The right vest can make hunting or field shooting more enjoyable.
By Gibbs Milliken
Vests for skeet, sporting clays and other field shooting competitions are different from hunting vests, which have attached bird bags. More tailored in style, they often sport shoulder padding and quilted leather front panels. The field trial and bird shooting vests are more utilitarian, with soil-proof bags and accessories like back-mounted water bladders, dog control transmitter attachments and optional bright orange panels.
Competition vests are made by most of the major arms manufacturers. The Browning Deluxe Mesh Vest ($93, men's, various colors, Model #305-002, Browning, (800) 333-3288, www.browning.com) is excellent in design and construction with left or right notch-cut shoulder pad that features a unique inside pocket which can be fitted with a special gel Reactar Pad ($18, #309-002, Browning). It reduces recoil by 30 percent and is included with the Browning Deluxe Mesh Vest. It also has four front shell pockets for spent shells and, in a neutral tan and sage color, can double as a hunting vest. The Ladies' Browning Classic Mesh Vest ($62, Model #305-09840, Browning) also has the Reactar Pad feature, but it must be purchased separately. It is a lightweight 60/40 cotton-polyester blend with split side vents for comfort. Both of these vests offer good ventilation for year-round shooting comfort in the Texas climate.
One of the finest classic-styled clay, trap and skeet vests is the Beretta Dual Tone ($175, Beretta, (800) 528-7453, www.berettausa.com) with dark brown leather padding and trim over a loden green cotton canvas front and nylon-mesh back with adjustable waist straps. It is available in either right- or left-hand shoulder/chest pads in both men's and women's sizes. U.S. designer Bob Allen also makes a great Mesh Shooting Vest ($103-$119, Model #260M, Boyt Harness Co., (800) 550-2698, www.boytharness.com) in a light, khaki cotton twill and mesh with black, top-grain leather quilted gun pad and edging. Other features include large front shell pockets, a rear reloader pouch and choke tube holders.
Hunting vests like the Remington Camo Mesh Field Vest ($49.99, Model #17120, Mossy Oak Break-Up pattern, Remington Clothing, (800) 243-9700) are reasonably priced and loaded with practical features. This tan model has two front-loading bird pockets that feed into the rear pouch, spill-proof front shell pockets with interior loops and recoil padded shoulders. The large, expandable, rear blood-proof bird bag is zippered so it can be fully opened for cleaning. For the minimalist, a very basic unpadded vest is the Browning Wingshooters Mesh Vest ($54, in various colors plus Mossy Oak Break-Up Camo, $68, Browning). With a comfortable two-way zippered closure, this simple vest has two front pockets and a rear bird bag. The nylon fabric is Teflon-treated and feather-light.
Some hunters prefer the adjustability of a strap-type vest instead of the fixed full-body design. Perhaps the finest currently on the market is the Quilomene Vest ($149.95, Wild-Hare/Quilomene, (800) 523-9453, www.wildhareintl.com). It is a rugged, nine-pocket, high-tech design made especially for serious upland game bird hunters, but works well under most field conditions. A special pouch between the shoulders holds a hydration bladder with a siphon hose so both you and the dog can have a drink on a long hunt. An extra-large divided rear bag can easily carry big birds or other gear to balance the front shell pockets and clip-on accessories like a dog control device, two-way radio, flashlight or callers. This vest can be widely adjusted to shift any weight into balance on the hips.
It is important to note the pockets or shell holders should be just the right size, flexibility and fabric weight. Extra stiff or undersized pockets can be uncomfortable to reach into and can rub inside the arms with the gun at ready. But pockets that are too large and soft will sag, fold closed and bunch shells in a lower corner. The ideal is a vest that is pliable and cool, with the correct freedom of movement and fit for your body shape and size.