The dogs can sense it, and I bet you’re feeling a bit antsy as well. Bird season is finally here, even if opening day is still a few weeks away where you are. Time to head for bird camp, but not before a comprehensive go-through of the gear closet. As you inventory what survived last season and what needs replacing, consider adding some of the following upland products to your arsenal.
SportDOG Tek 2.0 LT E-Collar
Although they’ve come a long way from the old two-button trainers most of us started with, electronic collars are still centered around one idea: maintaining consistent control of your sporting dog. Nearly all current models do that well, but few give the kind of customizable control available in the newest iteration of SportDOG’s popular Tek series. The 2.0 utilizes both GPS and GLONASS (Russia’s version of GPS) to pinpoint your dog from up to 10 miles away and show its location on a preloaded 1:100K topographic map. If that seems somewhat unbelievable, consider that the 2.0’s small handheld transmitter can also track 20 other Tek-fitted dogs or even your hunting partners, if they happen to have compatible transmitters. And a charming voice will tell you exactly where your dog is, so you never have to take your hands off of your gun to look at the map. And that’s just a few of the many tracking abilities of the Tek 2.0. The LT model also incorporates a fully functioning training collar with 99 levels of stimulation, not counting the tone and vibration modes. Customizable setup means I choose which buttons deliver the stimulation level/type I set for each of the dogs I am training. Controls are intuitive, with a thumb wheel and arrow pad that scrolls through an icon-driven interface—though with so much going on, it may take several practice runs to really get a feel for everything the Tek 2.0 has to offer. Price: $805.
SportDOG, 800-275-6797; www.sportdog.com.
Russell Ladies Birdshooter Boots
It’s difficult to find a woman’s hunting boot that’s not just a downsized version of man’s boot built on a woman’s last. Sure the boot might have some pink piping, but that’s about the only difference. When designing its premier women’s upland boots, the cobblers at Russell Moccasin actually put some thought into it. They incorporated lighter-weight materials, such as a Stowe Vibram outsole, to keep women moving all day, and added a few measures of comfort as well, most notably by sandwiching a soft, supportive Poron slip sole between the leather midsoles. Ladies Birdshooter Boots have classic moccasin style, with sturdy and flexible stitch-down construction that’s been hand-stitched at every seam. Uppers are German elk leather, which not only adds a distinct measure of style but also is softer, for a shorter break-in period without compromising on the long-wearing reputation of Russell’s traditional Birdshooter boots. Price: $390.
Russell Moccasin Co., 920-361-2252; www.russellmoccasin.com.
L.L. Bean Uplander Pro Hybrid Hunting Shirt
As crisp early season mornings quickly turn to sweltering days, I can’t shed layers fast enough, but when the sun really starts to bake on the tall-grass prairie, I don’t dare wear short sleeves at the risk of frying to a crisp. The same goes for hunting thick, humid cover, where bare arms can turn bloody from the thorns. That’s why I’ve come to appreciate modern, breathable long-sleeve shirts like L.L. Bean’s new Uplander Pro. Yes, it’s still warmer than short sleeves, but with side panels as well as upper sleeves crafted from a soft, snag-free knit fabric, it lets in plenty of air. The torso’s fabric helps wick away moisture from the core, and it is cut with a gusseted back to allow maximum freedom of movement when swinging on a long crossing sharptail or crawling through the popples. The result is a shirt that weighs lighter on the shoulders than conventional cotton or canvas shooting shirts and yet, if not completely thorn-proof, still seems fairly durable. Obviously built by bird hunters, the shirt is shooter-friendly, with a smooth right shoulder and low-profile pocket on the left. A handy tab on the upper placket keeps a whistle or transmitter lanyard secured and out of the way. The color is Blaze/Gray. Price: $79.
L.L. Bean, 800-441-5713; www.llbean.com.
Upland & Downstream Dog Collars
Serious bird hunters put a lot of thought into every piece of their kit, right down to what kind of collars their dogs wear in the field and at home. It’s that kind of attention to detail that first attracted me to these collars from a little shop in Columbus, Ohio. At their core, Upland & Downstream collars are well made of American materials, but there are more to them than good looks. With the installation of a single brass snap, the designers have managed to differentiate themselves in a category of otherwise copycat collars. The snap secures the tag end to a sliding leather loop, keeping it tightly in place so it neither sags nor snags. No more trimming excess material or taping it in place—two things I’ve done in the past. All Upland & Downstream collars are made from long-wearing and good-looking bridle leather and have solid-brass hardware. The Brentwood model is built for bird hunters, with a brass O-ring clasp. It and the Countryside collar are available with a waxed-duck cotton facing stitched in place, and all of the collars can be fitted with a brass nameplate for a nominal fee. Price: $49 to $115.
Upland & Downstream, www.uplandanddownstream.com.
Orvis Upland Shell
In the past hundred years upland hunting clothing has gone through an evolution of sorts, morphing from the tin cloth of our grandfathers through the heavy nylon (think Cordura) of the end of the last century to the modern materials we now enjoy. And I do mean enjoy. As classic as we may look in our waxed canvas, that stuff wears like iron in both senses of the word: It lasts nearly forever and is about as flexible—and breathable—as a suit of armor. Enter soft-shell jackets, such as Orvis’s Upland Shell, which have taken over the uplands in recent years. Though it might not be as tough as tin cloth, the poly material is way more comfortable and yet surprisingly long lasting, thanks to the three-way stretch properties. It’s also windproof and all but waterproof in anything short of a downpour. Inside, a very thin layer of fleece provides just enough insulation to ward off a chill without being bulky or overly hot. Zippers underneath the arms allow for extra venting when putting on the miles. The aptly named Napoleon pocket on the chest is just the right size for a smartphone or wallet, while the interior pocket is set in the perfect spot so as not to interfere with a gun mount. Colors are Blaze, tan/Blaze or charcoal. Price: $198.
Orvis, 888-235-9763; www.orvis.com.
D.T. RAPT 1450 Upland Beeper
In the May/June 2014 issue I provided a brief overview of the then-new RAPT 1400 electronic training collar, which introduced a unique design in transmitter technology. Now D.T. Systems has upgraded the line for pointing-dog owners with the RAPT 1450 trainer/beeper combo. Like the 1400, this collar stands out from the pack with a grip-free transmitter that can be worn on the back of the hand. The configuration allows the trainer or hunter to handle a firearm, operate remote dummy launchers or give hand signals while keeping a correction instantly available via an easily accessible push button. Both continuous and nick stimulation are variable through 16 levels—including an extra-mild setting for sensitive dogs—or the collar can be set to vibration. Like the 1400, the 1450 features an honest ¾-mile range, a 360° internal collar antenna and a rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride collar battery. (The transmitter operates on a standard 9-volt, for quick in-the-field replacement.) The company claims that the beeper can be heard up to 450 yards away, though there is no word whether it was tested by older hunters suffering from tinnitus. It can be set to run-point or point only and can be activated via the transmitter to find a dog locked on point in heavy brush or deep timber. The system is expandable to accommodate up to three dogs, each with its own tone. Color is hunter orange. Price: $260.
D.T. Systems, 888-588-8364; www.dtsystems.com.