Field Test: Browning Apparel

posted on November 15, 2016

Since I started hunting in the early 80s, I’ve always used Browning sporting goods because they work. While I don’t have a Buckmark tattoo on my shoulder, there’s normally a couple Buckmarks on my person while I’m in the field, whether it be on my X-Bolt rifle, my knife, boots, or, most recently, my clothing. In the last couple of years Browning has released several lines of hunting apparel that’s as good of a value as anything available there. And the reason I’m telling you this has nothing to do with the Browning company advertising within this magazine or anything other than the fact that NRA member-hunters should know about this new stuff.

Browning’s Hell's Canyon series of outerwear has obviously been designed using the input of hunters. The flagship product of the line is the soft shell jacket and pant, two garments that by themselves could realistically serve for 80 percent of the hunting I do. Certainly there are times when I need something completely waterproof for waterfowling in the rain or for special occasions like deer hunting in Saskatchewan—and for this I could wear the Hell's Canyon bib or packable rain gear over it—but for most spot and stalk, treestand and big game applications, the soft shell jacket and pant is my bread and butter.

The 3-in-1 polyester-based fabric is elastic enough to climb in, tough enough to take repeated belly-crawls and quiet enough to stalk anything. For men’s suits, polyester sucks. But for hunting wear it’s great because it’s quiet, light and insulating. The outer layer is tightly woven to lend it water and wind resistance. The jacket features plenty of perfectly-placed pockets (with quality zippers), neoprene Velcro cuffs to seal out wind and water, an opening between the shoulder blades so you can wear your safety harness underneath, and zippers under the arms to let heat escape when you finding yourself trudging uphill at noon. While I can’t say for sure whether it works or not, it features Browning’s ADDvanced Scent Control technology that’s touted to kill bacteria that causes smell—but it gives me some confidence and so for that alone I like it. The series comes in exceptionally lifelike Realtree camo. And while it’s not cheap, it’s more affordable than some comparable high-end outfits out there. I’ve had my set for about a year, and it’s become my go-to gear when I hunt mainly because it fits well and keeps me comfortable and concealed while in the field.

The Hell's Canyon line includes a couple dozen pieces in addition to its new-for-2016 Speed clothing series. Being a Browning believer, I ordered the MHS ¼ Zip top for two main reasons. First, I love the look of its new camouflage pattern that Browning has named A-Tacs, but we’ll get into that later. Secondly, can me spoiled, but I’ve become a huge fan of Merino wool for undergarments. While you might think it would be hot, stuffy or itchy, try it and you’ll see why there is no substitute for Merino wool. It’s silky in feel, but insulates like no other material. And because it’s so thin, it’s lightweight and non-binding. Half of the shirt that touches the main heat producing areas of the body are made of wool panels, while the arms and shoulders—the areas that need maximum flex—are made of a light fleece fabric. Both wick sweat away rather than trapping it like cotton. It’s tailored in three different fits—athletic, regular and Hero—for various body types. It has quickly become my favorite base-layer shirt. Indeed, I wear it so much that I need another one.

Now back to the camo. While I know that movement is the most important element in remaining unseen, I do believe in camo. I think it helps conceal movement, because while hunting, you’re going to move. In all but the darkest woods and timber scenarios, however, I think that most camouflage patterns are too dark. And a dark figure against a lighter background creates a silhouette. Silhouettes are the hunter’s enemy. I’d rather wear tan than super-dark camo for most spot and stalk hunting in the fall. After all, most of the best naturally occurring camouflage patterns in the world—rattlesnakes, hen ducks, fawns, etc. are very light. The patent-pending A-Tacs camo is a nondescript pattern/color blend that breaks up silhouettes and visually melds into nearly all grasses, sage and rocks. It also does amazingly well in forests thanks to sunlight and shadows. Two colors are available, tan-based and green based. I like the tan.

But Browning has taken its new proprietary camo to a new level. First, designers took photographs in the outdoors so engineers could mimic their color pallets. Then they created a mathematical algorithm to optimize the pattern’s recognizable properties so it becomes less of a pattern. Finally it built on the common digital camo that’s currently available by smoothing the transitions and doing away with the pixilated edges—something that I’ve never thought looked natural at all. But science aside, the A-Tacs camo disappears when in the field, and that’s why I like. We’ll that, and it’s new and all my buddies ask, “What camo is that?!”

Browning Hell's Canyon Speed line consists a dozen garments including outerwear, and all are available in A-Tacs camo. For all but late-season western deer and elk hunting, it can’t be beaten.


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