We might think we know how to dress while stalking, but there's quite a lot to it, says Chris Dalton
One of the things I most enjoy about deer stalking is working with newcomers. Often these are people who have done a fair bit of game shooting or fishing but have decided it’s time to get into stalking properly. Inevitably, if you’re deciding to take up stalking or you’re keen to start doing more of it, you’ll need to fork out for some deer stalking clothing. From rifles to boots, I am constantly asked about what is best.
The right deer stalking clothing
Guidance on stalking often starts with choosing the right clothing and making sure anything you’ve already got is fit for purpose. Sartorially, we are lucky. A huge amount of research has gone into producing high-quality kit that is both breathable and waterproof. We have generally moved on from ex-military jackets out of the local army surplus stores and I suspect even fewer stalkers wear waxed jackets than those who shoot game.
Warm and dry
Most of us now wear garments that have some form of breathable membrane and offer different degrees of warmth and water-repellent qualities, depending on what we are hunting, along with the terrain and the conditions we are likely to face.
I don’t see the need to buy camouflage colours, opting instead for the plain greens and olives. Look at the colour of deer — they don’t generally come in disruptive patterns and they blend in pretty well, as you find out when trying to spot them in cover.
There is a science behind my ambivalence towards camo too. Deer vision has been studied on a molecular level using DNA cloning, electroretinography, and scanning electron microscopy. The results of those tests show that, in daylight, deer see blue better than any other colour. Therefore stalking in a navy outer, while you might think you’re hidden, is a mistake, whereas a blaze orange jacket may in fact be more subtle. It’s a concept that we find hard to grasp, especially here in the UK.
Italian bootmaker Crispi has had great success in Europe with its Highland Pro boot, in fetching orange, for example, but many of the stalkers I have spoken to only started to take an interest when they launched the boot in olive. (Check our list of the best boots for shooting.)
Ultimately, a huge factor is fieldcraft. I often see kit that is supposed to make you smell like a deer or block your scent, but if you are upwind of deer you are onto a loser, no matter what you smell like. The right clothing is not an alternative to good technique.
You need also to consider the type of stalking you will do. Hill stalking, for example, will generally require a good base layer with a relatively breathable and waterproof outer coat or smock. In essence, you are dressing much as you would for hill walking but avoid that blue cagoule. (Take a look at our list of best shooting smocks instead.)
Consider that you may well be walking a long way uphill and it could involve a crawl through a bog to get into your quarry. You may be cool as you set off, but very quickly you will start to generate heat. If you have too much kit on, or it is of the wrong type, you will soon become uncomfortable as you sweat.
Trousers should be of breathable material too but I don’t advocate wearing a base layer under them. Long johns would be too warm. (We’re written a list of the best hunting trousers here.)
Hats and gloves are often neglected and even some experienced stalkers don’t realised their value. Whether it’s a baseball cap or beanie, the right headwear is crucial. (You’ll find a useful list of gloves for hunting here.)
The next time you are on the hill, keep an eye out for walkers in the distance. Your eye will be drawn immediately to their bare faces and hands. Deer, too, can see in contrast and exposed body parts can easily alert them to movement across the glen. Cover up to avoid standing out like Belisha beacon.
When stalking in the lowlands, I wear exactly the same as I would on the hill. Even in winter in a base layer and smock, movement generates heat. I have had so many guests who turn up to their first accompanied outing with too many layers, or a big heavy coat, all trussed up like a Christmas turkey. After 15 minutes, faces are red and steam is rising. Just because a tweed coat is good for a driven day, it does not mean it will work for a stalking outing.
By the second day, they have shed a few layers and are much more comfortable, while also removing the need to wring out inner garments drenched in sweat when we finally get back in the house.
For a high-seat vigil, or a wait at a vantage point, you clearly do need layers . It may well be a pleasant evening as you climb into your seat a few hours before dark, but that can rapidly change.
You can always take layers off, but it is pretty unpleasant sitting there with your teeth chattering. (You’ll find our list of best shooting thermals here.)
A balaclava-style hood is good too. I prefer to wear a ‘buff’ around my neck while on a cold night’s watch. Invest in a good pair of boots. I always recommend the high-leg-type boots as these afford you most protection from slips and falls, and wet feet. Don’t forget some good-quality thick socks to too.
Wellington boots also have a place. I often wear them when lowland stalking, but they are the type that have the boot-style soles, affording good grip. Again, they must be comfortable and they have to fit. There is little sense in investing in quality gear, of any sort, that doesn’t fit you well. (Here’s our list of the best wellies for shooting.)
Faced with such a huge choice of suppliers, my advice is to select from one of the well-known hunting clothing companies that specialise in stalking gear, and you should not go far wrong.
It’s also worth adding that some of your driven shooting kit will be too noisy for stalking. I remember in these pages a smart coat from a top manufacturer being christened ‘Russell’. The pheasants don’t mind if you sound like a packet of crisps but deer most certainly will.