This is quite a broad subject and a subject that depends a lot on personal preference, but what I hope to get out of this article is an idea of what I go for in a shoe that I’ll use for stalking. I’m quite picky with what I use for hunting. It’s interesting that shoes are often something that bowhunters overlook and yet it is something that’s so important. This article does not cover specialist shoes or boots for a specific bowhunting purpose (e.g. what shoes you should wear for a backpacking hunt in the Mackenzie Mountains), it’s more around what I’ve found to be silent and what I look for in a shoe that I’ll use for stalking.
Whether a shoe is a good stalking shoe or not is largely dependent on whether you can walk quietly in them or not. With a degree of concentration, you can walk quietly with MOST shoes, however it might pull your concentration off focusing on the animal that you’re stalking. I choose my bowhunting shoes very carefully and try to find the most quiet shoe that’s durable so that I don’t have to concentrate as much on keeping my steps quiet when I stalk.
To a certain extent, what the top of the shoe is made out of doesn’t make a big difference as long as it’s comfortable and durable. Here are two of the main things that I look for in stalking shoes that I use for bowhunting:
- Flat sole with as little grip as possible
- Soft sole (Not too thick and not too rigid/stiff. This is dependent on what/where you’re hunting.)
The best stalking shoes that I own are this pair of Buckskin boots, which are based on an African shoe called a Veldskoen. They’re excellent for arid climates that have a lot of thorns. Because of the thick leather, thorns don’t penetrate like they would a lot of artificial materials. Their biggest downfall is that the leather perished very quickly when they’re wet and therefore I don’t use them for hunting anywhere that there is a lot of water on the ground or where there are many rivers that you need to cross.
As you can see, the sole is almost totally flat, apart from some ridges for grip. There aren’t big griping points on the bottom of these shoes that displaces soil as you take a step. There is something about the design and the shape of these soles that causes them to be very quiet. From my observations, when I’ve worn shoes that have a lot of grip on the bottom it seems to displace soil, stones and sticks more than when there is a flat sole. Also, I’ve found that a flat sole doesn’t break sticks as quickly as a non-flat sole – it pushes them against the ground and because there are no high points on the sole that put pressure onto one part of the stick, it seems to not break them as often.
As I mentioned above, this is largely dependent on what/where you’re hunting. Obviously, if you’re hunting very mountainous conditions and stepping on sharp rocks, you may need a rigid sole to protect your feet. I look for the sole to have some give. This is important so that you can roll your feet and put them down carefully. When I’ve hunted where there is a lot of dead leaves on the ground that cover fallen branches/sticks I find a soft sole useful as you can displace your weight, when you can feel a stick under your foot, to avoid breaking the stick as you stalk. Whereas with a rigid sole you may not know you’re standing on a stick until it breaks.
Some of the types of shoes I use
Here’s a pair of Converse boots that I’ve used a lot for colder climates and where I’ve wanted a bit more of a rigid shoe. By “mountaineering” standards, these are still a very soft soled shoe that doesn’t offer much ankle support, but I’ve used them for cold weather and mountain hunting (e.g. Elk) with pretty good success. They’re reasonably flat on the bottom to still be quiet when you stalk, but not totally flat so that you slide around all over the place. The sole is reasonably soft as well. They’re insulated and the tongue is connected to the rest of the shoe past your ankle, meaning that they’re waterproof for creek crossings, etc.. which is important in colder climates.
Hunting Elk in Colorado.
This is a pair of Keen Coranados and is the type/design of shoes that I do most of my hunting in. They’re very flat and soft soled and I find them extremely quiet. Because there’s no leather, there’s no concern with getting them wet and they’re very light. I’ve tried a few of the “volley” type shoes including Converse and Dunlops, but found these to be the most comfortable for my feet as they’re a bit wider. They’re the closest shoe that I’ve found to my Buckskins, that can get wet and be worn wet. I’ve used this type of shoe for hunting in spring, summer and autumn time in Europe and also in Australia where I needed to be able to get my feet wet.
This is another shoe I’ve started using recently – the Merrell Barefoot Run Trail Glove. They very comfortable to wear wet and because they’re so snug fitting, they’re very quiet. Their sole is very soft and has minimal grip on it, I’ve found this makes them very quiet. I would wear these shoes on a hunt where the temperature is not too low and where you have potential of getting feet wet often (e.g. swamps, river crossings), but where there is no thorns. These are the type of shoe that would be great for hunting in Cape York, Australia. In my opinion, they would not work for Africa due to the thorns penetrating the sides of your feet.