Stevens Model 320 Field Grade 12-Gauge Pump
As an avid upland hunter with a soft spot for classic double guns, new modern pump guns are unlikely to fall into my possession. In fact, the only pump gun in my safe before 2022 was grandpa’s Ithaca model 37 with waterfowl and bird dogs engraved on the receiver. However, when the opportunity arose to own a new Stevens 320 Field Grade twelve-gauge, I accepted due to its rugged feel and three-inch chamber, and its apparent worth for turkey and waterfowl.
Not familiar with the Stevens 320? Let’s begin with the main specifications.
The 320 line comes in 11 different models ranging from strictly hunting to strictly tactical with black and beige synthetic stock colors, sight and grip varieties, etc. The model under review here is a hunting model with a standard stock (no pistol grip) and bead sight. For a good review of the tactical/self-defense models, visit Personal Defense World.
The hunting barrel measures 28 inches and includes a modified choke. Additional interchangeable chokes are available online. The steel barrels and alloy receiver, both finished in black matte, carry a fully synthetic black stock and forearm.
The receiver is bottom load with a right side eject accepting 2-3/4 and 3-inch shells and the tubular magazine holds the standard three rounds.
The overall weight of the hunting model is 7.6 pounds, and the length of pull is 13-3/4 inches.
APPEARANCE AND FEEL
The appearance and feel of the gun are the most obvious factors forming one’s opinion of a firearm. The overall design of the gun appears tactical and angular. I would not call it a thing of beauty or finesse but my perspective is biased toward traditional firearms. It does appear satisfyingly durable and it handles well.
Synthetic stocks are virtually indestructible in the field, but what I like most about the 320 stock and forearm is that they are ribbed at the grip points, not checkered, providing a solid, comfortable grip.
The action is a bit stiff, clunky, and loud out of the box. I assume it will loosen up with use, but loud and clunky may never change. This may be somewhat explained by the hollow-sounding synthetic stock.
The lightweight stock and 28-inch barrel feel somewhat unbalanced, meaning smaller people may struggle with the balance point feeling further out on the barrel rather than centered near the receiver. However, this is common with synthetic stock shotguns, in my experience.
The length of pull at 13-3/4 inches fit me well (around 14 inches always works for me) and this includes the shape and material of the rubber butt pad. The 320 shoulders smoothly when snap-shooting, which is important for upland bird hunting. The top of the butt pad is angled down, which makes it less likely to snag on your shirt when coming to shoulder compared to butt pads with a pointed tip.
Finally, the overall stock drop from the action is comfortable for sighting, offering good eye alignment down the barrel. At 6-foot 7-inches tall, I assume I have a taller face than average-sized people, which makes it difficult for me to get my face low enough on the stock for proper eye alignment when shooting quickly. I have not experienced this trouble with the 320 and found the drop quite comfortable when setting up on an approaching turkey.
ON THE HUNT
Having received the 320 in February, a spring turkey hunt was in order to break it in and get a feel for carrying the gun afield. Using Winchester Double-X 3-inch 5-shot turkey loads, I decided to shoot the factory-provided modified choke to see how it performed straight out of the box. Good news – two hunts ended with two toms down. One fell at 45 yards and the other between 30 and 40 yards, each to a single shot. The pairing of the 320 and the Winchester loads could not have been further perfected.
The rubber meets the road in the field, however, and I did identify two cons, one from each hunt. First, I found a rest was important for maintaining the front-heavy balance when sitting over a decoy. I had the barrel resting on a fence wire when the first tom came in. This offered a good steady balance and eye alignment without fatigue from steadying the gun as the birds lazily approached from the roost.
On the second hunt, I learned that the safety location is less than ideal. The 320 is not the first scattergun to have the safety placed in front of the trigger instead of behind, but the reach to the safety from the grip is awkward and the safety is hard to click off. Luckily, I watched my second tom approach from a long distance, giving me plenty of time to rotate the gun on my knee and disengage the safety before he reached the decoy. Had I waited until he was within range, he likely would have seen me fiddling with the gun and spooked.
