Wednesday, 4 February 2009

My Realtree Deerhunter Ram Jacket

"You'll catch your death out there," said Mrs. Allen as I togged up to go hunting in the white-out. She had a point - I still had the last throes of a flu bout and the thermometer wasn't set to rise much above zero all day.

But the truth of the matter is I don't get cold at all these days - and our icy spell of weather has really brought home to me just how good my favourite winter hunting outfit is.

It's a Deerhunter Ram Jacket and Trousers set, in Realtree's High Definition All Purpose Green (APG-HD) pattern. I wrote about this high-tech cammo system when I was editor of Air Gunner magazine (December 2007 edition). Its 'layered', three-dimensional appearance really does work and I've had more close encounters with wildlife in this than any other gear.

In that article, I only touched on the actual Ram suit - but having worn it extensively through two winters, I felt I should give an update.

Without question, it's the best cold-weather outfit I've ever worn. I've never got cold in it and I've never got wet in it - even though I've worn it in sub-zero temperatures, biting cold nor'easterlies and torrential down-pours. I was able to kneel and crawl in the slushy snow only yesterday without feeling any dampness against my skin - as has always been the case when I've hunted over wet, boggy ground.

It doesn't come cheap - it's about £145 for the jacket and £85 for the trousers - but that gets you an extreme weather outfit in the very latest cammo. It'll be the best 230-quid you'll ever spend, I guarantee. (I'm nothing to do with Realtree, by the way!)

Even though the advanced Deer-Tex polyester cloth from which it's made feels very thin and flimsy, I can vouch that it's been robust enough to withstand hours of very rough field use. It's got caught in brambles and on barbed wire fences, but there's not a single rip in it. I've rinsed it in clear water a couple of times - more for hygene purposes than cleaning - and it's not faded in any way.

I refer to Deer-Tex as 'advanced' because it's one of these new-fangled materials which combines its outer with a thin membrane and inner liner that stops wind and rain getting in, whilst at the same time allowing the cloth to breathe. The upshot of all this textile technology is that you don't roast, nor get sweaty and uncomfortable.

The Trousers: Zip-fly, they come with Velcro ankle straps to keep out the muck and wind - and the legs are wide enough to pull over thick wellies. Plenty of pockets - large and small, some with popper closure - and a high, fleece-lined waistband at the rear to keep the small of your back cosy.

The Jacket: It's got pockets galore, complete with hand-warmers. Some zipped, some flapped... and there's even a bino-pouch. All the poppers (as on the trousers) are silicone coated, so they won't scratch your rifle's woodwork, nor make a noise under field conditions.

Its front zip is a heavy-duty job, and two-way so that you can unzip from the bottom when you're shooting on horse-back! (Really, though, it's handy sometimes when you're kneeling.) The zip runs all the way up to the high collar which contains a fold-out, removable draw-string storm hood. This is so big, I've even used it as a face veil.

The adjustable drawstring waist and hem add to the prodection offered by the storm flaps, and there are Velcro fasteners on the cuffs. Inside is a separate waist warmer to keep your back toasty plus an ample game pocket at the rear. The inner lining also has a fold-down, padded seat to stop your bum getting mucky when sitting, and I've found this invaluable when hide shooting. (It saves you getting seat covers for the car, too!).

The jacket's right shoulder has an anti-slip rubber pad sewn-in to support your rifle sling and as warm as the coat is, should you find yourself over-heating, each underarm has a zippered vent.

Both jacket and trousers are incredibly light which makes wearing them a pleasure. What's more, they've been cleverly tailored, specifically with shooting in mind. Unlike many hunting jackets, the cut is such that I've never had any problem shouldering my rifle whilst wearing the Ram

As a long-term user of one, I can't recommend the Ram Suit highly enough.

For more info on Deerhunter, visit the Deerhunter site (here) and for a closer look at my jacket's Realtree APG-HD pattern, the direct link is here.

On the right tracks...

Don't let the current cold snap put you off getting out with your airgun - because you'll be missing out on discovering some of your shoot's innermost secrets!

In my part of the world, so far we've been lucky. No more than 7 cm. of snow. It's still brought the region to a grinding halt, mind you. Traffic chaos; panic buying; schools closed and local radio programmes announcing in almost Dictator-like fashion: "Stay in your homes!"

Not me. I loaded up the car and headed off to one of my farms. For 'headed', read 'skated, skidded and slid'! But I made it in one piece and enjoyed a great few hours of walkabout with my Theoben in what turned out to be quite a warm and sunny winter's day.

There wasn't as much quarry about as I'd expected. The magpies were scavenging, but the crows remained in their woodland roosts. The woodies were tight into the ivy on the usual trees and very few bunnies had ventured above ground.

As I've written in Sporting Shooter magazine, there aren't a great deal of rabbits on my patch and those that I know of need to be taken out at pretty long ranges.

But the snow revealed a picture of this farm that I had never imagined. There are rabbits (or hares, perhaps?) aplenty... and a lot closer to the farmyard than I'd imaged.

Criss-crossing the fields were the tell-tale signs of foxes, badgers, deer... and oh so many rabbits. Great news for when the warmer months arrive - and although I've never seen any here in daylight hours, I now know where to set up with my lamp!

Rabbits certainly seem to travel a long way. I tracked one set of bunny-prints two fields and two paddock areas - more than 600 yards - before I lost them in a hedgerow. Amazingly, this particular bunny chose to go through gate entrances, rather than through bolt-holes in the hedgerow (which other rabbits clearly favoured). It was exactly the route a human would have taken when travelling between these two points!

I didn't get a shot off, but it was by no means a wasted foray. I've taken note of a good few rabbit routes, warren entrances and mid-field stop-off points on a patch of land I only hitherto used for zeroing.

I feel like I've got a brand new permission and can't wait for my first sortie on it...