Gear Review: Schnee’s Beartooth 0G Boots
A common error among bird hunters is neglecting their feet. It’s easy to overemphasize the sexier aspects of the sport, like custom shotguns and blooded hunting dogs, but when it comes right down to it, quality boots are what get you where you’re going.
As outdoor writer/upland hunter Frank Woolner once opined: “Guns and dogs don’t kill grouse, legs do.” Decades have passed since Woolner’s era, but even now, burning boot leather remains the most effective way to find birds.
I’ve been a serious grouse and woodcock hunter since the early ‘90s. During that time, I’ve run through a gamut of footwear, from cheap, off-the-shelf options, to expensive, custom-made kicks. One truth that quickly became apparent in this equation was Newton’s third law: For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, lightweight boots are less durable, and the sturdiest versions run heavier.
With all the options on the market today, it was surprising when I ran up against a wall finding a decent pair of bird-hunting boots recently.
That search is what led me to Schnee’s, of Bozeman, MT.
The Backstory - "The Road to Redemption"
Recent foot issues required I wear custom orthotics, which meant that the custom leather boots I had been wearing wouldn’t fit anymore. It was time for a new pair, but I quickly learned that the process wouldn’t be as easy as I had originally assumed.
I started with the Midwest company that had crafted my prior pair. To my disappointment, their website showed a meager inventory of boots in sizes suitable for dwarves or NBA stars, but nothing in between. All the normal sizes showed “Sold Out.” There’s no way that’s right, I thought. In frustration, I called the company direct. To my dismay, ownership had recently changed hands and their customer service had apparently taken a nosedive.
Here’s a brief synopsis of our conversation:
Service rep (in a nasally, indifferent tone): “That’s correct, sir. What you see on the website is all we have available right now.”
Me (trying to stifle my sarcasm): “Ma’am, you do realize hunting season opens in less than a month, right?”
Service Rep: “We’re aware of that, sir, but I don’t know what to say, and there’s no telling when we’ll be making more.”
Me: “What about custom fittings? Can you use the specs from my original order? You know, back when I remortgaged my house to purchase my last pair?”
Service Rep: “We no longer take orders based on old sizing, sir. You’ll have to attend one of our fitting events if you want custom boots.”
Me: Fitting Event? I wondered. Is that something you book through Ticketmaster? And where, pray tell, will that take place?”
Service Rep: “The next event will be in Alabama, sir.”
Me: “Alabama? Thanks for your time.” Click.
Ok, cross that company off the list. I switched gears to another boot maker and was overjoyed to see they had my size in stock. Sure, they were expensive, but quality never comes cheap. If I sold a shotgun and convinced my daughter to work third shift on weekends, I was confident I could gather the money.
A week or so later, the new boots arrived. Unfortunately, to my utter surprise and embarrassment, the leather tongue ripped out like it was constructed of two-ply paper towels when I pulled them on for the first time. The next day I emailed the company, assuming they’d make things right.
“Do you have an abnormally high instep, sir?” An associate inquired.
“No, I don’t have an abnormally high instep,” I wrote back in frustration, before deleting “…but for this princely sum, would it matter if I did?”
After receiving the boots, this company that shall remain nameless acknowledged there was a flaw in the leather, admitting that the other boot tore easily as well. However, they barely even apologized.
Hunting season was closing in fast. I needed new boots, but the time for compromise was over. At a minimum, I needed uninsulated, all-leather boots with a wide fit to accommodate custom orthotics. In addition, I was hoping for a waterproof-breathable membrane and a toecap for durability. I prefer eyelets over speed laces but that just isn’t a common option.
My needs were specific, but I wasn’t sure where to turn. In desperation, I dimed up Schnee’s, a Montana-based company known far and wide for technical big-game and pack boots. According to the website, their mission was to provide “best-of-breed footwear, apparel, and outdoor products to discriminating customers worldwide, together with world-class customer service.”
I was intrigued, but the question remained: did they offer boots suitable for hunting grouse and woodcock in the Midwest?
An out-of-the-blue inquiry led me to Matt Miller, a fellow bird hunter and Marketing Director at Schnee’s. I was instantly impressed. After swapping stories and gathering some information about the conditions where I hunt, Matt steered me toward the Beartooth 0G, a nine-inch boot made of uninsulated, top-grain leather. A pair of Beartooths tips the scales around four pounds. Plus, they have a waterproof-breathable liner and Vibram soles – all for $469 per pair.
Autumn is the greatest season of all. It’s also one of the wettest, and two recent bird camps were no exception. Constant drizzle plagued us the entire trip, and when it wasn’t raining, the vegetation was so saturated, it may as well have been.
I had checked the forecast prior to departure and packed a pair of knee-high rubber boots in anticipation of the weather. Unfortunately, stall-mucking boots lack ankle support and breathability. I figured I’d wear the Beartooths until they got waterlogged, then switch to the rubbers.
To my surprise, that moment never came.
I more-or-less lived in the Beartooths for days on end. They endured more than 80 miles of razor-sharp bracken ferns, thornapple spikes, and raspberry brambles. My dogs stayed dry, comfortable, and blister free. That’s a tall order.
What I Like:
The comfort and fit are amazing, probably due to the construction and sole, and partially due (I suspect) to the lacing system, which allows for a semi-customizable fit, based on the wearer’s foot shape, sock-type, and terrain.
Speaking of the lacing system, earlier in this review I mentioned my preference for eyelets over speed laces. Yes, they’re slower, but they stay put once they’re on. With this in mind, I eyed the cleated lacing system on the Beartooths with suspicion. The lower portion (over the instep) sports a series of roller bearings, for low friction single-pull adjustments. The upper portion, from the ankle up, is comprised of deep seated, locking cleats, which allows for a customized fit that stays put in the field.
Bracken ferns and briars exact a serious toll on bird-hunting footwear, especially the leading edge. Beartooth boots sport a specialized toecap to reduce wear in that critical area. It’s a simple feature, but one that’s overlooked by many manufacturers.
Wearing my old leather boots was like riding around in a Model T Ford – simple, classy, but not overly durable or technical. Stepping into a pair of Beartooths is like climbing into a decked-out Toyota Tacoma Offroad. There’s no stopping you, no matter the terrain.
Durability: The jury is still out, as I haven’t owned my Beartooths very long, but they’re showing minimal signs of wear. So far, everything about them screams longevity.
What I Don’t Like:
Style: The modern mountaineering look isn’t really my bag, but at this point in my life, I’ll take function over form every time.
Loop: I wish these boots had a sturdy loop in the back to assist with pulling them on.
Perfect For: Hard-core bird hunters who demand a versatile, durable boot that works when conditions are dusty and dry, wet, and muddy, or steep and hilly – and everything in between.
Stars: To date, there are 282 five-star reviews from verified customers on Schnee’s website. So far, I’d give them a 4.8/5, just because I’d prefer a more traditional look, although I realize that’s just being picky.
Learn more here
Schnee’s recommends regular applications (at least twice per year) of Nikwax conditioner to preserve the leather. For heavy use, apply monthly.