The right gear for a beat and stand shoot can be a challenge, especially when it's wet, as Ian Mason reports
Lord it was wet at the start of the season! On two consecutive Saturdays in early November the biggest risk to both Guns and pheasants was drowning. On the first of those weekends I made the huge mistake of wearing an old coat that I had just reproofed using silicone spray. I say “reproofed”, but after less than an hour the coat was sodden, heavy as lead, and about as waterproof as a kitchen sieve. It only became bearable once the water inside the coat had reached body temperature. Another failed experiment.
I later reflected on the folly of taking this coat. The weather forecast had predicted a biblical deluge and for once the Met Office boffins were spot on. I had selected the coat – a tough old canvas veteran of many seasons – because the day was a beat and stand shoot. Pushing through brambles will soon wreck a nice coat or pair of breeks.
Beat and stand shoot clothing
This brings me neatly to the question: What’s the best clothing for a beat and stand shoot, especially when the weather looks dodgy? It’s a tricky one, particularly if it’s relatively warm (when even breathable linings get a bit asthmatic, leaving you to get wet from the inside). Like all shooting clothing, there is a balance to be struck between utility and respectability. The old cliché holds that “clothes maketh the man”.
Our shoot captain agrees: “On a beat and stand, I still want to look smart. It shows respect for your companions and for the quarry – but I don’t want to trash a nice set of clothes on thorns, or not be able to pull my weight in the beating line for fear of ruining a nice jacket,” he told me.
Shooting footwear is easy. Wellies or tough boots with gaiters. Modern products have this nailed. In the leg department, the obvious answer is removable thorn-proof overtrousers. However, add these to a pair of Tweed breeks and things can get decidedly tropical if you are working hard during the beating parts of the day. This season I’ve tried several types of overtrouser. Many beaters wear treggings, leggings or “chaps”. I will state a prejudice immediately – I detest them all. Guns wearing them look like that uber-camp cowboy in the 1970s Village People music video “YMCA”.
Shooting clothing is already a bit outlandish
Let’s face it, shooting clothing is already a bit outlandish without adding bells and whistles. Furthermore, the moment you sit down your behind gets soaked. Overtrousers need to be the full ticket and keep your nethers dry. Where overtrousers do need a trim is just below the knee. They should cover wellie-tops, but stop short of mud-dragging. Given this, it is surprisingly hard to buy a pair of short-waxed cotton overtrousers. Like most people I have to resort to buying a full-length pair and then trim about a foot of material off the leg ends, and then beg the memsahib to hem them (I’ve tried glue, it soon comes unstuck).
Waxed cotton is great for pushing through wet kale, but it doesn’t breathe terribly well, so things can get over-warm if you are also wearing breeks. An alternative I have tried this season is Seeland Crieff’s short overtrouser. These retail for about £50 to £60, but are worth every penny. They are a clever bit of kit. First of all they are tough enough to beat in, comprising an outer layer of robust polyester fabric that doesn’t snag on brambles. They are also very waterproof with a breathable lining. However its real trick is that, although a complete trouser at the waist, they have full length covered zips down both legs so they can be put on or taken off again while wearing muddy boots or wellies. Like other full overtrousers they are best kept up with braces. Those funny waist band straps that are common to many brands always seem to fight a battle with your breek’s belt. Wearing the Seeland’s on a torrential day I was able to sit on a muddy bank and keep perfectly dry and comfortable.
Raining from dawn to dusk
So what about the best shooting coat for a day when it rains heavily from dawn to dusk? The week following my botched “reproof”, I was determined to keep dry and wore a Musto shooting coat. This kept me wonderfully dry – but alas the Kenway Tweed fabric got hammered in the beating line. It needed a determined shave the next day to look half decent. Two of my shooting companions gave glowing tributes for their Härkila Pro Hunter jackets, which kept the weather out despite six hours of continuous rain (they are both stalkers and have spent years trying to find the ideal gear for hours spent perched on a high seat in rotten weather). The Härlika also has a brilliant peaked hood, which completely covers a shooting cap. I have not tried the Pro Hunter, but it’s on my birthday wish list – although with a price tag north of £400, I’m not holding my breath.
Shoot better when warm, dry and comfortable
If any readers have good tips about the best gear for a beat and stand shoot – smart and functional, tough and waterproof – please leave a comment below. We all shoot better when warm, dry and comfortable. A couple of additional snippets I picked up while talking to fellow Guns are that Gore-Tex garments should be tumble-dried on a warm, gentle cycle – or once dry, tumbled for 20 minutes to “reactivate” the durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment on the outer fabric. I did not know this, and I’m unsure of the science involved, but I’m going to give it a try to see if it can revive my ancient and much loved, but now somewhat leaky, Schoffel Ptarmigan coat. Another tip I was given was to spray spectacles with Rain-x car windscreen cleaner. It really does make the rain droplets roll off. I find I shoot better if I can see my quarry. Finally, the two biblical days in question fully disproved the old saw that pheasants will not fly well in driving rain. I have always felt this was nonsense and we had some absolute crackers, despite the torrential weather.