White Oak Mountain Ranger: Boots

“A lie can go around the world before the truth has taken hold” – James Callaghan

“I admire our ancestors, whoever they are. I think the first embarrassed person must have been shaking in their boots. Because as he becomes embarrassed, he is no longer part of nature. He sees himself against nature. He looks at the vastness of the universe and he seems hostile. -John Shelby Spong

Looking into the near future, you can quite easily predict cold and wet weather. This was normal in these areas at this time of year. Not so much here lately, but you can bet your best cold and wet pair of boots are on their way. It may be the lunar eclipse effect, but you can feel it in the air today.

When it’s cold and wet, two essentials are imperative; a good hat and a good pair of boots. It’s possible to “resist” without a decent hat, but wet, cold feet tended to have nearly killed me on more than a few freezing hunts. Cold wet days when waterproofing the toes failed miserably.

I don’t know exactly where my first pair of “hunting” boots came from. Probably Penny’s or Sears’ basement, because none of my deceased relatives ever left me a decent boot big enough to comfortably fit my big feet in.

The first pair of boots weren’t really ‘hunting’ boots but rather ‘work’ boots of plain, sturdy leather, with what turned out to be rather slippery ‘no grip’ soles, on rough terrain. wet and woody.

A good pair of “hunting” boots was an exotic thing that required the use of mail order catalogs and large sums of money that simply did not exist at the time. And, there was parental logic in repurposing “work” boots for hunting; “Your feet are growing so fast that by the time you break in that expensive new pair of boots, you’ll need a bigger size!” Let’s try to save some money here, son.

Parental logic didn’t seem to include worrying about frostbite, trench foot and broken bones at that time. “If your feet are cold, don’t do anything stupid, go home, kid!” »

We tried a lot to waterproof the leather boots. It was another pre-hunting ritual in my household growing up. Breaking down the guns, cleaning and oiling the guns, laying out all the necessary equipment for the next days of hunting and waterproofing the boots.

First, there was a fatty substance called “mink oil”. After that was declared a disaster, there was something called “neetsfoot oil,” which was another disaster to the short-lived concept of a long-term, waterproofing leather boot.

We should have known minks didn’t really have oil that worked on cheap boots. Anything that included the word “neet” was just some kind of Madison Avenue catchphrase and it quickly became apparent that anyone who named something “neet” had never spent daylight hunting in the cold, wet hills, or the edges of swamps in eastern Tennessee in November. .

But the “old man” never stopped trying to waterproof our cheap leather boots. The beeswax cracked the leather. Silicone filled in the cracks. Nothing worked, not even two pairs of socks. His solution to the boots’ poor waterproofness was to go home when his feet were wet and cold. This defeatist attitude drove me crazy, but it probably prevented more than a few cases of frostbitten toes.

I quickly settled on two “Colonial” plastic bread bags over the socks to remedy inadequate waterproofing of the leather. It looked very goofy, but for a few hours after every wet hunt, plastic bread bags were the best waterproofing ever.

The leather was soaked as usual, but the socks remained dry until the feet began to sweat profusely. Sweaty feet could be endured as long as you kept moving, but once you decided to sit in one spot for a while, feet froze faster than you could change your wet socks for a handy pair of dry socks.

Of course, a pair of dry socks depended on your ability to remember to carry a pair of dry socks in your game bag. important in your game bag. High priority products, such as extra ammo, knives, canteen, matches, rope…… The list was endless and finally abundantly heavy. Sometimes dry socks just didn’t make wet trips. Frozen toes often didn’t have a high priority in the pre-planning process in those days.

After a particularly wet and cold winter and a few near-death experiences, with dead, frozen toes, I vowed to go down to the basement at Sears and buy the best pair of wellies that Ted Williams himself- even could autograph.

The old man “pooped” the very idea of ​​rubber boots for anything other than trout fishing. His theory was that rubber boots didn’t allow your feet to breathe. He was convinced that on cold, dry days, your sweaty feet would turn to ice in minutes. His logic seemed to me to be half-flawed: on rainy days, your feet couldn’t breathe because your oiled mink boots sounded wet, but, on cold, dry days, your feet couldn’t breathe through two inches of mink oil. They couldn’t breathe through the layer of fat enough to stay warm enough that you didn’t have to start a fire to thaw your frozen toes before they turned black from frostbite.

This theory of foot breathing and sweating was one of the many issues the old man and I had begun to disagree on.

I consulted with my colleagues at the North Chattanooga Squirrel Killing and Expeditionary Society. We unanimously agreed that most “old men” were basically filled with a lot of crap they brought back from WWII. It was a new technological era. Wellies were now the manly thing in hunting shoes.

I mowed gardens, raked leaves and sold sacks of squirrels to a nearby old mountain grandmother who had a thing for brains and squirrel eggs. After a grueling summer and fall of hard work, I amassed the small amount needed to make the trip to Sears’ basement for a pair of high-top, lace-up, green rubber, fully and completely waterproof, autographed by Ted Williams, “hunting” boots.

No more embarrassing “colonial” bread bags for the young Ranger!

The old man was right about sweaty feet, but I never said so. There was, however, a downside to the high-priced rubber waterproof boots autographed by Ted Williams. After about two seasons they badly cracked, leaked, and the laces rotted or tore through the rubber eyes. This resulted in another season of bread bags and frozen toes. Super glue, shoe paste and five-minute epoxy weren’t invented back then.

I wish I had kept track of the “hunting” boots I managed to destroy in the search for a good pair of warm, comfortable, waterproof boots. I would probably be very surprised at the huge amount of money spent trying to prevent frostbite.

For a moment I thought old Mr. Leon Leonwood Bean had found the answer. It was an expensive solution but, in the end, it was also a rather dry but cold answer. It took quite a large amount of disposable income and two or three pairs of “beans” to come to this rather sad conclusion. I also gave up on his invention, as the feet got older and became less tolerant of the cold sitting in the trees on freezing mornings.

‘Toasty Toes’ or charcoal hand warmers stuffed into boots? Technology is sometimes a wonderful thing. A good “colonial” bread bag always comes in handy when you don’t want your puffy toes stained black from a broken charcoal bag. Electric and rechargeable insoles? Who would have thought of such a thing? Probably some guy who used bread bags as waterproofing back then.

Foot technology is a million dollar industry today. Have we been blindly sucked into a culture of “soft-footed” outdoorsmen by an industry designed to lure hunters, hikers and walkers, into the deep thicket of lost wages?

It’s high time to prepare your shoes for the arrival of humidity and cold. It’s not too late. It doesn’t matter if you need to get a toe or two cut off because you’re staying in school, leather boots are always the manly thing in footwear. Ten functional toes aren’t really all it takes to walk when it’s cold and wet.

Imagine the days before expensive “hunting” boots were mass-produced. Think of how many hunters have gone before us in the days before the invention of plastic bread bags or the harvesting of oil from a mink.

How many hunters and trappers of yore complained of wet feet and a few missing toes?

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