Thursday, February 13, 2020

Dressing For Success

The title is really a misnomer. Well dressed to the eastern grouse hunter means something entirely different to the Chukar hunter of Idaho.  Old pictures of the southern quail hunting gentleman show breeches, high lace-up leather boots, corduroy jacket, button-up shirt with a tie, broad brim hat, and a light double gun.  The dress for an Arizona desert quail hunter may include snake chaps, jeans, short-sleeved shirt, strap vest, and broad brim hat.  A South Dakota pheasant hunter's dress might be what's called functional- what works to stay warm, or cool at the Opener, and a gun big enough to drop a wily rooster at 40 yards.  That being said, I fall into the middle somewhere.

2001 at a Field Trial
It's hard to beat jeans.  They are cool when it's hot, warm when it's cool, and comfortable all the time.  Bo and I were at a field trial in the warm weather.  No briars, no sticky things at all. It was dry and the walking was easy.  Jeans and a t-shirt and ball cap were perfect for the day.  Notice the leather gloves.  I'm addicted to leather gloves.  A certain kind- made from deer hide.  They seem to last about a season or two, deflect briars, and allow me to hold the gun tightly in all types of weather.  Once, In New Mexico, I took a Blue Quail, shot by a friend of mine,  from my dog, and I tossed it to him.  He reached out to grab it, glove-less, and dropped it like a hot potato.  He swore, "Dang! Check those things for sand spurs before you toss them!"  "Sorry!" I said, "I couldn't tell it rolled in sand spurs!"  Gloves are an everyday item for me.

Mearns hunting on the Opener 2019 Warm Weather
Jeans, gloves, t-shirt (the wicking kind), good sunglasses, broad-brim hat (it keeps the dermatologist happy), solid vest (WingWorks), and double gun make the Mearns hills and draws in Arizona much more comfortable.

Shelby and me South Dakota. Temps 20's to 40's
Moving into the mid temperature range, it seems I'm always where the wind blows, as well.  Shelby and I are in South Dakota with temperatures in the 20's to 40's, and windy all the time.  She, and her husband Matthew, are proponents of the slip-on chaps.  When I would hunt the briar-filled draws of my Georgia clear-cut lease, back in the early 90's, I wore a pair of Double Tin chaps by Filson.  I still have them and they are perfectly functional (with a little duct tape around the bottoms to allay the shredding caused by briars.), but these days I forgo the chaps for functional pants to lessen weight and binding while walking.  I found a company in Oregon (Kuhl) that makes the perfect mid-weight hunting pants.  They are not water proof (They do have a waterproof variety.), but they don't reach out and suck up dampness like jeans, they can take a fair amount of cold wind, and will deflect a moderate amount of briars and New Mexico vegetation. They make shorts out of the same fabric.  I wear them all summer long, and will field trial in them on those hot afternoons when I'm questioning the wisdom of wandering around in the heat.

A windproof, light jacket with layers underneath is a must.  I have an Orvis jacket (above) with a cotton shirt and wool pullover sweater underneath.  My normal leather gloves were replaced with gloves my kids got me for wet, cold weather- Gore Tex lined shooting gloves.  I was trying them out- loved 'em. A friend gave me a Gamehide upland jacket and it works as well as the Orvis jacket, and has big pockets, game bag, etc.  Broad-brim hat, sunglasses, and vest, of course.

I had to go to the "big hat" theme when they started cutting pre-cancerous stuff off me.  Most old men that have had an outdoor life will understand. (Young bucks! Wear a big hat, sunscreen, and ear protection.  Don't be an idiot.)  I've worn one for many years- different types, shapes, and fabrics.  My current fav is a crushable, felt hat that will take a lot of abuse and still look pretty good after I shake it out. Typically, it will travel rolled up in my backpack on the plane heading out to fish, but fill out immediately when I pull it out.

BJ, my wife, and me.  South Dakota
Moving in to cold weather hunting, the key is layering.  The broad brim hat is gone because the wind was 20+ mph all day- replaced by a wool hat (actually TWO wool hats.  It was that cold.) I switched to the Gamehide jacket with layers- Merino wool pullover, cotton long sleeve polo, wool, Gore-Tex- lined, pullover sweater, and windproof shooting vest, all under the jacket.  The good thing about layering is being able to selectively shed garments as the day unfolds.  BJ is layered top to bottom in a similar fashion. Boots to chin, she's all Orvis for women. That black thing around our necks might be the single best cold weather piece of gear. Neck Gators. Up in Pierre, SD (pronounced “peer”, not a Frenchman’s name.) at Running's, they have an entire wall of these things. They are the bomb for staying warm in cold, windy conditions. They are also good for the occasional bank robbery.

Ruby, Shack, me in Nebraska with Prairie Chicken and Sharptail (Kuhl hunting pants)
South Dakota 2017 (LLBean wool pants)
Layering and wool solve a lot of dilemmas.  Wool sweater, wool and cotton underneath, wool pants (make sure you're not likely to be in briars all day), and you can see I've already shed my jacket (tied it on the back of my vest.). The ubiquitous leather gloves and sunglasses.

Sunglasses:  Back when my vision hovered around 20/15, and I thought I was bullet proof, I wouldn't wear sunglasses.  Now, my vision is NOT 20/15, and, in fact, to sharpen near and far vision, I wear bi-focals when I hunt.  Not necessary during the day, but it sure sharpens things in the field.  I finally chose WileyX.  They are, literally, bullet-proof (well, close. They will stop a pellet to the eye.), they have all the UVA protections, are light, and stay in place.  (And the old Ball-and-Chain likes the way they look.)  Note: Be sure to get some yellow lenses for low light, cloudy days.  They really lighten everything up.  As I said, mine are prescription lenses.  None of them are cheap, but I like my eyes, and seeing is a good thing.

Boots: I've been all over the charts with boots. Rubber, leather, combination. Hiking, bird-hunting boots, Kangaroo leather, hand-made, custom fit, smooth bottom, aggressive tread, straight last, curved last, lace-up, zip up, slide in.  I learned one thing.  If they work for you, wear them.  I buy hiking boots.  I've found that most "bird hunting" boots fit some guy's idea of what we should encounter walking around a southern quail plantation to shoot, then climbing back on the mule-drawn wagon back to the "big house" for a finger or two of good Bourbon before lunch. In other words, they can't handle a season of hunting 4 or 5 different landscapes around the country.  My favorites for years were Danner Pronghorns, but I'd go through a a pair a year.  Lately, I’m currently wearing a pair of "Crispi" boots I got at Scheels.  Once again, they aren't cheap, but they won't make you rob a bank, either.

So, let's recap, shall we?  Does any of this fashion statement make me a better bird hunter?  My dogs think so, but you can't listen to them. They think everything I say is wise and wonderful.  (That's one reason we love our dogs.) Clothing doesn't make the bird hunter. Whatever you feel comfortable wearing that will keep you cool in the warm fall weather and warm in the winter wind will work.  Nobody that's been doing this for any length of time cares what anyone else is wearing- they only care about what keeps them ready for the flush, is light enough to wear all day, and warm enough to keep them alert and not thinking about how cold it is. So, let's say that proper clothing will enhance your hunting, while on the other hand, poor clothing choices will make for a miserable experience. 
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An old grouse hunter told me, "Randy, when you meet a guy in the woods, look at his gloves, boots, and pants, in that order.  If his gloves are well-used and cared for, his boots are scarred, but in good shape, and his pants are patched and well-worn, you are most likely looking at a guy that knows what he's doing and what he's talking about."  Like most advice coming from an old guy peeling an apple with a pocket knife, I thought it was worth remembering.