Monday, 15 February 2016

Highland Deer Stalking Pt 4: The Gear List

This wouldn't be the SBW blog without a round up of the kit used. Some of the kit used was tried and tested on other adventures, some things I've seen that would answer problems we either had or could have had. I'm looking forward to hearing what you think I've left out. Here's my thoughts. Where you hunt may differ.

All three of us dressed as though our lives depended on it; if you did have the misfortune to have any one of a number of potential misfortunes befall you, it's a long wait for the air ambulance on a freezing hillside. In the dark. Did I mention it'll be snowing? The Ghillie on the other hand knew he'd never be far from the sweat lodge of his Landrover and apart from the last day where we stalked the hilltops, didn't even bother with a jacket.
The ground is rough and tussocked, any distance will be 'only 300 meters' and its always 'doon-huil', you will stumble, the soft clinging ice-cold mud is punctuated with jagged sharpe stones. In some ways its a bit like hill-walking, although there are a couple of crucial differences beyond the obvious
'Rifle' bit, there will be crawling about, lots of crawling about. The terrain is rougher so the level of protection clothes need provide against abrasion becomes more important and your boots are all that protect you from a twisted ankle.

On the drive up The Bambi Basher had gone to great lengths to prepare Mr Grendel and myself for what was ahead.

BB: ‘The ground is pretty steep, the Ghillie is the proverbial racing snake, but he makes sure everyone gets some good stalks. There'll be times when your struggling to keep up and he needs to get into position quickly. There's no shame in letting the ghillie carry your rifle across the really rough ground, he prefers it’

What he should have said is
“ the ghillie hates this rifle and everything attached to it. While you wheeze towards the firing position he’ll snatch it from your hands, wrench angrily at your bipod and leave your rifle set up on the edge of a puddle of melted snow. You will then have to lie in the puddle to peer through the fogged scope desperately trying to find the deer he claims to be able to see. All the while he will be demanding to know the whereabouts of a single piece of tissue he gave you an hour ago while you were in the Landrover which if you can find it will fail to de-fog the scope."

Lundhag's  Ranger boots
Your boots should come at least half way up your shin, you don't have the ankles the Ghillie has. Personally I'm all about the 'Hags' no lining means they dry out overnight and the big toe-box seems to keep my tootsies feeling warmer. I wear two pairs of socks so the wool can act as a bearing surface soothing out any rub patches. Stupidly on the first day I wore little socks under my big socks and the Compeed saved the trip. Two pairs of big socks minimum bid. While Lundhags  don't call their boots waterproof I've always found them to be so, unlike so many boots advertised as being so.
The Bambi Basher wore the high Le Chameau Mouflon's and disdains the second pair of socks. I know quite a few Le Chameau devotees, but I've not found a pair that fitted me like the Hags. Not something I'd recommend buying online.
Mr Grendel chose a much lighter weight and lower walking boot which he wore with 'Sealskins' socks. The ghillie wore wellies, Anti-grav wellies.

Gaiter's from the Mac Gaiter Co.
I’ve had a few pairs of gaiters over the years from the excellent but noisy Yeti’s that Berghaus used to make, waxed cotton which were rubbish [hilariously Elfa washed them to get 'that smelly grease out of them'], and a couple of generic lightweight pairs in ripstop nylon. All better than no gaiters, all a bit noisy in comparison to the Mac's. Mac Gaiters are made from neoprene [wetsuit material] and have been the best by a long way. Warm when wet, and quieter than any of the other materials I’ve tried or seen. All the other times I’ve worn them these have been perfect, during the rough and tumble of our assaults on the hillsides I would have preferred them to have the under-arch strap as when your foot plunges through the snow and then mud the mud sometime rolled the bottoms up. Some kind of more enthusiastic closure at the calf would be nice but its an easy mod to do with a sewing machine. I will defiantly buy another pair as even with being able to spin them in the washing machine at night, being neoprene they can't dry out very quickly. If I were starting a clean sheet re-design I’d move the velcro closure to the front so they’d be easier to put on and adjust while cramped into the Landrover. When you're standing up they're easy enough. A nice feature is the little hook that holds the front of the gaiter to the laces of your boot has been upgraded to a Big Hook which is better in every way.
Update: I’ve spoken with the manufacturer who tells me that under-arch straps have now been added to the design, and another camo and or Realtree will be available later in 2016.

NomadUK Breeks/Plus4’s
I know you foreigners like to mock us with our funny short trousers, I've been addressesed as Tintin more than once. Guys cast your prejudice aside, you've nothing to lose but your soggy bottoms or 'Pant Cuffs' as I'm told some of you call them. Once you go Breeks n Gaiters you'll never go back.
If you plan to rock a pair of breeks these are the breeks all other breeks should be judged against, they are absolutely fantastic. There is no piece of soggy ground, no wet slimy rock, or even puddle that you cant sit on or in with total impunity. Waterproof but silent. The Best. NomadUK really do make some nice schmutter, I would really like a pair of the Salopettes for wearing sitting in a highseat or shooting prone on a windy rifle range.

NomadUK: Zip Hill Smock
I’ve tested the this jacket in some pretty inclement weather: beating on a south downs pheasant shoot in the pissing rain, and run a pressure washer over it with me inside, so I was confident in its water repelling properties. This test took things to a new level, it was a longer day, some rain but mostly snow and hail, during which I was compelled to roll around on the ground, and much much colder. If the snow wasn't enough to contend with I was struggling up hills so steep I was puling myself up grabbing hands full of heather and taking more than one [or ten] unexpected plummets into the snow.
The jacket was in contact with wet heather or snow almost continually for the whole day. NomadUK's fleece solution does actually keep you warm even when it's selves eventually became completely saturated. I will defiantly be buying more of this company's kit. Possibly the best feature for the travelling sport is if you’ve got access to a washing machine the spin function will leave the gear dry enough to wear. If I was going further afield I’d take two as drying time isn't that quick without the spinning. Very simple, very quiet [which doesn't matter much in the howling gales that pass for a gentle breeze up there] NomadUK remains the benchmark.

