In the pantheon of things an outdoorsman must one day mourn, an old pair of hunting boots is high on the list – somewhere between the wool long underwear he has never washed and the favourite fishing lure that he found lodged in an overhanging limb.
Needless to say, retiring a pair of hunting boots is never an easy thing, for an old pair of hunting boots is like an old friend, although most times they smell a whole lot better.
The problem, in my experience, is that it is difficult to know exactly when to say goodbye. As outdoorsmen, we are often in denial as to how bad the boots really are.
The stages of denial are subtle, too. First, we deny that they now have holes in them that allow water in. Instead, we blame the sloshing noise inside them on an unnatural increase in foot sweat.
Even when the boots fill up with water and act like a bilge pump with each step, we do not place the blame on the boot. Rather, we go to a podiatrist who, if he is insensitive to these things, breaks the news that those old beat up boots are to blame.
After that point, we buy all sorts of boot-sealing and patching products and we do our best to prevent water from getting in.
We also rough up with treads that have worn down to the point of dangerous. We replace laces and eyelets. We patch and try to sew the leather tongue.
When all that fails, we relegate those boots to dry weather use.
We do this because they are comfortable from years of breaking in, and because we remember how much we paid for them 15 years ago, and because they are a good brand, and mostly because “have you seen the price of good boots lately?”
But also because of nostalgia.
After all, these are the boots that we wore when we took our best buck, the ones we shot limits of grouse and duck with, discovered new country with, and met old friend while wearing. We wore these boots during all the best outdoors moments of our lives.
And when we took off these boots in front of the person we finally settled on, he or she did not wince at the smell emanating from them, which pretty well confirmed our compatibility.
In short, old hunting boots are special and, if we are a little superstitious, some of us might even consider them lucky. So it’s no wonder that we refuse to accept that they are on their way out.
But eventually, there comes a time when we must accept that everything must one day pass. Your first clue is probably when the lower half of the boot separates from the upper half a mile from the road.
That’s when you duct tape them up one last time and make the long walk back.
Then when you get home, you take them off and put them away in the basement, where they will remain, in hopes that one day modern science will come up with better boot restoration technology.
And as much as it pains you, you go online and do your research, and then you go to the store for another pair of hunting boots that will be your constant companions for the next ten seasons or so.
But before this happens, though, you do a whole lot of sole searching.