Overall, I am happy with the Stevens 320 pump, particularly with a price point below $300 – affordable for someone just getting into hunting or someone looking for that effective utility gun to endure all environmental conditions. Its rugged, fits and shoulders well, shoots well, and is a fine turkey gun. The awkward safety location and gun balance do not detract from the 320’s overall functionality afield.
The Chief Upland Revolution
The outdoor community should count its blessings. We live in the golden age of innovation and functionality when it comes to hunting gear. Be it camo patterns, electronics, weapons, outerwear, footwear, and everything else fathomable, sportsmen and women currently suffer a wealth of comfort and utility, improving skills and abilities afield.
Among the myriad brands that are just kicking off, Chief Upland appeared on the upland scene boasting a fresh design for the timeless game vest. Founder, Jake Lindeman, found inspiration in his first bird dog. A chocolate lab named Chief, who loves nothing more than bird hunting. “Every day in the uplands is his favorite day”, says Jake. Drive, passion and the love of the game are precisely what encouraged Jake to pursue a revolutionary new design in the Chief Upland vest.
A dream came alive for Jake as his concept’s debut pre-order went live in August 2020, and the upland community took notice.
I personally wasn’t in the market for a new vest as high-quality strap and traditional styles currently hang in the game room. But the game has changed. Functionality, durability and comfort are the three identifying features of the Chief Upland vest. Hence, Jake and his design team developed “The world’s first customizable, frontloading upland hunting vest.”
Having carried the Chief Upland over hundreds of miles from the Washington Palouse to north Central Montana the past few months, I literally put the vest through significant trials in varied covers, and graced its game bag with some exceedingly memorable hunts, and this is my honest expression of the vest’s overall performance.
Looking to the U.S. military and law enforcement as leaders in gear design to meet these three features, Jake found the MOLLE system perfectly suited for an upland hunting vest. “MOLLE” is an acronym for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment, which is generally a pack system allowing soldiers complete flexibility and efficiency in carrying the essentials.
The Chief Upland MOLLE system is completely customizable, allowing for items like water bottles and ammo pouches to be placed virtually anywhere on the vest. Additional straps can be fed through laser-cut slats in the vest’s outer shell to attach additional clothing or hang other needed items for those long, remote days in chukar or snowcock country.
What I found most exciting about the MOLLE system is the flexibility to balance the load of water, ammo and birds, while locating everything perfectly, such that is doesn’t interfere with hand movements and the need to reach pants pockets, etc. It took a couple days afield to figure out my perfect configuration, but once fine-tuned, no other vest has offered the easy of access and balanced fit of the Chief Upland.
Game Bag Accessibility and Capacity
In addition to the fully customizable MOLLE external carrying capacity, Jake’s team designed the game bag for easy access. While the game bag could be difficult to reach in vests of the past, particularly in the cheaper brands, the Chief Upland game bag extends the entire length of the waist belt. A quick pop of the top waist band allows the game bag to relax open with storage accessible anywhere throughout the vest.
Having that cargo accessibility and security the entire length of the waist belt is exceptional for stowing items like collapsible water dishes, camera lens caps, spent shells, etc. Small and miscellaneous items are held securely right at your fingertips.
A bird in hand can be quickly introduced to the bag, slipped in for safe keeping, and secured in two ways. First, the top waist strap can be fastened, which pulls the top of the game bag tight against your body. Additionally, internal hooks allow the outer part of the bag to hang from the waist belt, keeping it from falling open.
Loading is exceptionally simple, and carrying a full vest is comfortable with even weight distribution. The vest design tapers up in the back to a central cargo and water bladder pouch that allows the entire game bag to open from the top for easy cleaning. While this is an exceptional feature, I found the design limits pheasant payload to four birds.
