A short while ago some of you may remember an honest review I wrote about the Hillman XPR coat, supplied by Venator Pro Ltd in the U.K., and at the end of the article I mentioned that I might invest in the Hillman XPR trousers. Well, I did and this is what I think of them.
Like the jacket, not having seen the trousers I was a little cautious about investing in this item of clothing. However as soon as they arrived all my fears were instantly put to rest. When you are in these kind of trousers all day, with pockets and belt fully loaded, in various terrains and weather conditions, often crawling along the ground in mud and snow or wading through streams and crossing ditches, one of the most important requirements is that they stay up where you want them. This is where Hillman XPR trousers excel. They have a detachable braces system which can be removed if you just prefer a belt, but for me this is why I bought them. The back section of the braces consists of a comfortable section of material with a concealed pocket designed to take the Hillman Heatmax 3 heating system. This section then zips to the back of the waist band and two straps come over the shoulders and attach at the front of the waistband. Wearing these trousers with the braces attached is a delight as they always stay in place and are always comfortable to walk in.
,There is no shortage of pockets on these trousers. On each thigh there are three on each side. Two slightly higher up nearer the waist, one small enough to secure a mobile phone and the other slightly larger and deeper. The main pocket on each side is massive and big enough to hold a box of 12 bore cartridges if needed. Inside each of these pockets is elasticated ammo loops for both shotgun and rifle. The pocket themselves have both a stud fastening and magnetic closures, so if you forget to fasten them shut the magnets do their job in keeping you items secure. One of the things that really impressed me about these large thigh pockets is that they have a sloped opening designed in such a way that if you are sitting down, in a high seat for instance, you can still access them easily without everything falling out.
Other features that I really like and makes the trousers comfortable to wear is that the top of the legs have waterproof ventilation zips for when the going gets hot (and yes they really do work), the shaped knees that are really usefully when kneeling down or climbing and the fact that there is an adjustable fastening on the ankles, giving a good fit over your boots or making it easier to use wellingtons if you prefer.
In the short time that I have had these trousers I have pretty much done everything possible to test them out to see if they fail in any way. They have been used here in the U.K. and came with me to Finland (where one of my hosts made me jealous with their Hillman Gamewear 3D hoodies), for deer tracking and deer stalking, duck hunting and fishing at sea, they have been used in the sun, snow and torrential rain. They have been used in temperatures up to 20°C and as low as -7°C at which time they were worn with thermal underwear, and have never once given me any cause for concern. On this point it worth mentioning that the trousers do have an adjustable waistband that allows you to wear them over additional clothing without sacrificing the fit. In fact they are so comfortable being warm in the cold and cool enough in the heat, that unlike many trousers of this type you do not feel the need to take them off at the end of the day.
There is no doubt in my mind that the comfort, warmth and versatility of the XPR Trousers (and Jacket) contributed to the success of me hunting this medal Whitetail deer in Finland, whilst enduring sub-zero temperatures.
In conclusion. These trousers a now my 'go to' trousers for any of the above mentioned activities and more. If I do much more sub zero work in them I would like the Hillman Heatmax 3 system to fit in the back area when high seat hunting for instance, but that would just be a luxury and not a necessity. These are a truly great trouser that really are waterproof and comfortable. If I had any complaints at all it would just be that the waterproof membrane, like the jacket can be noisy when moving around. That said it does work so maybe a small price to pay, and if stalking properly, i.e. slowly, is not a problem.
For full details of the Hillman range checkout Venator Pro: http://www.venatorpro.com/product/hillman-xpr-pants-oak/ and for the Hillman video of these trousers: https://youtu.be/ZAdKFZ8O3Y4
Last week I was fortunate enough to take delivery of a Hillman XPR coat, (available in Oak or Camo) supplied by Venator Pro Ltd in the U.K. Requiring a new coat for stalking and training I have been looking for quite some while to find a coat that ticks all my boxes, but to my disappointment the ones I find that come close either aren't as waterproof as promised, lack the vital features that I require or are just far too expensive for what I am getting. As I had never seen the XPR in the flesh I was a little apprehensive when unpackaging and even more cautious about the fit. However I need not have worried, the jacket was a pleasant surprise, especially with its water repellent fabric and waterproof and breathable membrane.
