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May 26, 2009 Comments (0) Gear & Equipment

Browning Hunt Master Review

HuntMaster008aUpdate! We have posted Browning’s response to our question later in the article about the power levels on the high level setting. Anyone familiar with the outdoors arena will immediately recognize the Browning name.  For some, the name Browning conjures images of high-end rifles or shotguns.  Others might immediately reflect on the classic, but still relevant Browning High Power semi-auto pistol.  But, I would venture to guess that most wouldn’t immediately think of LED lights when Browning is brought up in a conversation.  However, that could well change if they stay on their current path of providing high quality lights for the outdoorsman.  Recently, we did a review on Browning’s Tactical Hunter 160L LED flashlight, and it was well received by the reviewer.  Today, we’re going to take a look at one of their newest models, and it might just be their best yet.  That model is the Browning Hunter Master LED flashlight.  I’ll be honest, the first thing that that impressed me when I came across it was its 400 lumen output at a retail price under $100.00.  That’s right.  Under $100.00.

There are all sorts of companies in the market today producing very high-end LED lights.  Much like other technological advances, the LED light market has been growing at an exponential rate the last few years.  Until recently, it was unheard of to get an LED flashlight at this performance level without parting with several hundred dollars for the trade.  But, there’s been a bit of a revolution lately with more players entering the market and with the development of more high-powered LED’s.  Browning is one of those players, and so far, they’re doing quite nicely in this new enterprise.

HuntMaster005aThe Hunt Master stands apart from most of the other LED lights produced by Browning.  If you’ll browse their inventory, you’ll find a lot of personal area lights, several headband style lights, and lights to clip onto a cap or a hat.  The main difference in the Hunt Master is its size and output.  Its overall length is 6.6 inches with about 3/4’s of the body being the thickness of a large magic marker.  That last quarter of the body is devoted to the wider head with its unbreakable lens and three resident Luxeon Rebel LED’s which kick out that 400 lumens I was talking about earlier.  The Hunt Master’s engine is powered by three CR123 batteries which are fairly common this day and age–though they aren’t inexpensive.  However, for this kind of output, the cost of three CR123 batteries is well worth it to have this kind of illumination in the woods.

HuntMaster009aThe body of the Hunt Master is crafted from aluminum and is Olive Drab in color.  Aside from its robust construction, one very nice operational detail is the focusing mechanism for the light.  By rotating the first ring on the head of the Hunt Master, you can go from a wide area flood light to a very focused and intense beam.  No matter where you have the focus mechanism set, you get a very clean circle of light with no bright spots or dark areas.  This method of focusing is of great utility in the woods at night since you can use the wide area flood to scan for movement or eyeshine ahead of you.  But, once you’ve spotted something, it’s a snap to zoom in with the light to get a more detailed look at what you saw.  Given that the Hunt Master pours out 400 lumens at its peak level, there’s not much you’re going to miss out on the trail.

Speaking of which, I took the Hunt Master down to North Carolina at our annual Practice What You Preach outing and showed it off to a bunch of folks there to get their opinions on the light.  Everyone that handled it and observed its output was quite impressed.  In fact, one very noteable outdoors person with whom most knife-oriented people would recognize, went out of his way to get the name of the light so he could get one for himself when he got home.  I won’t use his name without his permission, but his face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when he saw the Hunt Master’s throw into the tops of surrounding trees.  The Hunt Master was a true hit with everyone that tried it out down at our gathering.  It was easily the most powerful flashlight present amongst the seventy-odd people that attended.  Even for all its power, it’s still only about 1/4 the size of a normal 2 D cell aluminum flashlight.  Yes, the times they are a changin’.