A public land limit of three roosters fits perfectly fine. But when guiding on preserve lands, I’ve lost a fifth bird which unknowingly slipped from the vest, disappearing into the prairie grasses. Birds were stacking up and my “clients” for this Pheasants Forever sponsored hunt had no game vests. They were quite forgiving, but it was a little disappointing.
Anyone who runs their dogs with electronics (which is a lot of us these days) knows that having the handheld unit quickly and easily accessible can be of critical importance when working to locate a dog on point or to offer instantaneous guidance to avoid problems afield.
The Chief Upland vest offers a small mesh pouch on the left shoulder strap, perfectly sized to a Garmin Alpha 100. I absolutely love this feature because I really only need to have the unit in hand when trying to locate a dog on point. Otherwise, I can set the collar and shock level, slip the unit into the pouch, and still provide correction or tone by reaching over and pressing the buttons.
The pouch is deep and snug, so there is no worry of the unit slipping out, and I can still guide my setters, hands-free. This single feature is a game-changer compared to my other reputable vests.
Another feature to rave about is the ammo pouch. I use the Quick Grab pouch and find it shaped perfectly. Unlike other ammo pouches that have no actual structure to them, the Chief Upland pouch has a fitted lid and is entirely reinforced to hold shape. Coupled with the lid and pouch shape, the magnetic lid closure perfects the pouch’s functionality. While in motion, I can quickly flip the lid, grab shells and move on, knowing the lid will close itself and secure my ammo. The design has performed flawlessly over the 2020 season with or without gloves. No trying to worm my hand into a floppy, zipper-top pouch.
Additionally, I use a water bottle pouch, which holds a small aluminum Hydroflask perfectly and counters the weight of the full ammo pouch almost precisely. The pouch is deep, stretching to the neck of the bottle, and I don’t even pull the draw string to secure it. What’s more, when I pull the bottle, the CORDURA fabric retains it shape, so slipping the bottle right back in is effortless.
Finally, the central storage area up the middle of the back is perfect for hunting licenses, maps, tools and first aid supplies. This is also where the specifically-designed water bladder installs. I typically carry as little as possible, but a multi-tool, zip-ties, license wallet, emergency staple gun, gauze, iodine swabs, bandages, and written permission and property maps remain at all times with plenty of room for more.
Fit and Comfort
Overall, the Chief Upland is the most comfortable, functional upland vest I have ever worn.
As if Jake and the design team hadn’t already thought of everything, the fact that the waist belt has higher and lower positions to accommodate various hunter heights made me an instantaneous supporter. Standing 6-foot-7 and weighing in at about 280 now with the additional “COVID 19”, the lower strap position sits just about perfect over my hips. My girth is pushing it a bit for the standard waist belt (an extra-long 70-incher is also available), but I can comfortably strap it around layers and still have a little wiggle room. I am a little concerned that the male end of the main waist belt clip may be a little weak and prone to break over time.
Speaking of girth, the multiple chest strap locations is a bonus as well. With most of my vests and packs, due to my height and the need to loosen the shoulder straps to their terminus to allow my waist to actually support the weight, the chest strap ends up nearly choking me. But with the Chief Upland I can comfortably locate the chest strap safely away from my throat and across my chest where it belongs, adding tremendously to the comfort of the vest.
The shoulder straps are light and comfortable, barely noticeable, even when stuffed to the gills with pheasant, water and ammo. The back padding design is the most comfortable of any similar vest or pack I have worn, but I do find it a little stuffy regarding air flow. Not that I can poke too hard at this because it’s truly difficult to avoid, particularly when the cargo area is full.
Jake looked to durability as much as functionality. The 1000 Denier CORDURA material is tough as nails, and the Chief Upland website claims it’s briar-proof. Wanting to test this specifically, my setters and I plowed through some of the nastiest barbed wire, hawthorn, windfalls, rose and blackberry tangles the Washington Blue Mountains and Palouse, and Idaho’s Clearwater region have to offer. Not even a roughened thread. I would call it bulletproof, but I am leery about actually testing that one.
