Shotgun instructor Kate Ahnstrom stresses the need to dress for success while in the field, which includes making sure your bird vest fits and that you can work with it while mounting a gun. She also offers great options for finding the perfect bird vest.
Kimber is locked up tight, pheasant cock bird just a few paces ahead of her powerful nose. I bellow back to my four guns on a novice upland hunt, “Move up, move up, get mounted, get ready for flush!” The tension and anxiety waiting for that longtail to flush can be felt pulsating throughout the entire hunt field. Kimber is holding steady, albeit her legs are trembling with the thrill of it all and then, whoosh! A big late season bird busts from thick cover and provides the gun on my immediate left with a dandy of a flushing shot. Unfortunately, all I can hear is cursing instead of the thunder from the over/under 12-gauge, followed by Kimber’s signature squeals of joy as she races off to retrieve.
The aforementioned synopsis of one of my hunts last year was an honest-to-goodness real situation. It could have played out very differently though had the student taken a few shots while wearing her brand-new bird vest. Despite my best efforts to convince her, she seemed confident that it was all perfectly fine. As you just read, it was no where near fine. It was a debacle. The vest swamped her petite frame, and it grabbed the butt stock of her gun and wouldn’t allow her to cleanly and smoothly mount to her cheek and shoulder. She never had a chance at that beautiful pheasant. None of the other guns could back her up because of the angle of the bird’s location to the other guns.
When shooting a shotgun, it is imperative to remember that this is a “pointing gun” and not an “aiming gun.” Gun fit is paramount and fluctuates with just a five-pound weight difference up or down and also with an inch difference, also up or down. For some reason, shooters (clay and feather) rarely put precedence on their gun fits in accordance with what they are wearing while shooting.
What to Wear for Clay Shooting
First, let’s explore the attire for shooting clay. It doesn’t matter the discipline, just that you are familiar with what attire will best suit you. There are a million-and-one shooting vests out there and not all of them are kind to the frame and physique of ladies. While it isn’t a fashion show, it’s still nice to look feminine while you’re out there crushing clays and kicking butt. Syren offers a nicely fitted vest and a wonderful shell pouch, if that’s your preference. If you’re looking for additional options then Nica and Wild Hare both offer a selection of women’s vests as well.
Since you are usually shooting clays from a mounted or mid-mount position, you aren’t as concerned about getting caught up on clothing in the mount. That is IF you are shooting in warmer weather! Once the colder months arrive, we tend to bundle up and a scarf is the best thing to keep your neck and nose warm, but the worst thing to wear and try to get a good gun mount. While I will bundle up in the colder months, I always toss my scarf off my shooting shoulder when I get in the box so that it doesn’t interfere with my shooting. Likewise, if I am wearing a high collar on my vest or coat, I will turn the collar on my shooting side under, so it is away from my cheek and not getting in the way of correctly getting on the stock. Your eye MUST be correctly lined up down the center of the rib so that you are able to shoot where you are looking.
A hat, typically a baseball cap, is commonplace to see most shooters wearing. I am rarely without my Syren mesh back during the summer months. While it does help to keep the sun off of you while in the shooter’s box, I remove mine every time I get in the box unless the sun is just absolutely merciless and beaming straight down on me. This is because that hat will cause most of your peripheral to be cut off due to the brim. It will also create a “tunnel view” when looking out into the field and make it difficult to see all that is happening with your bird. When shooting high overhead birds, definitely remove the hat! We are playing a visual based sport. We have to see it to shoot it.
Finally, a good pair of slim fitting gloves will not only protect your hands from nippy air or too much sun exposure, but they will also spare the metal and wood of your fine shotgun from the acid released in your fingerprints. If you are a meat eater, you have an acrider fingerprint and that will transfer to the gun. Take a look at an older gun that has been well loved and used. You will immediately notice the wear on the surface just under the receiver and along the side plates.
What to Wear in the Field
Let’s take a look at dressing for the hunt fields. If you find yourself wandering a flowing field of broomsedge while chasing longtails, you will want to guarantee a great gun fit with your equipment. When we head to the hunt field, it is usually in colder months, so we bundle up. Again, make sure that there is nothing impeding your ability to acquire a quick and clean mount to the stock. Turn that collar on your shooting side down and under and keep it out of the way. Forego any type of scarf as it will only get in the way, collect burrs and bits of tree limbs, and impede the gun from snuggly falling into place.
A Side Note from Syren USA: Some hunting shotguns like the Syren Julia and Syren Tempio have a wooden buttplate, which is a premium feature usually seen on high-end or custom made guns. The wood buttplate helps to prevent the gun from snagging on your hunting attire as you mount it.
Upland hunting allows us to keep moving so we tend to stay warmer. Layers are your best friend! Invest in some good silks or base layers that will allow your skin to breath and wick away moisture. Once you stop moving, your body will get cold and basically refuse to get going again. Once your feet and hands are frozen, it’s almost impossible not to feel miserable and want to hang it up for the day. Your outer layers should be thinner, but offer excellent warmth and protection from the elements. Don’t bulk up, it is only going to get in the way.
Speaking of feet and hands, find a good pair of gloves for shooting. I love Ariat riding gloves. Most equestrians are women, so that entire industry is geared to fit us correctly. There are some wonderful cold weather riding gloves that will also allow you to feel shells in your pouch and load your gun without fumbling. There is a slew of great options to keep your feet warm, including electric socks or boots. I honestly love the toe warmers that have the one sticky side, and you shove into the toe of your boots. They work well, last for hours and don’t have to be recharged.
No two bird vests are created equally. I have been on a personal mission to find the ultimate bird vest for a woman that will also accommodate handling the dogs. So far, the Prois Pradlann vest is the best option that I can find without moving into a bespoken vest. It is comfy in all the right spots, has oversized pockets making it very easy to grab shells in a hurry and great oversized net pockets for the dog’s water bottles. My only complaint honestly is that the bird bag is woefully inadequate. I can put in two pheasant cock birds and maybe a quail or so but that’s it. I lose birds regularly as they fall out when I bend over to grab a retrieve. I do appreciate the minimal interference with my gun mount though. The straps on a bird vest will get in the way of mounting your gun and can actually throw it off. Please, be sure to try your new vest out at home mounting your gun before you get into the field!
What to Wear Near the Water
Waterfowlers will always have a more difficult time balancing fit and function and staying warm. By the very virtue of waterfowl hunting, you will be up at 4 a.m., and in the freezing cold. It’s just what it is and the best thing to do is to use layers and find slimmer fitting clothing that offers the same amount of protection as the big bulky items.
Always try your gun mount in your hunt clothes, regardless of what you’re hunting so that you aren’t surprised in the field. Try to find pieces that will work well for multiple functions as you will be more comfortable in what you are used to using. And always share your great finds with the rest of the ladies! It’s tough to find great gear for girls and we all certainly appreciate a tip on a great new item.
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*This article was originally posted in our column on WomensOutdoorNews.com and edited by WON Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird.