Orange is the New Black

I wear an orange cap and an orange vest when I’m chasing birds, regardless of jurisdiction or regulations

By Rob Breeding

I’m on the lookout for a new bird-hunting shirt. Material and construction are important, but being a fashionista, I’m mostly concerned with finding just the right shade of orange.

Montana big game hunters are required to wear 400 square inches of hunter orange above the waist, but there’s no regulation for upland bird hunters. Still, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department “strongly recommends” upland bird hunters wear at least an orange cap. For me, the cap is a requirement.

Orange sometimes seems unnecessary. I mostly hunt chukar in remote country where other hunters are few. Still, I see the occasional deer hunter when I’m roaming the chukar grounds, and orange really stands out against the sagebrush sea.

I don’t look much like a mule deer, but who’s to say the dude on the other end of that rifle can tell the difference?

So I wear an orange cap, and an orange vest as well. The uniform is always on when I’m chasing birds, regardless of jurisdiction or regulations. I’ve checked the Western states where I do the bulk of my hunting, and the cap and vest keep me in compliance when I leave Montana.

When I’m alone, the orange is really just force of habit. When I get together with bird-hunting friends, however, it’s about coming home safe.

In the open plains of eastern Montana, you’ll usually have a good view of everyone in your group, at least until you drop down into heavily covered creek bottoms. It’s in situations like this where orange earns its fashion stripes. If a bird flushes and I’m readying to shoot, a flash of orange in my peripheral vision is like a stop sign. If I see orange, I don’t mount my gun.

Out west, it can be hectic hunting pheasants, especially in crowded WMAs or south of the lake around Nine Pipes. It would be foolhardy to head out to any of the popular spots within an easy drive of Kalispell (or by extension Missoula) without sporting plenty of orange, especially early in the season when public lands crawl with hunters.

Dogs are no exception to the latest fall fashion trends. Doll always sports an orange collar this time of year, and it’s more visible than you might think. I can often spot that collar through heavy cover, even when I can’t see her. We also have an orange skid plate she sometimes wears.

The Dog Whisperer takes it one step further. He runs strips of orange flagging through his dog’s collar, on either side, maybe a foot or so long. It doesn’t seem to bother the dog, but it kind of looks like you’re hunting with the safety police in your social media photos.

Speaking of social media, hunters now frequently post video of their wing-shooting exploits. That’s fine so long as they hold their phones sideways to record the scene in landscape mode. I noticed in a recent clip, however, that as the hunter approached the birds, the muzzle of his shotgun dropped dangerously in the direction of his working dogs. On the flush, he fired a couple of quick shots on low-flying birds, with his dogs in hot pursuit.

I flinched. The shots successfully claimed a pair of sharptail, and fortunately no dogs. Still, it appeared too close in my book.

Sometimes your best shot is the one you don’t take. Be patient. Let the birds put a little space between you and your pups. And preferably, shoot against a backdrop of open sky.

When it comes to shooting backdrops, blue is so much more fashionable than orange.

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