Written by Neil Harmse
Chapter 22. Useful Equipment for Shotgunners
The long-awaited day has finally arrived. You have your licence for your new shotgun and have collected it from the gun shop – and the season is open! You cannot wait to get out into the field and hunt game birds. You also have a cleaning kit, a game licence, a letter of permission to hunt and a supply of ammo, as well as the necessary eye and hearing protection. What else do you need?
Before we look at the basic needs for most wingshooters, just a reminder: buy the best you can afford and if you look after it, it should last a lifetime.
It is assumed that all potential hunters have a good supply of old denim or khaki trousers and shirts that can serve as “hunting clothes”. If not, there are many styles of outdoor hunting clothes available at shops and stores throughout the country. Camouflage patterns are not obligatory for game bird-hunting, except perhaps for pigeon and waterfowl (especially when the hunter is concealed and shooting from a hide).
Firstly, a good shooting vest or waistcoat is essential. Look for a practical and well-designed one, which should be available from most shops specialising in shotgun equipment and accessories. This should be a light waistcoat with enough room in large box pockets to hold numerous bits and pieces, such as a pocketknife, cord, a few snacks and energy bars, perhaps a pair of gloves, a few shotgun shells, a small torch and other items that may come in handy. It should also have a spacious inside pocket with a zip closure to hold your game licence, gun licence, car keys and smaller items such as earplugs. In addition, the shooting vest or waistcoat should have a large ‘game pocket’ at the back, with a blood-proof lining to hold a few game birds that you may have to carry back to your vehicle or camp. This will leave your hands free to handle your shotgun.
The next important thing to consider is footwear. Invest in a pair of comfortable and durable boots, just high enough to give some ankle support, especially when crossing uneven terrain or ploughed farmlands. Leather boots with durable soles and a good tread are ideal. Cared for with waterproofing leather treatment, saddle soap or Neatsfoot oil, these should give years of good service. When walking across the veld, you often get grass seeds, blackjacks, khakibos and other weeds and burrs sticking to your socks or entering your boots. The solution is to invest in a pair of gaiters which fit around and over your boots and ankles, helping to keep out all these irritating seeds and debris. These gaiters can be made of canvas, corduroy, leather or oilskin material. I find that gaiters which fold over the boots around the ankles and legs, and fasten at the back with a strip of Velcro and press studs, are a good option. They can be fitted or removed without having to take the boots off.
A cartridge belt.
If you are hunting in areas where there are wetlands or marshes, or perhaps doing waterfowl hunting around dams and rivers, a good pair of waterproof ‘wellies’ or even gumboots is worthwhile purchasing. Imported wellies, if available, are very expensive. A good option is a pair of polyurethane boots that are lighter and softer than normal PVC gumboot. These are supple and comfortable, reducing fatigue and providing excellent insulation because of their neoprene lining.
A comfortable, warm and waterproof jacket is a must for cold winter mornings, but this should also have spacious pockets and should be large enough to fit over a light pullover and shooting vest, as well as being comfortable enough to swing your arms when gunmounting without catching in your armpits.
Now, heading out into the field, you realise that you need more than just your pockets to store and carry your shotgun cartridges. The ubiquitous cartridge belt, which is designed to hold about 25 cartridges strapped around your waist, is one option. This seems to be an age-old tradition, but it has its drawbacks. Firstly, when loaded with 25 cartridges, it is quite heavy around the waist, somewhat uncomfortable and always seems to pull your pants down. What is more, the rims of the cartridges are always knocking against the stock of your gun and soon the wood begins showing numerous dents and dings, making it rather unsightly. A Payne-Gallwey-style cartridge bag with a hinged lid or cover that folds back, allowing easy access to the ammo, is a good choice. These are made in either leather or canvas and designed to hold 50-100 rounds. They hang over the shoulder from a strap and are quite comfortable for a day in the field. Another option is an ammo pouch, which also hangs from your belt and allows easy and fast access to ammo when needed. If you feel like only carrying a few cartridges for a short walk, you can get a small pouch which holds 15-20 rounds and slides onto your belt. This can be made from leather or canvas and rides flush against the waist, so that it is comfortable.
