When you get right down to it, bowhunting success TRULY starts from the ground up.
It seemed inevitable that I would break a leg or tear a ligament before reaching the bottom of the hillside. I'd just blown a stalk on a Coues buck and was negotiating my way back to the valley floor. The grass was waist-deep, concealing the countless softball-sized rocks that littered the ground. It was treacherous, but I made it down safely -- because of my boots.
I'd taken two pairs of boots on that trip -- one softer pair for stalking and one with a tough sole and good ankle support for hiking. If I'd been wearing the stalking boots that morning, I could have suffered some major pain -- or injury -- from falling.
Every type of bowhunting demands a different style of footwear, and to be both comfortable and effective you need to diversify your boot options. Let's take a look at three bowhunting scenarios and boots to fit those situations. I'll leave the cold-weather options for another time.
These could involve spot-and-stalk adventures for muleys, Coues deer, blacktails, pronghorns, and even elk in some milder terrain. The key word is stealth. You must minimize your footprint, not always an easy task if you have size 13 feet like me.
First, look for boots with soles that don't extend beyond the profile of your feet. On many heavy-soled boots, the soles extend as much as 3„8" out from the edge of the uppers. If you multiply the width of that lip by the circumference of one boot, then multiply by two, you'll find it can add up to 15 square inches of additional, and unnecessary, surface area!
Also, that lip is especially adept at picking up rocks or catching on branches.
Second, consider flexibility of the sole. A stiff, heavy sole does not allow you to detect the presence of twigs, pinecones, and pebbles. With a light-soled boot or stalking shoe you can feel the ground and back off of a poorly placed step. A three-hour stalk can depend on a single foot placement, so you want to tread lightly.
Some bowhunters remove their heavy boots and stalk in their stocking feet. I will do that if necessary, but I hate leaving my boots behind because they can be tough to find again! I prefer to wear low-profile, lightweight stalking boots/shoes from the start.
One of my favorites is the Broadhead from Rocky Boots. At only 1.5 lbs. per pair, these boots are extremely light, and a Gore-Tex lining keeps the morning dew out of your socks. Broadhead boots fit like your skin with a minimum footprint, and the EVA soles protect your feet but are still soft enough to let you feel the ground. Rocky's SIQ Atomic technology helps cut down on microbial odor production, and Bone Cage technology protects the sides of your feet, all for around $150.
Another option with a bit more support and grip is the Wolverine 12-Point Scent-Lok Waterproof boot. This combination of leather and 1,000 Denier Nylon is lined with Scent-Lok odor-eliminating fabric as well as 200-gram Thinsulate Insulation for cool weather. The sole, even with a more aggressive grip, is designed to shed caked mud.
These lightweight boots, available with 6" or 8" uppers, will set you back about $128.To get even a little more support in your stalking boots, consider the RedHead 8" Side-Zip Insulated Waterproof boots. While streamlined and form-fitting for a small footprint, the soles are stronger than those found on the above boots for greater protection from sharp rocks and other hazards. The convenient thing about these boots is the zipper. If you find yourself in a stalking situation and want to convert to stocking feet for the final approach, simply zip these boots off and you're gone. At 3 lbs. 13 oz. per pair, they're a bit heavier than some stalking shoes. They'll cost you around $130.
Rough Terrain Hunts
Some hunts demand strong, tough boots that support your ankles, shield your feet from injury, and lock onto your feet to prevent blister-causing movement. These attributes are not meant just for extreme hunts for animals like bighorn sheep. Tundra hunts for caribou require boots that can handle the sharp contrast between spongy, ankle-busting tundra and rugged rocks. Steep elk country can turn the bottoms of your feet to mush and blacken your toenails if your boots don't grip both the ground and your feet as you're going down steep slopes. In such scenarios, boots can be your most important gear.
I fell in love with a pair of Kenetrek Mountain Extreme 400 boots on a recent moose hunt in Alaska. For 20 straight days I put the waterproof Windtex membrane to the test, and my feet stayed dry and comfortable. I don't know if the sole is made of something other boots don't have, but I especially noticed these boots did not slip on wet grass, even on steep grades. At $355 per pair, these are serious boots, but you couldn't buy them from me. Kenetrek has a new boot called the Hardscrabble Light, a hiker-style version with all the same features as the Mountain Extremes. They weigh only 3.4 lbs. per pair and cost about $295.
