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    Tailfeathers

    Essentials

    A bout 31 years ago, I learned that the classic Barbour jacket my lovely bride Maureen had bought me just wouldn’t work out for me in the grouse woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

    Please don’t misunderstand. The operant words in the above sentence are for me. The Barbour did its job keeping out the rain. And it was tough enough so that the material, not I, took the cuts and scrapes from the thick brush. But it was, after all, waxed cotton, sealed so as not to let in any wet. That also means it trapped inside any wet that one might generate. My inner thermostat is permanently dialed to “Really High,” thus lots of inside wet. For me, hunting in that coat was like hiking while wrapped in an old canvas army tent. So I set it aside and began a quest to find a rain jacket that isn’t a steam bath in disguise.

    About the same time, I had also gained enough experience to learn an important lesson and was earning enough so I could finally afford to put it into practice: For an enjoyable hunt, comfort is essential.

    It wasn’t like that in the beginning.

    About 47 years ago on my first bird hunt, I wore a yellow trucker’s hat with a blue “Chevy K/5 Blazer” patch, a Levi’s denim waist-length jacket (don’t laugh – it was the ’70s), blue jeans and my late father’s size 10½ work boots. I had bought a brand new Browning Citori for $250 and an Uncle Henry knife for cleaning my game. For good measure, I bought a two-dollar olive drab shell belt at an army-navy surplus store and wore it over my shoulder like a bandolier.

    It only took that first hunt for me to realize that a 12-gauge gun with 30-inch barrels is probably not the best choice for swinging on grouse in thick upland cover. The 5½-inch blade on the Uncle Henry was overkill; plus any knife so sharp that it slices both the leather and your finger on a single sheathing maneuver probably should be left at home. I looked like a fool in the shell belt and jacket, so I ditched the one and gave the other to my girlfriend who embroidered across the back the word Peace with a rainbow over it. She let me borrow it sometimes, for concerts.

    Before long, my father’s boots burst at the seams. Luckily, in 1976, a guy I knew emceed a “Gong Show” night at a bar in Detroit’s Downriver area. He paid me $40 to write and perform a comedy sketch as an interlude.

    Free money – for making people laugh! Dreams can come true! And I knew just what I would do with the money.

    Because they were open 24 hours, I waited until around 11 p.m. on a Friday to call L.L.Bean to make my first order ever. And this was in the days before 800 numbers – long distance call, baby. So you know I was serious about this purchase, Bean’s “Maine Hunting Shoe” with the leather uppers and rubber bottoms, size 11-W.

    Around 2006, my age, weight and basketball-eroded ankles dictated, “More support in the hunting boots.”

    Not long thereafter, I had to buy new dress shoes for a funeral. The salesman measured my feet and surprise – 12 EEE. A slight update and my feet have been smiling ever since.

    In 2013, during an Ontario grouse hunt with Tom Huggler, I learned that wool blend socks beat cotton athletic ones every day of the week and that a fresh pair at lunch revives the spirit as well as the tootsies.

    In December 2014, during a quail hunt on Oklahoma’s high plains with UA’s James Dietsch, the combination of seven miles of walking, 88-degree heat, my really high internal thermostat and a too-soon-drained bottle of water nudged me toward the precipice of heat stroke. Upon returning to civilization, I first hoisted a celebratory Mexican beer or two in frosted mugs and then began a search for a hunting vest with a water bladder.

    I still haven’t found the perfect rain jacket. But Bob DeMott has — that old Barbour. For some reason, after 34 years, it no longer fit me. So a couple years ago, I gave it to him, he had it refurbished, and it’s now his go-to cool/wet weather hunting jacket.

    Last October, the Barbour worked fine for Bob on our two-hour hunt around Pike Lake, all but the first 15 minutes of which we conducted in a cold rain. Back at our trucks, he was cozy and all smiles.

    I, however, needed something more to relieve the sweat, rain chill and pain in my lower back.

    During the half-hour’s drive home I found it, the latest comfort for this too-quickly aging creature: a heated leather seatback.


    Wolfe Publishing Group