‘Tis the giving season once again. It has been another solid year of putting outdoor gear to the test. Contributors Kali Parmley and Britney Starr add their wishes to this year’s list for outfitting the bird hunters in your life.
Having dogs share the load can save a lot of leg on a pack-in to upland camp. Ruffwear builds hard core active-dog gear. The Ruffwear Approach Dog Backpack ($60) has all the right adjustment points, fits close to the dog’s body and distributes loads evenly. It took a little time for Rio the setter to learn her new dimensions while carrying her food and first aid kit, but soon she was scurrying uphill without losing a step. When the Bivy Bowl ($23) is collapsed flat it takes up almost no space in the backpack yet when expanded it still has the rigid sidewalls to which my dogs are accustomed. This is a perfect holiday combo for your camping bird dog and we even used the Approach with light loads to help build strength and endurance leading up to the hunting season.
To list all the features of this duo in a gift guide is daunting. Garmin used to be known simply for preventing hunters from getting lost. But it seems they are doubling down on their commitment to outdoorsman offering wearables, cameras and sporting dog gear. They are becoming an outdoor brand.
The Fenix 3 ($400) hasn’t left my wrist for anything but charging since the spring. It’s tracked my preseason workouts, warned of coming storms, pointed me in the right direction, foretold sunrise and sunsets, showed distances I’ve travelled and marked the truck’s location. An amazing piece of wearable tech that I still am not utilizing a fraction of its total potential. And now I can use it to control the VIRB XE ($399) action cameras to take first person video and stills.
Besides the 1080p video, 12MP capabilities and waterproof to 50M without a case, the stand out feature of the VIRB XE is the incorporation of data overlay which can track speed, g-force, position….. attach the VIRB to a bird dog and the possibilities become mind boggling. You’ll be seeing more and more video from Ultimate Upland in the coming months as we continue to explore this Garmin duo in bird hunting applications.
I’m always in search of the next great boot because footwear design and materials evolve so quickly relative to other outdoor gear. Every season there is something new and every season we’re hiking hundreds of miles in all kinds of conditions making the perfect grinder to test innovation. I’ve owned a few pairs of Keen before this season and noted them as lightweight, solid construction and extremely comfortable. When I learned about the Keen American Built initiative I knew it was time to take the new style Logans ($130-$160) to the field. Right now 25% of Keen’s line are built in its Portland factory, with hopes to one day have 100% made in the US footwear. That’s a tall order for boots with price points below $160. Comfortable straight out of the box, I’ve worn the Logan exclusively this season, Keen Logan in good weather and Keen Logan Mid when conditions turn sour. Single boots weigh right around a pound, less for Women’s Logan. Aggressive soles, waterproof membranes, solid stitching, synthetic miracle materials….. American Built. I’m sold.
Blitz had it’s origins in jewelry cleaning but has expanded their offerings to include hunters’ bling. Besides being non-petroleum based and made in the USA, the Blitz Firearm Wipes ($7) just work really well. I’m not sure what proprietary oil is used, but every bird hunter should have a pack of these in the truck to wipe the stink off guns before returning them to the case.
The NEMO Equipment Dagger 2 Person Tent weighed in a full 2 lbs. lighter than my old backpacking tent. That may not sound like much but when you’re talking about hauling a crammed backpack miles up a mountain over 9,000′ above sea level, those couple pounds are fairly pronounced. We’ve become fans of NEMO’s equipment which is well thought out and designed. Easy setup, ample floor space for two bird dogs and one hunter (jump up to the 3P if another hunter is in tow), roomy vestibules for extra gear and extra headroom in this tent created by a single pole system means you never end up leaving poles on the mountain in a rushed pack out.
While we’re on the topic of camping and hunting in wild places, these opportunities depend on healthy habitat and good access for sportsmen. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) fights for all these and more in its mission to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. The TRCP is the only group that seeks to unite all sportsmen around important federal issues that affect fish and wildlife habitat, funding for conservation programs, and sportsmen’s access.
This holiday season become a donor and take part in the Public Lands Challenge: from now through December 31, The Orvis Company will match any NEW donor’s gift to the TRCP or any gift INCREASE from a past donor. All donations will support the TRCP’s efforts to keep public lands public (and there are a number of great thank-you gifts to select in exchange for your donation). You can help make the voice of sportsmen even stronger by supporting the TRCP today.
