Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Follow-Up Gear Review: L.L Bean Technical Upland Boots

Since purchasing my L.L. Bean Upland Technical Boots in late August, they've hunted in four states over approximately 24 days and a total of 120 miles.  They've seen sage country, prairies, coulees, rolling hills, thick popples, marshes, creeks, and cactus.
While not without a few important shortcomings, I can emphatically say that without a doubt, these are the most comfortable, most supportive boots I have ever worn.

I'm a gear guy, and as any of my hunting buddies will tell you, I usually bring two or three spare pairs of boots on any given hunting trip. It's been my expereience that I always wind up soaking a pair or developing a blister and I frequently switch around my arsenal of boots.

My Upland Technicals are the only pair I've worn this season - they're that comfortable. The Boa stainless steel lacing system cinches the boot around your foot as tight or as loose as you want it -- perfect for different terrains and temperatures. I found myself lacing them up pretty tight during cool morning trips, and loosening them slightly during the warmer afternoons as my feet began to swell.

I hiked moderate hills (both rocky and sandy) while wearing the Techicals, and they passed that test with flying colors. I wouldn't recommend extensive sidehilling in these, but for prairie hills and Montana coulees, they couldn't be better.

I dropped in a pair of Dr. Scholl's Custom Fit Orthotics (the stock insole was a wafer-thin joke), and I think that helped to make a difference as well. Never did my feet show signs of plantar fasciitis like they did a year earlier.

Another key feature of these boots is the "Superfabric" uppers, billed as puncture resistant by L.L. Bean. To test this assertion (against my better judgment), I poked my boots with native Kansas and Montana cactus, and sure enough, the needles bent and never penetrated the fabric.

Much to my disappointment however, a recent trip to Texas demonstrated that these boots aren't as puncture proof as I'd like. My boots were pierced not once, but twice by prickly pear cactus -- without me even trying. It was a disappointment, for sure. If you do a lot of hunting around prickly pear or mesquite, these might not be the boots for you.

The other major disappointment (but not entirely unexpected) was the boots' waterproofness. On my first hike through a praire of wet grass, the boots became waterlogged within a mile. Major bummer.  I treated them with some Kiwi Camp Dry Heavy Duty Water Repellent, and it helped.  I could ford streams and brief bogs and sloughs in Minnesota grouse country without getting soaked. As a general rule, I think Gore Tex is fine for brief splashes, but it's been my experience that prolonged exposure to moisture will compromise any breathable membrane.

This season, completely by coincidence, I began using a boot dryer that mitigated this issue. More on the boot dryer in another post.

I have not yet tested these boots in cold weather, but I don't typically like a lot of insulation in upland boots -- I prefer to regulate that through sock thickness.  They did not seem to be particularly hot during early season hunting, at least no hotter than any other boot I've worn.

Finally, I recently noticed that part of the toe rand (the rubber bumper that protects the leading edge of the boot) was coming loose from the Superfabric. It doesn't appear to be anything major, but it seems a bit early for adhesives to start breaking down.

At $190, these boots aren't cheap, and because of that premium price, I expect them to last for at least a couple of seasons.  Add in $40 insoles and $10 waterproofing material, and these treads get downright expensive.

Despite their flaws though, I absolutely love these boots. They are like wearing a comfortable sneaker and require absolutely zero break-in period. The lacing system makes a lot of sense for the varied terrain most upland hunters encounter.  Because of the toe rand coming loose, I may ask to exchange these boots. Thankfully, L.L. Bean has a generous return policy that would allow me to receive a new pair of boots before I send my old ones back.

Taken from L.L. Bean website
That's welcome news -- because after a month in my Bean Technicals, I don't think I want to go back to wearing my old boots.

Note from Scampwalker: L.L. Bean has sold out of these boots and their web page has been removed from the website. In a call to a L.L. Bean hunting specialist today, I was told that they will not be available again for sale until June 2011.

Second note from Scampwalker: I paid full price for these boots and I did not receive any compensation from L.L. Bean or anyone else for this review.

Final note from Scampwalker: Yeah, I know.  They're goofy looking, and you should hear the snickers I get when my buddies hear me clicking up the lacing system.  But if the shoe fits...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Road Photo Friday: A River. In A Bar.

Hunting traditions are funny things. For three years now, Jon and I have visited the Montana Tavern in Lewistown. It's a friendly dive, just the way we like it.

It's old school, with pool tables, a long bar, and precious little in the way of foo-foo drinks.

