A good shooting jacket is worth its weight in gold. Richard Negus tests the Continent’s finest, from Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the UK
Testing shooting jackets
The four shooting coats I was sent to trial are all so totally different from one another that to judge them in comparison is unfair and ultimately pointless. Therefore, when I was set the task of testing shooting jackets, I shifted my mindset to the one with which I watch the Eurovision Song Contest.
Each competing nation has its own foibles. These quirks of national character and world view are esoterically exhibited through the medium of the annual music competition. These coats similarly reflect their home countries’ idiosyncrasies and attitudes — admittedly to sport and wild places, rather than universal peace, love and hedonism.
Sweden is a country synonymous with Eurovision, having won the thing six times. Besides a mastery of pop music, Swedes are famed for their excellence in design, unspoilt wilderness and perishingly cold winters. Step forward the Härkila Retrieve jacket (£369.99) to prove the point.
Despite Härkila claiming it is a ‘traditional shooting coat’, the Retrieve has more than a hint of Scandi cool to it, both in styling and material. Shorter than some of the other coats on test, it has side vents that, if opened, allow the wearer to sit down comfortably and remain fully zipped up.
The autumn-hued coat is lightweight and breathable, yet ridiculously warm and windproof. A hood is tucked away under the collar. I went for a wallow in a pond and found the coat was completely waterproof, thanks to the Härkila Weather System membrane.
After a hose down, it came up clean and remained waterproof. The pockets are not that deep, but will hold a good handful of cartridges or a training dummy. The openings are big enough to fit my sizeable paws in. One pocket holds a solid plastic card. After some head scratching, I gleaned this is for the wearer to lean on when marking their game card.
The Retrieve oozes quality, except for one small mistake. It has Velcro cuffs, which I find end up getting stuffed with grass seed, become less effective when wet and make a lot of noise if you want to check your watch while staying tactically quiet.
It is a winner of a coat and you know what Abba said about winners, don’t you?
Seeland Woodcock Advanced
Across the Kattegat strait from Sweden lies Denmark, who have thrice won Eurovision, most recently in 2013 via a songstress called Emmelie Charlotte- Victoria de Forest. Miss de Forest claimed to be the great-granddaughter of Edward VII, which it seems could not be substantiated.
A bona fide blue-blooded Dane, however, is the Woodcock Advanced jacket from Seeland (£249.99). This is a traditionally cut shooting coat treated with the Scotchgard Durable Water Repellent system.
I took a five-minute shower wearing the Woodcock Advanced and I came out of the deluge as dry a nut. It comes with a hood, which to me does not belong on a coat of this nature.
There is a hint of tweed to the outer shell and the colour reflects the pine forests found in its homeland. It is long enough to cover your backside; however, the tailored fit meant I needed to loosen the double zip at the bottom to facilitate sitting down with the coat done up.
The cartridge pockets are cavernous, comfortably accommodating 25 in either side. The pocket interior is elasticated, stopping cartridges from bouncing around as you walk. The similarly generous hand-warmer pockets have zips going from top to bottom, which aids the waterproofing. Sadly, the zip for the game pocket at the coat’s rear doesn’t follow this intelligent thinking, but once opened the space is so voluminous it could accommodate a muntjac.
The Woodcock Advanced’s Seetex windproofing does what it is supposed to do… stops the wind. The Woodcock Advanced is a ‘proper’ shooter’s coat, being near impossible to snag on briar and bramble. Proper shooting can be a vigorous business and, though it is a breathable coat, it does not benefit from any vents, which is a pity.
The Seeland Woodcock Advanced will not set the world on fire, but equally when testing shooting jackets I found there is nothing to really dislike about it either.
Schöffel Ptarmigan Classic
Mononyms accompany the paltry two German victories in Eurovision. In 1982, Nicole won with Ein bisschen Frieden and 28 years later Lena landed the laurels singing Satellite.
Mononymous German sporting brand Schöffel is markedly more popular throughout Europe than the nation’s popsters.
Its country range is built on the back of the Ptarmigan shooting coat, which was first launched 27 years ago. Schöffel claims the new incarnation of the Ptarmigan Classic (£449.95) is the best all-round shooting coat it has ever made. Last time I tested a Schöffel shooting coat, I was underwhelmed. On this occasion, I am delighted to report the opposite is the case.
The outer shell is as silent as the grave and the Cordura material is as soft as down to the touch. Yet, having rubbed myself along good laid hedge like a braying roebuck, it belied the delicate feel and is as thornproof as my hedging gauntlets.
Despite being thicker than all the other trial coats, it is breathable and does not feel bulky nor restrictive. The moment you slip it on, it seems to mould itself to your body like a mother’s hug. My wife helped me test the waterproofing qualities by hosing me down. The Gore-Tex lining shrugged off the dowsing with aplomb.
The cuffs have three poppers to adjust to various wrist sizes and both the sleeve and coat length are sufficient to ensure it doesn’t ride up and expose your vulnerable parts to the elements.
The bellow cartridge pockets accommodate a box easily. Like the Härkila there is one small error that mildly grates. The hand-warmer pockets have no fastening, which means that if you get a good downpour you end up trying to warm your digits in a damp cloth.
While the Germans may be past masters at poor Eurovision showings, the Ptarmigan Classic is on song with a thoroughly polished performance.
The UK used to be a nailed-on certainty to land a top-five place in Eurovision; five-times victors and second on a record-breaking 15 occasions. Our methodology was quintessentially British — produce a solid and stolid act, shunning the eccentricities of our continental cousins.
Curious therefore that the Musto HTX Keeper’s jacket (price not yet available), the UK’s entry in this Euro quartet of coats, is the quirkiest of the bunch. Bar the ‘dark moss’ colour, theHTX doesn’t shout ‘shooting’. What Musto has produced is a ‘hunting’ coat in the European sense.
As I was testing shooting jackets I loaned one to my stalking friend, Jim Allen, to trial in the field at the start of the fallow cull. He commented on the lightweight yet robust feel of the HTX.
The waterproof material is underneath the outer shell, meaning that if you do happen to tear the coat on wire or briar, you won’t get wet. The outer material is ‘dobby-faced’ and this suede finish makes it silent.
While stalkers do not need the massive pockets demanded by game shooters, they do need a few. Jim and I noted that the Musto is minimal in the pocket department. There are some and the zips used are excellent, easy to grasp with gloved hands. Jim’s biggest criticism was the absence of vents, meaning that the coat solely relies on its breathable fabric to maintain body temperature.
The inner cuffs are superb, utilising Musto’s sailing know-how. They are made from a quick-drying Lycra, so neither wind nor rain creeps in at the sleeve. However, the outer cuff is Velcro, a pet hate of mine. It is designed to be short and would require waterproof trousers as an accompaniment if you wanted to keep a dry backside. However, like Jay Aston’s skirt in Bucks Fizz’s winning 1981 Eurovision performance, minimalism is the key to the HTX’s success. This is a very modern hunter’s coat and I like it immensely.
In conclusion, if you are after an all-round shooting coat, look no further than the Schöffel. It will last you years and it does all you would hope.
None of the other three deserves ‘nul points’, all suiting specific needs and price points. After testing these shooting jackets I decided that personally, I would keep the Musto. There is something wonderfully bonkers about it. A perfect metaphor for modern Britain.