Besides doing their part to support public access, Orvis is also making some great improvements to their upland gear. When the leaves have yet to drop and shooting windows are minute, the ruffed grouse leave no time for thinking or for fumbling with the mount of the shotgun. The thing I like most about the Orvis Upland Shell ($198) is it provides warmth and water resistance without bulk. Tough fabric stands up to the briars but still breathes. The adjustable cuffs and addition of a blaze orange options are a big improvement from the previous model which I wore for years. When the weather turns cold this jacket has found permanent residence under my vest.
That conniving black lab of mine will no longer use cover of night to perform acts of mischief. Now I clip on a Nite Ize Disco SPOTLIT ($6) and he gives me the look of disdain as I send him outside to do his business. No more losing track of the dark dog in the darkness.
I’ve lost two knives to briars and saplings snagging the pocket clip. Maddening. I decided this season I would teach the pick pocket coverts a lesson and hunt with a sheathed fix blade. To be honest, I still like the feel of a knife in my pocket, probably because most of my brush pants have a permanent impression from years of carry. But the edge retention, hunter orange santoprene polymer handle, the heft of this Benchmade Steep Country ($98) feels great in the hand. Whether it’s an upland bird or a Ponderosa pine, when I have this knife I feel like I can render it to pieces.
When I informed the folks at Hawke Optics that I needed a pair of high-power, high-performance, lightweight binoculars for upland hunting I’m pretty certain they thought I’d sprung a leak. Not really the kind of equipment one thinks of for pursuit of traditional upland game. But when I explained we’d be chasing Himalayan Snowcock in Nevada high country where the challenges of spotting birds before they jump from cliffs is real, Hawke recommended their Endurance 10×42 ($240). For the entire month of September the Endurance were our eyes during brutal mountain ascents and backcountry antics as the Snowcock turned us inside out. We never closed the distance on these spooky birds but still managed to fall on these Hawke binocs no less than three times in loose rocky terrain. None the worse for wear, they are great value, really good glass and live up to the name.
A human can survive without food for three weeks. Hypothermia and exposure are the real killers in the wild. I’ve added the UST WetFire™ Tinder ($7) to my vest as part of my mobile first aid and survival gear. In the event I can’t make it back to the truck due to weather, injury or poor navigation skills I will now always be able to start a fire and stay warm.
I’m not normally a long john kind of guy because trudging through thick cover tends to produce enough body heat that shedding layers is more likely the norm. But last year hunting late season we got caught in a Midwest blizzard with winds cutting at ridiculous speeds and ambient temps in the teens. That’s when I broke out the Under Armour Base 4.0 and it made me a believer ($80 crew/ $80 legs). I felt like Spiderman when I stretched into this base layer. It hugs the body while still putting a cushion of air next to the skin. With windchills reaching deep negatives and freezing rain coming in sideways the hunt continued…. until I could no longer feel my face. Hoping UA Base 4.0 for the face comes out this year.
Everyone considers eye protection at the range required equipment. But vision is probably more at risk when bird hunters are afield. I’ve grown tired of taking sticks to the eye when busting cover. I didn’t think there were glasses that could perform in all the varying terrains and conditions I choose to hunt especially when those change throughout the day. I was wrong. Rudy Project Magster with ImpactX-2 photochromic clear-to-red lenses ($275) transition to any light condition afield. Insanely lightweight with what seems infinite adjustment, I often forget I’m even wearing eye protection. Rudy Project is adding shooting sports to their lineup for elite athletes. Other lens options exist, all with lifetime warranty and frames have a 3-year warranty. I expect these Magster will be with me for a long time because I’m no longer willing to risk my sight while hunting.
If you’ve stumbled into a Cabela’s store recently – and it’s tough not to because they are popping up like Whac-A-Mole – you may notice that more and more of the gear they sell is Cabela’s brand. It appears they’ve used the market research from selling all manner of other brands to produce the top sellers on their own, often at lower price points. I’ve been a skeptic of much of their clothing which in the early days seemed cheap and of inferior production. But my last visit I noticed a number of items that have made a quality leap. That’s how I came to own this Cabela’s Long-Sleeve Fleece ($60) .The shirt looks like an old-school thick wool flannel, but actually is super soft fleece, well-constructed, durable and the right weight over a t-shirt for hanging around a campfire in brisk air of a fall camp.
