"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.