Best kit for cold weather shooting with Richard Saunders

There’s no reason why wet or cold weather should put an end to our sport, so Richard Saunders looks at some kit that will let us carry on shooting.

August’s unprecedented heatwave may have been good for our tans, but it didn’t do much for our hunting.

Most quarry species spent large parts of the day sheltering from the heat. Now, with winter around the corner, my favourite time of the year is almost here. Quarry species know what’s coming as well, and as they prepare for the colder weather by exploiting the last of the natural food, we too must make our preparations.

Winter shooting can be enjoyable, challenging and rewarding – but only if you’re properly prepared. There’s nothing worse than spending a day in the woods or open country and discovering too late that you’re not adequately equipped.

There is a downside, of course – all that extra gear has to be carried around – but frankly I’d rather have too much of the right kit than be caught out. So in this issue we’re taking a look at some of the items you may want to invest in to make your winter campaign more enjoyable, comfortable and ultimately successful.

Keeping warm

There’s nothing more miserable than sitting in a hide when the thermometer starts to drop. Thermal undies, woolly socks and a thick jumper are the basics drummed into you as a kid by your mum, but there are plenty of other things to consider.

It’s easy to forget that dehydration is still an issue in winter, as it’s easy to work up a sweat, especially if you have to walk any distance wrapped up in that thermal underwear.

Our bodies burn huge amounts of calories just keeping warm, and hot food will not only help keep your energy up, but your temperature too; there’s nothing quite like a flask of hot soup.

While you can’t get away from the fact that the bigger the flask you take, the heavier it will be to carry, few items are more important in my book. Contrary to what most people think, a nip of whisky from a hip flask won’t do anything to warm you – quite the opposite in fact. And don’t forget you may have to drive home, and with a gun in the boot! Far better is a flask of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. 

Bisley UK offers an extensive range of Stanley flasks that have long been a stalwart of hunters and fishermen alike. Built like battleships, they will withstand the rough and tumble of a day’s hunting (Stanley claims they are literally bullet-proof), and will keep liquid hot for 40 hours, or cold for 35 hours in the summer. 

I drink tea like a champion, and the 1.4 litre version (£49.99) easily lasts me a full day. If you plan on sharing with a friend, there’s a 1.9 litre version, as well as 0.75 and 1.0 litre options. The 0.47 litre flask is ideal for soup, and the Stanley Classic Trigger Action Travel Mug is perfect for short sessions.

As a kid, I couldn’t step outside in the cold without mum making me wear a woolly hat. Back then it was a green and white bobbly thing, and if I were to wear it in the field now I’d look like an idiot.

The Reversible Visor Cap from Quietwear, also available from Bisley UK, priced at £21.95, is far more suitable, and followers of Mat Manning’s features and YouTube Airgun Shows may recognise his preference for similar attire.

Although it’s apparently a fallacy that you lose 30 per cent of your heat through your head, there’s no doubt a good cap or hat will make a difference on a cold day, especially if like me, you favour the extra wide centre hair parting.

Made from acrylic knit yarns and premium fleece fabric that can be pulled down over your ears, the cap not only helps keep you warm, but helps with concealment, especially as the peak helps cast a shadow over your face. 

As your body concentrates on keeping your core warm, your hands are often the first part of you to suffer from the cold, and there’s nothing better than a decent pair of gloves as long as they also allow you to handle your rifle. 

The obvious choice is a pair of purpose-made hunting gloves, and there are plenty of great products, but few are as good as those from MacWet, especially the hard-wearing Long Climatec Sports Gloves (£32.99) that are available in a number of colours and sizes.

Don’t think that means small, medium or large though; when you make an order, MacWet invites you to follow a guide to measure your hand size and order a pair that fit like, well, gloves.

Designed specifically for cold weather, the Cilmatec range ensures good grip and sensitivity in even the wettest conditions, making them perfect for hunters. Washed in 30-40 degrees and left to dry naturally, they’ll give many years of service.

The thick elasticated cuff fastens with a velcro tab, and although there is no capacity to remove or fold back the trigger finger, I didn’t find it a problem. Most importantly, the water-resistant fleece-lined material is light and will keep your hands warm.

Taking a lead from the HFT and FT world, Sure Shot Airguns stocks a huge range of gloves for target shooters – each designed to maximise grip and hold. Its gloves are sold as single right- or left-hand items, meaning you can choose a full glove designed for maximum warmth for your supporting hand and a trigger-fingerless glove for your other hand.