Every year, despite my better judgment, I order a shot of Yukon Jack here, and every year I swear it's going to be the last time I subject myself to that rotgut.

The jukebox is decidedly 21st century, wirelessly piping in damn near any tune you can think of. When the jukebox is silent, you're entertained by the din of a surprisingly active police scanner behind the bar -- a nice touch.

I'm not sure if we fell into the actually, apparently, obviously (or ridiculously) camp.

But the wackiest thing about the Montana Tavern is a feature that we somehow missed for the two previous years. A river runs through the damn place.

It's sort of hidden in the corner, but there it is, sure as shit. Enclosed in pine, plexiglas and rebar, you can look down through a cutout hole in the floor and see an honest-to-God artesian spring creek flowing underneath the bar.

Lewistown was built over this spring creek, and it has flowed through the bar for as long as it's existed. Local lore has it that the original owner fished while he worked, and reliable sources confirm that there is indeed a decent-sized brownie that frequents the watering hole (so to speak). It's also said that bartenders used to keep the kegs chilled in the cold spring-fed water. The rebar gate was added when locals would float the creek after the bar had closed and help themselves to purloined refreshments.

It's hard to argue with this claim.

Above the river shrine rests these treasures. A portrait of a bare-breasted indian woman and an apparent knockoff of same to the left, a couple fish mounts, and a really odd-looking beaded, feathered antelope horn mount.

If you're ever in the neighborhood, it's a must see. Heck, you might just start a tradition of your own. Just stay the hell away from the Yukon Jack, hoser.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Montana 2010: LuLu's First Point

This video requires a bit of setup.  LuLu, my 8 1/2 month-old pointer pup had only brief wild bird contact prior to our trip to Montana.  Over the course of our two weeks in Big Sky Country, she started figuring it out.  She pointed several times, including one where the hun covey flushed wild, and another where she mistakenly crowded a flock of sharptail into flushing.

This time though, she put it all together.  We had just put her down and were gearing up two other dogs to run a nice-looking strip of sage along a wheat field.  Before I finished collaring Dottie, my Astro indicated that LuLu was on point.  Sure enough, 50 yards behind us, just above the bar ditch, she was rock solid, pointing into the field on the other side of the road we had planned on hunting.

The video picks up after we crossed that fence (Dottie is the first dog you see in the video).  LuLu is the second, to my left.  Please forgive the overenthusiastic whoops and hollers -- but I can assure you that they were borne of true excitement, not outdoor-TV-manufactured idiocy.  (Honest idiocy, if you will.)

Forget the double-double.  That little pup slamming on point is something I won't soon forget -- having it on video was icing on the cake.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Montana 2010: Final Wrapup

Yes, I am alive.

I've received several notes wondering what the hell has happened to me over the past three weeks.  Unfortunately, my blogging about hunting and life in general has taken a backseat to, well, hunting and life in general.

After a week or so unpacking, refamiliarizing myself with family and office, and repacking, the kids and I are now in grouse camp in northern Minnesota, and I'm writing this post, fittingly, around a roaring campfire.

More on that later -- but first I've got to recap the Montana Odyssey.  Here goes.

The chukar hunt that started things was something of a harbinger for the entire trip.  We had a ton of fun, had (mostly) great dog work, met some kindred spirits, ate, drank, and generally lived it up.  I'm never one to measure the success of a hunting trip by body count, but this year was our most successful in terms of birds pointed and birds taken home.

We learned a lot about huns, and we're starting to think we might have them figured out.  Here's the secret. 

They're mostly found in sagebrush.

Or grass.

Or coulees.

Or wheat stubble.

Or near rattlesnakes.

But the nice thing is that when you finally do locate a covey, they always hold for the hunters to arrive, and they always fly together.  Unless they don't, which is typically the case.  But when they do, when it makes it all worthwhile.

The only complaint was that it was hot -- really hot.  Halfway through the trip, I called my family who was in Dallas with relatives.  She was lamenting how cool it was there -- a balmy 72 degrees.  In Lewistown that day, it broke 90.  Al Gore was right, apparently.

It wasn't all us, though.  We hunted a couple days with a local -- one of the finest, most knowledgeable bird hunters to walk the high plains.  And I'd tell that straight to Ben O. Williams, and I'll bet you he'd agree, too.  But no, I'm not gonna tell you who he is.

But the real talisman?

The moustache.  Behold the power.