Danner Pronghorns have been a favorite of bowhunters -- and this bowhunter -- for years, and Danner's new GTX model will continue that trend. The all-new Mountain Goat outsole is a bit more aggressive yet lighter than previous versions, and the fit has been improved in the heel section. The boots are more flexible, too. Danner's TERRA FORCE platform combines with a Gore-Tex lining to give you boots that are protective, comfortable, and waterproof -- and that weigh only 3 lbs. Different styles and levels of Thinsulate Ultra Insulation are available. Prices range from $180-$200.
Cabela's offers a tremendous selection of boots, and one that fits the category here is the Outfitter Pro, a model tough enough to handle anything you can throw at it. Indestructible Vibram soles keep rocks at bay and provide the footprint you need to claw your way up mountains. Shock Absorbing Workboot (SAW) midsoles have been added to the Outfitter Pro boots for improved cushioning of your feet. A Gore-Tex/Scent-Lok lining completes these all-leather boots, which now come in a 7" uninsulated version. Prices range from $150-$190, depending on the level of insulation.
Most of us prefer to wear some style of knee-high boots to cut down on the scent we leave as we transition to and from treestands and blinds. Whether rubber boots totally eliminate scent trails is up for debate, but one thing is certain -- they don't hurt your cause. These boots also keep you dry as you're hiking through mud, creeks, flooded fields, and sloughs.
Longtime boot maker Irish Setter has jumped into the knee-high rubber boot market with its patent pending ExoFlex technology, a panel on the back of the new Rutmaster and SwampGhost rubber boots that expands to allow your heel and foot to slip into each boot with little effort. After your foot is in place, the ExoFlex panel returns to its original shape to give you a snug, ankle-hugging fit. No more fear of tearing your Achilles tendon when removing them either. The Rutmaster has an adjustment strap on the calf, and the SwampGhost's rubber/neoprene construction allows you to roll down the tops for drying.
Both are available in various camo patterns and insulation levels. Retail runs $129-$159.
Boots from The Original Muck Boot Company have long been popular with whitetail hunters. Those who live in areas with lots of thorns will appreciate the new Woody EX Pro boots. The upper portion of these boots is covered in Spandura, a coating that makes the boots durable and resistant to punctures, tears, and snags yet still allows four-way stretch. Lightweight rubber laminated to 5mm neoprene, a knurled shinguard, and Bob-Tracker sole finish off the exterior. The inside features a breathable Airmesh lining and a CR foam bootie for foot comfort. The Woody EX Pro costs about $215.
Scent Suppression Technology is the focus of the Alpha SST knee-high boots from LaCrosse Footwear, a longtime leader in this category. The Alpha SST is constructed of a scent-free rubber exterior laminated to neoprene for comfort. The inside is lined with a scent-suppressing removable gator with a drawstring top to keep your feet as scent-free as possible. There are two new models for 2010 -- a 12" uninsulated Alpha SST and an 18" version with 2,000-gram Thinsulate Ultra Insulation. These boots run either side of $150, depending on the model.
To be sure, all nine of these boot manufacturers, and many others, have countless boot styles that cross over into the various categories. However, if you choose your boots based on the hunting you plan to do, and achieve the all-important correct fit, you'll be a more comfortable and, ultimately, more successful bowhunter.
Cabela's, 1-800-237-4444, www.cabelas.comDanner Boots, 1-877-432-6637, www.danner.comIrish Setter, 1-888-738-8370, www.irishsetterboots.comKenetrek Boots, 1-800-232-6064, www.kenetrek.comLaCrosse Footwear, 1-800-323-2668, www.lacrossefootwear.comRedHead (Bass Pro Shops), 1-800-227-7776, www.basspro.comRocky Boots, 1-877-795-2410, www.rockyboots.comThe Original Muck Boot Company, 1-877-438-6825, www.muckbootcompany.comWolverine Boots, 1-866-699-7369, www.wolverine.com.