What Gear Do I Need To Hunt Upland Birds?

Like every activity, upland bird hunting requires all sorts of special gear. Whether you're a minimalist who keeps it simple or a maximalist who likes to have it all, here are a three basics every upland hunter should own.

  1. A well-designed hunting vest
  2. Lightweight, comfortable boots
  3. Upland hunting pants

The Best Vest

There are all sorts of things you'll want take with you into the field: shotgun shells, water bottles, snacks, a mini first-aid kit, a compass, your hunting license, and on and on. And the more time you spend with boots-on-the-ground, the most stuff you'll want to take. To make all of it easy to carry, buy a well-designed hunting vest.

The most important feature this vest should have is lots of pockets. Some should zipper shut to keep wallets, licenses and car keys secure. Others should be easy to open and access with just one hand. Elastic shell loops are crucial. Enough to carry 10 to 15 rounds should be enough. And a button-closing front is something else you'll want. It's easy to adjust (and fix) and most buttons won't damage the stock on your gun (a metal zipper will).

You also want a vest with a bird pouch on the back to carry any game you're lucky enough to get. This pouch will get messy, so be sure it's opens for easy cleaning. As for the entire vest, be sure it's made of fabric that's also easy to clean as well as rugged enough to stand up to seasons of wear without shredding apart.

Be Kind To Your Feet

When you're in the field, you're on your feet. And your feet take a beating, every step you take. It's important to protect them with a pair of lightweight, comfortable boots.

For the outside of your boots, think armor. They should be made of a rugged fabric and/or a high-quality leather. But they should breathe, too, so perspiration can evaporate before it soaks your socks and chills your feet. Something else to keep in mind: rubber boots, or boots with rubber bottoms, can't, and don't, breathe.

On the inside, a bit of lining or padding is nice, but not necessary. Waterproof boots usually have a thin, quilted lining, which is fine. As far as height goes, taller boots have their advantages: they rise up under your pants and keep twigs and vines from tugging at and untying your laces (which should be long). Wear shorter boots and you many find your laces coming undone all the time. Very annoying

Another thing to look at is the sole. Be sure it's aggressive, with a tread that looks like it can bite into the ground and hold on. Mud and rocks can be slick, and a good tread will chew through and give your feet purchase on precarious surfaces.

For most of you, insulation won't be an issue. Upland hunting means moving. If you're heading out late in the season, you may want to pick a pair of colder-weather boots. But don't go crazy. Heavily insulated boots are heavy. At the end of the day, you'll notice how this extra weight tires you out. 

Jeans Don't Cut It

A lot of bird hunters wear jeans. That's fine. But most would leave their Levi's at home if they tried a pair of upland hunting pants. A good pair is generously cut, so you can stretch and move in them without any tugging of pinching. They also have deep pockets, so anything stowed in them stays in them all day long.

But upland hunting pants' biggest benefit is their double-lined fronts. They beat back the tangles and brush you'll find yourself pushing through—especially if you chase grouse and woodcock. Double-lined fronts will also keep your pants from tearing and wearing out and your legs from looking like a cat's scratch pole at day's end. Their last benefit is their water resistance. If you hunt early in the morning, dew will pick up on your pants. With a double front, this dew won't result in you walking around wet all day.

BTW: Buy your upland pants an inch short in the legs and a size bigger in the waist. That way, they won't drag through the mud and grime and you'll have extra room to tuck in a heavy, insulated shirt.

Don't Forget The Blaze

Along with these must haves, every upland hunter should wear blaze orange. It's a simple way to stay safe, and a lot of states require it (so check your state's regs). Most hunting vests have some blaze orange on them. To this, add a blaze orange hat and maybe even a shirt—especially if you're on ground that's crowded with other hunters. It's smart insurance, and if it saves you from injury, well worth it.

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