First off was the quality of this garment. The fabric, stitching and attention to detail was very impressive and on par, if not better than some of the other leading brands out there. There are so many features forgive me if I miss any whilst going through them. Starting at the top and on the outside, there is a detachable peaked hood that is fully adjustable. This is great for me a being a wearer of glasses there is nothing worse than being out on a rainy day requiring windscreen wipers, but with the fit of this hood it is not quite such a problem. I mentioned that it was detachable, but the other great thing is that it also rolls up into its own collar, this way it's always there when you need it.
Moving down the back is a zip just about half way down, which is a small pocket that conceals a pull out blaze signal vest that comes up the back, over the shoulders and is held in place by a natty magnet system. This would be a great plus for those of us going to abroad to hunt where Hi-Viz is a requirement. Just under this zip is a large 'game pocket', which again is zipped in such a way that it can be dropped down to sit on in a high seat when wet or any surface you need to plant your bum on. This pocket is easy to get to and just about big enough for a harness and leash or deer cleaves and blood bottles when training dogs
Moving around the front and starting at the top is a radio pocket on the left hand side. This in itself if an essential item for me but the down side is that being left handed the radio can sometimes foul the mounting of my rifle in a hurry - Please Hillman, think of us lefties and stick one on the other side as well. Down on the chest area are two very nicely lined hand warmer pockets and a nice bonus in the right hand one is a lens cleaning cloth, secured by a piece of elastic. This is great no only for cleanings your scope or binoculars but also for those of us that need to wear glasses! Below the hand warmer pockets are two very large storage pockets, big enough to hold a box of shotgun cartridges. Inside each pocket is also an elasticated 'shell' holder, which have cleverly been stitched to cater for centrefire ammunition as well as shotgun. The other thing I am getting to like about these pockets is the flaps. Initially I thought they were too short but now realise that they are nicely designed that they can be tucked inside to allow for fast access!
The front of the jacket is securely fastened in three ways. Firstly there is a strong two way zip, secondly strong pop studs but thirdly if you can't be bothered to do up the stud the front flap can be held in place by a magnetic system which is very quite in use. Lastly (I think), the cuffs are fully adjustable and held in place by velcro. Oops I forgot a couple of things. Under each arm is a waterproof zip that allows for ventilation when the going gets really hot and another waterproof zip on the left hand forearm that reveals a pocket designed for a mobile phone.
So that's the outside. Moving inside, we have a zipped pocket either side at chest level big enough for a mobile phone or wallet/firearms certificate, then below these each side are meshed pockets big enough to hold maps that have a zip designed so that it can easily be opened with a gloved hand. Also inside is a special pocket running down the middle of the back which is designed to take the Hillman Heatmax heating system, (ideal for when sitting in a high seat or on a driven stand!). One other feature that has proved useful is that both shoulders have slim memory foam inserts, that not only give the jacket shape but prove really useful when carrying a rifle on you shoulder for long periods or a heavy Roe sack
Perfection as we know is hard to find and if this jacket had a radio pocket on the right hand side, a fitting to clip a G.P.S. device onto and a slightly quieter membrane it would be perfect for me, but as it stands this is about as good as it gets and is a truly great jacket available. In fact I like it so much I'm thinking of investing in the matching trousers. If you're interested check out www.venatorpro.com or visit their Facebook Page: Venator Pro Limited.
On our training days we are often asked about the various Tracking Shoes we use, what the differences are and what are the best ones to use. As you may know there are a few different designs out there, from traditional wooden ones to the most state of the art, and they all have their own traits and preferences. This article is going to focus on what is probably the most expensive out there, but first I want take a brief look at some of the others.
Firstly there are the half shoes metal ones. Some of theses are made from alloy and others from steel. Basically they fit under the the back half the foot and and are secured by two straps, one around the ankle and the other over the bridge of the foot. They secure a cleave by either a hose clip, a clamp with wing nuts or and exhaust clamp with either nuts or wing nuts. These shoes are a really robust entry level shoe and come in at the bottom end of the market at anything between £40.00 - £90.00.
Secondly we have a thick rubber shoe with the same cleave clamping system as above. Again one strap secures around the ankle and the second lower down the foot. They often have threaded holes in the bottom to secure football boot studs for better grip, and if you are going to use studs I suggest you fit them from new so the holes don't fill up with mud! They are fairly flexible, comfortable to wear but the straps, as with the half metal ones can be fiddly to fasten at times. Prices for these range from £100.00 - £140.00
Lastly the ones I am going to talk about are a full shoe aluminium variety designed in Switzerland called 'Suchenheil', available from: http://www.nach-suche.de
They are designed to 'fit' your own boot by adjusting the sole of the tracking shoes. Just slacken the bolts in the base, adjust and re-tighten. That said if they are set for a size 11 it is possible for a size 5 to use them in the same position. The fastening system for both the cleaves and to your foot is very quick and easy by means of something similar looking to a large cable tie ratcheting system, which is actually taken from the winter sports industry from equipment such as ski boots etc.
