Warmth, flexibility and concealment are key qualities to consider when buying sporting clothes. Many experienced shots first took to the field in their boyhood, dressed in a waxed Barbour teamed with black gumboots. They loved the gear, but on a cold, wet day the jacket became so stiff it was akin to wearing armour and the boots were as cold as charity. So what kit do top shots wear when shooting?
What to wear when shooting? Top shots are not fussed about sartorial elegance, though that is a desirable bonus. The main qualities they demand are warmth, flexibility and concealment, and key to their kit is Gore-Tex, the “best invention as far as the shooting man is concerned”, according to Jonathan Irby, a top shot and former manager of the West London Shooting School. “All the leading manufacturers – Musto, Barbour, Schöffel – are where they are now because of Gore-Tex,” he says.
One of the pioneers in the field of technically advanced sporting clothing is Musto. Today, Musto is number one in the world for sailing clothing.” At the end of the Eighties, Musto looked to expand into other markets. “We felt if we took our technology from the ocean into the field we could make shooting people much more comfortable,” recalls Nigel Musto.
The result was the Musto Highland jacket, one of the first in the waterproof, breathable evolution. The jacket, still in the range, enabled the shot to go out in the morning in lashing rain, and return home dry from the last drive. As for styling, according to Nigel Musto, “The fashion in shooting is to avoid looking like the keeper yet appear as though you’ve been doing it for years. It’s very difficult to get right.”
In recent years he’s noticed a move towards lighter colours. “Nowadays, people think about what the partridge sees as it flies over, so lighter tan coats are worn on early partridge days on stubble,” he says.
While Musto was treading new ground with the Highland, the other lightweight coat to transform the shooting experience was the Schöffel Ptarmigan. “We sell all the major brands, but the Ptarmigan is our number one coat. Everyone aspires to own one. I’ve had mine since I was 27 and my wife also has one,” says Paul Marshall, a partner in Elm of Burford.
Rob Fenwick, managing director of EJ Churchill, wears his Barbour in all weathers. “It’s lightweight, really good in the wet and cut correctly for shooting. If it is cold I just put on a few more layers underneath.”
Mark Firth, former Roxton sporting agent and now a fish farmer and founder of the Chesil Smokery, favours the Malin coat designed by former soldier Jonathan Heywood. It is “soft, comfortable and silent and has the best hood”, says Firth. He favours the khaki version but the Malin comes in a range of colours, all designed to blend in with soft terrains. Other Malin devotees include Sir Max Hastings and Lord Margadale. “We appeal to traditionalists,” claims Heywood. The Malin, which is made in Scotland, has a double layer of Ventile. The cotton weave of this fabric is so dense that there is negligible water penetration. In the Second World War Ventile was used in the survival suits worn by RAF pilots when they ditched into the sea.
The UK does not entirely dominate the shooting coat market. Another Field top shot and managing director of clay manufacturers CCI, Johnny Goodhart, swears by the Harkila brand, after trying its products at the IWA shooting industry show in Nuremberg four years ago. The Harkila High Pheasant coat he bought doesn’t leak, is the right colour and he still loves it. Goodhart now has Harkila coats for all his shooting. He is an experienced stalker and says that after a recent spell in a high seat in Germany in –20C° to –25C° he was the warmest rifle, thanks to his Harkila.
Although shooting coats are an essential, talk to any top shot, such as James Percy, and he will readily admit to shooting without a coat whenever possible. James Percy usually wears a Featherweight and a fleece gilet but, “Unless it’s raining I stick to the gilet,” he says.
The comfort of natural fibres is valued highly among good shots. “Next to the skin people want original fibres, which don’t smell or bobble, look classic and feel light,” says Marshall, who recommends a fine merino wool T-shirt worn underneath a shirt. Which raises the question of what to wear out-side the shirt. Increasingly, good shots are electing not to wear ties in the field. “You have to choose your shoots with care, but ties are a lot less de rigueur than they used to be,” says Mark Firth.
When Cordings, the Piccadilly country-clothing shop founded in 1839, was in trouble, Noll Uloth, its managing director, asked his best customer, Eric Clapton, for help. Clapton has been co-owner since 2003. “The first item that I bought from Cordings was a moss-green herringbone suit. It was exquisitely cut. I then became a regular shopper. Cordings represents a philosophy of service that is disappearing in London,” says Clapton. Cordings also understands the value of fieldcraft. Its popular grouse shirt has a green background to its traditional tattersall check, allowing the wearer to take off his jacket without the risk of presenting a pair of white arms to the incoming quarry. As well as clothing, all good shots are particular about their footwear. You can’t shoot well if your feet are cold or wet and, since footwork is essential to good shooting, the boots must provide a sure grip.
Shaw favours the Dubarry boot, which is his best seller because it is “smart yet warm and waterproof”. Fenwick prefers Hunter’s leather Balmoral Hawksworth (which was voted top boot in the IPC Shooting Industry Awards), while Merison remains wedded to the leather-lined Chameau.
The choice of boots, like so much kit, is subject to personal taste. But there are common denominators to everything selected by good shots: it should be first class and always “fit for function”. With the costs of shooting growing, everyone wants to make sure they enjoy their day to the full, so, “It’s just not worth buying cheap,” according to Rob Fenwick. “If you do, and you end up freezing or soaking wet, you’ll always think, ‘Was it really worth saving that extra £80 to feel like this?’”