Thursday, February 10, 2011

Head Down: A brilliant innovation in duck hunting headwear - with minor drawbacks

I love showing duck hunters my new Head Down duck hunting cap that I picked up at the 2011 SHOT Show, because it never fails to get the same response: Holy cow, how come no one thought of this sooner?

(OK, one exception: Boyfriend's first response was, "Uh, could you have gotten more than one?" Sorry, hon!)

If you're a duck hunter, one look at this photo tells you everything you need to know.

But for those who aren't waterfowlers, here's the deal: Duck hunters spend a lot of time tracking birds flying all around them, and the trick is to cover as much of your face as possible - usually with the bill of your cap - while still watching the bird. Head Down puts a mesh window in the bill of the cap, which means your face is still covered, but you can see through the bill.

It's kinda like having an invisibility cloak for your face.

I picked up a free sample of this hat at the Feather Flage booth at SHOT, and that gave me two whole weekends of duck hunting to test it out before our season ended on Jan. 23. It took time to get used to this cap, but here's what I learned:

Tracking birds up high: Looking up through the mesh at high angles for more than a second or two at a time made me dizzy. Try it for a second - face straight forward and crank your eyeballs up as high as they'll go, then hold 'em there. Not fun!

Tracking low birds: This is where the Head Down hat shines: I found I could tilt my head down pretty far and look up without causing eye strain.

Pre-dawn: It was almost impossible to see birds through the dark mesh in pre-dawn light. Then again, that's when you least need to hide your face, so it's largely irrelevant.

Acquiring vs. tracking: Don't bother scanning the sky for birds through the mesh - it's too hard to find flying things and distinguish between, say, duck and cormorant. Instead, drop your head once you've acquired the sight of the bird.

Bright sun: The Achille's heel of the Head Down hat becomes apparent when you're hunting a north wind and facing south into the late-morning to early-afternoon sun. This is when you'll tell yourself, "Oh yeah, there's a reason we don't put holes in bills - we need to keep the sun out of our eyes."

When I was hunting north wind/bright sun conditions midday, I found myself struggling to put the sun behind the opaque parts of the bill to keep it out of my eyes. At least once, I switched to another hat under these conditions.

But if you don't have to face the sun or track birds across the sun, this hat works fine in bright light.

Gray days: This hat is perfect for gray days, as well as early morning and late afternoon when the sun is less intense than midday.

The upshot: Once I got used to this hat and learned when to look through the mesh and when to treat it like a regular cap, I liked it. But it did take getting used to, and it wasn't perfect for all conditions.

If I hadn't gotten one for free, would I plop down $15 for this? Yep. And it'd certainly make a great gift for your duck hunting friends. I'm pretty sure Boyfriend is expecting one before the next season begins.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Jessica said...

Aw, I appreciate the Harry Potter still shot! So awesome. And yes, that cap definitely looks worth a mere $15.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I think I'll pass on this gizmo.

I tried using a mesh turkey hunter's mask once out duck hunting.

I got so queasy tracking birds through the fine mesh, I took it off.

I also noticed that because I was moving my noggin around so much I had way more birds flare.

Been my experience movement flares birds way worse than face glare.

Both isn't good, but I'll take a pale-face hunting partner who stares at birds but stays dead still over a swivel-neck hunter who moves around watching birds through a hat's view-screen gizmo.

Peebs said...

As Holly knows my cap will have to be burned with me as no landfill would take it (to toxic) but if I were to get a new one (never happen)I would get one. I watched Holly use hers and did like the angle she was able to hold her head at especially on closer birds.

Holly Heyser said...

Jessica, thanks! I never know how many Potter fans are out there in hunterland.

Ryan, I've tried nets too and hate 'em - I'd rather paint my face, despite the fact that it's not very good for my skin. But this was much better. Still, it's a personal thing, I know - we've all got our ways of doing things ...

... like Peebs, who just doesn't look like Peebs if he's not wearing his "Shut up and hunt" hat. And dude, are you sure you wanna have that hat burned? It'd make a nice urn, too ;-)

Me said...

Neat idea must of been devised ona blue sky day. Question,how much flair would happen if the mesh was removed? Having experienced mesh sighting eye strain,hate it turn me off from buyinghat

Richard Mellott said...

I think I would get one, but as I am a definite head-wobbler, I just became sensitized to head movement this season. I wear glasses, so it definitely will help hide the distinctive and fashionable frames that kept being my "tell" during the hunt (glint, glare, and fashion-shock). It was amazing how my blind-mate would tell me "that duck saw you move," or "you moved" or "quit moving," with such patience. Guess I did ok, got three birds the last day, but I coulda had more.

Hil said...