As well as the strap the cleaves are firmly held in place by an upper an lower 'serrated' section, this together with the ratchet strap ensures that the cleave will be held securely. At first glance you think there is no way this system is going to be both secure and stand the test of time, but have no fear, their strength and longevity will surprise you. Apart from being full foot in size they are jointed at the ball of the foot, which gives you complete flexibility when walking and in addition to this the sole has gentle serrations for grip on slippery surfaces and slopes. All the fittings, straps, rivets, bolts etc., are available as spares should you need them. Currently the price for a pair is around £210.00. Although this is a lot of money, if you are intending to do a lot of training, have more than one dog or just prefer a tracking shoe that is easy to take on and off, walk in and secure your cleaves then these are the ones to have.
This just gives you a broad outline of what is available, but please remember tracking work is for everyone that wants to become involved, whatever the budget and whatever the dog. There is still nothing wrong with attaching cleaves to long sticks or poles with cable ties or hose clips. Just get out there, enjoy yourself and train your dog, they won't care what tracking shoes your using.
My Meindl Dovre Extreme GTX boots have manged to reach the fine old age of 5 years (still on their original laces)and although being loving cared for by regular cleaning and waxing, have now just started to let in a little water. Now don't get me wrong I have absolutely loved these boots, often wearing them 10 hours a day, six or seven days a week, but the one thing that has always niggled me is that they tend to make my walking a bit 'clumsy'. I think this is down to two things, firstly the weight of the boots are not exactly lightweight and secondly the sole is quite thick, rigid and flat. Obviously these qualities can be a good thing in the right conditions but I find when stalking or tracking something a little bit more flexible would be ideal.
So what to do for a replacement. Having spent quite a bit of time researching and reading many peoples comments on the best boots out there, I stumbled across the 'Hanwag Tatra Top GTX Boots', which are made in Europe. Now if you are like me I'm very fussy when it comes to trying on boots, especially when I'm about to invest a fair bit of money on a pair, so I looked online to find my nearest stockist. Unfortunately there was none close by and I didn't fancy going down the mail order route as I wanted to compare more than one pair of boots at the same time time, and not wanting to have to pay carriage returning them if I wasn't happy, I decided to wait until I was passing a stockist. It wasn't long before I found myself passing close by to 'The Bushcraft Store' and so decided to call in. They had two different models of Hanwag that I was interested in and a range of Lowa boots that also had good reviews. Explaining to a very helpful member of staff that that I was looking for a tall, Gortex lined, agile boot and that had a rock band (not the rolling stones), around the boot was essential I tried on two Hanwag's and two Lowa's. The assistant was really helpful and left me alone for the best part of an hour, taking boots on and off, walking all around the shop, and using their shop displays trying to simulate different situations wherever possible. At the end of this time I made my decision and went with the Hanwag Tatra Top GTX Boots. They also seemed slightly lighter and had a more aggressive tread pattern than the others and had a slightly narrower fit than my old Meinl's which I thought might help my clumsy walking problem.
The first thing I did once home was remove the laces and give them a good coating of my old Meindl leather wax. This done I replaced the laces and wore them around the house to get the feel of them, followed by a long walk with the dogs. Now I have to say that it wasn't love at first sight with these boots, after all the Meindl's had a lot to live up to. These were the first pair of boots I'd had for a long while that needed breaking in and the next day was to prove it. Boots went on around 6:00am, and me being me pulled the the laces up as snug as possible with a view that this would help them 'set' to my feet. After a two hour drive the rest of the day was spent in long grass and mud in the pouring rain and on very hilly terrain, followed by another two hour drive home, finally taking the boots off around 7:30pm. By this time I was having regrets and thinking that I had made a big mistake with my choice, as my ankle bones were very sore from traversing steep slopes all day. On a plus point I have to say that my feet were bone dry, the soles were extremely comfortable and as I wanted, proved to be far more flexible than the Meindl's and certainly offered tremendous grip, something that the Meindl's never really had from new. On the subject of soles, the Hanwag's seem to have a built curve that you don't visually notice that much but it really does give you a spring in your step which is really great after a long day.
