By David Draper[W]ith a centuries-long history, bird hunting is probably the most traditional of the shooting sports. After all of this time you would think there would be no surprises left for sportsmen. Of course, like all hunters, wingshooters and shotgunners can be gear geeks, and there is always someone trying to dream up the next best piece of equipment. I’ll be the first to say that a lot of the items that make it to market are gimmicky, but some of them are truly innovative or represent legitimate improvements to classic pieces. Here are a few of the new-for-2016 products that I believe are worth investing in this season.
Filson Excursion Bag
The traveling bird hunter will find a lot to love about Filson’s newest duffel. Made from 15-oz Tin Cloth with a classic oil finish, it will age like your favorite pair of Filson bibs. Contents are easily accessed via a U-shaped, zippered opening on top. An end zipper opens a nylon-lined bag for stashing muddy boots, wet clothes and so on separately from clean stuff. There is also a side envelope pocket as well as a large interior zippered pocket and three stow pouches. The only things missing are a couple of smaller slots for pens and other small travel essentials. A nylon mesh back pocket is functional but does take away from the Excursion’s otherwise upscale appearance. Brass zippers and bridle-leather accents, including carry handles, round out the premium features we’ve all come to expect from Filson. Overall measurements are 20" (w) x 13" (h) x 103/8" (d). Price: $425.
Sitka Gear Fahrenheit Series Vest & Jacket
Sitka is no longer a newcomer to the world of hunting apparel. With an established premium brand, the company could coast for a bit, but instead it continues to release tough, functional gear for outdoorsmen. Witness the new Fahrenheit line of outerwear. Made up of a Vest and Jacket, the series features “mapped” Primaloft insulation, putting the best insulation where it’s needed most. As an example, the Jacket features waterproof Primaloft synthetic insulation in the forearms, which are apt to get wet setting decoys or retrieving birds. The upper arms and torso are lined with a lighter-weight, compressible down blend that’s quilted to prevent clumping or shifting. The shell is lined with Windstopper from Sitka’s parent company, Gore, and the entire garment is slim fit to serve as an ideal layer under waders or a waterproof shell. The camo pattern is Optifade Concealment Waterfowl Marsh. Prices: Vest, $199; Jacket, $299.
Woolrich Sportsman’s Collection
The best field pants I’ve ever owned were a pair of Woolrich hikers I bought at an outlet store in Alliance, Nebraska, in the early ’90s. Those pants served me on many adventures until I finally had to retire the threadbare pair. So it pleases me greatly that the venerable apparel maker is getting back into hunting clothing with this new collection. It will incorporate classic designs and materials with modern manufacturing and technology, giving sportsmen who long for the days of wool and canvas something familiar to wear. I’m especially excited about the new Greenburr Sporting Vest, which will come in midweight and heavyweight wool versions—and include a classic red/black Buffalo Check model—and the Rosecrans Sporting Coat, a field blazer of durable cotton twill that’s been sand washed and finished in a durable water-repellent treatment. Shirts, sweaters and, yes, a pair of classic wool hunting pants will be available as well. Price: Vest, $175; Coat, $217.
White Flyer Eco Flyer Targets
These days environmental concerns are—or should be—at the top of every range or course manager’s mind. Casual shooters, too, might think about how they’re impacting their home ranges. One way White Flyer has helped reduce the potentially harmful effects of sport shooting is by introducing new ecologically friendly clays. Not only are the targets formed from a nontoxic material, but also the high-visibility paint is free from toxins, making the clays completely safe to shoot. Eco Flyer targets fly just like the company’s AA and Sporting targets and, when hit dead center, explode into a black dust like their predecessors. There should be no concerns about durability, as the company claims that less than 1 percent of the targets will break in a thrower or coming out of one. Available in both 108mm and 110mm sizes to meet all ISSF, NSSA, NSCA, ATA and PITA requirements. Price: $10 per box of 135.
Shooters serious about improving their skills or ranges that want to add more targets to their courses without breaking the bank have a new option when it comes to recreational-grade clay throwers. The MEC 100E is built on the same high-grade specs and processes that MEC is known for but at a more affordable price. Five towers hold 27 clays apiece for an impressive 135-target total capacity—more than enough for some quality practice. Reset time is 1.5 seconds, just quick enough for report doubles. The thrower is fully adjustable, ranging from 50° back and 30° of left tilt, and will throw a claybird 85 yards easily. The 100E is a bit stout to move around, but an optional handcart (shown) is available. Price: $1,095.
Avian-X Top Flight Canvasback/Redhead Sleeper Pack
Short of pricey custom jobs, few companies get diver dekes just right. And finding a set of sleeper diving ducks? Good luck. Avian-X splashes into that market with a good-looking six-pack of mixed canvasbacks and redheads that raise the bar on what big-water duck hunters are used to. Oversized with weight-forward keels that hold them tight to the surface in big waves, they ride naturally and look incredibly lifelike. Body styles are based on replicas from world-champion carver Rick Johannsen and feature finely feathered paint jobs. Decoys used in rough conditions have to be tough, and Avian-X builds these out of a rubber molding material and non-chip paint that can take a beating for several seasons. Price: $80.
L.L. Bean Uplander Pro Briar Pants
Randolph Ranger Falcon Pro 2.0
A couple of Randolph’s industry-leading designs got upgrades for 2016, including its popular Falcon Pro glasses. The 2.0 version features a more streamlined lens that wraps around the face farther, offering both better protection and vision, particularly around the periphery. This will help shooters pick up difficult clays quicker. Shooters also will be able to track targets longer, thanks to a minimized nosepiece that virtually disappears for a completely unobstructed view edge to edge. The nosepiece has been made more comfortable, as well, thanks to air-filled-silicone construction. The new frames are now dipped in specialized ceramic coating for military-grade durability. Price: $229 (Frames only; lenses sold separately.)
Yeti Rambler Bottles
By now you’ve probably heard someone rave about his or her Yeti Tumbler. In just a year or two, the legend of the stainless mugs has grown as big as the company’s abominable namesake. Building on that reputation for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for hours, Yeti has introduced Rambler Bottles for the outdoors crowd. Like the Tumblers, the Bottles are made from 18/8-grade stainless steel with double-wall construction. Similar to the classic Thermos, this creates a layer of insulating air inside the bottle itself. The result is that liquid in the container maintains its temperature longer, and the bottle’s outside doesn’t sweat or get too hot. Yeti bottles have wide mouths, making them easier to fill and wash, though the oversize openings don’t necessarily help when drinking straight from them. The lids seal tightly, ensuring no leaks. Sizes are 18, 36 and 64 oz. Prices: $40, $60 and $90.