HuntMaster003aAfter I came back home from the gathering, I took the light out and got some photographs of it in operation at night.  It’s a little hard to focus accurately when it’s pitch black out, but you’ll get the general idea of the Hunt Master’s effectiveness.  The first photo on the right of this paragraph shows the Hunt Master’s output in its high power setting with with the tightest focus.  The tree in the photo is approximately 65 feet from where I took the picture.  The first photo on the left below this paragraph shows the same focus setting, but the Hunt Master is illuminating a couple of tree tops which I ranged at about 150 feet.  The second photo on the right below this paragraph shows the wider area focus of the Hunt Master in its high power setting.  The bush in that picture is about 40 feet away from the camera.  To give you a perspective on the tight focus at the same distance, the last picture on the right shows you how narrow the beam can be made to get the most detail.  If I do say so, that’s a pretty impressive performance for a light of this size.  That said, for this type of light, I would probably use the tightest focus most of the time.  If I need an area light, even a stronger one, I have a nice headlamp that will do the trick and save me some money on batteries because I can use rechargeable AA batteries in it.  However, having the wide area beam is certainly a nice plus with for the Hunt Master and its user since it’s very easy to re-focus the light on the fly, if it’s needed, without a lot of manipulation.

HuntMaster004aHuntMaster001aHuntMaster002a

I wanted to get more than a rough thumbnail idea of the light’s performance.  Just from oberservation I was impressed with its output, but I also wanted to check its run time as well.  Browning states on their site that the Hunt Master will operate for three hours on the high power setting.  That’s quite a bold claim.  Running 400 lumens for three hours on just 3 CR123 batteries seemed to be a little optimistic in my opinion.  But, I threw my doubts to the side and decided to do my own test.  The Hunt Master comes with three Duracell CR123 batteries, but between using the light at the PWYP gathering, at home in our own woods, and after taking several photos, I decided to pop in a fresh set of batteries.  All I had on hand were Energizer CR123 batteries.  I didn’t know if that would make any kind of difference in the times, but Energizer lithium batteries are all I use for my flashlights (when possible).  I’ve always had great results and have never been let down by their performance.  So, once the batteries were in, we were off to the races!

HuntMaster007aI had the Hunt Master pointed at a wall while I working on another article.  And, after just ten minutes, I saw that there was significantly less light output than when it first started.  I was startled momentarily to think it drained off that quickly.  I turned the light off and then back on.  As soon as it came back on, it was at the same initial blinding output that it began with the first time around.  Since the initial dimming occurred within the first ten minutes, I decided to watch it for a little while to see when it was occurring.  After a couple of minutes, I noticed a slight, but quick drop in the output level.  A little bit later there was another slight drop.  As I watched the light on the wall, it decreased in its output level every so often.  Thinking about it for a moment, I started timing the intervals between the light level decreases.  It turns out that after a couple of minutes, the high power beam starts dropping its level once about every 16 seconds.  This kept happening until it leveled off at around the low power setting where it stayed from then on.

Now, this wasn’t a gradual dimming effect.  It was a discernible shift in output.  One second it was at one level and the next second it’s at a lower level.  Since it was occurring once every 16 seconds, I guessed that it had to be something in the circuitry that was causing that to happen on purpose.  My initial thoughts were that this step-down process of the light level might be to conserve battery power or to keep the light from building up too much heat.  But, all of that was just speculation on my part.  I don’t believe I’ve encountered this phenomenon with any of my other LED lights and it made me a bit curious.  So, I contacted the rep at Browning to see if they could provide any information as to why this was happening.  Here is the response that I received from her that was addressed by an engineer:

…”the reason the LED declines in brightness is because of heat.  We are able to push the LED to its maximum brightness by “over-driving” the LED, as the engineers say, but only until it reaches the maximum allowable heat limit.  If the temperature goes higher, the LED may be damaged.  Once the heat limit is reached, the driving current (measured in milli-amps, or mA) is automatically reduced by the internal circuitry in the light.

The good news here is that by using ICs, we can exceed the expected brightness of an LED, but only if we manage the heat correctly and carefully.

The heat generated is both a function of the driving current and the time that the light has been on.  Obviously, heat builds up over time.  This explains why Garrett can reach maximum brightness again after running the light for an hour or more, if he first allows it to cool by turning the light off.  But as soon as the heat limit is reached, the light will begin to decline in brightness again, so that the heat limit is not exceeded.  In our experience, most users do not run a light for more than a few minutes without turning it off, which means that with a light such as Hunt Master, they can achieve maximum brightness many times before the batteries are depleted.”

