Hunting: What To Wear
October 1, 2021
The First Rule Is Dress For The Weather
I've been a hunter since I was just a kid, and back then I wore whatever my mom and dad bought for me. I also had some Army clothes that were hand-me-downs from my dad, like field jackets, fatigues, and even combat boots. Trust me, those are the last things I'd choose to hunt in nowadays. For one thing, the fatigues and boots were designed for the jungle, not for chasing deer on the North Rim. It's a wonder I didn't freeze to death. But that brings us to the first rule for choosing hunting clothing – dress for the weather.
Rifle hunters in general can dress differently from bow hunters, since bowhunters need to be able to sneak up within yards of a deer to get a clean shot. Their clothing needs to be quiet and stealthy, with excellent camouflage. I'm not a bow hunter, so I'll stick to advice about rifle hunting. I've done spot and stalk as well as glassing, since I hunt both mule deer and Coues, but one thing I've learned is to dress in layers no matter where I'm hunting. It's almost always cold as all get-out when you leave camp before dawn, but once the sun gets up, it can turn hot, especially if you are backpacking and toting a rifle over the hills.
Camo is important for rifle hunters as well as bow hunters. Game animals have fantastic vision, so anything you can do to make yourself less noticeable is going to help, even if you are sitting still and glassing. There are dozens of different camo patterns available nowadays, and your best bet is to try to pick something that will blend with the background where you are hunting.
For instance, if I plan to be glassing for Coues in Unit 21, I'll pick something that will blend with the ground I'll be sitting on and the plants behind me. Usually that will be juniper trees, but sometimes it's just grass. My white hair gives me away big time, so I have a little camo cap that fits tight to my head and I keep that on at all times.
Important To Be Recognized
As important as it is to stay hidden from the animals, it's even more important that you be identifiable as a human by other hunters. Blaze orange is the norm, and you can get camo patterns that include blaze orange in the background. I've heard guys swear that the orange "glows" to a deer, but I have no idea if that is true. I just know that if I'm wearing camo that has a blaze orange background, the deer don't seem to see me unless I make a stupid move and stand up or something. Just like you when you're glassing, animals are attuned to movement.
Boots Are Important
Boots are incredibly important. Never wear a new pair of boots hunting – break them in first, and I suggest you get them a bit big. Fill the space with thick socks, or even two pairs of thinner socks. If your feet swell a bit from all the hiking, you can always take a pair off. I prefer high boots, like a 7- or 8-inch rise. High rise boots protect you from turning your ankle, from possible snake bites, and from foxtails getting in your socks.
As for the socks themselves, you can't go wrong with Browning socks – they are thick and soft and last forever.
All Camo Layers
When I'm deer hunting, all my layers will be camo. I'll wear a long-sleeved t-shirt, a button-down shirt, and a light jacket when I start out, then shed the layers as heat dictates. Some of the best fabrics now are very lightweight but still warm, plus they fold or roll up small so they are easy to carry. I confess that I have gotten nearly all of my camo pants from Goodwill – they only cost me about four bucks a pair! I usually go for a brown pattern for pants, and plant patterns for shirts and jackets. I even have some camo face paint that somebody at SHOT Show gave me, and I love that stuff.
I've learned over the years that you need to be prepared for darn near anything when you're on a long hunt. I've been rained on, hailed on, and snowed on – sometimes all in one day. If you're hunting up north, invest in some snow camo and make sure you have great boots and socks, as well as warm gloves. Nothing is more miserable than having fingers and toes that are freezing. When you buy gloves, check to see if your finger can still fit into the trigger guard with the gloves on. Some have finger tips that fold back, or you can invest in some high-dollar ultra-thin but super warm gloves.
Upland Game Bird Hunting
We don't usually wear camo when we're hunting birds. We do wear blaze orange vests or hats, and we also have a blaze orange vest for our dog that protects her chest and makes her visible to other hunters that may be out there looking for javelina. At the beginning of quail season, it can still be very warm out – in fact, so warm that a lot of bird hunters wait until late November to make sure all the snakes are bedded down for the winter.
Coyote Leather Pro-Hunter Belts
If we do go out bird hunting while it's still warm, we love our Coyote Leather Pro-Hunter Belts. They are high-quality leather belts so the weight is on your hips instead of your shoulders, and you can choose forest green or blaze orange canvas. The standard accessories are a game bird bag, shell pouch, utility pouch with four plastic choke tubes, a leather gun caddy, and two water bottle holsters.
All of these accessoriessnap on and off via slots in the stout leather belt, so they don't migrate around on the belt. They are absolutely fantastic. They cost $269, but they'll last a lifetime. You can see them at https://coyotecoleather.com. Over the years we've tried a lot of different vests for bird hunting, and they all seem to be hot or the straps or shoulders get in the way when you're trying to mount the gun. This is especially true for me, since most vests are made with men in mind. The shoulders are just too big and make it impossible for me to quickly mount the shotgun. The Coyote Leather belt is perfect, and if it gets cold out, I can wear a well-fitted jacket.
When you're choosing a hat for hunting, think about more than just keeping your head warm or your eyes shaded. Baseball caps may not be the best option, especially for bird hunters – that bill often gets in the way when you're trying to sight down a shotgun. Maybe that's why upland hunting hats have a narrower brim all around – they give you plenty of shade, but they also allow you to see the sights and the birds.
If you're rifle hunting it's a whole different thing, especially with a scope. A cap is just fine for that – the brim will just go over the top of the scope. But you'll want to think about that and try different hats when you're shooting shotguns. Try out different hats at the clays range and see which you prefer.
You can find many manufacturers of hunting clothing online, but if you prefer to try things on, visit your nearest outdoor store. Prices can vary crazily, and some brands are over the top expensive, so do your homework and determine if the expense is worth it to you.
If you are just starting out, save some dough for ammo by visiting your local resale shop. I've found pants, shirts, and jackets at Goodwill, Salvation Army, and even those trendy resale shops. In fact, I found a dynamite camo jacket the other day when I was shopping with my granddaughter at a second hand shop and it was only $15.
You don't have to spend a fortune on hunting clothes, especially since you'll only be wearing them a few days a year. Shop around, keep an eye out for sales, and don't be afraid of thrift shops and garage sales.