What could I do about my sore ankle bones. We'll after experimenting with the lacing I managed to cure the problem. The lower eyelets have a ball bearing built in to them which enables the laces to easily slide through when tightening or releasing them. I found that pulling them fairly tight through this section, then hardly any tension where the ankle eyelets are and then finishing of with required tension to the top of the boot gives me all day comfort in any terrain.
What else do these boots have in their favour? Well, there are a couple of other design details that help tip the scales in their favour. The heels have this natty recess to tuck the toe of the opposite boot (or anything else like a step) in to assist their removal from you feet.
The other feature is a pull strap securely fastened to the back of each boot to help in pulling them on. Now although these features are really useful, thanks to the ball bearing lacing system it is so easy to just stretch the front of the boots open once you've undone the laces and your foot slips out easily, and I'm a size11!
So after five weeks with these boots what's the verdict? Well I absolutely love them. I have worn them in all weathers (except hot sunshine), and know that I have made the best choice. They tick all the boxes I wanted them to and the build quality is great. At a current price of around £220.00 they are well worth a look.
This video shows how the use of one of our remote trainers can save your dogs life should they come up against a poisonous snake whilst tracking or even just out exercising. The trainer is using the device in a very sensible and controlled manor, giving just enough to achieve the reactions necessary from the dogs to keep them alive if such a situation should occur.
You can find them here in our shop: http://www.deertrackingservices.co.uk/store/c6/Remote_Trainers_%2F_Locators_%2F_No_Bark.html
If you have any questions about our SportDOG® trainers or need help training your dog with one please contact us for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet Stanlee an Eight moth old GWP with no past tracking experience, and his owner Kendall. Kendall is a keen stalker and wanted to get Stanlee started at tracking. First up was a basic puppy liver drag and throughout the day worked up to a two hour old cleave and blood trail. This was a hands on, practical day during which we were discussing different tracking techniques and equipment
Once Stanlee realised good things come with keeping your nose to the ground there was no stopping him, he took to it like a duck to water, and confirmed to me once again that this breed has amazing natural tracking abilities when you bring it out of them.
The icing on the cake was getting Stanlee reporting at his find. I have no doubt that this team will now go on to bigger and greater things. Well done Kendall.
Handler and hound (under 1 year), have now reached a great point in their training. A track was laid down 22 hours prior to the follow up. Conditions were tough as it was a very dry morning and the first third of the track was on the dead forest floor which was like a desert. Plenty of water was used not only to keep the dog hydrated but used around the dogs nose to aid the olfactory system.
The team did remarkably well on this track and made it through without too much difficulty, even with a great deal of fresh live scent everywhere.
Once the hound had rested we then moved on to search for a few unmarked shot sites, again aged some 22 hours old and in varying habitat. The hound really enjoyed this exercise and they both worked well using established search techniques.
Been a real busy couple of weeks with training days and call outs so I'm only just getting round to posting some pictures. I don't know how some people find the time to keep posting if they're really as busy as they say they are, maybe they just live on social media sites?
On a recent visit to one of our training grounds in Scotland we were extremely fortunate to have stunning weather for the duration of our trip. I can't tell you how good this was as we were expecting rain, gales and even snow where we were so it felt like we were truly lucky to be in such a great environment.
Because of the vast areas we can work with here combined with such different terrain and conditions than we are used to in our home area, we always try and experiment with extreme scenarios which will test us and the dogs. That said we took great delight working in the sunshine to lay training tracks that would be in excess of 24 hours old through some of the most densely planted areas we could find. Now this was our first exercise in this location, having only given it a fleeting visit in times gone by in order to learn our boundaries and we assumed it would be very similar to another of our locations close by. How wrong could we be!
On this occasion we were not using any makers to plot our track but instead using a handheld GPS system to plot our route taken. The idea being that when following up there would be no visible assistance and we would have to really trust our dogs and concentrate on reading their every move. So the time had come to make a start and with only a few meters in we were immediately struggling to clamber across and through the old clear fell that had been left behind when replanting took place. As if this was not enough within a few more meters one of us fell up to our thighs in to a drainage ditch that had become covered over with moss and grasses. Apart from the sudden shock and surprise of doing this we saw the funny side and couldn't help but have a laugh at what had just happened. Eventually we made it to the end and then realised we had to make our way out of where we were as safely and quickly as possible as it had taken so long to lay this track with all the obstacles in our way.
Once free of the Bog Turtles and clear fell we set about laying another testing track only to have exactly the same thing happen to myself this time and even managed to get soaked up to the waist!. Again it was time for a good laugh and amazingly by the time we had finished laying our tracks we had pretty much dried out.
