By David Draper
Whether you’re lacing up your boots for a long walk on the prairie or chilling bottles of water for a hot day in the dove field, opening day is upon us. From the first flush of the year to the tailgate camaraderie of seeing old friends and new, this is the day bird hunters and their dogs live for. This short list of great new products might help make the opener—and the rest of the season—your best yet.
▲ Standard upland chaps can feel like stovepipes, especially for the first few seasons before they get broken in. Tenzing’s Chaps are comfortable and flexible right from the get-go, thanks to a blend of ripstop cotton fronted by 500-denier nylon panels, with knees that are articulated to flex with each step. Full-length side zippers make slipping on the chaps over boots a breeze, and snap-closed flaps keep out dew and debris. There is even a pair of zip-closed pockets for keeping small items handy. Price: $100 to $110.
▲ This versatile case is a great way to transport guns and gear, whether to the field or the range. Inside the 1,600-denier ballistic-nylon shell are multiple dividers that will hold a break-down or full-length firearm, depending on the model. Other pockets are designed to accommodate everything from hearing protection to shell boxes to cleaning kits. There is even a Ze-Rust insert that absorbs moisture to further protect firearms. Price: $169 or $189.
L.L. Bean, 800-441-5713.
▲ Just as every boy should have a Barlow in his pocket, every gentleman should have a knife on hand at all times. This model meets the requirements of a man’s blade, with a 35⁄8″ drop-point edge that’s up for any number of sporting tasks, from whittling to pulling the breasts from a brace of grouse. The blade secures into the stainless liners and locks into the deployed position via a tough, secure and classic lockback design. The metal is a 440 steel alloy that’s hard enough to retain an edge and stand up to tough cutting. Available with Carbon Fiber, Cocobolo or G-10 scales. Price: $85 to $145.
A.G. Russell, 800-255-9034.
▲ Gone are the days of a sore behind from sitting on an uncomfortable bucket during an all-day dove shoot. This rolling, swiveling chair is the La-Z-Boy of hunting platforms, complete with 3″ of cushioned foam in the seat and another couple of inches in the back rest. Underneath, a soft-sided cooler has room for up to 18 cans or a hearty lunch. Tons of other storage includes a plastic utility box and four pouches plus an open shell pouch that hangs off of the side of the seat. The aluminum frame sits on 10″ all-terrain tires that roll easily over most obstacles, and at 30 pounds the whole package is light enough to load and unload from a truck bed. Price: $230.
Hunter’s Edge, 229-515-3777.
▲ A lightweight vest is an essential piece of kit, and this one fills the bill for bird hunters and clay shooters alike. The classic style and subtle color blocking is nice enough for town trips, but the performance of the 60-gram Primaloft Gold insulation and Cordura ripstop-nylon shell makes it the perfect layer for a cool morning in the field. Other features include roomy handwarmer pockets and a moleskin lining on the collar for added comfort. Cut generously with an elasticized waist, consider sizing down a bit for a sleeker fit to go under a water- or windproof shell. The XL was a bit large for my six-foot, 200-pound frame. Colors: Field Olive, Raven. Price: $125.
▲ In the early season or around the South year-round, venomous snakes are a real threat to canine hunting companions. So is thorn brush, cactus and other heavy cover. This smartly designed vest protects dogs from both, with a high-strength nylon weave that is not only impervious to snake bites but also waterproof and extremely wear-resistant. The material is also flexible and light, which helps prevent dogs from overheating in the hot weather common in snake country. Generously sized leg holes and Velcro-straps keep the vest in place. Five sizes (S through XXL) are available for dogs with standard or broad chests. An optional Neck Piece (shown) is available as well. Colors: Camo, Khaki, Sage, Blaze Orange. Price: $180 to $190.