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Downton Abbey’s “field sports” Part II

Guess I shot from the hip, shot first and asked questions later, didn’t identify my target too well, or another euphemism you may enjoy applying to the lack of foresight I brought to yesterday’s analysis of Downton Abbey’s field sports.

Yes, I could have sneaked a peak ahead of the coming scenes, like many other avid watchers of PBS’s hit show do, but because I lack the time and the inclination to sneak anything, I just sat down in my easy chair and watched the show unfold last night without advance knowledge of its content.

My Sunday afternoon essay about the mediocre depiction of the field sports of Downton Abbey was written beforehand.

So, yes, there was a shooting scene last night, or more accurately, some scenes of wing shooting at driven partridge from bona fide shooting butts, using authentic guns and nice clothes, woven in and out of the story about the Scottish castle party.

But once again, there was more focus on the clothes on the people holding the guns than on the Purdeys, Rigbys, and other Best-quality side-by-side shotguns being used to down the birds.

In 1924, $150,000-then-equivalent Purdey shotguns do not get left with the menial help in the kitchen. They are fussed and obsessed over by their owners, kept locked in their rooms, cased with abundant hand-made accoutrements, labeled beautifully by their makers, and often proudly handed down from generation to generation and worn with traditional hunting clothes.

Scottish castles are loaded with arms and armor, and we barely got a peak at the edged weapons welcoming guests through the front door.

The wagons taking the hunters to the field were right, and a nice touch.  I have ridden in such wagons on traditional hunts, and they are today an unnecessary throwback.  But back then, they were a necessity through muck and muddy moors.

Shooting driven partridge from the butts was mostly done right, with gun loaders ducking to avoid being seen by the birds, and we did see some people bunched up waving white flags, but a real drive could have been filmed for full authenticity.  Actual dead birds could have fallen.  Smoke could have emitted from the barrels.  Etc etc.

Depicting the shooting sports in so briefly and so shallow a manner is the equivalent of dressing Lady Mary in a perfect 1920s top with modern hip-hugger blue jeans below. It is just wrong.  Don’t do that!

A lot of non sequiturs occurred last night that really deprive the Downton Abbey audience of a full appreciation of the English field sport lifestyle, which actually reached its pinnacle in the 1920s (when cheap skilled labor was matched with newly superior steel and modern technology to create firearms that even today still command huge sums of money, not to mention the introduction and propagation of Asian pheasants to the English countryside), the time we are watching in the show.

I am sorry to criticize you, Julian Fellowes, because Downton Abbey is otherwise a great show, everything we want it to be. 

Last night was disappointing, because the rich details of noble Scottish and English hunting rites should have been indulged.  As a student of English history, you are missing a great, even important opportunity here to dig into a meaty subject which your audience will surely enjoy, even if it involves G-U-N-S. 

Maybe in January 2016 we will get a more thorough treatment of a subject that may be missing from Mr. Fellowes’ life today, but which was a nearly daily ritual for the actual residents of Downton Abbey and their peers in the 1920s.

Kudos to Filson clothing

Filson is a clothing manufacturer in Seattle, making pretty much the most basic American clothing styles for the past 130 years.

Little has changed in their styles or fabrics. Boring? Maybe.

Flannel and wool shirts, wool and canvas coats and pants, wool long underwear, leather boots with wool insulation, tote and carry bags and purses, every item is made in America of virgin wool or different weights of canvas.

One short phrase describes Filson products: Brutally tough.

Or, “Last a lifetime.”

In an era of cheap Chinese crap and Asian sweatshop “designer” clothes, Filson stands alone, or probably alone. I am a consumer of top-quality outdoor clothing, and I cannot think of another manufacturer who makes anything like Filson’s clothing line.

Oh, sure, there are plastic and Gore Tex outdoor clothes galore. Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, Mountain Hard Wear, and others make some pretty good ones, which our family wears. Fleece coats, mountaineering parkas, super-sophisticated PhD plastic fiber clothes for the outdoor lifestyle. Some are married to goose down, which is genuinely warm.

But all of these synthetics catch on fire and turn the wearer into a large, running, screaming torch when exposed to flame. Or at the least they wilt, melt, smell very bad, and cease being useful when exposed to a camp fire hot enough to dry your damp undies and wet socks. In other words, the newfangled modern synthetics may weigh next to nothing and stop wind faster than a speeding bullet and locomotive, but they lack certain basic physical properties necessary to truly enjoy or survive the outdoors.

Wool and waxed heavy cotton canvas are nearly fireproof and can withstand tremendous force before tearing. Wool keeps the wearer warm even when wet. Yes, it is heavy compared to synthetics, but it is a lot quieter, actually it is silent, whereas even the best of synthetic fleece hunting clothes will leave a telltale “zip” sound when dragged across a sharp branch.

