Gear hunting

The urge to acquire must be hard-coded in us.

I’m not overly susceptible to the Siren Song of Stuff – sloth and gluttony are my vices of choice – but I’m not deaf, either. I heard the call this morning, when, for the first time in months, maybe years, I had to go stuff shopping.

Kevin and I are visiting our friends Dave and Bonnie, who live on the outskirts of Manchester, Vermont, in the Green Mountains. We’re here to hunt deer, and there were a couple of items I needed. First on the list was a pair of pants. Last year, I made do with a pair of beige wool slacks. They were the dress-up kind – Ann Taylor, I think – not the outdoorsy kind, but I figured once I had a coat and boots on, they would look just like those old-fashioned wool pants they sell for the purpose. And they were fine. They were warm, they were beige, they were fine. Then, at the end of the season, I put them in the laundry, in open defiance of the “dry clean only” tag. “Shrink” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Next on the list was a pair of hiking boots. I own a pair of outstanding boots – Lowas – that are about eight years old. I hadn’t worn them in a couple of years, and they were in a plastic box in the basement. I took them out, dusted them off, and wore them to the range last week.

They fit as well as I remembered, and as Kevin and I walked down-range to hang targets, I was congratulating myself for having sprung for the expensive boots, boots that give proper support, have the right kind of cushioning, and last a lifetime. Then I felt a weird kind of drag on my right heel, like I had stepped on something that was trailing behind me. When we got to the bench, I found that the heel had essentially rotted in half, and the bottom of the sole had separated from the rest of the boot.

Next trip to the targets, the whole damn sole came off, and I was flapping around like something out of Mad magazine.

If there is any place on earth where you want to look competent and in-control, it’s the rifle range. Everyone there has loaded guns, and we all know our lives depend on our fellow-shooters’ ability to handle weapons safely. You simply do not want to look like an idiot.

As a rule, Kevin helps protect me from doing really stupid things. The first time we went to the range, he told me to bring earplugs, since we didn’t have any of those big earmuffs people use to muffle sound. But I had a better idea, and I packed the Bose noise-canceling headphones. When we got there, I was about to put them on, and he stopped me.

“You can’t use those,” he said, taking them out of my hands.

“Why not?” I asked. “They’re noise-canceling.”

He pointed to the long curly cord. “What are you going to do with that?”

I considered. “I’ll tuck it in my sweater.”


He didn’t say it then, but I know it now. You don’t want to look like an idiot at the rifle range. So the whole flapping sold thing was extremely unfortunate. Back at the bench, I held my boot up, and Kevin pulled the sole completely off. And then he did the other one, which had also started to go.

That’s why I was shopping this morning. And Mission: Acquisition took me to H.N. Williams General Store, in Dorset, where Dave sent me.

You have to love H.N. Williams General Store. On the outside, it looks like just what you think a Vermont general store should look like. On the inside, it has a complete supply of hardware, hunting and fishing gear, and outdoor clothing. The salespeople are suitably laconic. There’s a little café.

But it’s a diabolical little place. Just when you’re feeling all salt-of-the-earth, browsing the full Carhartt line, you get distracted by an extremely attractive line of jackets. Turns out they’re from a company called Ibex, which makes high-end merino wool clothing. Not just jackets, but base layers and socks and sweaters and pants.

It’s soft and beautiful and expensive. I have a soft spot for fine-spun wool, and I was hearing its call, loud and clear. I had to stand in front of the rack and take mental inventory of the clothing I already had that would serve the same function. (Silk base layer and a couple of ratty cashmere sweaters that are great for hunting.) I walked away, only to run into the rack of Gore-Tex hunting pants, with a price tag north of $200. And the boots …

I walked out with a pair of brown Carhartts with reinforced front panels (for crashing through brush), and a pair of hiking boots that were on super sale, made by a company called Irish Setter. But I could easily have spent many hundreds of dollars. This, despite the fact that I’ve been hunting for about seven seconds and have succeeded only in irritating some ducks.

There’s something disconcerting about using an activity that’s supposed to help you provide for yourself as an opportunity to buy. But it happens to me, over and over. There’s the super groovy Shimano composite fishing pole Kevin got me for my birthday. There’s my Ribb clam rake. And then there’s this rifle – a Marlin .308 with a 24-inch barrel, in stainless steel, thank you very much. I don’t have it yet, but I want it.

My friend Amanda lives in Portland, Oregon, and she told me that there is an entire store there devoted to homesteading supplies. You can buy greenhouse frames and solar set-ups and all-in-one canning kits – in stainless steel, thank you very much. Shop O Pioneer: The Homesteading Super Store!

On the one hand, as has been discussed here before, good tools and clothing and supplies outperform bad tools and clothing and supplies. But at some point the purchase is less about the incremental advantage than about the fun of owning really cool stuff.

