By Chris Batha
The holiday season is fast approaching, and soon thoughts will turn to finding the perfect gift for a family member or friend. Choosing that “just-right” gift requires insight into not only what the recipient would like but also what will fit a particular budget. Like many others, I have been on the receiving end of well-intended-but-practically-useless gifts—and I am sure that I have given the same to friends and family through the years.
Photographs by Mark Fleming
The key to buying the perfect gift is simple: Pay attention! Be alert to telltale comments like, “I really must get a new pair of boots,” or, “Jim had a really nice gun slip at the range today.” Such less-than-subtle hints often can guide you to making an informed choice and buying something that will be valued and appreciated.
The following list of gift suggestions is based on items that I would like to receive (note to Sara). Some are relatively expensive, but the quality will give years of good service. Others are less costly, and you may consider buying two or three to combine in a “basket” of presents.
A word of warning: Sportsmen and women often are particular about the equipment they use. When choosing a present, stay away from consumables like cartridges, bug sprays, sun blocks and so on. Not only are such items quickly consumed and forgotten, but they also are personal choices based on preferred brands, particular pursuits, specific conditions and so on.
Every year brings innovation in the design of wingshooting gear, but there are also classics that stand the test of time. It is up to you to judge the recipient’s personal style and decide whether he or she would prefer the latest and greatest in outerwear, for example, or a traditional tried-and-true garment.
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You might not expect to see a range finder on a wingshooter’s wish list, as these excellent little tools more often are associated with big-game hunting. But range finders are invaluable for judging distances when setting decoys, dove shooting and driven-game shooting. They provide accurate measurements of target distances, allowing for more accurate choices of chokes and cartridges—and thus cleaner kills.
GPS units for hunters and dogs are not only handy for navigating and keeping track of a hunt, but they also could prove priceless in certain situations. A hunter who has been lost and then “found again” thanks to a GPS unit will forever after be a believer. From mapping favorite coverts to locating shoot gatherings, duck blinds in the dark or big-running dogs, GPS devices often make their owners wonder how they lived without them.
Boots, Shoes & Waders
I could rival Imelda Marcos for the number of pairs of boots that I have, but as with golf and tennis shoes, every year brings lighter, better-designed and more comfortable boots, shoes and waders. It’s worth stating again that you cannot overestimate the value of warm, dry feet. Don’t scrimp on these things.
A shooting jacket—be it insulated camouflage for waterfowling or traditional waxed cotton for upland hunting (or looking cool at the local bar)—is always welcome for the gunner’s wardrobe.
Cartridge bags and field totes are wonderful gifts! They often become hold-alls for the sporting clays range, with room for all types of paraphernalia—typically way more than any shooter needs. It is amazing that once something is placed in such a handy bag, it is never discarded. Mine weighs a ton!
The British classic Payne Galway-style leather cartridge bag, with hinged flap for rapid loading, makes a fine camera bag in the off-season, as does the Westley Richards Bishop Bag.
Gloves are essential kit. They protect not only hands from the elements and hot barrels but also guns from sweaty hands. My favorite gloves are silk-lined Pittards waterproof leather, followed by MacWet gloves for those famously gentle Scottish mists.
Yes, socks! Socks are always welcome. Perhaps even a selection—light, medium and heavy. There are some phenomenal blends of traditional Merino wool and high-tech textiles that make for the best socks ever. Also consider specialized socks for repelling insects, wicking away moisture and/or support.
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Traveling Shotgun Case
A case for transporting shotguns on trips is very useful. There are so many to choose from, but my preferences are Negrini ABS cases—which are light, strong, secure and available for one or two guns and as a combo case, with room for clothes and boots on one side and a gun on the other.
Snap caps are always useful. They range widely in price from relatively cheap to expensive and are made from a variety of materials, including plastic, brass, buffalo horn and more. Snap caps allow one to check the function of a gun’s firing, ejecting and cocking and are practical tools for releasing the springs when storing guns.
A hat can be anything from a ball cap to a British “cheese cutter”—the ubiquitous flat cap with a small, stiff brim in front. A waterproof hat is always a great idea and, as with all clothing, a waterproof lining like Gore-Tex is a good option.
Gun slips are made in everything from light roll-up fabric to heavy, zippered sheepskin-lined leather. Whether thick or thin, they must be sturdy enough to protect a gun when it is not in use. For transporting a gun from the house to the car to the shoot, slips need sturdy straps and zippers, and they have to be able to dry quickly, so that moisture from the field does not leave you with a soggy slip in which to slide your gun. I also like simple gun socks, treated with silicone for discouraging rust while storing guns in the safe.
A gift that keeps on giving. I cannot tell you how many times my faithful Leatherman has saved the day. There are a variety of multi-tools available with all sorts of attachments for different purposes. There are even wingshooting-specific tools, such as Leatherman’s Wingman, Bear & Son’s Bear Jaws Sportsman and Real Avid’s Multi-Cutter.
Ear and eye protection are mandatory for any type of shooting. Both can be found for a few dollars but, as in all things, you get what you pay for. Anything that creates a sound louder than 84 decibels will damage hearing, and repeated exposure likely will result in loss of hearing and possibly tinnitus. Simple foam plugs or inexpensive earmuffs are all that is required, but anyone who shoots regularly should have better protection.
Electronic muffs and custom earplugs allow the wearer to hear normal conversation and sounds without the muffled sensation of passive plugs. When a gun is discharged, these devices cut out, protecting hearing. They cost more, but they offer enhanced hearing and greater protection and are worth the investment.
Shooting glasses can be found for a few dollars but, like hearing protection, they are a priceless piece of safety equipment. Shooting glasses should serve several purposes: They should be resistant to multiple pellet strikes, they should offer UV protection and they should enhance the color of targets, both clay and feathered.
Top-quality shooting glasses can be purchased with prescription inserts or lenses. They also can have multiple tinted lenses to enhance different-color targets in different light conditions and against different backgrounds. A good pair of shooting glasses is an essential piece of kit.
Of course, if you would like to be on the receiving end with any of these gifts, be sure to leave clues such as circled ads or catalogs left open to dog-eared pages. Or you simply could hand your Beloved this highlighted article . . . .