My very first bird hauler was a $25.00 Game Hide Gamebird Vest from Sports West. I know, old school. Inexpensive, fit well, and I looked cool, or so I thought. Everything was awesome sauce because it was my first, and I had no reference point. Wore it a few weeks and realized I didn’t have a place for water so I carried pre-packed H2O bottles. Unbeknownst to me, the cool looking shell holders tossed all my shells across the mountain side. When fully loaded the weight crushed my traps and my neck would begin to ache around 1 pm. Boo. But hey, first attempt. Next was an early version of the Mother Upland Pack. Around a hundred bucks, fluorescent orange and black, looked pretty high speed. Built well at first touch. Game bag was almost impossible for me to stuff birds in. This was witnessed by fellow hunters who saw me chasing myself in a circle trying to stuff birds in my pouch area. This was a result of never being able to get it to fit my torso and shoulders. I think this thing would be pretty solid on the right body style. Next up, Bird-N-Lite Strap Vest. This thing looked pretty sexy. Tan heavy cloth material, black straps. Unlimited sizing availability, and I was able to wear it over a tee, or a rain coat. This one lasted a few seasons. Down sides: although I was able to get it to fit extremely well, it didn’t displace the weight evenly or very well. I think it could have used a bit more structure within its build. The cloth material was supple and nice, unless it rained. With the rain, it would hoover up any and all water. Money well spent as I got a few years out of it. The last vest of this era was the Cabela’s Upland Pack (discontinued). This was around $75 bucks I think? I rocked the hell out of this vest for several seasons. Fit well, carried LOTS of gear on dark to dark chukar jaunts. Reminded me of quality day packs from my Mule deer hunting days. Three items on the meh side: small zippered shell pockets that if left open, would lose every shot shell. It has been discontinued. The biggie however, were the shoulder straps. They were padded and I was never able to shoulder my scatter gun in the exact same place. After three years I gave up the ghost due to frustration of the padded straps.
Next Generation. Enter the Quilomene. It was in all the magazines, and I personally knew a small cadre who were sporting the set up. They swore by this product. Huge jump in price for me, double my previous models. So luckily, my good buddy is the same size as me, and I could test run it on several outings. Win for me. I first dawned that giant on a Montana pheasant hunt. Hydration was MONDO and well thought out. Reminded me of a steroidal version of my Bird-N-Lite. It carried my birds, water and gear pretty well. Next few outings were on the chukar/hun slopes of Idaho. It carried the heavier load better than the rest. My pause with the vest????? Not sure how to say this other than it was just too much. I don’t even know what too much means really. Bulky maybe? It seemed to catch on stuff all the time, especially in the tight quarters of desert sage brush. It was kind of like when you go on a date, and all the right boxes are checked: the person is hot, employed, no kids, and doesn’t live with their parents. Winning right??? But for some reason there wasn’t any chemistry no fault of your date. Oh well on to the Bucks Bags Chukar Vest. Man I loved this thing. Light, good color, great spot for hydration packs, solid pouches, and room for gear. I put this thing through the gauntlet, five season with this sucker. Way more than the rest. I only really ever had two issues: 1) I blew out the back so it was not usable. 2) It had this weird zip thing in the front. There was a belt of course, but then there was this over lapping flap with Velcro and a zipper? I felt like a naked dude wearing a barrel with suspenders like in the old comics. Since it had literally blown up on the side of a hill, I opted for something new. So I spent the entire summer researching the vest that claimed to be the bee’s knees. Interestingly, I had come across this vest a few years back. One my friends was wearing it and I remember giving him crap for his Cordura Tank. Ooops. I own my mistakes.
Gen 3. The WingWorks Upland Vest. After all of my research, I was still a wee bit shy of this vest due to its $220’ish price tag. But then I had a real talk with myself, “Self…” I said, “What are your most important pieces of equipment?” “Without pause I said “Boots, then vest.” So I jumped on the WW website and started my ordering process, which on all other vests was pretty generic. Usually it’s something like here is a sizing chart, colors, and accessories. Easy peasy. But when I was attempting to pick a size I came across this WW direction:
“Note: Customers don’t need to choose a vest size. Just supply us your height, weight, and waist at the naval (NOT BELTLINE WAIST! Vests must be worn centered at naval level to “hip load”) color choices and accessories. We’ll do the rest.”
What the John Brown??? I have backpacked, hauled out elk quarters, and run ridges my whole life and I have never wore my waist strap on my belly button. That is just crazy talk! But I did as instructed, sent my measurements in and received the vest directly.
First impressions out of the box was that this thing feels mega heavy. Not good I thought. However, when I loaded it up to the max with water and gear it was almost like I was wearing an EMPTY vest? The more I fiddled with the vest I realized the structure was in complete tune with my body. The displacement of weight was the best I have ever experienced.
Sizing: Initially I though the belt was a bit big as the hip pads were almost touching which caused the shell pockets to be more forward than I liked. I emailed Bob at WW, and he promptly responded and suggested I give it a few days in the field and get back to him. So I did, and my belt assessment was correct. Just a little too big, but here is the cool part. When I returned from my chukar hunt there was a box waiting for me. A new belt from WW in the next size down! He didn’t say he was going to do that. So I quickly switched out belts, and it was perfect. Fit like a glove. I challenge you to find similar proactive customer service these days. I packed up my old belt and mailed it off with a small thank you email to Bob.
Real world results: This past season I logged over 50 days afield, hunted in 4 states, and hauled chukar, Phez, sharpies, quail, huns, and ducks. Real world abuse: A “tiny” creek swallowed me whole up to my neck (mostly because Uncle Paul hyped me up and said I could “clear it” for sure). I slid and fell off the side of a mountain, and subsequently tumbled down a rock scree field for 50 yards. I fought off a rogue mule deer doe intent on killing me, and witnessed another whitetail buck attempt to kill my hunting partner T Kaz in a Montana thicket. I got caught out in 80 degree punishing sun, a driving sleet storm, and a few blizzards. The point I’m trying to make is that I chase birds for real, and the WW Vest barely has a scratch on it and looks brand new. I am not joking. Only time will tell how many years it can handle my continued abuse. At this point I have zero worries.
Thoughts of improvements???? While driving across the great divide, I thought that when I am in retirement, it would be super cool to “pimp” out this vest. Same design and infrastructure but with kangaroo leather pouches, and personalized tooling. I know, I know, this defeats its mission. But in retirement I will only be walking the Montana plains at 45 degrees Farenheight, blue skies, and flatter Sharp-tail grasslands. Go to the Wingworks website and you can research for yourself all the different bells and whistles, materials used, etc., etc. Way too many to list here.
Pros: Fit, load displacement, ergonomics, options, quality of material and construction, and customer service.
Cons: Cost, sex appeal, and WW could re-vamp website to be a little more user friendly.
None of these companies pay me, give me free stuff, or send me gift cards. This is just my 2 cents from a dude that has a passion to hunt birds, and is horribly hard on equipment. WWCFD. Word!
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