Most people who know me are aware that I call a spade a spade and tend not to dish out praise unreservedly. When it comes to reviewing kit whether it is rifles, glass or clothing I will give an honest opinion. I am seldom given stuff for free unlike the magazines who then coo over the item and tell everyone to buy it, I tend to learn the hard way by buying stuff and generally being disappointed by it. Over the years I have tried more stalking kit than I care to remember, spent more money on useless stuff than is decent and generally reached a point where I am more or less satisfied with the kit I use.
One of the problems I face when writing articles is upsetting people who use kit I dislike or who have just spent a load of their hard earned on the same kit only for me to write about what a dismal load of junk it is! What must be remembered is that I am using stalking kit almost every day in some shape or form and that the average stalker/shop owner maybe goes out 2-3 times a month and certainly in the case of shop owners will wear or use something that they just so happen to sell – funny that! So I have to be a little considerate and my reviews tend to be of a positive nature giving praise where due, if I wrote reviews on all the rifles, optics, clothing and other ancillary kit that I have tested and discarded I would never have time to test it!
One of the beauties of being independent is that I can try anything I want without being restricted to whatever I am trying to sell at the time, I don’t personally care where people want to buy their kit, only that they get a good deal and good service to boot. Obviously I will write favorable reviews and recommend certain kit but only based on my own findings.
With all this in mind, on a recent visit to Cotswold Shooting in Cirencester I noticed a ‘stalking suit’ hanging up in the back room which I instantly clocked as having potential, the suit in question is the new Harkila Q fleece in a digital camouflage pattern as used by some of the special forces, now I personally hate camouflage patterns especially the ones that make you look like a pair of floral curtains but this was different. In the past I have always tended to use drab coloured clothing for all my stalking as I sometimes end up dropping into a supermarket or even the pub for a pint after stalking particularly if I’m with a client and being dressed in full camo can be intimidating to some people. I also have reservations about some of the Harkila higher end products such as their Gore-Tex pro hunter trousers, I have two pairs and they both leak (see my earlier article on clothing tests in Scotland) as well as a pair of their Stalker GTX boots, which also leak after 5 months wear!
So here I am looking at another high end product of theirs and in camouflage to boot – only its not camouflage in the traditional sense, its more like a pixelated DPM version which is sort of non-descript and as my teenage son says looks pretty ‘random’ and not at all offensive.
Now, typical shop owner seeing that I was interested started to give me the hard sell – you just know what’s coming – the very latest all singing all dancing super camouflage techno fabric tested by NASA worn by Delta Force blah blah blah….
I was losing interest fast so decided to turn the tables so I said “if it’s so good and you want to sell some let me test it for you and give you an honest review, after all it does say Test Team on it!” Now, Peter isn’t renowned for his generosity and was completely out of his comfort zone but after a bit of persuasion he sought counsel with Sally and it was agreed that I could take the suit for testing.
That evening saw me on the ground with a client after his first roe buck and an ideal opportunity to try the new suit, I knew the chances were slim before we set off as there had been strong winds for the previous week with a touch of Northerly in them for added pleasure coupled with the crops being up and the bucks being lazy before the rut, all in all not ideal but I had a client so I had to try my hardest. Seeland had sent other extras with the suit, some gloves, a beanie and a face mask, all of which stayed behind but the trousers and jacket were ideal, well cut and lightweight enough for summer stalking, the lightweight fleece being constructed with Gore windstopper which kept the chilly wind at bay.
A good walk around the top of the farm produced nothing, pretty much as expected so I was pinning my hopes on the lower end leading down into some wooded valleys where hopefully there would be something stretching its legs. None of the ground is terribly even with steep inclines and many awkward crossings to negotiate and even during all these not once did I feel overheated although the sweat under my cap told a different story, after another 30 minutes of slow but steady progress I could feel some warmth building on my legs so I unzipped the two zippered side vents and let some air circulate briefly.
Having reached the edge of the valley I spotted a number of fallow does which we stopped to watch for a while when out of the corner of my eye a caught a glimpse of a familiar colour, a roe, a buck and a nice one at that. Unfortunately he was moving away from us which meant a rapid move to get ahead of him and cut him off, unfortunately just as we got ahead of him he must have spotted some movement and trotted back in the direction from which he came. Cursing I turned back hopeful that he would come back to investigate when I caught sight of him again this time coming up the valley from our right, I moved my client forward and got him into a prone position, I whispered for him to follow the animal in his sights as he was clearly visible moving up from our right, I told him that when he appeared in front of us I would stop him at which point he should take the shot – it was almost textbook, the buck appeared smack in front of us, I shouted, he stopped absolutely perfectly broadside, perfect backstop, I was watching through the binoculars and whispering “shoot it, shoot it, shoot it now” – nothing – again I whispered “straight up the front leg, shoot it, its going to run!” Still nothing, then “it’s gone!” I got up and watched it disappear into some woodland to our left, I really hate it when that happens, when for whatever reason a client is presented with a perfect shot and cocks it up but we’re only human and he’ll be there another day. I was thoroughly dejected and decided a good long walk was the order of the day, I knew that would be our only chance and the pub beckoned.
During all this excitement I hadn’t noticed that a slight drizzle had started, brilliant, miles from the truck, a missed opportunity and only a windproof jacket. I told the client we were calling it a day and started back to the truck at a brisk pace. By the time we reached it the rain had got heavier, I had sweat coming down my face but under the jacket and trousers I was completely dry, the water on the outside was beading off and a quick shake was enough to render it almost dry at which point I noticed that the inside of the jacket was almost identical to the outer only black and the penny dropped, its reversible, no flies on me!
Later that evening over a pint of Guinness, wearing my ‘new’ black fleece I listened to my client waxing lyrical about the roe buck he’d seen, it turned out that he hadn’t been watching it in the scope and when I told him to shoot he panicked and couldn’t get a sight picture because he had his scope magnification set to 16x – good old gun shops – completely useless scope for stalking, next time it’ll be my rifle he uses!
On a plus side, the new fleece is absolutely brilliant, not too warm when a bit of exertion is needed and certainly windproof and showerproof, plenty of pockets, well thought out side vents and reversible for a quick pint after stalking whilst the digital camo pattern isn’t like something from a cheap haberdashers! Having worn the suit on many occasions since I can happily say that it continues to live up to expectations, it would appear that my search for some lightweight spring/summer stalking kit is over for the time being. In all a very useable and well thought out suit and one I will definitely be wearing a lot and recommending to clients. A big thank you to Peter and Sally Tupper from Cotswold shooting for passing the suit on to me for testing, I’m sure it will be in stock soon!