By Chris Batha
The holidays are fast approaching, and the best solution I have found to the annual gift dilemma is to avoid guessing and simply ask those you are buying for what they would like. So my family and friends have come up with a formula: We agree on a price range, and each person comes up with a list of gifts they would like within that range—the only caveat being that the suggestions be things they actually would use.
Whether you’re coming up with your own list or trying to figure out what to buy for a fellow shooter, following are some useful items that most shotgunners would enjoy receiving.
More often than not, a shooting vest is near the top of every shooter’s wish list. A vest worn with minimal layers of clothing allows maximum articulation of the arms and shoulders, ensuring a smooth, unimpeded gun mount.
Most shooting vests have a waistband that helps support the weight of shells and sundries, so the arms and shoulders can move freely, unimpeded by the weight of the vest’s contents. Extra pockets are handy to hold ear and eye protection, gloves, choke tubes and so on.
The best material for a vest’s shoulder pad is one piece of leather or suede running from the shooting shoulder to the cartridge pocket. Higher-quality pads have a thin underlayer and stitched ribbing. Over time a channel will groove in the pad, facilitating a smooth gun mount.
Hunting Vests & Jackets
Today’s hunting-vest designers have learned a lot from competitive clay shooting. More and more upland vests, jackets and coats are utilizing clay-shooting patterns and designs for function while adding more tailored looks and often wind- and waterproof liners, to protect from inclement weather. In fact, many shooting jackets are as much at home in the field and clays range as they are around town.
A necessity in both hot and cold conditions, shooting gloves need to fit well while allowing proper articulation of the fingers. Gloves also offer protection from both abrasion from a gun’s checkering and hot barrels. In recent years fabrics have evolved, and the most comfortable combination is a thin, Gore-Tex-lined fabric that offers dexterity and ventilation and provides a good grip for proper control of the gun.
A shooter cannot have too many guns or hats. Hats can be anything from a trilby hat to a ball cap, as long as the visor, or brim, is sufficiently pronounced to form a visual corridor down the gun’s rib to the target. Also, a good hat provides shade in bright conditions and keeps the head cool, warm and dry, depending on the weather. And the proper hat makes a statement!
With all of the equipment needed in the field, how does it get transported? The simple answer is: in a small- to medium-size range bag. The bag should be large enough to hold all necessary gear, yet small enough for comfortable carry. As in most sports, there is a range of design choices when it comes to these bags—from backpacks to shoulder bags to waist belts and more.
But the standards should always be high, from materials to features. A waterproof bag with several compartments, padded shoulder straps and carry handles will keep equipment handy and protected. Bottle carriers on the bag will serve both shooters and dogs. Once again, Gore-Tex-lined material is great and will protect contents from the weather.
Good shooting glasses are not an accessory; they are a necessity. Lenses made from CR39 protect the eyes from gun malfunctions, errant pellets, broken clay fragments or unburnt powder when ejecting cartridges, especially with autoloaders. Shooting glasses are usually frameless and have oversize lenses and temples, to prevent them from slipping. The bridge of the frame sits higher on the nose, so the eyes are looking through the center of the lenses, giving a better and sharper vision of the target. Many popular brands have interchangeable lenses of various color tints, allowing for different quarry and light conditions. Many lenses can be made with individual prescriptions as well.
Hearing protection is another necessity. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me they hate earmuffs. “They knock on my gunstock.” (Which I say is simply the audible sound of a poor gun mount.) Both earmuffs and earplugs protect from the noise of gunfire. Digital or analog custom plugs and electronic earmuffs compress only sounds that exceed certain decibel levels, allowing the wearer to hear conversations, dog bells, birds flushing and so on. The better devices even amplify sound, allowing hearing at a reasonable distance. Passive earmuffs and foam plugs are still the most used, but I would recommend electronic plugs for improved hearing and protection.
The majority of shotguns come with recoil pads installed; these can be anything from hard, plastic moldings to rubber composites, but they are usually as hard as the stock itself and transmit all the recoil directly into the shoulder. This can cause pain, flinching and bruising. Little wonder then that aftermarket replacement pads like Kick-EEZ and Pachmayr are so popular—they significantly reduce recoil, especially when using hot target and game loads. Even simple slip-on pads can offer reduced recoil for the average shooter.
Chokes for All Seasons
The majority of modern shotguns have factory-installed multi-chokes of one kind or another. Before multi-chokes, bird hunters and clay shooters needed two guns or more for different types of hunting or clay games. Then Mr. Briley came along and invented screw-in chokes. Today Briley and several other manufacturers offer aftermarket chokes to suit all shooting sports.
One of the most valuable self-coaching shooting aids is the ShotKam. This lightweight mini-camera attaches to the shotgun barrel and, used with an iPad or smartphone, allows the shooter to be his/her own coach. Each shot taken, whether at a bird or target, is recorded, and the shooter gets instant feedback on every hit or miss. Lead, speed, angle and distance all can be analyzed immediately or at a later time.
For both clay shooters and bird hunters, one of the biggest investments is a shotgun. So I constantly am amazed by how many guns are in need of a good “strip and clean.” Often guns are so fouled with residue that they are showing signs of corrosion and rust. A shotgun should be cleaned after every use. No excuses.
An obvious tool for this is a shotgun-cleaning kit. It does not have to be fancy but should come with the necessary implements: rods, brushes (both wire and mop), solvents and lubricants, and cleaning patches. A bench mat for catching grease, cleaning oil and powder will come in handy as well.
When you give a highlighted copy of this article to friends and family, you’ll up the odds of receiving at least a few things that you want this year. And if you should get copies from friends or family members, at least you will know you are giving them something they will enjoy!