As an alternative to gloves, or an additional item for even more warmth, hand-warmers are an excellent piece of kit, and in winter I always make sure to take a couple with me, as they have the additional benefit of keeping your legs warm when kept in your pockets.

You can’t go wrong with a traditional charcoal stick handwarmer, like that available from Highlander Outdoor for £4.99, which includes a single charcoal stick (12 stick refill packs cost £2.49).

Opening the felt-lined box and igniting the stick will provide hours of warmth, and for those really cold days you can light the stick at both ends.

There are alternatives, of course, including rechargeable handwarmers that heat up in boiling water, products you fill with lighter fuel and sachets that use a chemical reaction when agitated to provide warmth.

Nothing chills me to the bone more than sitting in a hide, waiting for squirrels to put in an appearance. No matter how many layers I put on, or how much tea I drink, the cold seems to creep in.

Portable heaters such as the Compact Gas Heater from Highlander Outdoor (£31.49) are a bulky item to carry, but with a bit of care can be left in a waterproof hide. Measuring 28.5 x 28.5 x 19.5 cm, the heater takes A4 227g butane canisters, which it consumes at 160g per hour with a maximum output of 1.3kw.

The body swivels to provide directional heat, and there’s a temperature control as well as a Piezo-style igniter. The heater makes a little noise, and unless you carry plenty of spare canisters, you’ll want to use it in short bursts just to take the edge off. Needless to say, make sure there is plenty of ventilation in your hide, and that you place it nowhere near anything that could catch fire.

Put the boot in

Woolly or even thermal socks are all well and good, but their effectiveness is severely compromised if your footwear can’t keep your feet warm and dry.

Rubber welly boots will certainly keep water out, but they are not the best when it comes to keeping your feet warm unless you opt for more expensive neoprene versions. However, more importantly, from the hunter’s perspective, wellies are often not conducive to stealthy stalking.

Unless there’s a lot of standing water about, I’ll avoid rubber wellies and only wear my neoprene boots as a last resort. In my experience, a good pair of waterproof walking boots is the better option, especially once they’ve been worn in and have softened up a little.

Aigle has been making specialist footwear for more than 170 years, and its Abond MTD Boots, priced £85 from Bisley UK, are ideal for hunting. The lightweight design provides good feeling underfoot despite the thick, grippy rubber soles.

The leather upper is durable and fully waterproof, as are the reinforced stone guard toe caps, and won’t squeak when you walk. The lace eyelets are nice and strong, enabling you to pull the boots up tight so you can exploit the fact that the tongue is stitched in, enabling you to walk through ankle-deep puddles without getting your feet wet.

Dress to impress

When it comes to preparing for winter, the first thing that comes to mind is a warm coat. When it comes to hunting, one that simply keeps you warm and dry is not enough. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who designed the Pentagon UTA Urban Tactical Anorak available from Military 1st (£112) owns an air rifle or two, as it’s pretty much purpose-made for our sport.

Available in a range of colours, the 100 per cent Nylon Taslon outer material coupled with a StormTex membrane is not only waterproof, but breathable as well. A high collar and chin guard along with an inner storm flap, velcro adjustable cuffs and an integrated fleece-lined hood with plenty of adjustment keeps any water and wind out.

Wearing a thick winter coat can make wearing a backpack cumbersome and difficult to put on and take off. To get around this, the Pentagon UTA Urban Tactical Anorak has plenty of pockets, including a huge kangaroo velcro and zip pouch for large items like a flask, or kit you want quick and easy access to, like binoculars or a rangefinder.

In addition, there are spacious interlinked hand pockets and smaller arm pockets – all of which have chunky zips that are easy to open and close even when wearing gloves. Zips that run from beneath the armpits right to the bottom of the coat on both sides are useful for ventilation, and make sitting and moving in a hide much easier.

When it comes to trousers, there’s often a trade-off; winter trousers that are warm tend to rustle when you move and can be a real hindrance, especially if you’re planning to stay mobile. And thinner, summer type trousers just don’t offer the same protection against the elements.

My preferred solution is a pair of lightweight trousers over thermal long johns. Ridgeline’s Stealth Pants (£59.99) are ideal. Made from Polyester and Elastane, they are extremely light and plenty warm enough on their own in all but the coldest of conditions, and thin enough to go over a pair of thermals when needed.

