Just before New Year’s my new Q5 chukar vest arrived, which I’d ordered on November 30th: the Quilomene Upland Bird Vest. I’d been using the Badlands Upland Vest (no longer available) for the past couple of seasons and — as the weather asked us to bring more apparel, which goes on and off depending on the terrain — I started finding it just didn’t have the carrying capacity I wanted, especially as the bird bag began being burdened by bigger bunches of birds. The Badlands vest is still my favorite overall vest, but it’s not perfect and I continued to wonder if a perfect vest existed.
So I looked and looked: I looked at the Tenzing BV16 (currently out of stock everywhere I looked), at the Filson Pro Guide Strap Vest (no longer available), the Orvis Pro Series Hunting Vest (won’t work with a hydration bladder), Oregon Pack Works Rogue Bird Pack (not much information and only one photo, and by far the most expensive), and Wingworks Upland Wingshooting Vests (unavailable; I’ve been trying to get one of these for quite a while now). L.L. Bean makes a cool-looking vest, but I tried it a few years ago and returned it after one hunt because the water bladder sat too low in the pack to get it to flow without standing on my head. I’d used the Q5 Centerfire for a couple of seasons and really liked it, but ultimately found it too bulky for my style of chukar hunting, but decided to take another look at their wide variety of upland vests.
On the Q5 site, the Quilomene Upland Bird Vest looked like it might be the ticket: bladder-ready, easily-accessible large bird bag, moderate storage, modular straps (can add/remove accessory and shell pockets), and lash-strap ready for external carrying options. I’m about 6′ and 155, so I ordered the smallest waist belt, and it just fits cinched as tight as it goes; skinnier folks will probably find it too loose.
When I ordered it, the site showed one message saying they were running a 2-week lead time on new orders, and — somewhere else on the site — a 30-day turnaround. I received mine a month after they charged my card. The current message (as of 1/10/20) shows 30 days out and “unable to provide any status updates.” It’s ironic that chukar hunting seems never to have been more popular, yet it’s nearly impossible to get a new vest quickly, and the choices seem to be shrinking. Not sure what to make of that, other than American manufacturing doesn’t seem to be faring too well at the moment; the only two vests I mentioned that are available (the Orvis and the L.L. Bean) are not made in the U.S.
Anyway, I was very excited when the Quilomene vest finally arrived. It took a while to set it up to fit, but once I’d made some velcro adjustments, shortened the shoulder straps as far as they’d go (see more on this below), and added the two shell pockets to the padded hip belt, I was ready to install my 100-ounce Camelback hydration bladder. This wasn’t easy. The bladder pouch is directly against your back (which is moderately uncomfortable when the bladder’s full), and there is a hole on both sides of the bottom of the pouch, intended for the hydration bladder’s hose to exit the pouch for routing somewhere on the vest. The problem with this is that most bladders have their hoses exiting the bladder at an upward right angle; I hadn’t realized this until I couldn’t get any water out of the hose and had to pull the whole bladder out to see what the problem was. No matter how I tried routing the hose through the bottom holes in the pouch, the hose got kinked and wouldn’t flow. So I ended up running the hose up the inside of the pouch and out the top; not a huge deal, and it works fine.
Another issue with the vest if you use a bladder is that there’s nothing at the top of the bladder pouch to attach to the top of the bladder to keep it from sloughing down in the pouch as the water level drops. Most bladders have something at the top near the fill point to counteract gravity so the flow doesn’t get interrupted; the Q5 Centerfire did, but this vest doesn’t.
Still another problem with my particular set up is that I ordered a water hose retainer clip, which the Q5 video shows as removable, so I assumed it would come loose and I could put it wherever I wanted. But it was sewn low down on the right shoulder strap. The first problem here is that a right-handed shooter probably won’t want the drinking tube on the right side; second problem is that it’s sewn into the strap and prevents me from shortening the shoulder strap below the clip. I wanted to shorten the straps to get the vest to ride higher, so I had to cut the clip out (more on that below).
The other negatives I’m experiencing with this vest (I’ve hunted with it a half-dozen times now) have to do with the shell pockets. I ordered a standard Q5 shell pocket for my shells, which I keep on the right side and a Quilomene pocket for the left, which looked like it’d be roomy enough for me to carry our small camcorder. It’s not, but it’s bulkier and takes up more hip-belt real estate so that it rides on my left thigh when I’m climbing (very annoying), and requires two hands to open. The Q5 shell pocket holds a lot more shells than I’m used to, which I appreciate, but is not nearly as user-friendly as the substantially smaller Badlands magnetic closure shell pockets; for quick reloading, especially with gloves, the Q5 shell pockets are not easy to manipulate with one hand.
The bird bag is really big and easy to get birds into, as long as the storage pockets (which sit on the outside of the top layer of the bird bag) aren’t too heavily loaded with gear, or you don’t have a heavy garment or elk shed lashed to the outside of the bag; if this is the case, you have to push hard backward to gain enough space to drop the bird in the pouch. Without birds in the bag, it rides much lower than I’d like, and when I’ve got a bunch of birds in it, it bangs on the bottom of my butt with every step, which gets old fast. At 6′, I don’t think the vest should hang as low as it does.
So after cutting the sewn-in clip out of the right shoulder strap I shortened the straps a lot to see if I could get it to ride higher so the bird bag doesn’t ride on my rump. I was able to shorten the straps to get the bag to ride below the small of my back and on the top of my butt, but this moved the padded hip belt above my waist: not an option! So it seems the vest is definitely designed to ride as low as it does, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but what do I know?
I don’t hate this vest. I really wanted to like it. At $240, it should be high quality, which I think it is, at least as far as the materials. The heavy-duty nylon and plastic components seem durable, although I do wonder if the very bright blaze sections will quickly fade as they did on my Centerfire vest. It’s been a long time since I’ve used a strap vest, so I wasn’t sure how I’d like the basic no-frill, unpadded nylon shoulder straps, and they’re actually a lot more comfortable than I expected. Ultimately, I just don’t like the fact that it’s designed to ride so low. If anyone’s interested, it’s available for $200, and I’ll throw in a couple of our new iron-on patches.
The bottom line is that this — so far — is definitely not my perfect chukar vest. I still haven’t found it and suspect it probably doesn’t exist.
- Fairly comfortable (aside from the butt-whomping)
- Adjustable (within limits)
- Good amount of storage capability
- Easy to get birds in the bag (as long as you’re not carrying a lot of stuff in the storage pouches)
- High quality components and construction
- Q5 shell pockets not easy to use with one hand
- Quilomene shell pockets almost impossible to use with one hand
- Water bladder setup not well designed
- Removable components should not be sewn onto vest
- Long lead times