Filson forms a big part of my winter clothing selection. Mackinaw vests and coats of different colors and patterns form the core of the selection, and the double mackinaw coat in “Pennsylvania Tuxedo” red-and-black buffalo check plaid has kept me toasty warm in sub-zero temperatures day after day. This past week I wore the double mackinaw coat while flintlock hunting, and I never got cold. It was sub-zero every day.

Other wool clothes I wear are heavy camouflage Columbia hunting pants, Bass Pro Redhead heavy wool socks, Danner wool socks, knee-high SmartWool ski and hunting socks, and SmartWool long underwear. Yes, once in a while I break out the Eddie Bauer and Woolrich Adirondock plaid pants, jackets, and so on. They are real testaments to a world long gone, which dinosaurs like me cling to in misty eyed memories.

David Petzal is the gun writer for Field and Stream Magazine, and among many other witticisms and pithy one-liners, years ago he noted that all synthetic long underwear makes you smell like someone slaughtered a cow after a day, but wool long underwear can be worn for days without you or them being cleaned, and yet you don’t smell…too badly.

That’s the thing. Wool is natural. Like leather and fur, it is natural and fits the human body perfectly. We can sweat into wool for days on a hunt, and it just doesn’t smell bad. Oh, it may not smell fresh, but compared to the polypropylene synthetics, it does.

My Filson Mackinaw coat accompanies me on all my Adirondack wilderness hunts, serving as a blanket at night when the temperature inside the tent dips to 18 degrees. And yet after many years of being worn through thorn patches and rugged mountain brush, it shows zero signs of wear. That says it all.

Other favorites include the now discontinued styles of Tin Cloth logging jacket and Double Tin field coat, both of which I wear when hunting for small game in January and February, when thorns are a big part of the day. Some of these discontinued tin cloth coats have become collector’s items. Each one will last you your entire lifetime, and if you wax it at the end of the season, it will serve your kids, too.

So, kudos to Filson for making Best-quality, “old fashioned” clothing for a tech-happy generation. www.filson.com

A plea for a small slice of reality

Marketing hype for any and all kinds of products has resulted in any and all kinds of hilarity, humor, bloopers, and ironies.

Hype, by its nature, kind of skirts facts and embellishes upon irrelevancies. Thus does hype almost inevitably lead to unintentional silliness.

For whatever reason, the outdoor sports are loaded with marketing hype.

Trail cameras are notoriously both marked by near-claims of X-Ray vision and simultaneous failures to perform their most basic functions.

Clothing that keeps your funky, unwashed armpits from making deer say “Uncle!” is another proven fraud.

The list goes on. I won’t belabor the list.

What really irks me are the male and female models used to promote outdoor gear, and specifically I mean hunting gear.

Cabelas, Bass Pro, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and many advertisers in Field & Stream magazine all use models for hunting gear who look nothing like hunters.

Probably universally, the guys are either effeminate, urban, slender professional model hipsters from NYC with a day-old facial hair growth, or they are occasionally hunting “stars” whose annoying braggadocio, bravado, machismo, and one-dimensional arrogance inspires mostly dismissiveness.

Neither of these model types fit the mold or image of real world hunters. Like me, probably you.

For example, I’m well overweight and struggle to make time to exercise, because being a husband, father, and small business owner all preclude time for developing hour-long fitness routines and pumped biceps.

And neither I nor any of my friends aspire to look effete, lanky, or effeminate. Our problem is probably that we don’t spend enough time cultivating our looks, complexions, or clothing fit, because these are unimportant sideshows in a life of meaning and real substance.

Hunting is, after all, about woodcraft, a conservation ethic, stealth, mastering one’s emotions, mastering firearms and bows, teaching our kids these skill sets with patience and love, and so on. Studly macho guys would be quickly drummed out of every group I hunt with. Hunting has zero to do with being macho.

So a simple plea here for reality: Use models who look like us Average Joes. We are much more likely to be interested in your products when you use people who actually look like us. Sinewy urban guys struggling to look male don’t interest us, and selfish guys who wear tinted contact lenses and who spend time on their biceps instead of their community don’t interest us, either.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye…step back in time

Last Sunday was the Maple Festival at Fort Hunter, here in Harrisburg.  Today and tomorrow is the Honorable Company of Horners at the US Army Heritage Center in Carlisle, PA.  If you enjoy mingling with people dressed as if they just emerged from a 1770s time machine, this is the event to go to this weekend.  Flintlock rifles, lots of modern and antique powder horns and various accoutrements like knives, tomahawks, etc.  I find this sort of diversion from politics, work, and politicking refreshing.  Maybe you will, too.