More importantly, as the name suggests, they are extremely quiet and don’t make a rustling sound to give you away. Available in olive green and sizes ranging from small to 5XL, the Stealth Pants have deep zipped pockets on the right thigh and hips.

The waist fastens with a button and has strong belt hoops, while the semi-elasticated ankles fit easily over a pair of walking boots or fold to tuck into wellies comfortably.

Survival instinct

It’s easy to dismiss a session in the field as a relatively harmless pastime, especially if you’ve been shooting over the same ground for years. However, complacency has accounted for more deaths and injuries than just about anything else.

By definition, hunting often means being miles from anyone else, and even if you go shooting with a friend or two, it’s likely you’ll each go your separate ways.

It’s all too easy to break an ankle on uneven ground, cut yourself on a fence or take a tumble when climbing a gate. And don’t forget the added risk that comes with carrying a rifle around with you.

All these and many more potential hazards are compounded in winter when a turn in the weather can make a bad situation worse. A survival kit like the Highlander Midi Pack, at £14.99 from Highlander Outdoor, weighs only 160 grams and takes up hardly any room in your backpack, pocket or hung on a belt. 

Contained in a green zip-around case, it holds everything you need to deal with minor injuries in the field, including a selection of bandages and plasters, some tape, safety pins, a wound pad, disposable gloves, antiseptic hand wipes and a pair of scissors.

Should the unthinkable happen and you run into trouble on a hunting trip – rabbit holes don’t only break horses’ legs – getting help quickly could literally be a matter of life and death.

While you will know your permission like the back of your hand, having a charged mobile phone and telling an ambulance crew you are ‘near the oak tree in the field with the old tractor’ isn’t going to help anyone.

There are some superb geolocation and satmap devices aimed primarily at hikers. However, not only are they pricey and a bit overkill for our needs, they are something else to have to carry around. Fortunately, there are
plenty of cheap or even free phone apps that will help pinpoint your
exact location.

Light ‘em up

Shooting in winter usually means having to be outside in the dark or low light conditions, and that of course means having to carry a torch. Few items are more readily available, but the clunky old thing you keep in the kitchen drawer may not be ideal when it comes to hunting.

Fortunately, there is no end of bespoke lighting products for airgunners, and Streamlight has a huge range. Hand-held torches are all well and good, but are yet another thing that has to be carried in a pocket or rucksack, potentially making them hard to get at when you need them most.

The ProTac Rail-Mount HL-X Long Gun Light (£161) has an integrated rail that will fit onto a Picatinny/Weaver mount and comes with a standard push-button or tail switch which attaches via a sticky velcro pad to the side of your gun.

Taking two CR123A lithium batteries, which are supplied, or a rechargeable Streamlight SL-B26 rechargeable battery pack, the torch will provide a huge 1,000 lumens at its highest of three settings for well over an hour. 

The durable anodised aluminium construction has an impact-resistant tempered glass lens and carries an IPX7 waterproof rating with the push button switch attached, and an IPX4 rating with the remote tail switch.

While the Protac is ideal for more tactical style guns, they are less suitable for traditional, wooden stock rifles. If that’s your choice of equipment, a head torch is ideal.

Once again, there are cheap and cheerful options and for close-up work like filling a magazine they are ideal. However, if you need something with a bit more power to light the way, the Streamlight Bandit Pro (£32) is ideal.

Lightweight and compact, it can either be worn with a headband or clipped onto the peak of a cap, and carries an IPX4 weather resistant rating. The 180 lumens high setting is ideal for illuminating the immediate vicinity, and will run four and half hours before the 950 mAh lithium polymer cell battery has to be re-charged.

The low 35 lumens setting is ample for close-up work and lasts 21 hours. And in case you should ever find yourself in need it, there is an emergency flash function as well. 

Get that warm feeling

It’s easy to look out of the window on a cold, miserable day and decide to leave your air rifle in the gun cabinet. And yet when the mercury drops, the shooting often picks up as quarry species spend more time foraging for food.

Often though it’s not the lack of sport that curtails a winter session, but our own comfort. Taking a few basic steps and making some wise investments will help you endure those freezing cold winter days when you’re sat in a hide or trudging the hedgerows, letting you make the most of the opportunities that come along.

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