By Nick Simonson
Welcome to the final stretch of hunting season. By this time, boot leather should be well worn, blaze orange faded to a dull peach, and that reliable camouflage coat covered in mud, spilled coffee and other stains that evidence a successful go of things thus far. So it is at this time of year for me, with each step in the field or sit on stand, I find myself going over the items that need to be fixed or replaced in the upcoming off season, and like Kramer from that Seinfeld episode where he test drives the car, finding out just how far I can push my gear with the figurative arrow pointing to empty, the gas light fully illuminated and car alarm dinging continuously.
It’s been another 100-mile autumn for pheasants and other upland game and my boots show the wear of not only the early-season brushing from the bases of brome and bluestem grasses, but also the stain of bog water and big stands of cattail sloughs where my lab and I have pursued sharptailed grouse, ruffies and rooster pheasants. Cracks and small holes along the seams near the white and tattered laces are becoming an issue that no amount of Shoe Goo will be able to fill, and odds are the pair will be retired shortly, in favor of something bigger for the chill of December’s hunts to come and a new pair of Pronghorns for next autumn’s fresh start.
Those seasonal substitutions, my swamp walkers – big, tall rubber boots designed for the late stretch with its snow, slush and the boggy cold environs where winter roosters lurk – are not without concerning wear and have the slightest leak halfway down the right shin and calf. While they’ll make it through the rest of the hunting season with careful avoidance of any water over a foot deep, the double-duty they pull for ice fishing will most certainly be called into question when the first splash of auger-drawn water shoots up from the hole and onto the ice around them. While it’s nothing an overnight session on the boot dryer can’t remedy, these too may be facing their last winter for the sake of warm, dry toes.
Finally, and perhaps most painful to bear, is the status of my silent fleece camouflage bow hunting coat, which is part of a two-piece set I’ve owned since I first got semi-serious about the sport seven autumns ago. Since the early season, I’ve attempted to seal the bottom of the zipper with safety pins and paper clips and tried to transfer zipper bases from other articles of clothing to no avail. Having lost not only the original base from the green-gray-and-brown super-silent scent wicking top but also the first of two zipper pieces, I’ve taken great care to hold on to the last one (retrieving it from the dryer three times this fall) to keep the ability to zip the coat, and re-zip it when the plastic teeth inevitably begin to separate along my waistline. With the wisdom of all the internet forums, I’ve been told that the scent-trapping ability of the coat has long since expired (20 washes claim most sites and I’m on about 723) and I should just invest in a new one, but that would mean buying a new pair of matching pants as well, and I’m not ready to say good-bye to this comfortable duo just yet.
In all reality, these items have served me well in my hunting endeavors and I know what they say about all good things. The upland boots have over 300 miles on them since they were purchased in 2015; the swamp walkers have taken on the coldest, wettest conditions leaving my feet warm and toasty since I received them from my late father the day before Christmas in 2013 to foster an early ice trip which I was underprepared for and the jacket has kept me warm and borne witness to countless deer that I’ve passed on, spooked and missed from the bow stand since 2011. While I limp these three vital items home here at the end of the year and adjust my tactics for their current states, I also remember what they say about change and that it too can be a good thing…in our outdoors.