What Are Bird Hunting And Clays Shooting Vests?

A hunter takes two shotgun shells out of their vest.

Just as golfers wear spiked shoes and ball players wear batting gloves, upland hunters wear all kinds of gear tailored to their sport. Along with abrasion-resistant field pants and sturdy upland boots, the most crucial piece of specialized clothing any wingshooter can put on is a hunting vest.

A hunting vest keeps in-the-field essentials out of the way but still right at hand. Good ones hold a dozen shotgun shells, a compass, a knife or multi tool, a GPS, at least one water bottle, and the keys to your truck (in a zippered pocket). They also have a pouch in the back for downed game.

Great hunting vests swallow up all this stuff and more. They’re also comfortable enough to wear all day, durable enough to withstand numerous seasons, and well thought out enough not to scratch your shotgun.

Traditional Wingshooting Vests

When you think "vest", this is what you see. Traditional wingshooting vests open in the front and have wide areas of cloth going over each shoulder. This cloth does a great job of spreading out weight and keeping you comfortable, especially if you’re a prepared-for-everything pack rat who weighs down his vest with tons of gear.

When shopping for a traditional-style vests, here are some thing to look for:

  • One or two zipper-closing pockets on the inside. These are ideal for stowing things like the keys to your truck and your hunting license.
  • An easy-to-clean, blood-proof game pocket on the back that’s accessible from the front.
  • A few places on the front to hang the kind of gear you’re always grabbing for, like a GPS, a collar transmitter, or a multi tool. Having to pull this stuff out a pocket over and over again is a pain.
  • A water bottle pocket. Two are better so you can carry a water bottle for yourself and one for your dog.
  • If it has zippers on the front, they should be designed in a way that keeps them from scratching your shotgun.
  • Heavy-duty fabrics that can stand up to the wear and tear of the woods and field.

Strap Vests

These are minimalist-interpretations of upland-hunting vests. Some are more minimal than others. All of them replace the pieces of cloth that go your shoulders with straps running front to back. Some go further and eliminate everything except for a couple pockets on the front and a game pouch on the back.

These modifications make strap vests light, and depending on how you plan to use them—for dove hunting in Texas or chasing Chukars in Idaho— you’ll have to find a balance between one the amount of gear you want them to carry and how comfortable and cool they need to keep you.

Pack Vests

If a mountaineering backpack and strap vest had a kid, it would a pack vest. With pockets for everything from power bars to first-aid kits, loops for hanging crucial gear (like a GPS), and built in hydration systems, pack vests are more like technical hunting gear than clothing. If you’re the kind of hunter who likes to take it all with you into the field, they’re great choices.

Clays Vests

Like grouse and pheasants, hunting vests and clays vests are similar but different. Of course, both are constructed in similar ways. But while hunting vests are all about securing lots of gear and standing up to the abuse of the field, a clays vest keeps a few things handy while you stroll along and shoot your way through a sporting-clays course or skeet field. Because of this, clays vests have their own features and benefits:

  • Often made of mesh which is lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. Unfortunately, it can’t withstand the wear and tear of hunting (not for long, anyway).
  • Come down lower in the front and the back, usually to the middle of your thighs. This is makes it easier for you to reach for fresh shells and store spent hulls.
  • Just a few lower pockets on the front to carry two or more boxes of shells. Note: These pockets don’t button up or zip shut.
  • A chest pocket for shooting glasses, ear plugs, or choke tubes.
  • A clip on the back to display your number during competitive shoots.
  • A pouch on the back for empty shells plus a ring at the waist where you can attach a shooting towel.
  • A chest-level shooting pad on either the right or left. This gives you a stable platform to mount your gun. Some vests also allow you to slip in additional recoil-absorbing material.

What About Wool?

There’s a lot about Brits that sets them apart from Americans, from how they drive to the way they love blood pudding. When it comes to hunting (or "shooting", as they call it) they also do things differently. They head into the field wearing knee-length breeks (never called "knickers"), high socks and wool shooting vests.

But while wool shooting vests look smart, they’re not intelligent choices for most of the hunting and shooting we do for several reasons:

  • With just a few shallow pockets, these vests lack the carrying capacity of a good hunting vest.
  • Unlike a clays vests, wool shooting vests can’t carry lots of fresh shells and spent ammo.
  • Because they’re wool, these vests are too warm for most of the hunting and shooting we do.

Practical And Essential

A good vest is one of the handiest pieces of gear a hunter or shooter can own. Whether you’re pursuing birds or busting clays, your vest will keep everything you need at hand and ready to go. The only thing you’ll have left to worry about is how well you can shoot.

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