By: Tom Lounsbury.
Mid-August is the perfect time to take a good look at your hunting gear and make improvements or additions as is necessary, because before you know it, you will be out in the field pursuing various autumn outdoor pastimes. That is what I truly appreciate about our great state of Michigan, the very diverse availability of outdoor pursuits, in which my home Thumb area is no slouch at all. The crow season is already in progress and in a couple short weeks, the early goose season opens up. Mid-September represents my beloved squirrel hunting timeframe (as well as other small game and even wild turkey) and before you know it, it will be bowhunting time for local whitetails.
Something never to be overlooked is conditioning hunting dogs, not only for physical strength, but also in toughening up their footpads. Fortunately I have a big yard entailing a farm pond and turning my kennel out for a group romp and run happens to be a daily affair here, pretty much all year. There is no question that rabbits which might consider raiding our garden during the summer, probably get the sense they are in “Indian territory”, because the garden is right on the circuit the dogs and I travel. When I say “kennel up”, the dogs all return to their individual runs, so we have a system that works. This daily communication level also pays dividends in the fall hunting fields.
Now is also the time to start slinging some arrows, tuning archery equipment, and making sure firearms are all in order. Then there is that wonderful pastime of shopping for new gear and equipment.
Probably one of the greatest “improvements” I’ve experienced in regards to outdoor gear is the advent of waterproof, windproof and breathable outerwear. I’m plenty old enough to remember the days that if you were waterproof on the outside, get ready to sweat and be wet on the inside whenever your activity level picked up. Actually the “Goretex Revolution” and related waterproof and breathable membranes is a relatively new concept as time goes, and the hunting/fishing garment materials used is an ongoing process with continual improvements being made, thanks primarily to feedback from consumers. Certain situations can create strong opinions on gear when the environment gets downright nasty and challenging (been there and done that more times than I can count).
I took the plunge into using the high-tech materials about 20 years ago in the form of Columbia’s “Silent Rain” jacket and pants in a Mossy Oak camo (which was basically Mossy Oak’s “Bottomland” camo pattern with the addition of leaves). “Bottomland” was the original camo pattern Toxey Haas created over 30 years ago which launched the Mossy Oak business, and it remains my favorite camo pattern to this day. I truly appreciate the muted earth-tone colors in a natural bark-like pattern that blends well with a multitude of environments, and when something works so well, I tend to not change.
The “Silent Rain” jacket and pants performed admirably all those years and have proven to be quite durable, never let me down, and as advertised was quiet in heavy cover, even for my favorite pastime of still-hunting for whitetails. The hood on the jacket was also cut to allow for excellent peripheral vision, something hoods are often notoriously known for often not doing. This outfit is “mid-weight” which is my preference which covers quite a temperature range, and allows for adding or subtracting layers to meet the need, and when properly layered I’ve endured some rather brutally wet and cold situations in relative comfort.
My only complaint is that the pants only featured a single pocket, which was a zippered hip pocket, and there also wasn’t a fly. Minor inconveniences certainly, and I got by just fine, and being a Scotsman, continually using these garments wasn’t a problem because they are as durable and dependable as ever, despite the lengthy and somewhat rough mileage. Then came the drawing for various prizes during a Michigan Outdoor Writers Association (MOWA) meeting a couple years ago, and I’m normally none too lucky during such matters.
However, the Queen of Hearts was quite a fortuitous card for me when the other half of her was one of the first drawn out of the hat. I immediately selected the Rivers West catalog of which I could obtain a free outfit of my choosing.
Until that moment, I never knew all that much about Rivers West other than I had seen their ads on various TV outdoor shows. Their key feature is waterproof/windproof and breathable fleece that is durable and very quiet. The founder and president of the business is Michael McGinley who is an avid outdoorsman that spends a lot of time in the Cascade Mountains of the Northwest and decided over 20 years ago to come up with dependable and affordable outer garments for both men and women. The first was known as OWF (Original Waterproof Fleece) and this was upgraded in 2013 to AWF (Advanced Waterproof Fleece) which is now lighter and even more breathable. These garments have been designed by someone who truly knows what to expect in a very rugged and challenging outdoor environment.
It didn’t take me long at all in perusing the Rivers West catalog to settle on matters. I selected the mid-weight “Frontier” jacket and pants, and in Mossy Oak “Bottomland” camo, of course. The jacket features a well-cut (offering great peripheral vision) hood with a notable visor, which can be all rolled up near the collar and buttoned when not needed. The jacket features four common sense pockets and has unique “Sling Gripper” shoulders, which are critically placed rubber panels that prevent gun (or crossbow) slings from slipping off. Nothing can be more annoying than when you want to be hands-free (such as glassing or dragging a deer out) and having your slung hunting arm continually slipping off your shoulder and sliding down your arm.
The pants feature two jean-style front pockets and two rear snap pockets, as well as a zippered fly and elasticized waist. Besides belt loops there are also suspender buttons and I put a lot of stock into having suspenders when I tend to carry a number of necessary items on my belt (which often includes a handgun and ammo) that can weigh matters down and cause some sagging. Having a case of “plumber’s-butt” when the weather is wet and nippy is no doubt a bit uncomfortable. Both the (Frontier) jacket and pants are lined with micro-fleece and cut to accommodate proper layering when needed.
The “Boonie” hat with its 3-inch brim also caught my eye and comes in the exact same materials and camo as the Frontier jacket and pants. I’ve long appreciated the benefits of a wide-brimmed hat (they are more functional than ball-caps) for being in the boondocks, and this hat also features a chinstrap (I call it a “rodeo string”) for when matters get a bit breezy.
Another item that perked my interest was the Sherpa-lined hand muff which is ideal for keeping ungloved hands warm and dry (especially when disposable hand-warmers are also employed). The hand muff is an ancient design and was quite popular with ladies in the 18th and 19th centuries, but has been revived for hunting and allows for bare hands to remain warm and dexterous for handling hunting arms. Besides a waist-belt, this hand muff has a handy storage pocket.
What truly intrigued me was the Rivers West Hunting Cape. When it comes to hunting garments, the cape has to be the most primitive and first used, ever since human hunters decided to cover their shoulders with animal skins for more warmth and protection from the elements. The cape actually has been quite popular down through the centuries due to its versatility and “fits-all” manner (there is that painting of George Washington wrapped up in his cape while crossing the Delaware) and makes a very ideal outer layer. Although it seemed to lose popularity with Americans by the 20th Century, I’m aware it remains popular in Europe, especially with hunting guides in the mountains.
Besides the Advanced Waterproof Fleece (AWF), the hooded Rivers West Hunting Cape features a thick Sherpa lining and inside hand-warmer pockets and comes in “Widow Maker” camouflage that no doubt is ideal for a variety of hunting applications, including in a tree-stand. Its design naturally breaks up the human outline and the easily opened front allows for quiet and ready access to hunting arms including bows. Weighing only 3.5 pounds, the cape rolls up to fit compactly on a daypack, and is there whenever needed. It has proven to be handy not only for deer, turkey and predator hunting, but also very ideal in a waterfowl blind. I’m into staying warm and dry.
Rivers West also offers a line of “Concealed Carry” outer garments for men and women, as well as a whole line designed for fishing and kayaking/canoeing, and even waterproof blankets. For more information on Rivers West, go to www.riverswest.com.
I’m real pleased the luck of the draw brought my Queen of Hearts out of the hat, because she introduced me to new and very dependable outdoor gear.