Even before the first new shoots of grass push through last year’s thatch, shooting enthusiasts are dreaming about getting back to the range. It’s the anticipation of pulling the trigger and the blended odor of burning gunpowder and the fresh scent of dogwoods and lilacs. But don’t think I’m getting too touchy-feely—the competitive edge is still there even if it needs a little honing to razor sharpness. To that end, here are a few pieces of gear that may give you that chip when you most need it.
Walker’s Game Ear Razor Series Muffs
▲In a side-by-side comparison, muffs have been shown to be superior to plugs when it comes to protecting hearing. However, shooters often prefer the latter because standard muffs interfere with gun mount and can be uncomfortable. The affordable, new Razor Series muffs from Walker not only fit better than most muffs, thanks to a wide headband and foam liners, but also the slim design stays out of the way when shouldering a shotgun. Inside, special sound-dampening circuitry compresses ear-ringing blasts to safe levels. True high-definition speakers are frequency tuned to let ambient noise and range commands come through clearly for a natural experience and maximum safety. Runs on two AAA batteries. Available in Black, Dark Earth, Pink, Teal and Kryptek camouflage. Price: $70.
Browning Bridger Shooting Jacket
▲During the spring, the weather can be as unpredictable as the shooting. In addition to storms, short days often mean finishing up under the lights and in the chill. This lightweight jacket helps ward off the shivers, thanks to its comfortable wool construction. The tight weave delivers a clean look that’s resistant to snags and pilling, and the straight cut is comfortable and just fitting enough to ensure a clean gun mount. The leather-like shooting patch is made from polyester and backed with a sewn-in pocket that readily accepts the optional Browning Reactar G2 recoil pad. Aftermarket pads may also fit, though some trimming will be required. And sorry southpaws, the Bridger is available only for right-handed shooters. Color: Loden. Price: $190 to $195.
Promatic Pilot Wobble Target Thrower
▲Of all the shooting-sports variants, wobble trap can be the most exciting and is arguably the best simulation of real-life wingshooting. The trap oscillates on both the vertical and horizontal axes, throwing clays at all possible angles—all unknown to the shooter until the clays leave the house. The Promatic Pilot is designed as an introductory model for ranges, with maximum features at a moderate price. The six-column design holds 200 clays and throws them via a knife-edge aluminum throwing arm fitted with a polyurethane strip to reduce the chance of shattered clays even when wet or frozen. It has a reliable 12-volt motor with easy on/off toggle and dual-axis adjustments. Price: $3,195.
Negrini Uplander Series Hard Case
▲A fine-gun case has two requirements: protect the shooting piece and do so stylishly. The new compact Uplander Series does both, with a tough, dual-wall composite construction that resists damage and delivers a streamlined, modern look. Inside, the compartmentalized interior is hand-fitted with fine fabric and padded dividers, to cradle any double gun with barrels up to 30″ long. The case is airline approved, with TSA-approved steel combination locks. The comfortable carrying handle is molded into the case, and there is a quick-detachable, sling-style shoulder strap. The Deluxe LX trim package features leather accents inside and out. Price: $429 to $469 (depending on trim package).
Negrini Gun Cases, 585-905-3161
Wild Hare Primer Mesh Vest
▲Shotgunners looking for a straightforward shooting vest minus bells, whistles and the price tag that comes with them will find their needs met with this entry-level design. An ideal warm-weather vest, the Primer features a body that is nearly all nylon mesh, with solid vertical patches in front to break up airflow. The ambidextrous design is backed with pockets on each shoulder that accommodate nearly all makes of aftermarket recoil pads. Pockets are slim-cut but will hold a full box of shells. A two-shell holder attaches to the waist via Velcro tabs to keep reloads close at hand. Available in Black/Silver or Forest/Brown. Price: $76.
Wild Hare, 800-595-3850
Clazer VR Shotgun Simulator
▲What do you do if you can’t make it to the range but feel the need to pull the trigger? While virtual reality is still in its infancy, an option for shotgunners is in the works. The Clazer Shotgun Simulator will feature three versions—trap, skeet and sporting clays—and put shooters right on a virtual range with a virtual shotgun in hand. Used as a training device, the simulator can imprint a phantom clay ahead of a real clay to show lead and uses an “X” for point of impact. Currently, the handheld controller is a little awkward, but designers hope to have a shotgun-mounted version available soon. The Clazer currently is live for HTC Vibe ($30) or available to demo on most other VR platforms at game and electronic stores around the US.