When I was a kid, there was always one package underneath the Christmas tree that I always saved for last: the light, squishy one that invariably turned out to be socks and underwear. Getting a practical gift for Christmas was about as much fun as having to eat broccoli before diving into a bowl of homemade ice cream.
The first time I went deer hunting, however, I wished that I had insisted on practical presents. The cotton thermals and tube socks that worked well enough in the tobacco stripping room made for a miserable and cold day afield once they soaked through from a steady rain.
Being comfortable in the field is important now that I’m old and grumpy. So if you’re stumped about what to get the outdoors enthusiast on your list this year, here’s some curmudgeonly advice: make socks and underwear your top priority.
Start with a pair or two of all-wool socks. These absorb sweat and still keep your feet warm. You’re begging for blisters with wet cotton socks. For clothing worn next to the skin, dump the cotton thermals and buy shirts and long underwear made of synthetic material instead. This material draws moisture away from your body and won’t stay wet like cotton. The best shirts have zippers that allow for better ventilation.
If you’re willing to splurge, a good hunting jacket is a great investment and will last for years. Look for a hooded jacket with a waterproof, breathable shell and zip-out liner. Avoid material that makes a lot of noise when it rubs together.
No person who hunts from a tree stand should be without a safety harness. A good harness prevents falls and is inexpensive.
Other basic items include a knife. The big Rambo knives and double-edged boot knives are good for the movies, but not for the field. For hunting, I prefer a folding knife with a blade ranging from 3 to 5 inches. My favorite knife has a stout stainless-steel blade with a partially serrated edge.
For anglers, a good pair of polarized sunglasses is hard to beat. Many stores also stock lake maps showing the underwater contours. A map of your angler’s favorite lake will be appreciated.
For people who enjoy both hunting and fishing, a gift subscription to Kentucky Afield magazine is a great solution. At $5 a year, it’s the best bargain in the outdoors. Subscribe online at www.fw.ky.gov.