Four of the best stalking jackets
With technical fabrics constantly evolving, Graham Downing puts four jackets to the test to find out if any of them tick all boxes
As one of the newest and most rapidly developing of our fieldsports, lowland deerstalking is more prepared than most other countryside activities to adapt to new developments in kit and clothing. Tradition and convention may box the game shooter into a neo-Edwardian time warp of tweed and Tattersall check, but woodland deerstalkers are far more willing to accept the clothing styles popular in Scandinavia, continental Europe and the US, long ago having binned their breeks and tweed caps in favour of scandi-pants, camo jackets and baseball caps. (Read more on breeks here.)
Certainly, a whiff of tradition remains on the Scottish hills, but even in the Highlands where the more conservative estate stalkers may don their tweeds for the start of the stag season each year, you’d be very hard pushed nowadays to spot a pair of plus-fours on the hill during a wild winter’s day after the hinds.
So I tried out a selection of jackets to see which were the best stalking jackets around. Here are my findings.
Härkila Deer Stalker Camo HWS jacket
The best stalking jackets continue to evolve at a rapid rate, and one of the most popular premium brands is Härkila, whose Deer Stalker Camo HWS (Härkila Weather System) jacket has been updated and adapted from its popular Lynx collection. I have used the Lynx jacket for late summer and early autumn stalking since its introduction in 2018, and with its simple polyester mesh liner this new jacket from Härkila is equally well suited to early-season stalking.
In warm weather it’s comfortable to wear simply over a Viyella shirt. Wear a fleece underneath and it’s perfect for those colder winter mornings or a long wait in a high seat. I like the brushed polyester outer fabric, which is very quiet and surprisingly snag-resistant when stalking through woodland, and which features Härkila’s own Axis camouflage pattern in greens and tawny browns — a good match for the early autumn colours of deciduous woodland. The outer layer is bonded to the HWS membrane to keep it waterproof, thereby avoiding the need for a drop-liner.
My main criticism of the Lynx was in the number and design of its pockets, and unfortunately Härkila has actually reduced the pocket count in its latest jacket. When I’m stalking I dislike carrying bags or backpacks, so I need plenty of space in my pockets for my dragging and gralloching kit, ammo pouch, gloves, headnet, spare knife, Buttolo call and nowadays my thermal clip-on when it is not attached to the front of my riflescope. Two side pockets with vertical openings, which risk gear falling out when the zip is not fully fastened, simply do not cut the mustard. I also find the length of this jacket a bit short — shorter indeed than some of the fleeces that I might wish to wear underneath it. I could have done with an extra couple of inches on the hem.
Verney-Carron Falcon jacket
There’s no shortage of pocket space in the new Falcon jacket from premium French manufacturers Verney-Carron. There are two large gusseted front cargo pockets with studded flaps, a couple of zippered pockets at shoulder level, comfy handwarmers, no fewer than three zippered inside pockets, a phone pocket and a huge waterproof-lined game pocket at the back, which can be unzipped on three sides. All this makes for excellent carrying potential for assorted gear.
I like the olive brushed polyester cotton outer fabric, which is combined with stretch inserts at shoulder and chest level and a polyester knit lining to provide warmth and insulation. With its heavy-duty zipped and studded front, adjustable cuffs and elasticated drawcord around the hem, I would trust this jacket to keep the worst weather out. Moreover, if you need to sit down in the wet, I found that the game pocket drops down to make a waterproof flap, which will keep your backside dry.
A potential issue with a heavier, insulated jacket such as this one is the risk of getting too hot, so the designers have inserted zipped insulation vents under the arms, which can be opened when you’re stalking or walking and shut down when you’re static. I also like the design of the sleeves, with additional reinforcement on the elbows; a particular bonus if you need to belly-crawl those last 100 yards to take your shot. Open the cargo pockets and you’ll find integral flaps that will take half a dozen cartridges on each side, so no need, perhaps, for that ammo pouch. They’ll take everything from a .243 cartridge right up to a long-cased boar-busting 9.3×74 — much as you might expect from a French jacket that would be just at home creeping through an English woodland as it would on a continental boar drive. Indeed, with the adjustable hood detached I would have no trouble in wearing the Falcon on a day’s driven game shooting. At under £180, I would rate the Falcon as très bien — it’s a lot of jacket for your money so definitely deserves a place on my list of the best stalking jackets.
