Schoffel's Ptarmigan Pro is billed as the "ultimate shooting coat" so Richard Negus puts it to the test
The Schöffel Oakham fleece gilet was once the uniform for a select few — mainly land agents and traders of fine wine. Today, however, the “Cirencester life jacket” — and other staples from the Bavarian brand’s range — have become de rigueur. Schöffel now graces the cloak and boot rooms of British rural types.
I hesitatingly admit that I don’t own a “Royal Ag cardigan” and have remained immune to the lure of any garments made by the 214-year-old, family-owned company. What with my Schöffel-free closet, hedgelaying day job and muddy sporting life, I was surprised when Shooting Times asked me to review the latest Schöffel offering: the Schöffel Ptarmigan Pro. With a hefty price tag of £599.95, it is billed as the “ultimate shooting coat”.
I lifted the Ptarmigan Pro from its box and waxed-paper shroud and cradled it gently, in much the same way as I held my son when he was first put into my arms. Both the coat and my infant son reacted noisily: baby Charlie with a bawling cry; the Schöffel with a rasp like sandpaper over rough-cut wood. It would be an exaggeration to describe the Ptarmigan Pro’s Gore-Tex material as deafening, but the coat’s scrunching and crackling would spook any rabbit that I might try to stalk.
Slipping the coat on, my first impression was of its snug fit. I am 6ft 2in and fairly broad of shoulder. A frequent complaint I have with shooting coats is a shortness in the arms. This design flaw often leaves you, with gun mounted, resembling Don Johnson in full 1980s, rolled-sleeve mode. Not so with the Ptarmigan Pro. I went into the garden, clutching my Lincoln, to try out the coat’s fit with gun in hand. I practised imaginary shots at towering pinkfeet and springing teal — no Miami Vice look for me, thanks to the coat’s lengthy sleeves.
I took a stroll to see if I could shoot a real pigeon in it rather than just fire at fictitious fowl. Gun in slip, I tumbled a handful of cartridges into the left pocket and marched through my village, the Ptarmigan Pro rhythmically rasping. I crossed the road and into a stubble field. I noted the butt-pad in the right-hand shoulder lining. This is a removable gel pad and there is a little slit for it on the other side for “lefties” too.
It was too fiddly to refit in the field, so I attempted to stow it in the offside pocket. This proved to be impossible, as the left pocket was already filled to bursting with a mere dozen cartridges, the coat’s removable hood and my sunglasses. Stuffing the butt pad into the right pocket instead, I moved to unzip my gunslip. My hand remained wedged in place — the cartridge pocket is bizarrely narrow and lacks any practical depth.
I finally managed to extract myself to shoot a solitary woodie that wing-cracked from the cover. The coat was flexible and unrestrictive to shoot in, but I had nowhere to put the bird. I had forgotten to bring a game bag and Schöffel had neglected to provide a game pocket, presumably to preserve the “tailored fit”. I returned home, secreting the pigeon in my gunslip.
On the first day of the wildfowling season I planned to go out on an evening flight — a perfect opportunity to try the Schöffel in the field. The Ptarmigan Pro received a range of responses from my fellow fowlers. From “Dangerous Darren”, a tut and a shake of the head due to its dark colouring. “Photo Steve” liked it and, after trying it on, declared it to be “perfect for a driven partridge day”. “Pinhead Ian” also admired it and asked if I would gift it to him once I had finished trialling it. He thought he would look the business wearing it into Aldeburgh for a fish-and-chip supper with his girlfiend.
East Anglian baptism
I crouched in a foul gutter on the Alde. The mud, and my cocker spaniel Mabel vigorously shaking water over me, ensured the coat received a genuine East Anglian fowling baptism. The Ptarmigan Pro is as lightweight as a cagoule and its Gore-Tex three-layer membrane is remarkably windproof and warm. I discovered I was sweating in the early autumn sun.
I pulled up the removable hood to ascertain whether it was possible to shoot while wearing the thing. The short answer was no. It is too small from neck to crown and insufficiently deep to stay in place. I peered up at some mallard and the hood slipped back off my head, with the now ubiquitous rasp that has led to me christening the Ptarmigan Pro “Russell”.
Back home, I hung the now filthy Russell in my downstairs loo, fed Mabel and went to bed. The next morning, after a minor altercation with my wife over the reeking Russell and its overnight accommodation in the house rather than in my workshop, I set to cleaning the Alde mud from its deep green hide.
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I combined cleaning with a waterproofing test. I stepped into the shower armed with a sponge. switched the thermostat to cold and, wearing only the Ptarmigan Pro, I set about vigorously scrubbing at the ravages of the previous evening’s foreshore activities.
With the collar buttoned up to the neck, despite a 10-minute power shower deluge and all the various required movements to scrub off dried-on estuarine mud, my body remained dry. Quite remarkable. The mud came off, but the coat remains permanently tattooed with Alde-ooze grey.
I had planned on further tests for the Ptarmigan Pro, but I thought I had already got its measure. The poor thing had suffered enough. I have no doubt it would keep you warm on a smart driven partridge day. Its forest-green Gore-Tex will keep you dry in a grouse butt and the cognoscenti will nod approvingly at your passing as you wander down the high streets of Aldeburgh, Stow-on-the-Wold or South Kensington.
However, this is not a shooting coat for an artisan like me. It is too expensive, too dark, too noisy and has none of the practicalities I require in my sporting clothing. It will probably find a ready market from those who worry about how they appear to their fellow Guns.
Me? I don’t care. I am a wildfowler — I don’t want to be seen.