Darryl Pace recounts a tale of injury and gun safety before tackling essential cold-weather gear
With the unseasonable cold snap hitting much of the UK, it seems a good moment to discuss cold-weather kit essentials. Much of that focus would lie in Scotland where I do most of my hunting, but the same would apply across our United Kingdom of countries and muchof Europe too.
The subject of essentials was thrown into sharp focus by an episode from the recent game season that I feel the need to share with you, as it is an illustration of how important gun safety is.
This story is a rather short one, in truth. I was a standing gun. The walking line had reached the end of a small valley, and with my young dog at heel, I wanted to work him through the last part of the drive. Setting him free, I jumped the fence, strode over about 10 paces, my attention focused primarily on the hound, before taking a final, fatal step that would write off any chance of proper physical activity for six weeks.
What I hadn’t seen was a drainage ditch, about six feet deep, covered over with dead grasses. The next thing I recall is dragging myself up and out of it in tremendous pain. My face had planted in nettles, my wrist had a deep throb, and my leg was in agony. Fortunately help was only a few metres away, with my wife on hand first to see what had happened, followed promptly by my brother, as well as guest and fellow Sporting Rifle writer Jason Doyle.
The end result was a broken wrist, and a laceration to the knee down to my kneecap, requiring 20 stitches. Despite having such a severe open wound requiring cleaning from embedded debris, some medical incompetence intervened and I got no prescription for antibiotics despite it being mandatory in such instances. As such, my recovery was stunted by the week of infection that promptly followed.
I tell you all this because though still incredibly uncomfortable, it could have been far worse. Good gun safety, walking with a broken gun, prevented the accident from being far worse. Who knows what would have happened otherwise.
It also focused the mind as to how ill prepared many of us are to tackle even minor incidents in the field. We had a basic first aid kit with us, but little more, and how many people can make use of the items in there? Really, as hunters, we should have a deeper understanding on how to deal with injuries and the kit to help us do it.
So that’s essential item number one – first aid equipment. And that brings us on to the main subject of the article. What else is essential when you’re hunting in remote places in wintry climes?
Above all else, one item totally changed my set-up and thinking last season, and it wasn’t a particularly obscure or expensive product at all. It was a pair of waterproof mitts. It has always been a challenge for me when it comes to gloves and keeping your hands warm. There are a lot of options out there, but there is always a compromise to be had. You either go for waterproof and too bulky, or thin and too cold. When it came to crawling into hinds, mid-winter, inevitably through waterlogged sphagnum, there was nothing I had that would allow my hands to stay dry. It was far better to take the gloves off and at least have something dry to put on my hands after the shot.
The waterproof mitts were a revolution for me. Dry and warm all the way to the trigger. The ones I am using are from Swazi, though you can get ex-army surplus Gore-Tex mitts that do a similar job. They fit snugly, are fitted around the wrist, and can be drawn tight around your forearm with a drawstring. The tip of the mitts is also protected with a Kevlar finish, which should aid their longevity. I tag-team these with a thin pair of fleece-lined gloves from Browning, which allow the index finger to be extracted when taking the shot.
One unexpected benefit of using them was how well I was able to regulate and vent my body heat, taking the mitts on and off to suit. It was much like using a hat, but without getting a cold head in the process.
The next item on the essential list has to be the right footwear. Accordingly, I made a new boot purchase not long ago with enough time to break them in before winter – not that I’ll be able to now… But in truth this item isn’t winter-specific. I will admit I can’t speak for their longevity, only having worn them for six months, but the Dedito Moorland boots are among the lightest and most comfortable boots I have owned to date. Oh, and they keep my feet dry.
Something I never hunt without these days is a buff. Again, this is not winter-specific unless it’s snowing, in which case I change my green or camo one for a snow pattern. Of course, this will keep your neck and face warm, but I find that it also helps in that ‘middle ground’ temperature for your head, where it’s too hot for a woollen hat but too cold to have nothing on. Just a rolled-up buff around your head covering the tops of your ears can make a big difference.
I am not a big camo person, and neither is my brother. The only camo garments we own are remnants of years ago or something we have been given. However, when it comes to hunting in the snow, there is only one garment I reach for, and that is the camo snow pattern from Fortis Clothing. The only thing I would request when having this made up is a long zipper up the legs to allow them to be easily put on and off in the field.
The last piece of recommended kit for winter months is something for your rucksack: a dry sack. Available from most outdoors stores and online, not only is it an ideal, lightweight way to ensure that items such as a spare fleece or shirt stay dry, it’s also a useful way to organise a bag by using a number of smaller dry sacks.
Stay prepared and stay safe this winter. I’ll be thinking of the majestic hunting grounds out there as I lay helpless on the sofa.