Outfitting Upland Bird Hunters

Whether your customers pursue grouse, pheasant, quail, or other upland birds, they're going to have some specific gear needs that you can help fill.

Outfitting Upland Bird Hunters

All upland hunters, regardless of species, will want durable game vests with orange panels and generous pouches for carrying birds and gear.  photo by Tom Rassuchine | photos.tomrdesigns.com 

In yesteryear, the appeal of upland bird hunting was the simplicity. You threw a handful of shells into the pocket of your jacket — the same one you wore duck hunting — shouldered your one-and-only all-round pump gun, whistled up the dog and walked to the edge of town. In the endless expanse of farm fields, you found pheasants, quail, doves and Huns mixed with rabbits and squirrels in the right covers. A perfect way to spend an hour or two after work or school.

How things have changed. Today, many upland hunts are destination hunts. Hunters need to plan vacation, travel logistics, access, coordination with hunting companions, dog training and care and more. For the majority of today’s hunters, even a weekend bird hunting trip is an expedition requiring serious support.

That’s where you come in. Upland hunting today is a gear-intensive pursuit. With a bit of forethought, it’s one on which you can cash in. Allowing for some seasonal variation, upland bird hunters have similar requirements regardless of which species they pursue. That’s more good news in determining what you should carry in your store.

The overall theme of gear for hunting upland birds of any type and in any cover is lightweight. In walk-them-up upland hunting, you pretty much need to carry all your gear.

Lightweight starts from the ground up — namely hunting boots. In addition to being light, upland hunters’ boots are different from others. Upland hunting is an active sport. You’re nearly always walking, usually at a faster pace. There are seldom long periods of inactivity. For this reason, upland boots don’t require much, if any, insulation. Additionally, only in rare circumstances (like hunting chukars or ptarmigan) is there much rock climbing or super steep terrain. Lug or air bob soles are not required. In fact, they’re a detriment when they collect mud, adding weight to every step.

By definition, uplands are not wetlands, but it’s amazing how much water one walks through on a grouse and woodcock hunt, a pheasant hunt, or even quail hunt. While your customers likely won’t be standing around in water, some degree of waterproofness is nearly always appreciated.

While some uplanders require lauded brand names to make a statement, far more are about good design and value.”

To cater to upland bird hunters, you should always carry several brands and models of lightweight, non-insulated, moderately treaded boots in both waterproof and non-waterproof designs. And if you’re in snake country, also carry knee-high snake boots — quail hunters are notorious for not looking where they put their feet in the excitement of a pointed covey.

Moving up the body, the next nearly universal requirement is brush pants. It’s difficult to find pants that are lightweight but still able to deflect sharp briars and thorns. Most hunters look for a compromise, but some seek the heaviest fabrics, weight be damned. They know the sting of blackberry brambles!

Brush chaps are a great alternative. They are generally lighter than pants of the same protection level, convenient and less costly. They also offer the comfortable option of hunting while wearing your favorite jeans.

When it comes to upland hunting clothing, nothing is more iconic than the hunting jacket or vest. Choices are wide ranging. Everyone who makes active outdoor clothing offers one or more. While some uplanders require lauded brand names to make a statement, far more are about good design and value.

A bird jacket or vest should have a place to carry birds. The pouch is at the rear, and on better models it comes around the sides to carry a bigger load and balance it comfortably. Most offer some kind of blood-proof lining, though breathability is more important for maintaining quality of the meat.

Shotshell loops and ample pockets should be conveniently positioned on the sides and front of the vest. The best shell loops are elastic so they can accommodate a variety of gauges and hold shells securely when crawling under fences. The shell loops should be covered with ample pocket flaps that can be secured with snaps or hook-and-loop fasteners but can be easily accessed when shooting gets fast.

A specified amount of blaze orange is a legal requirement for upland hunting in most states. Jacket and vest designers incorporate it as a fashion element, but you should know the regulations in your area to make certain the garments you’re selling have enough to be legal. More is better, as no one was ever ticketed for too much blaze orange.

Brush pants and chaps will sell to upland hunters. Toughness is the key attribute, but light weight is appreciated, too.
Brush pants and chaps will sell to upland hunters. Toughness is the key attribute, but light weight is appreciated, too.

