Last month I told you about the Southeast Outdoor Press Association conference in Fayetteville, N.C. SEOPA is a 14-state organization of professional outdoor writers and communicators; its corporate sponsors include many of the big-name manufacturers all outdoor folks recognize.

Each year the manufacturers sponsor a "Breakout" — a mini trade show introducing their newest products to the people they want to use them and write about them. Last month I told you about some of the new offerings from the handgun and optics manufacturers, and I sang the praises of the new .500 Smith & Wesson.

There is so much to see at these shows one can't write about it all, so I take it all in, and then report to you what I found most interesting. Being a gun writer, naturally, I gravitate to the firearms and hunting equipment.

Bushnell/Bausch & Lomb always has a strong presence at these shows, and like the gun manufacturers, produces innovative new products annually.

I like Bushnell products. I still carry and consider my ancient Custom Compact binoculars about as important as my rifle on hunting trips. In fact, when interviewed by Sportsman Editor Todd Masson about what I considered indispensable on my deer hunting excursions (aside from the givens, like rifles and scopes), the first thing out of my mouth was, "My binoculars."

But not just any binocs. I like small, compact, easily carried binoculars. They don't have to be super powerful — just strong enough to tell me if it's a buck or a doe way out there.

If it's got horns, I've got the powerful optics on the rifle. It's the "carryability" of the binoculars that matters, along with medium power and crisp optics.

My old, faithful Custom Compacts are beat-up and losing their finish. The carrying case gave up the ghost long ago, and I told Masson if I found myself on the way to the stand without them, I'd turn around and go back to the camp for them, no matter how late it made me.

I've also got a Bushnell "Rain-Guard" 4x12 variable scope on my 7MM Rem Mag, which has proven itself over several seasons hunting in some really nasty weather. The specially coated lenses do not fog up, even in rainstorms. Bushnell has an absolute lifetime warranty on these riflescopes — no receipts or proof of purchase necessary. You don't have to be the original purchaser. If an Elite-series riflescope breaks for any reason, send it in for repairs free, no questions asked. That's confidence in the product.

But another item that has become equally indispensable has been my Bushnell Yardage Pro Compact 800 Laser Range Finder. These handy gadgets tell you how far the target is, and have an error rate of plus or minus only 1 yard! I won't hardly go shooting anything — targets, small game or deer — without sticking the rangefinder in my ditty bag.

Now Bushnell has provided us with the best of both worlds — a compact, 8-power magnification binocular with an incredible 15- to 1,000-yard laser rangefinder built-in.

Less than 3 inches thick, and 6.6 inches long, this handy gem replaces two indispensable items with just one, and at a very reasonable price.

Called the Yardage Pro Quest, the binoculars feature high-quality porro prism optics, multi-coated lenses, center focus and fold-down eyecups. The binoculars weigh only 34 ounces, and are waterproof.

These feature a wide field of view (340 feet at 1,000 yards), making it easy to cover a lot of ground in search of game. There is no need to switch to a laser rangefinder once you have identified the target.

Think about it. If you hunt long-shot stands, you might pick up your binoculars to quickly identify a shootable deer. Then you would pick up your laser rangefinder to range the distance before finally putting it down, and picking up your scoped rifle. With the Yardage Pro Quest, a lot of time and motion is saved.

You simply place the reticle in the binoculars on the target and press a button. An invisible, eye-safe Class 1 laser pulses energy on the target, and instantly displays an exact distance to it.

What is really unusual about this latest advancement is its minimum distance of only 15 yards — a boon to bowhunters.

There is a scan mode that allows the user to receive continuously updated distance readouts as he scans the area. If an animal is behind a rock or obstruction, the hunter can quickly range on a nearby rock or tree without releasing the button.

The Yardage Pro Quest operates on a 9-volt battery that will deliver over 10,000 readings, and it is tripod adaptable. It is now available through Bushnell dealers nationwide, and carries a suggested retail price of $600. I haven't tried one yet, but if my rangefinder, binoculars and scope are any indication, it will perform far past expectations.

Another innovative company showing their wares was Live Eyewear, which manufactures the popular Cocoons sunglasses.

Many of Live Eyewear's products are polarized and optically correct to allow people to wear them over their eyeglasses.

But at SEOPA, they were introducing their new line of EyeSights Cocoons-protective eyewear for hunters and shooting enthusiasts.

I was impressed with these shooting glasses for a number of reasons. First off, they look good. The patented ballistic nylon frames are almost unbreakable, and are in a smart camo pattern. In addition, the nylon frames feature adjustable Flex2Fit temples that can be shaped to fit the contours of the head for optimum comfort and gripping power.

The full-wrap design of the lenses is important in that it keeps the sides of the eyes protected from not only the sun's glare and ultraviolet rays, but from flying projectiles such as spent powder granules, spent cartridges and other elements associated with active shooting.

EyeSights are equipped with distortion-free 2mm polycarbonate lenses that are UV400 rated, scratch resistant and anti-fog. They come in lens colors of safety clear, contrast enhancing yellow, true color-definition smoke and target-enhancing orange.

Put on the yellow lenses, and it is as if a flashlight has been shined into the shaded areas where you look. The orange lenses heighten and intensify the brightness of the light reflecting off a target. Both are excellent choices for shooting at the range. I have both, and find myself gravitating toward the orange — except for the humorous situation that occurs when trying to shoot orange highlighted targets; the target markings sort of disappear before your very eyes with these on.

Most impressively, the lenses have been tested and certified for impact resistance under the strict guidelines of the high impact ANSI Z87.2 safety standard.

In addition, each pair comes with a manufacturer's lifetime warranty, and includes a soft, micro-fiber storage pouch.

Growing up shooting, like many older gun enthusiasts, I learned too late about the dangers of unprotected hearing and gunshots. The old-time gun writers just didn't promote hearing protection, and all joked about their deafness and the sounds they lived with due to tinnitus — ringing in the ears — brought about by damage from gunshots. I'm listening to it right now as I write this — a high-pitched whine in both ears that is most noticeable in quiet periods but always present.

But everyone always pushed eye protection, and except when hunting, I won't shoot a firearm of any type without some sort of eyeglass protection.

And as with all things, equipment designed specifically for the job at hand is always a pleasure to use. Eyeglasses and sunglasses work when shooting, but shooting glasses are always better, and EyeSights are some of the best I've seen and used.

To find out more about EyeSights, Cocoons and Live Eyewear, visit www.cocoonseyewear.com/press_releases/eyesights.html, or phone (800) 834-2563.

For more information about the Bushnell Yardage Pro Quest and other Bushnell products, go to www.bushnell.com, and click on laser rangefinders.