As the cold weather bites, shooting man Nick Hammond considers how to keep up the country pursuits properly kitted out…
I’VE had every kind of shooting jacket under the sun.
The one from the army surplus store that weighed more than Bill Gates’ wallet; the wax one that was colder than an eskimo’s appendage; the fancy modern one that cost me a pretty penny and fell to bits at the first sign of heavy weather.
But I can tell you, Dear Reader, that the search is over. I am skipping across Elysian Fields. I have trod the world, slain dragons, won fair maidens, vanquished foes and conquered continents to find it. I can finally reveal The Holy Grail.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is a garment out of the Schöffel stable; a collection of folks who take their jobs very seriously indeed. For while the British weather may not be the treacherous stuff which faced the founders of Schöffel in 1804 Bavaria, it can bloody well feel like it at times. When I put it to the company’s PR people that I wanted to put one of their coats to the test to see if it was up to all the reputation, I fully expected a bit of pushback. Not a bit of it. A Ptarmigan Classic in Hunter Green was soon on my doorstep. Put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is type bravado.
Now, at the time of the delivery, the English countryside was doing that thing it does around the end of summer and before Autumn sets its teeth. If you want an anology, it was looking coyly over its shoulder at me with a come hither look playing across its gorgeous features.
Warm, long days persisted; bees still buzzed, butters still flied, berries ripened and we all bathed in glory. No good for a man who wants to put a new shooting coat through its proper paces. Hell, even an old bin bag could cope with this.
No, what I wanted was stuff to test the mettle. Like the day it snowed so hard during a game drive that I lost my gunslip in the snow, having placed it behind me mere minutes before. Or the day rain lashed us from first ‘til last on a gloaming, apocalyptic day which, despite a bag of one sodden pigeon, was weirdly an extraordinarily exhilarating occasion.
I first wore the coat to walk the dog, trying it on for size. I was dubious of its warming qualities, because compared to my shooting coats of yore, it is a thin, pliable affair. I came back like Lawrence of Arabia, crawling up the back step and calling for water. The Ptarmigan is astonishingly warm and windproof.
Then came Test Number 1. My first day on the peg, and the weather was finally performing like it should. Frost sparkled on plough north wind sliced across field and furrow like Anne Widdecombe’s voice across the Commons floor. I was confident in my coat, already having experienced the it’s eiderdown-like performance in earlier trials. And indeed, my core remained hotter than an apple pie freshly removed from a McDonald’s microwave.
Of course, heat retention and wind resistance aren’t the be all and end all; I had found a way to shoot well with my old shooting coat, no matter how lumpy, bumpy and laden down with pocketfuls of crap it may have been. Would I lose my mojo with a new coat, like Joseph trading in his multi-coloured spectacular for a teacher’s corduroy and elbow patches job?
The short answer is an emphatic no. I shouldered quickly and easily after a few practice swings and encountered no awkward folds or seams to snag or hinder. I shot as well – or, indeed, as badly – as I ever did before. For a while, I was worried about the thickness of the collar, which seemed to prod my neck forward uncomfortably. But I quickly discovered that this was due to it being stuffed with a useful detachable hood, which I removed tout de suite and secured it in one of the many brilliantly placed pockets, zips and pouches.
Test No.2 came when I dragged the dog from his warm bed and out into a hoolie of an afternoon in search of pigeon. Sitting in front of a keyboard for a living has its limitations. With a melodramatic up-throw of the hands one Friday afternoon, I left my latest book manuscript to stew in its own juices and headed for some nearby woodland I am lucky enough have permission on.
Pigeons were being flung across a battleship grey sky like arrows from a longbow as we arrived. The trees creaked and groaned, wind whipping and roaring in their tops. A perfect – and very difficult – roost shooting day. As darkness came absurdly early, the heavens opened like a sluice gate. The dog and I cowered and laughed at the sheer savagery of it, and I pulled off a couple of outrageous shots which brought a whoop and a holler from both of us. Well, Cooper would have joined in, but he’s a dog, so he signalled his pleasure by grinning up at me and wagging his tail. One of the woodies I shot stone dead overhead sailed on over the wood and landed halfway across the next field, such was the force of the gale.
The Ptarmigan is the finest shooting coat it’s been my pleasure to know. If you are wondering about shelling out a small fortune for one – worry no more. It will repay you a million times with warmth, loving caresses and shelter from the storm.
What’s more, it will go on to become a stoic, unbreakable companion as you create memories across the seasons for many, many years to come.
The Ptarmigan Classic is priced £499.95, available from the Schoffel store. For more information, including more products in the Ptarmigan range, please visit www.schoffelcountry.com.