My good friend, Hayden Richins, is one of the most proficient hunters I know. Hayden spent most of 2020 trapped in New Zealand, thanks to shutdowns during the apex of the Coronavirus outbreak. He made the most of it, though, and hunted the high alpine and rainforests for a variety of non-native game with the local Kiwis who call the water-bound country home. When he came back, he told me how shorts are all the rage for hunting down there. Skeptical, but open-minded, I was curious if it would be the same here.
Should You Hunt In Shorts?
The archery antelope opener in Wyoming is August 15th, so my four annual seasons of hunting started in some of the hottest temps the high desert can spit out. While temps are nothing like the southwest, I still find myself in 90+ degree temperatures wearing the lightest-weight pants on the market. That also means I go through pants quite often since durability is the inevitable tradeoff of going to a pant that can breathe as you’re getting sunbaked on a wide-open pronghorn stalk.
Hayden had witnessed my pant-tearing proclivity on a hunt a couple of years back, so he recommended I try a shorts/gaiters combination while hunting. The idea is shorts have less to snag on in addition to giving much-needed airflow to your legs. I grabbed a pair of Black Ovis Cottonwood Creek shorts, a nylon blended short, and figured I’d give it a try in the early season of 2021. Better yet, Hayden was coming out to my place to do a little archery hunting, so I knew that if I was going to look like a weirdo, I’d at least have similar company.
I Tried Shorts On Multiple Hunts
By the middle of September, I had nearly 14 days of hunting in a variety of conditions in my shorts. I hunted speed goats, mule deer, and elk in those shorts from elevations from 5,000 ft sagebrush flats to 10,000 ft sub-alpine timber. For most of my hunts, I tossed on the First Lite Traverse Gaiters to go with my Salewa trail shoes while hunting, but I beefed up to the Outdoor Research gaiters when I was in the wallow-filled elk woods.
Rankings at local fashion shows aside, I had a variety of experiences in my shorts which happened to align with my most successful archery season to date. Here are considerations for wearing shorts for western hunting.
If you are like me and only trail run or workout in shorts, then it feels natural to make haste with the breeze blowing around your freshly liberated legs. Therefore, antelope hunters will immediately love the freedom of shorts and may even pick up their cadence when looping around on a buck bedded out in the sagebrush.
Spot-and-stalk antelope hunters will have a good sense of cactus prevalence when it comes to the final part of the stalk, however. If you must get on your hands and knees, or better yet, belly crawl to close the final distance on your quarry, the shorts accentuate every pokey stick, rock, or bush that otherwise would not harm your pants. Shorts were not well suited to this part of the archery in the half dozen days I spent chasing them around spot-and-stalk style.
Shorts are well-suited for antelope hunting over water. I spent three days sitting waterholes in the plains after I gave up on the difficult task of closing the distance on my feet. Of course, the one day I did not opt to wear my shorts was the day my arrow found paydirt. That said, shorts should be the go-to apparel for a die-hard antelope blind-sitter waiting for a speed goat to come by.
Mule Deer Hunting
I would play it by ear as to whether shorts were a good idea for mule deer hunting. In 2020, I found myself on a mountain top receiving snow on August 31st with temperatures dipping into the upper 20’s. While I was prepared with upper layers, I am glad I did not opt for shorts that day. Maybe others are tough enough to enjoy the first frost of the year letting their legs roam uninhibited, but even at lower elevations, I often thought I had made a mistake by sitting on my glassing knobs in shorts waiting for the sun’s warmth to hit, even in early September.
Hayden joined me and our friend Mason deer hunting this year. This is what he had to say about hunting in shorts:
“Everyone knows they’re more comfortable and help you move more quietly, but you also don’t sweat-out while wearing shorts.”
Layers Add Versatility
Hayden opts for tossing on less-bulky leggings if there’s a nip to the fall air, which I did as well. He showed the downside of shorts as napping attire, however, when his stark white legs caught full sun during a midday nap. Buyer beware – sunscreen is recommended for any burn-prone shorts-wearer.
The Cottonwood Creek shorts were better spot-and-stalk deer hunting than they were for antelope. When it came to making a stalk on a bedded buck. Hunters may find themselves on their feet behind cover, or sliding down steep slopes in a crabwalk while deer hunting. That lends itself to a more pleasant experience in shorts than anything I experienced while dragging my knees over cactus antelope hunting.
The edge in tactics still goes to ambush-style hunting if I wore them all the time. Alpine basin deer hunters may have a different experience, so watch the weather and maybe test these bad boys on a scout trip before going all in for a 5-day trip or something similar.
In the end, I again took my deer on one of the few days I wore pants while hunting. The two coincidences had me thinking that while Hayden made strong arguments and they were overall nice, maybe shorts weren’t ideal for my style of hunting.
If there was a place shorts shined where they were not expected to, it was in the elk woods. My Cottonwood shorts never got a rip in them and rarely snagged on any brush or downfall timber compared to pants. Additionally, chasing bugles and reaping ridges is our main mode of operation, so the shorts were enjoyable even in the chilliest parts of the day. My tall gaiters usually make the lower half of my legs drenched in sweat, but that was not the case with the added airflow.
The only downside of wearing shorts in the elk woods was the underbrush. If you hunt in areas with a relatively open canopy floor then it’s easy to get around without looking like you got in a fight with a feral cat. However, if you’re hunting old burns with downfall or beetle-killed trees, expect to come out of the woods with a bunch of stinging little scrapes at the end of the day.
My luck wearing shorts in the elk woods was good with us getting into one of the best bugle-fests of the season. While no wild critters were harmed in the wearing of shorts while elk hunting this year, I definitely foresee myself giving them another shot next fall.
So, what’s the verdict? Should you hunt in shorts?
If you’re a sweaty, hairy guy like myself, there is absolutely comfort gained by going to shorts. This is especially the case when the mercury rises and you are not stationary at the coldest part of the day.
Not Ideal For Every Situation
Are they the perfect solution to rip-prone lightweight hunting pants? Maybe for the right situation. No one hunter’s style or terrain is perfectly suited for every piece of gear. Heck, even New Zealanders must decide what to go with if it’s snowing on the mountain top where the tahr call home. Or if it’s hot and muggy where the rusa deer thrive. Making a game-time decision is probably the best plan of attack.
Give Shorts A Try!
Next fall when you’re debating on whether to buy yet another pair of flimsy summer pants or try a pair of shorts, I would offer you try-the-latter option. Just do not forget the sunscreen!
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