Waterproof material is also far superior to other traditional vests. Numerous hunts in heavy snow add pounds and discomfort to many fabrics and designs. But water simply beads on the Chief Upland vest while it maintains its weight. The game bag also has grommets to drain water.
The only thing this vest cannot do in the weather department is remind the hunter to wear CORDURA-front brush pants and similar boots to avoid the additional pounds that cotton and some leather options can soak up over the course of a day.
The Chief Upland vest is a must-have for the 2021 season.
I wager the vest is all that Jake Lindemann had dreamed of, and possibly more. It’s truly customizable to fit virtually any uplander, durable, comfortable and stylish. But the single selling point for me was busting brush in ruffed grouse country and realizing the vest simply glided through the cover rather than hanging me up and prompting an undignified string of profanity. It’s sleek design and material maintain a low profile and literally shed the nasty stuff that I will never voluntarily scramble through again.
I suppose I have sung the praises of the Chief Upland vest well enough in these 1,700+ words. My only suggestion is that you experience for yourself the superior performance of Chief Upland.
Join the revolution.
CZ Bobwhite G2 – A Side-by-Side Shotgun for Practical Upland Bird Hunters
At just $650, this sleek yet humble side-by-side boasts attractive design, light weight, superb handling, and is tough as nails.
Published by Project Upland February 21st, 2020. Read it here – CZ Bobwhite G2 – A Side-by-Side Shotgun for Practical Bird Hunters (projectupland.com).
Ranger and Worker Vests by Hurtta
With the upland season far enough past that my office legs have caught up with me, my time for reflection on the recent upland bird season has brought to bear a review of two dog vests by Hurtta.
For those not familiar with Hurtta, this Finnish company opened its doors in 2002 and is quite popular among European countries for their canine accessories. Founded by clothing professionals with a need to outfit their own dogs with functional performance gear in snow country, they reached out to dog owners around the globe for inspiration, designing a variety of coats, vests, harnesses, collars, and more to provide comfort and protection.
More than twenty years hence, Hurrta’s success encouraged the opening of a North American branch, Hurtta America (@Hurtta.America), to serve the US and Canada. To promote sales and awareness, Hurtta America reached out to folks through Instagram, offering free products in exchange for testing and marketing opportunity. As luck would have it, my wife Ali (@SixTailsSetters) was chosen to be a product tester.
We selected the Ranger (below left) and Worker (below right)vests in orange, testing their performance against a season of bird hunting from the September grouse coverts, to the icy December pheasant haunts of the Washington Palouse. Here is how they shook out.
Right off the bat you will notice the style and beauty of these vests. They are just flat sharp on my Llewellin setters.
Both vests are made with a light-weight, stretchy, breathable, very quiet material with snug fit. Hurtta boasts their “Houndtex” weatherproofing layer that is treated with Clariant Sanitized® containing permethrin as the active substance protecting against insects such as mosquitos, horseflies, and ticks. (NOTE: permethrin is toxic to cats.) Both vests have high-visibility 3M® reflective material and zip down the back, and a button-like apparatus on the top left shoulder to attached an LED for night activities.
The Worker is a longer vest with a Cordura® belly fabric that extends from the neck back. There are lines along the back of the belly flap indicating a trim-to-fit (I did not trim for our setters). The Worker neck line extends a bit higher than the Ranger. The Worker also has removable straps along the neck meant to secure a GPS collar.
The Ranger is more adjustable in size, meaning it has Velcro-like front shoulder straps that can be adjusted, where the Worker is a solid piece vest.
Fit and Comfort
“Tight-fitting” is Hurtta’s description of these vests, and they are not kidding. Based on Hurtta’s sizing chart, we ordered medium vests. The Ranger would not fit our larger 35-pound Llewellin, Finn, but Fit our smallest 28-pound Llewellin, Yuba, perfectly. It stretched exactly to the back of her rib cage and fit snug around her chest.
