Hunting Dogs photo

I have always been something of a traditionalist when it comes to my bird-hunting vests. I don’t know if it’s because that’s just how I grew up and what I am familiar with, or because the traditional vest has always served my needs fairly well. But lately I’ve noticed more and more of the guys I hunt with are choosing strap vests.

Why? Weight, weight distribution, cooling and more flexibility in configuring or customizing the vest to your particular needs are some of the factors swaying hunters to the strap vest fold.

So this year I decided to take the plunge and test out several strap-style vests over the course of the season, and first up is the new Browning Bird ‘N Lite strap vest from Pheasants Forever. It retails for $132.95 from the PF store website.

In addition to bird hunting I always wear a vest when I’m doing field training with the dogs and I’ve used this vest on two extended hunts this season, as well as a number of dog training outings. I have to say, I like it a lot. It’s rugged, well-designed, well-built, and right off the bat I noticed a huge difference in how the weight on a strap vest is distributed versus a regular vest.

On my old-style vest the weight of entire load hung off my shoulders, but the Bird ‘N Lite has a four-point harness system with padded shoulder straps and a padded waist belt that allows you to customize how the vest fits and rides. And with just the two straps over your shoulders rather than covering your entire upper body like a traditional vest, the Bird ‘N Lite is noticeably cooler on warm early-season days.

Other well-designed features include a rucksack on the back (one minor nit: the material on the ruck seems a little lightweight) that easily held all the ancillary items I need, two water bottle pockets, large shell pockets, shell loops and a neat front-loading game bag.

But perhaps what I like the most about the Bird ‘N Lite (and by extension strap vests in general) is how easily it allows you to carry and access your dog-related electronics. In my old vest I carried both my Astro receiver and my e-collar transmitter in vest pockets or in a clip on my pants belt. It worked well enough, but accessing either item could be a pain. On the Bird ‘N Lite I was able to attach quick-release belt clips directly to the chest strap of the vest and have both my Astro 320 and my e-collar right there, and the placement doesn’t interfere with mounting or swinging a gun.

I still have my old vest, hanging forlornly there in the garage on standby, but I’m quickly becoming a strap vest convert, and the Pheasants Forever edition Browning Bird ‘N Lite strap vest is a very, very good one indeed. Highly recommended.

But I’m curious: how many of you are strap vest guys and how many of you still like the traditional upland vest and why?