Ridgeline Evolution Dynamic jacket
New Zealand clothing company Ridgeline has designed its new Evolution Dynamic jacket as an outer shell that can be worn over a fleece and baselayer to keep out the harshest of weather. Its generously long cut will keep the driving rain off those nether regions, the heavy-duty zip finishing a full 6in above the hem to allow plenty of freedom when you’re walking, climbing or dragging. The buff stone colour is perhaps a bit unusual, but it’s not a million miles from that of the dry, dead vegetation of the winter countryside and experience suggests that it can indeed be less obtrusive than the more traditional olive green, especially when wet. This coat definitely sheds rain effectively. While the calendar dictates that I have not had the opportunity to test it in the depths of winter, May has nonetheless seen some biblical thunderstorms and this jacket has certainly kept me dry while out in the countryside in those. However, I do find the fabric rather hard and frankly quite noisy. That may not be so much of a problem on the open hill, but it does make silent stalking through woodland, and especially the heavy cover where muntjac lurk, quite challenging.
Ridgeline has, however, adopted some useful features. Note the gel spots on both shoulders to prevent your rifle sling from slipping and the zipped ammo pouch on the right sleeve with elasticated slots to take five rounds. It only fits conventional stuff though; nothing much longer or thicker than a .30-06 cartridge. So far as pockets are concerned, there are two zippered handwarmers and two deep side pockets, though with almost vertical zip closures. Again, make sure those zips are done up if you want to prevent stuff from falling out. Inside you’ll find a couple of deep pockets located behind the front cargo pockets, though they are neither zipped nor studded, so beware of losing valuable bits of kit from them if you have to get down and crawl. The hood is wired at the front, so you can shape it around the peak of your cap, but it is non-detachable. I dislike hoods; I can never get them to fit properly and I find that they restrict my peripheral vision and what is left of my hearing — I much prefer a cap. But I admit that they’re ideal for keeping out heavy rain, sleet and snow, and I think this jacket is good at doing that.
Percussion Highland smock
Smocks have a small but loyal following among deerstalkers. They really do keep out the weather, and given that the front zip is usually the first thing that fails on a jacket, they provide good service over many years. The downside is that they can be difficult to pull over your head, especially if, as with me, all your stalking accessories live in the pockets of your jacket. Moreover, you cannot completely open the front if you want to cool off. A smock does, however, provide the opportunity to use the front of the jacket for storage, and Percussion’s Highland smock utilises this to the fullest, with a huge zippered, flapped and studded pocket running right across the chest. Use it to store your gear or to keep your binoculars or thermal spotter dry yet in immediate reach.
There are two deep zippered side pockets, plus a waterproof-lined game pocket at the back. I really like the outer fabric of this smock. It is strong and robust and yet, with a brushed finish, it is soft to the touch and quiet in woodland, even when you snag it on thorns or brambles. The olive colour is traditional and really complements this garment. To ensure weather-resistance there is a drop membrane and mesh lining, providing an additional degree of insulation. All seams are taped, the zips are waterproofed and the cuffs are both elasticated and have a Velcro closure. Along with the adjustable (but non-detachable) hood and a top zip that comes right up to the chin, this smock certainly keeps the weather out. My guess is that it will come into its own in foul conditions in winter when keeping body heat in and the climate out is a priority. It’s not called the Highland for nothing, and this smock would serve you well when you’re hindstalking in rough weather on the open hill, or winding your way down from the high tops after a tough day while sitting on the back of an ATV or Argocat.
Need to know
Deer Stalker Camo HWS
- Manufacture Härkila
- Price £449.99
- Manufacture Verney-Carron
- Price £177
- Manufacture Ridgeline
- Price £299.99
- Manufacture Percussion
- Price £89.95