I don’t believe there is such a thing as the ideal hunting boot. Well, not for everyone as a blanket statement anyway. Your preference in a boot is governed by a number of factors. You can go on any hunting website and ask the question and you receive responses ranging from work boots to gumboots to maybe even joggers and pretty much everything in between.
It also comes down to what you can afford and not everyone can shell out up to $600 for a pair of boots, especially if they only hunt a couple of times a year. In fact, the amount of money you spend on a boots is not always going to guarantee the result you want. So you have to establish some guidelines.
This brings me to a very important point. Bushwalking and hunting subject your boots to two entirely different stresses. Most bushwalking is on established tracks for a start, while hunting is seldom done on tracks unless they happen to be game trails. This means the hunting boot needs that flexibility to cope with uneven ground, unseen rocks in the grass, slippery hillsides and more. They also need to have soles that have plenty of grip and are quiet.
When you go bushwalking you don’t care about a bit of noise, but if you are stalking a deer that has senses finely tuned to the slightest sound, squeaky boots and hard soles are not your friend. I had some Scarpa boots once which had a squeak that no amount of dubbin could cure. This ruled them out as hunting boots.
So once again we come down to the fact that there is no such thing as the ideal boot. If you hunt sambar in the Victorian High Country, your priority is going to be ankle support and warmth. If you hunt pigs out in Western NSW, you can get away with most boots because it’s usually flat country and dry. If you hunt deer in most of the places where they are found, you will want boots with good grip, a “quiet” sole and solid ankle support.
Waterproofing is something of a mixed bag. Crossing shallow streams and early morning dew on the grass are going to be the greater part of your concerns. If it rains while you are out, then you can do little about it. Some boots, in particular many so-called ‘tactical’ types, have small valves at the arch of each boot that permits air to enter, but also helps the boots to dry out as you walk. In effect, the boots ‘breathe’. This is great in hot climates because your feet will sweat, but not ideal in cold conditions.
When you buy new boots, try to purchase them at the store so you can try them on. Take a pair of the socks you will be wearing. A smooth fit in a boot should be apparent the minute you put them on. Anything else is sure to result in blisters. Another point to look out for is that you need a little bit of room at the toe of the boot. When you stalk downhill you don’t want your toes jammed into the inside of the boot and a functional lacing system will usually help prevent that.
Just because the boot feels comfortable in the store doesn’t stop there. Not too many boots will be ready for a full day of hunting straight out of the box. Wear them around a bit doing everyday things just so they will have a chance to settle in to the shape of your feet. Unless you have shelled out for boots custom made to fit, you still have a one size fits all scenario for the most part. Occasionally there will be fractional fittings, but they are more the exception than the rule.
The other consideration is how heavy will you be loaded on your trip. Don’t forget that the more you carry, the more your feet will spread out inside the boot. This is another thing that mitigates against buying online. The other consideration is that your left foot and your right are seldom exactly the same size. This needs to be addressed but can be offset with the correct sort of socks or even an aftermarket orthotic.
This brings me to another question ‑ the construction of the boot. Increasingly leather is giving way to synthetic construction and that’s not a bad thing. Maintenance of leather is more intensive and often a synthetic boot will conform more easily to your feet. It is the heels that will often give the most problems and properly fitted synthetic boots will often excel here. Going uphill is an area where heel slip is going to be at its worst. A blister will form very quickly on your heel in this situation if the boots rub every time you take a step uphill.
But there will be real leather boots available for those who prefer them for some time to come and we are seeing a lot of boots that use a combination of leather and synthetic construction, gaining the best use out of both materials.
Once you obtain a pair of boots that you are happy with, look after them. Never put them away wet and dirty. Clean them well inside and out and place them somewhere in the sun to dry out. Leather boots need to be treated to some good leather dressing. Not so much to keep the leather supple but to maximise waterproofing. The stitching along the seams is usually where leaks occur. Dubbin is not the ideal thing here, as it can make the leather too soft.
Most dedicated hunting boots have speed lacing or hooks instead of eyelets nearer to the top of the boot. It is really handy when you are lacing up your boots in the pre-dawn darkness not having to find a torch to see where the laces are going. Check the condition of your laces before every trip, because if you can’t lace up properly you won’t have an enjoyable hunt.
You can find some really fine socks these days and bamboo is becoming a popular basis for socks. Bamboo socks tend to take longer to dry than woollen ones, but you can speed this up a little by turning them inside out. Like your boots, your socks must fit well and you should always carry a spare pair. In some cases, under socks can be a great option too, just a pair of thin socks under your heavier ones if you’re worried about blisters.
Final word: Buying online is becoming increasingly popular and if you live in an area where an extensive boot selection can’t be found, it may be the only way. Just make sure the seller offers a sizing chart and that there is a returns policy if the boots are not what you expected. A good one is HuntShop trading out of Albury in southern NSW.
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