MacWets gloves
These would be in the category of ‘Things That Don't Suck’ I’m really impressed with these gloves, they’re available in quarter sizes so they really are a second skin, they are warmish when wet but redeem themselves with a very quick drying time. I took two pairs, everytime one pair saturated I’d wring them out, put them in an inside pocket, put the other pair on, and as long as I could keep them in rotation I always had warmish dryish gloves and hands. They stick to a slick rifle stock like glue. Double thumbs up.

Eden Binoculars 
The best of the budget glass by a long long way. 8.5x42 are magic for woodland stalking, the Ghillie’s range finding Leica 10x42 really were that much better on the hill. Take your lens caps off before you leave the cottage, one of mine is still on the hill.

Draw Scope or Spotting Scope
Although considered standard equipment for highland stalking and I had really nice draw scope with me, I didn't use it once. I'd have preferred a pair of 10x42 binoculars.

I'm pretty much in the fixed-power camp on this one. Less to go wrong, and less weight. Schmidt and Bender Hungarian in 6x42 for me and BB, although the wider field of view of the 8x56 might have been a bit better a few times.

A few thoughts about a highland stalking rifle:
After WDM Bell got home from the Karamojo he stalked Red Deer with a .220 Hi-Power these days to be all-deer-legal in Scotland the bullet must weigh at least 100 grains and have a minimum muzzle velocity of 2,450 feet per second and a minimum muzzle energy of 1,750 foot pounds.

An internet test of a Mountain Rifle is; can you hold it fully loaded and with everything on it, in your outstretched hand for a whole 60 seconds.
On the hill for the Highland Professionals 200m is the average shot. The ghillie doesn't expect you to shoot out to 600m but 300m is every day to him. Asking about, the chaps all valued accuracy over lightness and took a devil-may-care attitude to their rifles external condition. The spec for an ultimate Highland rifle might be: Can you confidently hit a four inch disc at 400m,  and not give a monkey's when you scratch the stock and the metalwork. On the same day. Twice.

Bambi Basher: Is there any rifle you'd not want to use?
The blue touch paper is now alight, you can see from the smoke coming off the Ghillie. BB has set off a chain reaction leading to another 'full and frank expression of strongly held views.'
The Ghillie: Feckin' three oh feckin eight! I had a client with one, to be fair not too bad a rifle, [looks at BB's Ruger 77 in disgust] but what a shite cartridge that is, 'bout foot and half drop, Jesus, that's be the last roond I'd ever use.

BB had this particularly nice .308 with him that never saw the light of day. Its for sale HERE

The usually wonderful falling block rifle (Ruger No1 in BB's battery) is sub-optimal when lying uphill on steep ground - the round can [which in the highlands is a synonym for 'will' ] fall out while being chambered.
The Ghillie had a lot of time for Blasers. The short-throw straight-pull helps in being ready for the second shot, which is vital up there and the lack of a bolt race is one less place for muck to cause jams. Accuracy never goes amiss either. "ye can tell a lot about a tradesman by his tools"

.270 is still the ‘Scottish calibre’ the guy in the gun shop confirmed they always have it in stock.
"In whatever grain weight you may require."

25-06 is a fantastic highland calibre, [100+gr and bob-on out to 300m]

.243 is both revered and derided.

As the Highland Professionals are doing it for a job Moderators are standard to them. Health and safety init.

Exotica and wildcats: If you had a reliable supply of ammunition 6XC would be great, and 6.5mm Grendel would be perfect. Its worth noting that if you are flying in the customs guys prefer to see a head stamp that matches the declaration. Getting the vernier out to 'prove' each home made round is what you say it is will only irritate them.

Everyday take 10 more rounds with you than you think you need.

A small torque wrench set to your scope’s requirements is a good idea. A very good idea.

Your Bipod needs longer legs for snow and bog, it also needs to be the kind with lots of tilt. Those Harris or Harris-style bipods are crap. Javelin is the new kid on the block, Neopod is a few grams lighter,  more expensive and isn't as tall. Javelin it may be.

If you have any sentiment at all about your rifle’s condition or want to get your money back on it, cover as much of it as you can in tape, its easy to scratch your hands, knees, or rifle up there.

Electrical Tape over the muzzle would be a good precaution. Mr Grendel would like to confirm for BB's benefit  the correct nomenclature is "Electrical Tape" not 'Sniper Tape".

Loc-Tight or Nail Varnish - if it can come undone it will come undone, before the stud that closed my sling came un-crimped and failed the ‘locking’ clasp that moors the strap to the rifle’s stud came loose, never seen that before. A knotted piece of leather boot lace might have been better. Everything with a threaded closure will benefit from Loc-Tight.

SAM Emergency Splint - weighs nothing in your pocket but might be dead handy, like the best tenner you ever spent, handy.

A waterproof case for your phone/camera is one less thing to worry about.
The Ricoh WG-M2 is good to -10c which might be handy.

A lens cloth - preferably on a string inside your hat. I always seemed to need to wipe either scope or binoculars at the most inopportune moments. I'd often find muck of one kind and another in my pockets. The inside of my hat was always dry.

Compeed. Without Compeed this adventure would have ended on the second morning. I've tried a few ways to overcome blisters NONE OF THEM WERE AS GOOD AS COMPEED!

More soon
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