With a myriad of upland gear available for men, women bird-chasers don’t have it that easy. Cabela’s has come to the rescue with their “OutfitHER” women’s specific line of clothing (no pink involved). Ladies looking for a reliable, comfortable, and durable pair of field pants for their adventures chasing ringnecks should turn to the Cabela’s OutfitHER Upland Pants ($60). Made from 100% cotton canvas, the pants are equipped with nylon weave panels that resist the toughest of brambles and thickets, and are lined with hunter orange to help with safety in the field. Best part: their price-point won’t break the bank.
Looking for a softshell jacket that can be warn in your early and late season hunts? Consider the North Branch Softshell from FirstLite ($250) as your go-to jacket. The softshell is lightweight, durable and provides warmth without bulk—a bird chasers best friend. The jacket is fleece lined, but breathable, highly water resistant, wind proof and quiet—all makings of the perfect field jacket. I’ve worn this as my go-to upland jacket this season, and couldn’t have been more pleased. Finding myself in different weather conditions while chasing Sharptails in North Dakota, the North Branch stood up against rain, snow and wind, all the while keeping me warm, comfortable, and still able to swing my shotgun with ease.
Traveling with your favorite four-legged hunting companion just got easier with Cabela’s Gun Dog Food and Hydration Pack ($70) that makes storing food for a long road trip to hunt camp simple. The pack not only keeps up to 8lbs. of food dry with its roll-top closure, it also holds 1.5 liters of water. Bonus features: A zip-open food-dispensing spout and pour valve for water. Also included is a zip-away food/water bowl, perfect for meals on the road. This pack stored food for 10 days, with plenty of room to spare, on my long road-trip to chase wild birds with my lab, Lincoln. This is a must-have for the hunter and dog on the go.
Small and portable, the Camp Chef Rainier Campers Combo Stove ($153) is complete with a one-burner stove, and a non-stick griddle and grill. The griddle and grill are easily switched for making pancakes in the morning, to grilling venison for dinner. Complete with a matchless ignition for ease of use, the Camper’s Combo is the perfect stove for hunting and camping adventures. I was fortunate enough to use the Rainier Camper’s Combo in North Dakota during my 3-day wild bird hunt camp. The stove performed flawlessly while cooking antelope over the grill, and even in tight quarters as my fellow hunters and I squeezed into a smaller camper to avoid freezing rain. Venison was grilled to medium-rare perfection, while noodles were boiling on the burner.
Despite the fact that women’s hunting gear has come a long way, overall, since I first started busting brush, it can still be slim pickins when it comes to female-specific upland gear. Luckily, there are a few companies who are doing it right, not just men’s sizing made smaller, but actual women-designed and women-tailored gear. One of those companies is Eddie Bauer. I’ve worn their Mabton Flats vest ($199) for three seasons in Michigan’s North Woods, and South Dakota, and it’s held up beautifully. The vest is made of durable, water-resistant material, that really does stay dry … Except for if you fall, armpit deep, into a bog while hunting swamp grouse, but I digress. The back pouch is roomy enough for a limit of birds, as well as a water bottle for the dog, and the front pockets can fit an entire box of shells each – if you like to burn powder like I do, you’ll probably want to have that many. Overall, the Mabton Flats vest is a solid staple piece to your upland wardrobe and well worth the investment.
My mom always told me to invest in nice luggage, well, that goes for toting your hunting gear, also. My Mud River Rolling Duffel ($192) has been to Africa, Saskatchewan, and multiple states in the US, and still looks as good as the day I bought it. The hard-sided bottom adds an extra measure of protection, as well as a great storage space. Mud River also offers a host of dog accessories to make your travels easier, including the Crate Cushion ($20 – $27) that gets “two paws up” from my GSP Wesson.
This comprehensive e-collar + beeper system is a great package for any uplander on your Christmas list. With a 1-mile range on the e-collar and 500-yard audible range on the beeper, the SportDOG Brand® UplandHunter® 1875 ($385) makes it just as easy to keep tabs on your big-running dog, as it is to locate your close-working pup in dense cover.
Packed with features like DRYTEK® waterproofing, expandability to add up to 3 dogs on one transmitter, seven levels of momentary and continuous stimulation, as well as the option to train with vibrate and tone, SportDOG Brand follows through with its motto of “Gear the Way You’d Design It.”
To make things even better, SportDOG Brand is offering a $50 rebate on gear priced $199 and above, now through 12/31/2015!
There’s nothing like chasing some late season birds to help get the blood flowing and burn off the extra mugs of eggnog. Get all that shopping done and get outside.