For the life of me I can't shoot a shotgun or a rifle with a billed cap on. I duck hunt in a fleece beanie and a camo neck gaiter to cover my neck and pretty much all of my face except my eyes. And sunglasses, which, yeah, probably a little too shiny, but thus far it hasn't been much of a problem.

Gotta give them credit though, this cap is a great idea.

Josh said...

For a glasses-wearer like me, the edge of my field of vision is framed before my eyes reach the headache-inducing strain. It also means that the mesh will probably be outside my range of vision...

What about rain? Does rain go through the mesh?

Ryan Sabalow said...

I meant to say I really enjoy these reviews.

They're quite cool, and I know we can trust you not to lead us astray.

Your hex-shot one really got my attention. That stuff sounds like it might be what I need to help me take down those 15-pound honkers I kept sailing this season.

Holly Heyser said...

Me: Good question, and I don't know the answer. But I will say this: I believe it's important to have something between your eyes and the birds you hunt, because I think the eye connection is extremely powerful.

Example: When I was banding doves in my front yard this summer, I kept a pair of binoculars handy so I could zoom in and see if I'd already banded the ones that were going near the trap. When I watched them from my living room with the naked eye, they spooked easily. When I stepped to the back of the room, lifted the binoculars and moved forward with them raised to my eyes, they didn't spook.

Not scientific, I know, but that's why I believe a barrier between your eyes and the birds is important. (And this was a very long-winded "I don't know"!)

Richard: Funny you mention that - closing day, which was really bright, I had a headache and I finally put on my sunglasses, which I hate to do because of the glare, but I felt more comfortable knowing I could look directly at the birds through that mesh and probably not throw off any flashes of light.

Hil: That's so funny! We took out some new hunters on New Year's Day and one of them was just wearing a beanie and we said, "GET A HAT!!!" I feel naked and exposed hunting without one.

Josh: Can't be too informative on the glasses - I only wear 'em for reading, and I didn't share my hat with Hank (though I did offer to let him use it on the last day when I retreated to the car because of a headache). But rain: It did rain that morning and I had no problem with the mesh. There was enough wind that it wasn't coming straight down, though.

Ryan: LOL, you crack me up. No worries, dude. I mean it - what we hunt with is very personal; we have to find what works for us. But yeah, I like that hex shot a lot.

I'd be really interested to see what a body shot with BBs in Blind Side would do to a goose, knowing that they usually sail unless you break a wing. If it brings down geese like it brought down ducks, I'd say the loss rate on geese - which I'm guessing is really high - would drop substantially.

And LOL, my word verification below is "winggly." Love it!

Jon Roth said...

Looks like this invention falls under the "sounds better than it actually looks" category. Nice try but seems like more work that just holding still.

Holly Heyser said...

I don't agree. While it had some drawbacks that weren't immediately apparent, I found it to be really useful - one more arrow in the quiver.

And I definitely didn't say it's a substitute for holding still; it is a way to keep your eye on incoming birds while keeping your face more covered than it would normally be if you had to look under the bill of your cap, not through it.

Ryan Sabalow said...

I just didn't want you to think I was a Negative Nancy. I noticed after I posted that that I usually only comment when I have something negative to say or I disagree with you about something.

But I wanted you to know I read all of your posts and usually don't weigh in because I'm nodding my head in agreement.

As for your gear preference observations, wait until you see some of my homemade PVC contraptions I've made.

I can't weld and I don't have any wood-working tools, but, boy, I sure can glue plastic pipes together, often with hilarious results.

Holly Heyser said...

Ryan, no worries. There's plenty of room for civil disagreement here (and I really hadn't noticed a trend in your comments, so no worries there).

I just thought it was worth noting that it's not as bad as a net, which I've also tried. The only time I can handle having stuff on my face is when it's really cold and I need a balaclava.

Peebs said...

Your probably right shouldn't burn it would probably end up with a chernobyl like effect down wind of the burn. I used the turkey style net for several years it has a opening for the eyes that pinched on the nose and was very effective. On one of those spoonie days I stood in the open in my cattail patch face bare and watched them flare at 50yds then I put on mesh they came right in and landed even when I moved hy head to follow their flight, only quit using it when I got mallard call it changed the tone. I still use it for geese.

Anonymous said...

Further north, up the same Pacific Flyway, the purpose of bills on caps actually helps when it's raining (which is much of the time), especially if you wear glasses or sunglasses, as I do.

Light skin and movement (on windless days, on windy days DO move so the stillness doesn't look unnatural) are what spooks the Ducks here.

Facepaint still works as well as it ever did, so I'll pass on having a window in my bill.

But for some, it may be just the ticket.

Bill C.-Orygun

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