Handy as a pocket on a shirt.
– Traditional Folk Saying
“Why do you always wear six-pocket pants?”
We members of the Over the Hill Gang, all debonair and sophisticated gentlemen, hear that question frequently. It’s true, although we occasionally wear jeans or Dockers, our regular attire is six-pocket pants, and tyro bird hunters eager to emulate the old masters of the game ask us “Why?”
Our standard, if flippant, answer is: “Because we cannot find seven-pocket pants.” But there are practical reasons.
Appearance is not really a consideration. All the Over The Hill Gang look good in six-pocket pants, of course, but fashion has little to do with our choice since we look suave and stylish in any attire, with the possible exception of those ridiculous three-quarter length basketball shorts that are the rage now. Admittedly, color coordination is not one of our strengths, so it helps that six-pocket pants come in earth tones – khaki, tan, gray and occasionally camo patterns – that blend with most of the shirts in our wardrobes and complement all our hunter-orange clothing.
That is all beside the point. Our preference for six-pocket pants, also known as cargo pants, is purely functional. It’s the pockets. You have heard the traditional folk saying “Handy as a pocket on a shirt.” In truth, shirt pockets are far surpassed in utilitarian value by pants pockets – especially if there are several pockets and they are generously large.
With enough searching through online catalogs I suppose we could find those expensive “safari” shirts with four or even five pockets, but all shirt pockets have shortcomings. For one thing, shirt pockets are small, rarely more than half the size of a good, roomy pants pocket. And being located high on the body, shirt pockets full of heavy items tend to raise one’s center of gravity, upsetting your balance and causing embarrassing tumbles in the field when crossing creeks or clambering over slippery rocks or slogging through greasy mud.
Pants pockets, in contrast, lower your center of gravity as weight is added, much like ballast in a sailing ship. With all my daily equipment distributed into the various pockets of my cargo pants, with care taken to place the heaviest items in the leg-side pockets, I am all but impossible to knock over, sort of like those round-bottomed inflatable toys that can be tipped but never toppled.
Shirt pockets can also be difficult to reach when you are in a hurry to get at some immediately needed item. However, if you have my build – the short-legged and forward-hunched endomorphic body type which one of my daughters affectionately refers to as “Neanderthal” – you will find the side-leg pockets of cargo pants easily accessible, literally right there at your fingertips.
Be advised, too, that your shooting proficiency can be impaired by a shirt pocket. Gear stashed in a shirt’s right breast pocket (left, if you are a southpaw shooter) will interfere with your gun mount, causing you to shoot erratically. If you are given to fits of temper after a shirt-snagged, two-barrel miss on an easy shot at a towering pheasant, you will have the added problem of reallocating your gear in the field after you have ripped the offending pocket off the front of your shirt. Not that I have ever done this myself, you understand.
Most troublesome is the tendency of shirt pockets to spill at inopportune times. Shirt pockets have a way of disgorging their contents whenever you lean, bend, twist, slip or trip, and should you actually fall and/or roll you can expect all your paraphernalia in every shirt pocket will be scattered over a twenty square foot area, usually in dense foliage or under water.
These misfortunes seldom happen when wearing cargo pants with large, deep, pleated pockets with Velcro-fastened flaps. Put your spare compass in your cargo pants pocket and you will never experience that disconcerting feeling of being in unfamiliar country on a cloudy evening and not knowing the direction to the truck.
In addition to the spare compass, what does the OTH Gang pack in their pants? Let me rephrase that: what items does the OTH Gang store in the pockets of their cargo pants? Here are some of the typical things:
Pocket knife, Leatherman tool, keys, cell phone, wallet, hunting license wallet (it is best to have a separate wallet for your hunting licenses; topic for a future essay), sunglasses, handkerchief, camera, money clip, extra hearing aid batteries, spare dog whistle, pen (leak proof), notepad, wire cutters, band-aids, second handkerchief
Carry the rest of your essential gear in the pockets and pouches of your bird hunter’s strap vest: a dozen shotshells, gloves, stocking cap, rain poncho, toilet paper, water bottle, granola bar, map, dog biscuits, butane lighter, and a choke tube wrench. Add a third compass, one of those pin-on globe types that you can attach to the shoulder strap.
Dale, a charter member of the OTH Gang, tells me that I carry too much gear, but I hold to the Boy Scout motto, “Be Prepared,” and my addendum, “If the thing you need is not in your pocket you might as well not own it.” Besides, he has his own idiosyncrasy for overloading, namely carrying thirty or more shotshells. Opportunities to shoot a limit of birds are rare these days, but even if he had the chance to take three woodcock and five grouse, shooting thirty rounds would be unlikely. According to him, however, “You can never carry too much ammunition unless you fall into deep water or catch on fire.”
So all the OTH Gang have our sound reasons for wearing six-pocket pants.
But we do get weary of being asked about it. Last October while we were eating a pre-hunt breakfast at Ernie’s Diner, one of the nosey locals walked over to our table and asked, “Do you guys always wear cargo pants when you’re bird hunting?”
“We didn’t used to,” said Ron, “But back when we hunted in our underwear our legs got chaffed by the brush and our butts got cold on windy days.”
Ron was just putting him on though. We have never gone bird hunting in our underwear. At least I haven’t.
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