.

But then Mrs. Yeoman Farmer noticed one of these catalogs laying on the dining room table, and began browsing it. She was soon perusing these things every time Yeoman Farm Baby had her pinned for a feeding. And she discovered something: Sportsman’s Guide carries all kinds of cool military and outdoor surplus stuff, that we’ve never seen elsewhere, at great prices. She ordered boots for her and the kids for something like $30 per pair. She got herself a heavy wool cape at a good price. Heavy wool military coats and hats and sweaters. They sometimes don’t have exactly the right size, but kids grow quickly and we just order an extra size up.

Our biggest frustration with boots in particular, from places like Wal-Mart, is how quickly the kids destroy them. And yet we’ve hesitated to buy the kids the really nice Muck Boots, like MYF and I wear around the farm, because they are so expensive. Military surplus boots are looking like they may be a good compromise: Just $30, and built to survive a march across Austria. As I hold these things in my hands and lace them up, I seriously doubt any kid could wear them out even if he wanted to. (I will post an update if Homeschooled Farm Boy or Big Little Brother manage to succeed, however.)

Anyway, this is not to discourage you from supporting local retailers or merchants. MYF and I are big believers in localism — but sometimes local merchants don’t have what we need, or don’t have what we need at a reasonable price. We’ve been very happy with Sportsman’s Guide, and would encourage you to check them out.

Boots

We had a nasty winter storm move in last night. There wasn’t much snow, but the temperatures dropped from the upper thirties yesterday afternoon down to about 10F overnight, with winds approaching gale-force speeds. The snow we did get has been blowing and drifting everywhere, and the roads have a good coating of ice on them. Getting into the upper thirties yesterday seems to have melted the snow we got over the weekend…and going into the teens last night turned that stuff into ice. Especially with the winds and the whipping/blowing snow, I’m not venturing off the property today. I’m just glad I brought plenty of firewood in yesterday, ahead of the storm; the wind has now deposited a fairly substantial snowdrift in front of the wood pile.

Unfortunately, when you have livestock, it’s still necessary to venture out to the barn a few times a day no matter what the weather. (But the Yeoman Farm Children are happy that the goats are not in milk right now.)We’re keeping the barn doors closed tightly, and the animals have generated enough body heat to keep their downstairs area in the mid-thirties. The big bonus of that: their water has remained liquid.

But, milk or no milk, I’ve had to go out to the barn. And it’s impossible to express how thankful I was this morning for having made a certain investment: good boots. When we first moved to the country, my temptation was to cut corners and buy cheap rubber boots from Wal Mart. We quickly discovered, however, that cheap boots are no bargain. When you wear boots every time you go outside, those boots take a lot of abuse. Cheap rubber boots literally fall apart after just a couple of months of getting that kind of use. And even before they become completely unusable, they leak moisture; there are few things as uncomfortable as wet socks on a ten degree morning in Michigan.

The solution we settled on long ago: invest in a good set of high quality boots. Yes, they cost substantially more at first — but they easily pay for themselves because they last so much longer. My favorites are made by a company called Muck, and they’re available for sale at most feed stores (the company’s website has a dealer locater that will help you find a place nearby). There are places that sell Muck Boots online with free shipping, but their prices don’t seem much better (if at all) than the local feed store. I’ve never bought these things online. Besides wanting to support a local small business, I also like being able to try the boots on and make sure they fit comfortably. They are a big investment, and I’d be miserable for the next year if they were a little too tight or a little too loose.
Muck makes several models of boots, depending on the application, but all of them are very solidly made and with care should last a full year on the farm. We usually get the Chore model, in either mid-calf or “high” height. The taller ones are heavier, and can make your legs feel tired more quickly after a long day of walking around, but on a cold day with blowing/drifiting snow they are sure nice to have.
When you’re thinking about moving to the country, boots probably aren’t high on your list of things to acquire. They certainly weren’t on our radar. But good boots should be among the very first investments you make. And in our experience, it’s hard to go wrong with anything from Muck.