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It's a life-changing experience when you finally learn how to size a pair of boots.

This is probably a "duh" moment for most of you, but it was a revelation for me. See, as a child, my parents shod me with a casual, inexact method. The only standard was that there was supposed to be some vague distance between the end of my big toe and the interior wall so I could, you know, grow into them. By the time my foot filled the tiny void, I would have worn out the shoes and be ready for a new pair.

And that happened with maddening frequency because my shoes were always too narrow. So what if they pinch. They'll stretch, right about the time the sole separates and my little toe carves out a gash in the upper.

Under this pedorthic doctrine, I trudged through nearly 50 years of agony, including a year-long backpacking trek from Arkansas to Maine in which I walked a couple of thousand miles, sometimes up to 30 miles a day with a 60-plus pound backpack on my shoulders. I grew so disgusted with one pair of boots that I set fire to them in the middle of a rural New York State county road.

Sweet relief came several years ago when I tried on some cowboy boots at a local shoe store. What a blessing that a licensed pedorthist works at this store, and he was mystified as to why I couldn't find a pair of boots that fit.

"Nothing is more comfortable than a good-fitting pair of cowboy boots," he said. "What size do you wear?"

After explaining the science of shoe-fit, my new friend took some measurements and determined that one of my feet is a full size longer than what I was accustomed to wearing. The other foot is a size and a half longer.

Size D is my width. Width? Shoes come in different widths?

I tried on a pair of quality, name-brand cowboy boots, and my friend was right. I swear my feet let out sighs of delight.

That certainly explained a lot. I had gone through umpteen pair of hunting boots over the years, from LaCrosse to Muck to Rocky to Irish Setter to you name it. Hiking boots are supposed to be the acme of comfort, but not for me.

Don't get me started on the undersize boots on my waders. They were the worst of all. I staggered around the woods like an over-indulgent imbiber.

Oh, how I rued my misspent youth hiking around the Ozarks and Ouachitas in soft-sided conibears.

Of course, my newfound knowledge required a substantial investment in updated footwear, but it was necessary.

That veers us to the point of this column, namely recommendations for hunting boots.

First, get a pair that fits. There's no guesswork to this. Boots feel good or they don't, and that's all that matters.

When you settle that part, decide what you need in a boot. If you're going to slog around in mud and moist areas, select a waterproof, calf-length or knee-length boot consisting of rubber, neoprene and Gore-Tex.

Muck is an excellent choice, as is BOG.

If you sit long periods in cold weather, you'll want boots with thick insulation. The Muck Arctic Ranger is outstanding in this category. Bill Heavey, a columnist for Field & Stream, introduced me to them during three days of deer hunting in brutally cold weather in 2014. His Arctic Rangers kept his feet toasty while mine were nearly frost-bitten in base model Mucks. They're like four-wheel drive on a truck. You don't need it often, but when you do, it's worth that extra 4 grand.

For turkey hunting in the spring and small game hunting or bird hunting in warm weather, I use snake boots. I have been bitten by a rattlesnake, and I am dedicated to it not happening again. I have Redhead, but it's a generic design that I've seen in multiple brands.

My all-purpose boot is the Vasque Talus Ultradry. With a leather upper, Vibram sole and Gore-Tex lining, it is waterproof and has excellent arch and ankle support. It's light but tough.

My only complaint is that little blackberry runners and greenbriar shoots frequently untie them, but that's true with any laced boot.

They fit like skin, and they make walking a joy.

Sports on 11/30/2017

Print Headline: Right fit essential in buying boots

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