How things have Changed.
I suppose since my taking up of the gun again and my ventures into wildfowling and stalking rather than the adhoc solitary walk around the fields of a local farm for an hour on a sunny evening, there have been many changes to my shooting life. Most have been for the better and most have involved time effort and cash. How ever while none of my friends would call me tight, or would they, I prefer to think of myself at careful, not proud, and if Aldi have it and it does the job for me Orvis can have a miss.
I started wildfowling with my Lanber over and under and usually hated taking it onto the marsh, my clothes were the old Barbour jacket and ex MOD water proofs a bush hat and a pair of wellies. On many a marsh morning I was cold. For Christmas I had a set of Deerhunter Montana gear, trousers and jacket and for my birthday I had some Le Chameau boots, the Mouflon Plus, that were on sale at a good discount. With added matching gloves and veil the others wondered who they were talking to as it got light and I did not appear. But what a difference I realised I could feel my feet and the rest of me was dry and warm. I was very impressed, perhaps there is something in the, you get what you pay for philosophy after all. I still have the old Barbour, the bees knees in its day, and the other day saw me with it on my knee in the lounge, I had caught the pocket on a saw in the back of the car and torn it. The supermarket provided and curved needle and I spent an hour in front of Country File sewing it up. Not the neatest job but it just had to be done for this old companion.
The Deerhunter I have worn for deepest winter fowling at ridiculously cold temperatures, where we have arrived at the marsh in a gale with minus 6 on the outside temperature gauge and really thought perhaps we should leave the engine running the heater on full and have a kip until a café opened for breakfast and then just go home again. At the other end of the scale I have worn it stripped down to the outer shell for woodland deer stalking and been comfortable too. I know hoods are not every shooters fancy but I find a peaked cap to keep the rain out of your eyes and hood up over the top its very comforting on a bad day waiting to see if the sun will come up or if this cacophony of wind noise and water is actually Armageddon.
Now Le Chameau boots are either loved of hated, now here again I don’t wear mine all the time, sometimes not every week. But they are great for me and mine are the quiet type they don’t squeak. That could be because of the cold water immersion treatment they were subjected to while fishing in them one day when they were almost brand new. I was down the bank a little bit cooking bacon butties when by rod tip bent round and the rod started to leave the rest as a large bream took off across the lake. I ran over and put my boot on the sloping off edge of the lake covered in green moss and then did a very graceful rotation of 180 degrees while falling over backwards into the water splashing down bum first into three feet of water. I did play and land the fish. Later I discovered that I had sliced off the three top lace hooks on the concrete edge of the lake. These were replaced free of charge under the guarantee. I have worn them on the marsh, fishing and had them wet many times a day wading out to a fishing pontoon in Ireland that didn’t reach the bank and never have had wet feet. Sat out on the marsh I was aware how good they were compared to have freezing feet in wellies. On the day I fell in the lake, though wet through my feet were warm inside the boots.
I changed my fowling gun, my mate had bought a Biakal semi auto and I soon followed suit. They are tough cheap and reliable, take 3.5 inch magnum cartridges, multi choke and proofed for steel. Its not light but I often take it rough shooting too. I fitted it with a neoprene sling, day glow front bead and did have to buy a new slip for it as its very long, I have to wiggle it a bit to get it in my cabinet.
Today cartridges are just that, ammunition. When I first got my certificate most came in paper cases, they had a feel and a smell of their own, colours and closures were varied and considering we were trying to be inconspicuous our cartridge belts were a rainbow. Today you wound think the heads of cartridges would be cammo and the closure end day glow orange.
With the demise of lead for fowling I ventured into the non toxic shot market, I frequently use steel in large shot and heavy loads, I have got some Tunsten Matix but have never ventured into the really expensive stuff.
With the acquisition of my FAC I bought two rifles. A .22 rf CZ bolt action stainless and synthetic with a 4x40 scope and a sac moderator, I really like this and use it lots I have hardly used the shotgun rabbiting since I got it. My second rifle is a Parker Hale .270 and I have written a fair bit about that previously. After having tinnitus despite hearing protection I had a T8 moderator fitted, this cost about the same price as the gun but its much nicer to shoot with since.
Stalking had brought a new list of gear, but not all of it has to be expensive or designer. My sticks are two Focus garden canes held together with a load of my daughters old hair elastics, I do like to recycle. My stalking bag, although I must admit is now small for the gear I want to put in it is a shoulder bag from the garage, £3 with so much fuel. An Ikea blue bag for my Roe sac and some net curtain keeps the flies off while a carcass hangs in the shed. Ebay has provided a host of odd items as has other internet sites, bullet pouches and cammo cartridge belt to take the big fowling loads Bushwear and others provided the Gerber range of skinning knife, bone saw and EZip I have found very good and perhaps my favourite bit of kit is my Neverlost knife made by Mora very good value for money. Bits of rope from Wilko’s and a couple of carabiners from my caving kit. Flasks in stainless have come down massively and you don’t arrive somewhere ready for a brew and find the tell tale maraca’s sound of glass in your coffee.
Binoculars generate a host of opinion as do optics in general, to be honest hundreds of pounds for them is not for me at the moment, I was bought a pair of Wetland 6x42 a couple of years ago and they do what I require combined with a harness they are fantastic and give me loads of pleasure whether stalking or just for general use. I don’t have a deer dog, so shooting at very last light is not going to happen so I am not that bothered if they don’t scrape in the last lumen of light, its like dogs and computers, it may not be the very best there is or the most up to date but does it do what you require if it does you don’t need something better.
Probably my biggest shooting purchase has been Sam, my Springer he is four now and my first effort at training a gun dog. The things he cant do well are down to me, but he is my greatest mate and does what I need of him in enthusiastic fashion. When I was thinking of having a gun dog a guy on the phone said “What sort are you after then?”, “Labrador” I replied, “Mmmm” he said “How old are you?” “50” I said, “Well he said why do you want a lab?”. I replied “Because they are a bit steadier and more biddable”. “True” he said,” If you were 80 I’d say have a lab, you want a Springer”,” Why?” I said, “Because” he said “It’s a bit like having a sports car, they are very fast and you are never quite sure what’s going to happen next”. He knew what he was talking about.
My collection of hats has grown over the years, I have a couple of baseball type hats one fleecy for winter a reversible bush hat, cheap as chips. A fowling hat my daughter bought me from Next with fold down ear muffs and a furry lining, absolutely great on a freezing morning when its blowing a gale. One of my favourite hats is a cheapish wax wide brimmed hat, I waxed it a bit ago and use it winter and summer, the kids call it my Indiana Jones look, but its not that smart.
Face veils have changed loads I started with the army green net scarf and now have a collection of dpm and Realtree ranging from winter weight balaclava type to thin netting gloves are about the same big changes form my original pair of Mallarmits which I do still have and use after more than 35 years.
Cammo nets have come from the old heavy military issue to modern light weight leaf cut fabrics which I do use due to their light weight and if I want to disappear I use a combination of both, but to be honest if I want to see the quarry coming I still prefer the old stuff, and there is of course that characteristic smell of the traditional stuff, like a slightly shabby old friend who is just getting ready for a bath.
Kit, guns and shooting companions change over the years, even the type of shooting engaged in, but the general premise is the same, good days in the countryside some good company, brew in the open air, mutual stories to tell and experiences to share and occasionally some fresh organic food for the table.