The snug fit was great for reducing the amount of grass and twig debris and weed seeds from getting into the vest. Both vests appeared to be comfortable, the soft fabric being gentle on their armpits.
Heat and Cold
The thin material these vests are made of provides absolutely no warmth, nor did I expect it to. The upside is that these vests are exceptional for September – October when the temperature is still warm. At no time did the vest cause my girls get too warm hunting early-season grouse.
The downside is that these vests are not great for high-energy setters or pointing dogs with little body fat and thin coats once winter decides to dabble in your hunt. Yuba was wearing her Ranger when she went into hypoglycemic seizure on a wet, icy day afield. The cold temps contributed to the seizure. There were a number of other factors involved (see my earlier blog post An Ounce of Prevention) and an insulated vest alone would not have prevented the seizure, but certainly would have been a better choice over the Ranger.
Noise and Utility
One of my favorite features is how quiet the vest material is. With birds like pheasant that spook at the slightest disturbance, these vests are nearly silent through timber and grasslands. I firmly believe that this played a role in the number of successful points my girls had on pheasant over the 2018 season.
The reflective strips and orange color provide excellent visibility at all times. Seeing a small dog in the bunchgrass or riparian thickets can be more than tricky, particularly if you hunt without electronics. A small dog on point can be hard to spot, but much easier with a good, bright vest.
The zipper down the back of the vest is an excellent feature as well. Vests that clip on have straps that can loosen or get caught on brush, but the low profile and lack of bulky hardware made these vests great for thick cover. The stretch of the fabric is also forgiving where brush can grab bulky material.
One minor, yet thoughtful feature is a button on the back near the start of the zipper. To put the vest on your pup, snap the button together and it holds the fabric in place as you zip it up. This is superb for squirmy pups.
Durability is lacking in comparison to some of the more rugged vests that use rip-stop type fabrics (e.g. Sylmar Bodyguard). Weed seeds like yellow starthistle spikes did not penetrate any more than other vests we have used, but the stitching is far too weak for a hunting dog vest.
Fabric around the neck and armpits is surged with a fine thread comparable to what may be used on a tee-shirt. The Ranger neck stitching was in tatters after about two hours in grouse cover. With that said, the fabric itself never frayed, stitching be damned. I hunted Yuba in that vest for two months afterward with no issues.
Another plus is that the fabric held up to barbed wire much better than I expected. My setters believe there is always a bird on the other side of a fence, so we had many encounters this past season, but only twice did Finn hit a fence hard enough to tear the fabric on the Worker; the Ranger suffered not one tear.
Speaking of barbed wire, the LED attachment button could stand for heavier stitching as well, but again, it withstood a lot more abuse than I anticipated.
Weed seeds stuck readily to the fabric, but for the most part were easily brushed off. A small, black weed seed known as the stickseed did a number on the soft armpit and neck fabric edges and stitching. There are permanent stickseeds in this area of both vests. Otherwise, the fabric stood up to the roughness of the seeds quite well.
On the Ranger, grass debris and weed seeds get into the Velcro-like patches on the shoulders over time, causing the corners to peel up. They never came completely unhooked in the field, but cleaning these patches out can be troublesome.
Overall, I was impressed with the vests. They were comfortable, cool in hot weather, relatively durable, visible, stylish, and low-profile in heavy cover. Weed seeds were a minor issue and the fabric held up to rough stuff like barbed wire as well as could be expected.
My one recommendation for Hurtta would be to use heavier thread to surge the fabric edges.
If I had to give these vests a numerical rating, I would go 4 out of 5 stars with the Worker being the better vest. My girls will be wearing their vests again next fall when the September grouse season opens, and I anticipate this will be the case for several years to come.
You can find Hurtta products at https://www.hurtta247.com/. The Ranger and Worker vests are priced at $45 and $55, respectively. If style and comfort are important to you, you will be hard pressed to find another vest comparable to the Hurtta line. If durability is number one, you can find tougher vests, such as they Sylmar Bodyguard (about the same price), which we also use in the field and recommend.