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Should I Give Up My Old Strapless? (vest, not evening gown…)

Is this the future?

I have always been something of a traditionalist when it comes to my bird-hunting vests. I don’t know if it’s because that’s just what I grew up and am familiar with, or because the traditional vest has always served my needs fairly well.

But lately I’ve noticed more and more of the guys I hunt with are choosing strap vests over the old-school traditional vest. I’m reading more and more glowing reviews of their superiority. It’s to the point where I’m beginning to think I look stodgy and unhip, like that one friend we all have; you know, the one who never gave up his mullet.

And aesthetics aside, I have to admit that I’m beginning to think a strap vest would serve my needs better than my old stand-by. There’s no question that strap vests are cooler, and they can, arguably, carry more gear more comfortably and more efficiently than a traditional vest. And if there’s one thing I could use more of in the field, it’s efficiency and organization. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but last year I lost the GPS unit to my Astro collar when it slipped out of one of my vest’s badly overstuffed pockets as I bent down to check my dog’s feet.

I’m not saying the same thing wouldn’t have happened with a strap vest (a truly gifted disorganized slob can defeat ANY technology of efficiency) but maybe a strap vest would have forced me to be a bit more organized.

I actually did try a strap vest a number of years ago. Sort of. I was perusing a military surplus catalog one day when I came across an ad for a surplus East German army strap vest, one of those load-bearing vests designed to carry tons of attachments and gear. It looked much like today’s typical strap vest, with two side pockets and a large rear compartment I figured I could use as a game bag. Sure, with all that extraneous dangly stuff hanging from it, it looked a bit complicated, and the weird German camo pattern wasn’t going to win me any style points, but it was only ten bucks. What could go wrong?

Plenty, as it turned out. When I unboxed it, I discovered that you should always pay attention to that “actual size may vary” warning. I could fit approximately one shotgun shell in each side pocket, and the “large” rear game bag would hold – if I stuffed them tightly – a brace of hummingbirds. But that wasn’t the worst of it. When I tried to put it on and adjust it I was instantly ensnared in a bewildering spiderweb of nylon webbing, buckles, straps and loops, none of which seemed to do anything. And when I tried to shimmy my way out of it, I discovered my new vest was like a boa constrictor. Every little struggle just made it squeeze tighter. Six hours later, having been rescued by the local fire department’s jaws of life, I tossed the thing in the trash and went back to my old bird vest.

But here I am again, eying the strap vest warily, thinking perhaps I should give it one more try. I need someone to convince me one way or the other. (With apologies to the Clash) Should I stay (with the old vest) or should I go (with the new)? 

Chad Love  writes for Quail Forever from Woodward, Oklahoma. He is a lifelong quail hunter and “bird dog guy” who also writes for Field & Stream, including the magazine’s   “Man’s Best Friend” gundog blog.


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