Upland hunters do not need a lot of gear to hunt effectively. There are a few things that make a big difference, and everything else is optional.
In my view the most important thing for a New Zealand upland hunter to have is a pair of proper upland pants that have a 1000 denier facing. We are often hunting birds in blackberry and gorse, and a good pair of pants allows you to get places without being scratched to bits. I’ve always got more birds than the people I have hunted with, and that is because I can stay closer to the dog when they are working thick cover.
The pants I prefer, and I buy two per season, are Cabela’s Roughneck Upland Jean. Unlike earlier upland pants these are comfortable to walk in and not stiff or constricting.
Next most important item is your gun. There all sorts of theories, myths and accepted wisdom about shotguns, most of which I think are way too complicated to be useful. A good upland shooter needs a gun that fits them, they can shoot well with when making reflex shoots and not much more than that.
I firmly believe that the heavier the gun the easier it is to make shots, and I always shoot way better with a heavy gun than a light one. I am willing to trade off carrying a heavy gun so I do not miss, rather than be comfortable on a walk and miss birds because I don’t have a heavy gun.
Do not be fooled into getting a light gun for upland. You will miss birds and do what I did, which was replace my light Fabarm with a heavy Remington 1100. In recent seasons I have been using a lighter 20 gauge because I was hitting too many birds with my 1100.
A good pair of boots saves injury. For years I used Skellerup Hikers, mainly because I had them for fishing and they worked well, as well as being water proof. I now use Lowa Z8S-GTX which are beautiful boots and considerably higher than the Hikers. I’m still ok with the hikers but the Lowas give a lot more support which is important when going over rough ground.
I favour a full upland vest, especially one with a lot of blaze on it for safety. A vest that holds gear and birds and is comfortable to wear makes upland hunting a lot more enjoyable.
I have hunted with guys who use bag vests and have seen them struggle to mount the gun properly if they hit the strap the wrong way, which has put me off the strap vests. I also always want access to my gear which means front loading vests rather than back loading backpacks.
I use the Cabela’s Upland Traditions Vest, and have got two seasons out of my first one, though am on to my second one now.
This will always come down to personal preference, so use this as a guide only. I prefer a high quality 5 for pheasants unless I am hunting in very tight cover when I know birds will flush close but be behind structure quickly. For these spots I use a 6, especially since I am often flushing quail.
The shot I am currently using is a Winchester Super X Pheasant 36g 5. I have been impressed with its knock down power and its range.
For quail I am not as particular with my load. As long as it cycles target load or 8s are fine and I don’t think they make much difference to my shoot.
In the previous two seasons I have ended the season with an eye injury, which apart from hurting like hell meant I wasn’t able to hunt as well as I would like. So I now wear a pair of safety glasses, and because I am shooting in low light they are clear. The Bolle Sidewinders I have been using this season have been very good.
This is important mainly because a shirt that does not allow you to sweat freely will be very unpleasant to wear for very long. I wear a Cabela’s shirt, and have accumulated two a year so have a lot of them.
In the Vest
In my vest I carry a camera, an old Leatherman secateurs and my Go pro on a head mount. I have a quail call, and when it is cold a blaze beanie and leather shooting gloves. The final thing I have is a sweatband because a good hunt will end up with me dripping in sweat.
Warm Clothes & Rain Gear
I am lucky enough to live in Hawkes Bay, which has a beautiful climate so I never need more than my shirt and vest. The only time I have needed an additional vest was in Central Otago hunting in the fog, where the temperature was sub zero.
Wet weather is ideal for hunting upland, so I always look forward to wet days. While I don’t carry any rainwear unless rain is imminent, I wear a Hunters Element XTR jacket, or a Dryzabone. Both have pros and cons, with the longer length Dryzabone being good in heavy rain, and for keeping my legs dry if I wear high gumboots, but not as waterproof for as long. Light drizzle I far prefer the XTR.