The next consideration is what to do with birds you have shot. As mentioned before, you cancarry a few in the back pouch of your shooting vest, but this also has some disadvantages.
One, two or three francolin, or one or two guinea fowl, are not a big problem, but if you start carrying more than that, you start to look and feel like the hunchback of Notre Dame! It is definitely not comfortable – and don’t even try to climb through a fence with this ‘hump’ on your back!
So what other options are there? There is a bird-hanger that fits onto your belt and has several clips or thongs from which to suspend the birds by either their necks or feet, so that they dangle from your waist. However, birds carried in this way are inclined to thump against your legs when walking and your trouser legs are always blood-spattered. The hanging birds also tend to hook and drag on bushes and undergrowth as you walk, causing you to stumble. Trying to cross a fence with birds dangling from this hanger is also difficult.
A belt attached bird-hanger.
I find that a game bag is the easiest and most convenient way to carry birds, leaving my hands free to handle my shotgun. My favourite is an old, well-worn leather bag with are movable blood-proof lining (a large, strong plastic bag will also do) which holds about four guinea fowls or six francolins. The weight distribution is more comfortable when carrying birds this way, as the bag has a broad strap that hangs over the shoulder and if you are traversing fences and obstacles, it can easily be slipped off and passed over or under the fence or obstacle. Game bags are available on order in the traditional classic style, made of canvas and leather, which are hard-wearing, comfortable and have a bloodproof inner lining that can be removed for cleaning.
A game bag to carry birds.
A cartridge bag.
If you plan to do a fair amount of waterfowl – or pigeon-shooting, you might consider buying a camo bird hide to keep yourself out of sight. There are a number of good hides on the market. Some of them are rather heavy and awkward to transport and erect. I suggest a lightweight, pop-up hide which is easy to carry and get into the field.
If the hunting of waterfowl and pigeons appeals to you, you could eventually consider investing in a selection of decoys to bring the birds into shotgun range. The easiest ones to transport and set up are shell-type decoys for pigeons and geese. There are also decoys which stand on stakes pushed into the ground. Floating ducks and geese are great attractors for open water. If your budget will allow, there is a rotary pigeon device (‘pigeon magnet’) which works off a drive unit. It is battery-operated, with flexible rods on which the decoys are mounted and which rotate the decoys, making them look as if they are birds coming in to land and feed. This works well and brings birds from far out. Flapping shell decoys with extended wings and rotary wing decoys are also good attractors to bring birds into range.
You will have to transport your gun from home to and from the shooting field and may have to carry it in the field as well. A good choice for protecting and transporting a gun in a vehicle is a gun case or travel case. This can be purchased as a standard, lockable case made of durable ABS plastic with a foam lining, which is ideal for rough handling – especially when the gun shares space in a vehicle with hunting dogs and other equipment. Another alternative is a good aluminium case, which is also very strong and durable, although more expensive. If your budget will allow, you can have a handmade custom gun case in canvas and leather, or oak and leather. This is a rather expensive investment, and you may not want to subject such a gun case to the harsh conditions of hunting, but it does add considerable value to your shotgun.
Once the gun is assembled for hunting, you may have to transport it from one area to another. For this, a good gun-slip is ideal. These are normally made of canvas or leather and have lightweight padding to protect the gun. A broad strap allows easy carrying over the shoulder.
Over the years, you may find more items and equipment which will make your shooting more successful and enjoyable. There are many reputable dealers around the country who are hunters at heart and salesmen only by vocation, and can offer sound advice based on experience. They will not try to make a quick buck by selling ‘gizmos’ that you will never use.
I would also recommend joining a shooting association or club where novices can interact with like-minded members and obtain access to shooting opportunities.