Wildfowlers will be venturing out in all weathers over the next few months, so Richard Negus puts four of the best jackets to the test for Shooting Times
Why we need the best wildfowling jackets
It is 4am in mid-January. The Shipping Forecast warns of meteorological Armageddon from Gibraltar Point to North Foreland. Sleet like spittle taps the windows and a gusting north-easterly is making up its mind whether or not to remove the shed roof.
In conditions such as this, mere mortals draw their duvet to their chin and return to blissful slumber, glad they are not abroad at this hour. Not so the wildfowler. Storms and gales and general nastiness are the conditions of choice for marsh and foreshore.
There is a hint of the masochist about every wildfowler, but we are not so daft that we would venture to the coast at dawn garbed in the natty attire seen on a driven day.
Things have come a long way since the days when shore gunners ventured forth dressed in military greatcoats stuffed with a lining of straw. My friend ‘Deadly’ Darren Sizer and I trialled four modern-day coats that the makers profess are able to withstand the elements, lengthy route marches and the challenging terrain that is the lot of the wildfowler to create our list of best wildfowling jackets. (Read our guide to the best wildfowling gear.)
Best all-round choice
- Material: 100% polyester shell and lining
- Sizes: 38-49 chest
- Colour: Realtree Max
- Waterproof: Yes
- Washable: Yes
+Five year guarantee
-Hood could be larger
Tested by Darren. Richard Negus says: “I wouldn’t want to get into a fight with Darren, but I fear I would have to if I wanted to get this coat off him. The Mallard is a piece of true wildfowler’s kit and the designers have evidently thought about the requirements of the foreshore. First, it is both extremely waterproof and warm, being made from a double-knitted twill. It definitely deserves its position at the top of the best wildfowling jackets list.
“Deerhunter is so confident with its membrane that it offers a five-year guarantee. The double zip is made to be operated by gloved hands and this is covered by a magnetic flap that seals everything in snugly. The cartridge pockets also boast a magnetic strip that holds them open to accommodate easy shell withdrawal, then snaps shut silently to keep everything dry. This is not a gimmick, but very clever. The hand-warmer pockets are perfectly sited and are actually warm.
“The sleeves are slightly over-length and are pre-shaped, making gun mount an unruffled affair. The removable hood could be more generous in size, but most fowlers shun such an item, anyway. The length from collar to tail could be longer, but the Mallard is evidently designed to be worn with waterproof trousers or waders. The cuffs have a Velcro strap that seals the sleeves well, while every pocket and seam bears reinforcing material. The colour imitates perfectly the muted browns of the marsh in winter. In all, the only challenge with this coat is to find fault in it. Darren is a straight-talking man and praise from him is praise indeed. Deerhunter should take his approval to the bank.”
Best for tough use
- Material: 101% polyester shell and linine
- Sizes: M-XXL
- Colour: English oak camo
- Waterproof: Yes
- Washable: Yes
-Handwarmer pockets not the warmest
Richard says: “This coat has been my constant companion on the foreshore for five seasons. During this time, it has been doused in sea water, covered in estuarine mud and endured torrential downpours. First, the outer polyester, brushed tricot shell with its laminated membrane is truly waterproof. Admittedly, it doesn’t breathe like more expensive materials, but it retains its seal-like properties when covered in mud and responds well to a machine wash in Nikwax. The two-way main zip is chunky and near enough indestructible. Colouring is chameleon-like, perfectly mimicking the biscuity Norfolk reeds of winter. Cartridge pockets are large and can comfortably accommodate more cartridges than I ever fire on a foreshore foray. The hand-warmer pockets, however, aren’t very warm. Over the years, I have discovered that it is best to employ a dog poo bag — unused for preference — as a liner in the pockets, or your cartridges will get damp. The hood is pathetically small, but it does tuck away into the collar and makes for a fine neck rest as you stare yearningly skywards.
“There are elasticated, popper-fastened shrouds on the inner wrists and a strong Velcro outer-wrist strap, which stems the worst of rain ingress. As a standalone coat, it isn’t that warm. However, I bought it a size too big, which allows me to layer up underneath, depending upon the conditions. The sleeves are arguably cut too short, meaning that when gun mounting, your wrists are exposed.
’’It is long enough that you can kneel in a gutter and the heels of your waders rest against the coat rather than your backside. It is cheap, effective and utterly workmanlike so should be on our list of best wildfowling jackets. After five years of abuse, it keeps coming back for more. Unless you are obsessed by snazzy labels, this should be on your list of coats to try.”
Best for long cut
- Sizes: M-XXL
- Colour: Dirt camo
- Waterproof: Yes
Richard says: “The New Zealand brand has gained a great reputation thanks to its hard-wearing smock. (See our list of best shooting smocks here.)The Classic also carries the smock’s long cut that hangs down at the tail, covering your backside. The three-layer laminated shell is 10,000 H20 waterproof and boasts a 5,000 MVT breathable membrane.
“Although I am no great fan of hoods for shooting coats, this one is sufficiently large to work — perfect for hiding your face from an oncoming skein. The sleeves are well cut and allow free movement at gun mount. Sadly, they do not have an inner storm shroud, but the outer Velcro straps are robust and strengthened. It is not a standalone warm coat, more of a top layer, which means you will not be sweating after a lengthy trudge across the mud. The colour is described by Ridgeline as ‘dirt camo’ and the silent chequerboard material seems to melt into the coastal landscape. There is, however, something of an Achilles heel to this largely excellent design and that stems from the zip. It is a single, meaning you can only access a cartridge belt worn underneath it by unzipping the garment from the top, exposing your chest to wind, rain and sleet. Add to this oversight the absence of specifically designed cartridge pockets and it becomes a fiddle and a fumble to access ammo or any inner pocket. This may be overly picky and a long-term trial could prove my fears to be unfounded, because there is a lot to like about the coat for the money. So it should be on this list of best wildfowling jackets.”
Darren says: “I have waxed lyrical about the Mehto Pro in the past, stating there is no finer stalking kit on the market. I passed the job of assessing the Finn’s suitability as wildfowling wear to Darren. His first observation was that the coat is short and quite snug for size. Despite feeling very lightweight, the Gore-Tex lamination, covered by silent, brushed 100% polyester, is remarkably warm.
“From experience, this combination keeps out the harshest of winds and only requires a thin underlayer to cope with most British weather. I have worn this same pattern on the wettest of Westmorland mountains and stayed dry all day. The short body length does mean that a high-waisted waterproof trouser or waders are required to avoid a wet bottom. The hood is voluminous, with a stiff peak. The collar is generous and makes an effective barrier against the elements. So, too, the cuffs, which are slightly elasticated, reinforced with Kevlar then fastened with Velcro.
“The absence of cartridge pockets reveals the stalking heritage of the kit and, while large enough to accommodate cartridges, gloves and other paraphernalia, you do feel somewhat underfed. Sleeve length and cut allows easy gun mount and the double zip is strong, well sealed and allows access to your underlayer. The colour is light enough to camouflage the wearer. Darren said the Mehto Pro was ‘too good’ for the foreshore. Wildfowling is a filthy habit and the thought of snagging it on a rusting jetty is enough to bring a tear to the eye. If you are after an all-round hunting coat, look no further, but as a wildfowling coat, the Mehto Pro is perhaps too smart although we still put it on our list of best wildfowling jackets.”