Worn Out Boots
September 28, 2019
The condition of a hunter’s boots is directly correlated to effort expended in the field. It takes time and mileage to wear out a good pair. When they get to the point that they are no longer functional or wearable, that probably means you’ve earned it. My first hunting boots were a pair of Danner Pronghorns with eight inches of ankle support and 400g of insulation. I bought them the year after I graduated college. By that time, I had a job and some disposable income, but I still toiled over the details of the purchase. After browsing through the various options, I finally tried on several pairs. When I got to the Danners and put them on, the inside of the boot felt like it had been designed around a mold of my foot. All other factors went out the window: it was the right fit and my decision was made.
Not only were they my first boots, they were also one of the first pieces of hunting gear I ever owned. I wore them on my very first big game hunt, when I carried a borrowed rifle because I did not have my own yet. Some friends and I drew mule deer tags and we hunted the sagebrush expanses of northern Colorado. We saw no deer, except for two does we spotted a half mile away, already bounding away from us.
The following year, I went on my first elk hunt. The boots came with me on that trip, too. This time I had my own rifle, a used Remington 700 .30-06. My uncle Tony drove up from Arizona to meet me in southern Colorado, where we each had an over-the-counter bull tag. We hunted five days and never saw an elk. On the afternoon of the last day, I walked along an old logging road back to the truck. The hunt was over. Tears welled up in my eyes as I choked down the thought of another skunked hunt. Out of frustration I began picking up large rocks and hurling them at the hillside. My rifle banged against my shoulder with every throw. I wanted so badly to have my first successful hunt. I thought I could get back at the mountain for having stolen those five days away from me. Of course, I was throwing rocks at noone, getting back at nothing. The frustration lingered for a while, but retrospectively I see how valuable the experience was. Having skunked on my first couple of hunts taught me that hunting is about much more than just shooting animals.
As time went on, I got more hunts under my belt. My first taste of success came when two friends and I each killed does on the same morning within 100 yards of each other. We dragged all three of them to one spot for cleaning. Our fourth friend, the only one with some experience, gave us a clinic on how to clean a deer. The next year, I harvested my first elk, a cow out on the western slope of Colorado. A few weeks after that, I got my first buck. Those Danners were on my feet for every day of those trips.
My interest in hunting went on a steep trajectory, and my obsession led me to buy a compound bow using a credit card since I didn’t have the cash. I bowhunted with my friend Joel for two consecutive seasons, skunking on those hunts but continuing to refine my skills. Each November, we returned to the Colorado sagebrush to fill our deer tags. One year I killed a doe that was heavily infected with chronic wasting disease and had to throw away all of the meat. The year after that I shot an even bigger buck than before. In the offseasons I expanded my quarry to rabbits, squirrels, pheasants, and turkeys, most of which I did alone because I had a hard time convincing anyone to spend a Saturday or Sunday shooting pine squirrels. But my boots kept me good company on these adventures.
My Danners spent countless hours with me in the field, through sunshine, snow, and rain. They were on my feet for every mistake I made and during every victory I celebrated. They were with me each time I crested a hill and found myself breathless from a seemingly endless view. They’ve had blood on them. They’ve walked by accident between a mother bear and her cubs. They’ve stomped on the dirt to scare away mountain lions. And through everything, they never, ever complained.
As I grew from a complete beginner to a somewhat experienced hunter, my boots steadily showed more scars. The leather turned from dark brown to light tan, the eyelets made of webbing gradually broke until only a few remained, and water began to penetrate the toe box whenever I walked through wet grass. I’m grateful to my boots for having kept me company through my adventures. As I retire them and move on to my next pair, and then the next, and then the next, they will always be the benchmark for what defines a good pair of boots. It’s hard to say goodbye. To be honest, though, I’ll probably keep them in the back of the garage, just in case I ever need them in a pinch.