One of the most difficult garment items for upland bird hunters to find is just-right gloves. Tactical gloves are everywhere these days, but they’re not just right for bird hunters. The best wingshooting gloves are fine leather and fit snuggly but not tightly. Most important is dexterity in the fingertips for unloading, loading and operating safeties. Leather guards against thorns and brambles far better than fabric. Glove brands best suited to uplanders include Bob Allen and Filson. Both have lined and unlined versions.

Moving farther up, we get to eye and ear protection, both needed by upland hunters. Not only do shooting glasses protect eyes from shotshell blowback and enhance vision under varying light conditions, but they also shield eyes from branches and thorns as a hunter moves through cover. Many hunters will reach for bargain-basement shooting glasses, but that’s a great opportunity for your team to share the advantages of interchangeable, hardened lenses and the durability and versatility of quality frames.

In reality, not many hunters wear hearing protection in the field. They feel it’s a disadvantage when it comes to hearing dogs and fellow hunters. That is until they are introduced to in-the-ear devices that block gunshots but enhance low-level sounds. This kind of protection actually makes you a better, safer hunter. Consider carrying at least one model of electronic hearing protection.

The nearly literal cherry on top is a blaze orange hat. Even in states that don’t require blaze orange on the body, blaze worn on the head is usually mandatory — and it’s a good idea even if it isn’t required. Your shop should offer a variety of blaze hats, caps, beanies and toques, in addition to the promos with your name, logo and contact info. When hunters stop to grab a box of ammo en route to the local shooting preserve, ask if they remembered their blaze hat. Those who didn’t will invariably buy one — maybe two, to keep a spare in the truck.

The other gear, universal to all upland hunters, is shotguns and ammunition. Along the same theme, the most-sought shotguns will be light and quick handling. These might not be the best for developing solid wingshooting technique, but at the end of a day when you’ve hiked 12 miles to get your three pheasants, you’ll be glad you picked a light gun over a heavy one.

Inexperienced hunters will nearly always seek out whatever ammo is the cheapest, but that creates another opportunity for your team to explain the virtues of purpose-designed shotshells. For example, Federal’s Prairie Storm line of pheasant shells offers many advantages a hunter might not recognize until they think them through. Sincere testimony of personal experience with quality ammo will make the sale.

What about dog gear? High-tech e-collars are popular, and many hunters will want the GPS option to keep track of their dogs.
What about dog gear? High-tech e-collars are popular, and many hunters will want the GPS option to keep track of their dogs.

When the hunt is over, more gear is required. Responsible hunters follow the creed, “At day’s end, you take care of your dogs, your game, your guns and yourself — in that order!”

Outfitting hunting dog owners is an entire article unto itself, but you should consider carrying and training your staff on at least the basics. Leads, collars, collapsible water and feed bowls, protective blaze vests in plenty of sizes, tick repellant and curry-type brushes are the place to start. Every hunter should carry a comprehensive canine first aid kit, which should be replaced every few seasons.

When it comes to collars, consider carrying a selection of electronic collars. The latest incorporate GPS right into the units. Heavy cover hunters who run pointing dogs are especially fond of them, as they allow you to locate a locked down dog without the incessant beeping suspected of harming dogs’ hearing. For fabric collars, how about working with a local embroiderer to become a purchase point for custom collars?

Taking care of bagged birds requires gear too. Game shears are a biggie. Many are simply junk. Stock quality shears that will last, and teach your team to relay the advantages of spending a little more. Add some bird-sized hunting knives to the big-game knives in your displays, too. Through the heart of the bird seasons, consider stocking miscellaneous items hunters often forget — like gallon freezer bags.

Next on the list is taking care of the guns. Two items are most important: Gun cases and field cleaning kits. Gun cases are definitely a case of “you get what you pay for.” Cheap cases do little more than comply with the law. Seams don’t last. Zippers always split. They hold rust-inducing moisture next to the gun. Stock quality cases that are a good value and explain it to your customers.

Any of your customers who travel to hunt should have well-fitted hard-sided gun cases. This is really a case of quality serving better. The guns of bird hunters who can afford to travel often represent significant investments. A quality hard-side case is inexpensive protection.

While cable cleaners like Bore Boss are popular and useful, they are not what hunters should carry in the field. A field gun care kit needs a collapsible solid rod stout enough to push mud or other obstruction out of the bore.

Leave taking care of themselves up to the hunters. You can recommend where to find a hot shower, a good steak and a good night’s sleep but you can’t stock or sell them.


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