HuntMaster011aPart of my curiousity had to do with the runtime claims.  If the light was intended to start stepping down its output after a certain period of time because of heat, then what does the 3 hour runtime claim for the high power setting mean exactly?  During my testing, I had to keep turning the light off and back on to keep it at the highest level.  But, of course doing that wasn’t very exact since I would only do it when I started noticing the light stepping down again.  So, it was impossible for me to get an exact runtime at the true 400 lumen output setting.  But, I tried to keep the light at or near its peak output for well over three hours by turning it off and back on again.  Since the human eye can’t measure light exactly, I’d have to estimate that for 15-20% of that time, the light was probably putting out less than 400 lumens.  But, it did so for longer than the stated three hour runtime with power to spare.  So, as far as performance goes, it did a great job and is right up their with other high-end lights for power and duration.

On one hand, this little quirk makes it tough for me to get my overly analytical mind around not being able to get my own exact determination of actual peak runtime.  But, on the other hand, what really counts in the real world is in the field usage.  As mentioned earlier, by turning the light on and off, I was able to keep it on the high power setting for well over three hours.  Though I’m sure thas was some gradual dimming over that period of time, there was little difference to the naked eye that would raise concern.  If you think about it, most of the time you’re going to be using a light like this at a lower level anyway for walking and so forth.  I don’t imagine there would be many occasions where you would want sustained 400 lumen output for long periods of time anyway.  Even so, I think I’d like to be the one making the decision, not the flashlight.  But, this idiosyncracy was really the only thing that detracted overall from the Hunt Master’s appeal.

Though there are no specs or information regarding water-resistance, I did note there was a rubber O-ring where the tailcap attaches to the main body.  I’m sure this will provided some security against moisture seeping inside, but it’s a question as to what degree.  I also scanned through all the information online and in their catalog and did not find a warranty listed.  When I contacted the rep about the power step-downs on the high-power setting, I also asked about the warranty.  Here is the exact response I received…

As for your warranty question, Browning doesn’t have a written warranty on their lights (or any of the non-gun products for that matter), but we certainly stand behind all of our products.  Manufacturing defects are certainly covered 100%.  We even allow our customers to purchase a light at a very discounted price if the light is abused.  As with all Browning products, we stand behind the lights, and want to be known as “The Best There Is”.

Hmmm…My entire life, I have had the highest regard for Browning products, more particularly, their firearms.  So, I have little reason to doubt their commitment to taking care of their customer base and correcting any problems that may occur with their products.  That said, I’m the sort of person that believes in the expression, “Trust in God, but always tie up your horse”, or in more modern terms, “Trust, but verify”.  Personally, I would feel much better having a written warranty whether it’s one year, twenty-five years, or lifetime as other companies on the market offer.  No one knows what policy changes can be made with a company down the road, and it leaves a lot up in the air as to what they will cover and for how long they will cover it.  So, keep that in mind while you’re making your decision.

HuntMaster012aSo, what did I think overall?  Even though the output automatically stepping down was a little quirky, it’s hard to complain about the Hunt Master.  When you consider the entire package including price, size, output and other factors, I was very pleased with the Browning Hunt Master.  During my camping outings or time in the woods at night, I’m usually using a lower power LED headlamp to get around and do the normal tasks of the evening.  But, for those times when I need that extra power, it’s nice to have the Hunt Master on hand to cut through the darkness to see what lies ahead.  For the hunter working with dogs at night or for spotting in the trees, the Hunt Master does a great job, and it does it at a great price.  In the past, this type of performance in an LED light was reserved to the well-heeled individual who thought nothing of shelling out a few hundred dollars for a light.  Now, this type of performance is within the reach of the average person as well.

Yes, most people aren’t going to pay more than  $10-$15 dollars for a flashlight.  But, then again, most people aren’t going to be out on the trail at night and probably don’t have a true need for this kind of output.  For those that do, Browning has done a great job in providing a model that meets that need and does it without you busting the bank.  I remember about 15 years ago being excited when some of the first high-performance lights came out boasting 60-70 lumens.  Now, we’re discussing an LED light that throws out 400 lumens!  Kudos to Browning for the Hunt Master, and we’re looking forward to seeing what else they come out with in this field down the road!

Visit:  www.browning.com

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