Through trial and error, acknowledging the difficulty of finding the right fit in clothing, the author has put together this guide for the bird-hunting newcomer
Wearing an oversized camo jacket, a generic blaze orange hat, and awkwardly carrying a borrowed youth 20 gauge, I walked into the lobby of the local trap club, where the participants of the Eastern Oregon Women’s Pheasant Hunt were gathering.
It was clear almost immediately that I was not the only newbie, if not from the other neophyte’s nervous shuffling, then from their attire. Only the women who had attended the event in prior years seemed to know how to dress for the occasion.
Over the next two years, I began to experience firsthand the frustrations of trying to find upland hunting apparel for women. My husband, who has a tall, lean build, also was having difficulty finding durable clothing that fit properly.
Together, we discovered some invaluable hacks that I am eager to share with fellow newcomers.
Basic introduction to upland apparel
There are a lot of people hunting birds in everyday clothing. This might seem contrary to what most folks think (which is influenced more by social media than reality) when dressing for the uplands.
I am by no means an expert on the topic of upland apparel. In fact, to date, I still do not own any high-end, upland-specific gear. However, I have made a number of mistakes and have learned a ton from them. Here are some basic bird hunting apparel tips:
- Wear what you have (camo, old flannels, hiking/backpacking clothing, etc.) until you know exactly which pieces of apparel you want to improve upon.
- Standard orange apparel is cheap, readily available, and more than acceptable.
- Thrift stores and other inexpensive retailers are invaluable resources for hunting apparel (the $20 cargo Wranglers from Walmart are quite the steal).
- You can easily hunt and even look the part without purchasing any name-brand clothing.
Note: Throughout this article, there are a couple of from-personal-experience money-saving tips I have included. These are denoted by “$ Tips.”
Dressing for pheasant hunting
Pheasant habitat is often very wet: tall dewy grasses, damp marshes, snowy crop rows. In no time, an unprepared hunter can easily become soaked to the bones. When pursuing birds in these environments, the new uplander should first prioritize keeping their feet and pants dry. The alternative is a hunt that is cut short or a very long day with frozen toes.
Waterproof footwear is a must. Most folks wear higher cut boots, which I would highly recommend, but it isn’t absolutely necessary. I have been the person jumping from rock to rock in hiking shoes, all the while envying those in mid-calf boots wading the very same creek with ease. We both crossed the stream without getting wet, but one of us had to put in a lot more time and effort to do so.
In addition to waterproof shoes, I cannot emphasize fervently enough the importance of using gaiters or chaps. Second only to keeping your feet dry is keeping the hem of your pants dry. The wicking phenomenon can take just minutes for water to soak from ankle to knee. Wet, heavy pants are simply awful. Plus, gaiters and chaps keep burs, grass awns, and all kinds of other sock nuisances at bay.
In my first year of bird hunting, I went off script and started wearing a pair of bright blue gaiters I had picked up for a snow camping trip the year before. By the end of the season, not only did I have a new, more neutral-colored set, but everyone I had been hunting with had invested in them as well. They are that amazing.
$ Tip: You can extend the life of an older pair of boots or hiking shoes with waterproofing sprays.
Dressing for grouse hunting
The grouse woods can also be damp, but thorns, low hanging branches, and thick cover are the real obstacles of concern. Depending on your location, you may also find yourself hunting in warmer weather at the start of the season.
In short, that means lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants that are thorn-resistant. My preference is to wear fairly thick work pants (think Carhartt) and a long sleeve, often thrift store-purchased thermal shirt. Both are subject to holes and tears while hunting, but at least your skin is protected. Depending on your shooting preferences, lightweight or leather gloves can be a good idea as well. They save your palms on long scrambles through the thorns.
Dressing for chukar hunting
Chasing chukars requires a lot of miles and elevation changes over rocky, hazardous ground. Comfortable climbing shoes, layers, and lightweight packs are essential in this terrain. Footwear, especially for chukar hunting, will vary by individual preference. My husband swears by taller boots because of the support they provide. I prefer hiking shoes or low-ankle boots because my sensitive skin blisters at the mere sight of a hill to be climbed.
My advice is to wear already worn-in shoes that work well for your feet.
In addition to durable, well-fitting shoes, it is a good idea to layer for chukar hunting. One works up quite a sweat climbing 1,000 feet in a mile. However, once you are at the top, the wind chill can be brutal. I usually wear a light raincoat and a heavy thermal layer on top with a light thermal layer and work pants on the bottom. When it is really cold, I will bring along a light button-up flannel as well.
$ Tip: Using small backpacks with water bladders can be a great substitute for a bird vest. I use one all the time since I find most upland vests/bags on the market to be cumbersome and designed poorly for female frames. Just remember to bring a bag or pre-tied bird loops so that any birds shot don’t have to go directly inside your pack.
Dressing for turkey hunting
Really the only time camo is necessary for upland hunting is during turkey (and dove) season. Because sitting in the pre-dawn spring woods is often frigid, I am a big proponent of layering camo. Walk in with fewer layers on, then load on more when you are finished setting up and getting ready for a long, cold sit.
$ Tip: Second-hand, slightly oversized camo can come in handy, especially when it is cold and layering is a good idea. Form-fitting camo makes for flattering photos, but it also creates a more defined silhouette, thereby decreasing the function of your camouflage.
There are so many options out there for upland apparel, and limiting yourself to just what “the pros” wear could cost you comfort, money, and the gear that actually works best for you.
Don’t get me wrong: if you want that Filson bird bag, do it. Some gear is absolutely worth the price tag. But if you just want to get out in the woods and hunt some birds, it is completely acceptable to wear what you already have. Truthfully, it’ll probably make the experience more enjoyable.
I am a very new, first generation, adult-onset, female uplander from Eastern Oregon, where I live with my husband, Tanner, and our two dogs, Lenny and Hayward. The untainted meat and exercise is what got me into it, but the love of bird dogs gets me out most weekdays and nearly every weekend during the season. I am passionate about sharing my experience as a novice bird hunter in order to encourage others, from all walks of life, to try it out.