Rifle season for deer opens tomorrow, and I’ll be hunting in a second-hand coat, with a sixty-year-old gun. I’ll be kept warm by a motley array of layers accommodated by pants that are a size too big. And I’m fine with that. I am. But there’s an Orvis outlet in this town, and if we happen to pass it, you’d better tie me to the mast.

15 people are having a conversation about “Gear hunting

  1. Orvis is lovely, and well worth the trip even if you don’t buy a thing. You can marvel at the enormous stained glass window, and feed the trout in the pond from inside the store! And dogs are welcome, too.

    While you’re in the neighborhood, maintain a firm grip on your wallet and hop up to Weston for the Vermont Country Store. It’s an experience just to walk through. Prepare to stay a few hours …

    And on your way back home, come down through Bennington and give the Blue Benn diner a try. So good!

  2. Just about the only good thing Thoreau wrote was his warning to beware of any enterprise that requires new clothes. Congratulations on your sales resistance.

  3. Ohhhh, I didn’t know that store was in Portland. That is on my go and see list next time I’m up in the city. Lee and I were just in at REI today. That store always makes me drool over gear. They sell that Ibex brand too.

  4. I can SO relate. I try really hard not to buy new gear for any endeavor that I haven’t already proven an enduring commitment to. I don’t always succeed, but I really try. My husband is not so reticent though, sometimes. He plunked down a wad of moolah for an apple press and a grinder, when we’d been making do with hauling our fruit over to a relative’s house each fall to use her antique press and grinder. I’ll admit to trying a few times to buy hers, if at a somewhat insulting price. (But hey, she wasn’t using it, and how big is the market for a massive old press?) I feel somewhat differently about garden tools though. If I know I’ll use something a lot and that its usefulness will outlast my lifetime, I’m willing to cough up for it. This is why I have not one but two very expensive spading forks made in England.

    I’m charmed by the image of you hunting in “ratty cashmere.” If and when my cashmere gets ratty I think it’ll become sleepwear.

  5. I’m so jealous. Here (Spain) if you need supplies that are slightly out of the ordinary (rennet or some citric acid for some brewing I needed the other day) you have to look for them in strange places like farmacies that look at you like you are some sort of bizarre mixture between an 8 year old child spouting non-sense and a three-eyed martian. And while we are at it it, no I wont tell you why I want to buy five kilos of citirc acid, just sell me the stuff…
    There is of course the web for some equipment but so much harder to have an impulse buy on-line. I would love a homesteading shop.

  6. The Ibix clothing is really gorgeous and expensive. Orvis outlets have very good deals. I live with someone who has every tool known to mankind so I know the urge to acquire. I avoid it and have made a vow to never buy anything from catalogues. But that Ibix coat is stunning. sigh.

  7. Looks like the mast is getting crowded! Even the most down-to-earth and hardy among us like beautiful sweaters and cider presses.

    Stefka, thanks for the Vermont tips — Kevin loves the Vermont Country Store and I think we’re going to try and get there.

    Javier, I have to know. What do you need five kilos of citric acid for? Also, I think you just coined the best name ever for a feed and supply store: The Farmacy. (And please don’t think I’m a boor for calling attention to a misspelling — whenever you visit and comment I wish I could even attempt to read what you write in Spanish. I bow down before your multi-lingual abilities.)

  8. Citirc acid was for when I thought brewing nettle beer was a good idea (that was before it tried to kill me via massive hangovers and, when that proved too slow, via exploding bottles). Also five kilos was the smallest sized packaging, though I think I needed a lot for the beer.
    Farmacy, the kind of mistake that makes my english girlfriend rage and go on about how, since we moved to Spain my english is reversing to mis-translated spanish. Then again I also like it as a name for a feed and supply store. Sign of genius when mistakes are brilliant. So modest too 🙂

  9. Tamar, I like your make-do attitude (I would have tried the noise cancelling headphones on shooting range too).

    Although usually just a fellow slave to gluttony and sloth, when those Bushwear catalogues come in the mail, I definitely succumb to the IDEA of new shiny stuff that seems magically imbued to give me a successful stalk, or a truly waterproof coat that doesn’t make me sweat and feel damp anyway, or that most elusive miracle – quilted pants that make my ass look good. It’s about hope. Or self-denial. For every purchase I can’t live without, there are ten more I regret and never wear/break the first time out.

    Afters YEARS of wanting Irish Setter boots, Mike just bought a pair for the beginning of shoot season. He wears them 6 days a week / 10 hours a day and says they are by far the most comfortable boots he’s ever owned. And they’re holding up to some punishment. He gets 3 pair of Carhartts every Christmas – conveniently, it takes him 364 days to wear through all three from the previous year.

    You’re more likely to enjoy hunting if you have warm feet and a dry backside.

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