Now this all sound good fun, struggling with clear fell and the numerous bogs and drainage ditches that simply run everywhere totally unmarked and unseen, but it made us think about the consequences of tracking in this type terrain. Although most of us involved with D.T.S. own Bavarian Mountain Hounds we absolutely embrace anyone who has any breed and wishes to use it as a tracking dog. The main reason being that here in the U.K. the average stalker, will, if something goes wrong follow up within 2-3 hours of the incident happening, which is generally fine and we have no problem with that. However it soon became apparent to us that imagine yourself in this location, it's getting near last light, your Red or Roe offers you the shot you've been waiting for. You squeeze the trigger, the shot is fired but your beast shows a reaction that it's been hit but runs off. What do you do now?
Well apart from the obvious of marking your firing point and strike site I would strongly suggest that in the interests of our own well being you pull out and leave it until the morning. If you were to follow up now or when totally dark you could end up stranded with a broken leg or worse still drown. It is only when this kind of situation brings itself home that you realise that this is where the specialist breeds of tracking dog come in to their own. By specialist I mean those that can confidently handle 12, 24 or 48 hour old tracks as these are definitely the circumstances that call for either owning one or at least having access to one from a friend or one of the tracking groups out there. Oh and one last thing, lets just say you did find your beastie, don't forget you've then got to get it our of there!
Take care everyone.
April 1st is fast approaching and that means for many of you the return of the Roebuck season. I guess over the next few days many of you will be preparing your kit, making sure your rifle is zeroed, knives are sharpened etc. As many of know, no matter how hard we prepare, when taking the shot, sometimes for no apparent reason things can go wrong which can result in a wounded animal or a suspected miss.
That's where we can help. As usual we offer our free deer tracking service to stalkers in any of the areas we cover and will help you to try and find any deer you that you may have wounded. This service is completely confidential and non judgemental, all we are concerned about is helping you find your animal. Obviously we cannot guarantee 100% success but will always do our up most to find the animal for you. All our tracking teams are highly experienced, train regularly and have achieved a high level of competence with their dogs so you know you are getting the best possible chance of a find.
Please feel free to contact us if needed: http://www.deertrackingservices.co.uk/contact.html or if you would just like to have a chat about the services we offer put our number in your phone or give us a ring now: 07775 694508. If you belong to a syndicate or professional outfit that has weeks or weekends of culling we can also be on standby to assist if needed, so again please contact us to discuss your requirements.
For those of you that have a pup or mature dog that you wish to train up as your own tracking dog we also offer our training days in East Anglia. These are generally held once a month for small groups or individuals and are informal, friendly days but cover the essentials to get you well on the way to training your dog to track deer. We offer a range of training from the complete novice to the experienced handler and you will always come away having had a good day and learned a lot. More details can be found here: http://www.deertrackingservices.co.uk/training.html and dates will be on our events page, but be warned they get booked up very quickly!
Sometime ago we reviewed a shirt by ShooterKing® and were so impressed by the quality of their clothing we said we would be back for more. Well we have, and this time it was their Cordura Trousers, not the waterproof ones but the hard wearing, everyday version, and once again we were very impressed.
The main body of the trousers appears to be made from an extremely tough cotton or canvas which feels similar to the old Barbour wax cotton jackets but it isn't waxed and just feel bullet proof. The seat and knees has stitched in panels of an amazing 'stretch cordura', and as soon as you put them on and start to move around in them you feel very comfortable. When kneeling, bending, crouching or crawling there is no resistance in the knees or seat at all, it just feels as though you aren't wearing trousers at all!
As for functionality there is no disappointment there either. These trousers come with no less than eight pockets, all trimmed with leather. Two rear pockets with zips, two deep front pockets on a slant, two leg pockets with double stud fastening, an extremely useful deep knife pocket and what is described as a phone pocket above the left hand side leg pocket which is big enough for the largest smartphone, again with a zip
Although this version is not waterproof they have now been soaked through in the legs by walking in wet vegetation and crossing steams several times whilst tracking and training but I'm impressed how quickly they do dry out, so you're never uncomfortable for long. Added to that the fact that the tough fabric they are made from almost makes it a delight to walk through fierce stinging nettles without getting stung.
One last thing - quality. The finish on these trousers as with the shirts and all ShooterKing® clothing is first class. The stitching and attention to detail is faultless. Dare I say it, but move over the likes of Harkila, ShooterKing® is now our number one choice for outdoor clothing..
Check them out at: www.shooterking.co.uk