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If you’ve ever hunted wild turkeys in the Deep South, even during the earliest spring seasons, you know that fighting off bugs can be half the battle of bagging a bird. I experienced this first hand last month when I was invited by Sitka Gear to hunt Osceolas along northwest Florida’s Nature Coast. The region is prime habitat for both eastern and Osceola gobblers—and just about every kind of biting insect imaginable.

I found plenty of birds on a 10,000-acre piece of property owned and managed by Florida Outdoor Experience (FOE), and I even managed to bag my first Osceola during an exciting late afternoon hunt—all thanks to the help of expert FOE guide Danny Sheldon. But I also encountered a swarming mass of native insects, including mosquitos, ticks, chiggers, and the dreaded no-see-um gnats. 

It was the perfect environment in which to test a new line of turkey hunting gear from Sitka, which the company is touting as “insect proof.” They told me—and several other outdoor writers—that their Equinox Guard turkey hunting apparel would actually repel disease-toting ticks, biting flies, microscopic midges, and just about any other annoying insect we could dream up. Then they sent us out into the Florida turkey woods to put their claims to the test.  

Sitka’s Bug-Proof Equinox Guard Turkey Gear: Tested and Explained
Sitka’s optifade subalpine pattern blends perfectly with the palmetto and live oak-filled forests of northwest Florida. Oliver Rogers.

A Brief Rundown on the Equinox Guard Gear Line

The Equinox Guard line includes a pant, a hoody, gloves, and a super-functional turkey hunting vest complete with an adjustable drop-down seat. All three of the main garments are made from breathable, moisture-wicking material that’s specifically designed for hot and humid weather.

The hoody features a built-in face mask, and the pants come with internal leg gaiters that prevent biting bugs from coming into contact with your skin. The whole line comes in three of Sitka’s proprietary camo patterns as well as solid black and solid brown. The hoody retails for $149, the pants cost $249, the gloves come in at $50, and the vest will set you back $249.

I used the whole ensemble during my time in Florida and have continued using it to chase Merriam’s gobblers in my home state of Montana. It’s far and away the most comfortable and functional turkey hunting setup I’ve ever hunted with.

After hunting with the Equinox Guard hoody, pants, and gloves in the buggiest of buggy conditions, I’m a firm believer in Sitka’s assertion that their new turkey hunting gear actually acts as a bug-proof shield. While mosquitos and no-see-ums swarmed around me, and untold ticks lurked in the lush Florida understory that I was sitting in during multiple Osceola hunts, I somehow came away bite-free—at least during the times when I was hunting head-to-toe in Equinox Guard. 

Sitka’s Bug-Proof Equinox Guard Turkey Gear: Tested and Explained
The author’s 2023 Osceola turkey carried by fellow outdoor writer Jay Anglin. Travis Hall.

The Science Behind the Equinox Guard Turkey Gear

What I didn’t comprehend was how the incredibly lightweight and breathable material I wore during those hunts was able to keep the ever-present and insatiable bugs away. For a better understanding, I sat down with the guys who teamed up to create the Equinox Guard line: A renowned whitetail deer biologist with a background in entomology named Dr. Karl Miller and a product designer at Sitka named Chris Derrick. Here’s what they had to say.

Tick-borne illnesses are on the rise in the United States. What’s driving it?

Miller: There are multiple factors behind the increase in reports of tick-borne illnesses in the U.S.  Awareness of these diseases has increased among medical professionals and the public, so reporting rates may be higher. But other factors are also at work. Over the last two decades, scientists have identified at least seven additional organisms responsible for tick-borne illnesses. While these illnesses may have always been present, their discovery now brings the total number of known tick-borne pathogens up to 18.

Are there more ticks now than ever before?

Miller: Their distribution and abundance have expanded in recent decades, and the prevalence of several of the diseases has increased right along with it. For example, the range of the alpha gal-causing Lone Star tick has expanded northward and westward into the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and New England states where it was essentially unknown several decades ago.

Sitka’s Bug-Proof Equinox Guard Turkey Gear: Tested and Explained
Karl Miller founded the University of Georgia Athens Deer Lab. He now helps Sitka develop high-end hunting apparel with science in mind. Karl Miller.

How does Equinox Guard keep bugs off of hunters?

Derrick: The system keeps ticks, chiggers, and mosquitos off through mechanical means and a permethrin layer that’s built into the life of the garment. The mechanical features prevent mosquitos from contacting your skin—which gives the permethrin time to knock down the mosquitos and ticks. The permethrin is applied through an extremely high-temperature process once the pant, hoody, and glove are fully sewn from rolled textile material. 

What is permethrin? 

Derrick: It’s a medication often used to treat lice and an insecticide used on clothing—and for agricultural purposes. When insects come in contact with it, they fall off of your clothing and often die.

What are some advantages to using Equinox Guard as compared to other methods of insect repellent? 

Miller: The biggest advantage is that it combines tick protection with protection from mosquito bites. You don’t have to worry about forgetting your repellent at home, or the smell of insect repellents. The Equinox Guard system allows you to be comfortable even in “buggy” environments, which will increase the enjoyment, and potentially the success, of your hunt.

How long does the Insect Shield last? 

Derrick: It lasts through 70 washes and has no odor. You don’t have to mess with re-treating your garments every time you wash them. If you tuck the internal gaiters into your socks, and your shirt into your pants, you’re taking great steps to effectively protect yourself.

When did you start developing Equinox Guard? What inspired you?

Derrick: I started exploring textile-based mechanical solutions to tick-borne diseases back in 2018, and we released the Equinox Guard system in spring 2022. I’ve had so many friends come down with tick-caused illness, and my own daughter contracted Lyme about 10 years ago.  

Sitka’s Bug-Proof Equinox Guard Turkey Gear: Tested and Explained
Sitka’s Chris Derrick with his 2023 Osceola turkey. Ethan Burns.

These days, I find it hard to walk into any hunting camp and not hear from someone about a tick-borne illness that’s affected them or someone they’re close to. The financial cost of getting sick is high, through medical bills and lost work time. But the cost to people’s quality of life is even higher. 

After launching this product, I hear almost every week how someone was in so much pain, was so sluggish they barely wanted to get out of bed, or how they still struggle with complications from a tick-borne illness. Now I’m hearing more and more about hunters who develop the alpha-gal allergy and can no longer eat the meat of the game they harvest. These are really my main driving forces.   

Related: Best Turkey Chokes of 2023

Do you think there’s a need for increased awareness among American hunters about the rise in Lyme and other tick-related diseases? 

Miller:  Awareness in terms of tick protection and awareness of the symptoms of these illnesses is absolutely critical for the modern hunter. The CDC acknowledges that the number of reports greatly underestimates the prevalence of the disease. 

Sitka’s Bug-Proof Equinox Guard Turkey Gear: Tested and Explained
Tick-borne disease are on the rise in the United States. Oliver Rogers.

They say that as many as 476,000 people may get Lyme disease every year. And while Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease—accounting for about 70 percent of cases—the addition of other illnesses, like alpha-gal syndrome, increases this number.

Many of these illnesses are treatable, particularly if diagnosed early, hence the importance of increased awareness. But if left untreated, several tick-borne diseases can produce severe illnesses with long-term complications. It’s best to be aware and use preventative measures to reduce your risks ahead of time.

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