When pumpkins appear on front stoops and the trees turn into a blaze of color, the season is near for a tradition hearkening back to the dawn of man: the hunt. Whether fowl or deer, rabbit or squirrel, this is the time when men and women return to the fields and the forest to remember what it is to be self-sufficient. For those who favor locally produced foods and free-range meat, hunting is a favored way to stock the larder.
The whole experience, however, can be ruined by making a poor choice on footwear. Who wants to stalk game on sore feet? Here are some tips on making a wise choice in a hunting boot.
Fabric boots, most often made of a type of nylon called Cordura, are light, usually less expensive, and adequate for trail walking and fair weather. They don't usually require breaking in and can be printed in camouflage. A good example of a fabric boot is a pair of the pictured Remington Men's 8" Cordura Hunting Boots ($99.97 with free shipping, a low by $15) from Sksstocks.com.
Rubber boots are useful when hunting in swampy or rainy conditions, as long as you aren't hiking so far as to break a sweat in them. Think duck blinds. Many boots are available in a combination rubber foot with leather ankles, such as the Rocky MudSox Men's 16" Waterproof Insulated Hunting Boots ($99.99 with $11.95 s&h, a low by $6).
The gold standard for hunting boots, though, is leather. Leather will stand up to slogging through mud, scrambling over rock fields, and keep your feet comfortable while sitting patiently in a tree stand. Cowhide is the most common and reasonably priced leather, but others such as boar and kangaroo can withstand even more abuse.
A good example of a basic leather hunting boot is the Danner Men's Pronghorn 6" Uninsulated Hunting Boots ($149.99 with free shipping, a low by $10). Many boots are made with a combination of leather at the most common wear points and fabric elsewhere, which can bring the price down. If cost is an issue, you might consider a boot such as the Irish Setter Men's 9" Trail Phantom Insulated Hunting Boots ($69.97 with about $11 s&h, a low by $18).
Insulation: Hunting in the fall and winter can be a cold pastime, so many hunting boots have built-in insulation. A thin membrane such as Thinsulate is relatively inexpensive and takes up very little space in the boot. It comes in varying weights; the higher the weight in grams, the thicker the insulation.
For example, the Irish Men's Setter Elk Tracker Boots come with a variety of insulation thicknesses — these feature 1,000 grams — to keep your toes nice and warm ($149.99 with free shipping, a low by $30.) Boots are also available with felt liners or foam insulation, but both are more bulky and less efficient.
Boot height: Boots come in a variety of heights, some cut almost as low as a running shoe, others extending a good way up the calf. Most hunters will select a boot that at minimum provides their ankles good support. Hunters who prey in areas known to have snakes might choose a much higher boot such as the pictured RedHead Men's Ultra Snake 16" Boots ($99.99 with $11.50 s&h).
Waterproofing: Hunters tread where the game leads them, and that can often be into swampy terrain. Rain also has a way of finding hunters on the prowl. If you aren't hunting waterfowl, you might look for some leather or fabric hunting boots that have been constructed or treated to be waterproofed. Thankfully, these are now commonly available.
Leather boots are often treated with a silicone to seal them against moisture. And since foot sweat can soak your socks as quickly as a hard rain, an even better solution to keeping your soles dry is using a fabric such as Gore-Tex as a liner. These fabrics will keep out the cold water percolating through your boot, but allow the water vapor released by your feet to escape, keeping your foot good and dry. To give the technology a go, strap on the Irish Setter Men's Mountain Claw XT Gore-Tex Insulated Waterproof Hunting Boots ($83.96 via coupon code "ALPUMPKIN1" with $10.95 s&h, a low by $11).
Outsoles: Outsoles are the rubber bottoms of your boots, and they determine how the shoes will perform in a variety of conditions. If you intend to hike over varied terrain off the well-beaten path, look for lugs (protuberances in the rubber) that will grip rock and give you traction in the mud. Avoid the shallow treads you would find on a running shoe.
Lacing: Most boots will use eyelets, D-Rings, or some sort of hook for lacing; most use a combination of the three. When trying on boots, take them off, and put them on a second time, noting how long it takes you. Be wary of hooks that can come loose easily and pull free from the boot unless they are securely fastened. Zippers aren't a very good idea, since you can't adjust pressure on your foot and ankle the way you can with laces, and if they break, you're destined for an unpleasant hike home.
Hunters enjoy the thrill of matching their wiles against that of wild game, and good shoes are an essential part of any hunter's pack. They allow you to track your prey through the forests and over the plains and arrive home with feet in need of nothing more than propping up in front of a roaring fire.