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It’s Cold! — Try Military Surplus Boots

January 23, 2018
By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

Some would say it's a blessing, others might call it a curse, and who knows, maybe I'm the only hunter who has experienced this problem, but this past Fall, I had it happen to me again. After I filled my PA 2017-18 antlered tag with an 8-point on October 16 in early archery season, I could not find a mature doe anywhere. For the remainder of early archery season, during the concurrent bear/deer archery season, and in our PA regular firearms deer season, every time I went to the woods, I kept seeing bucks, and only bucks. It was like I had a neon sign on me that said, "Walk by me buck, I can't shoot".

On opening day of the PA firearms deer season, I travelled down towards Pittsburgh to hunt in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 2B, where antlerless deer are legal quarry for the first five days, only to have a nice 10-point walk past me at 6:55 AM, the exact start time of legal shooting hours. On the second Wednesday of firearms season, I was still-hunting down at Raccoon Creek

State Park in WMU 2A and successfully snuck within 20 yards of a buck concealed in a blowdown. He had the nerve to remain stationary while I took out my smartphone to take a photo and I even spoke to him to let him know it was his lucky day, since I had to pass on a shot.

Article Photos

The black 'Mickey Mouse boots' are rated to -20 degrees F, while the white 'bunny boots' are rated to a frigid -65 degrees F. Both styles of military surplus cold-weather boots are an excellent choice for stationary activities in brutal temperatures and can be found at reasonable prices. Photo by Grey D. Berrier II

When the calendar rolled around to the final day of the PA regular firearms deer season, December 9, 2017, I knew I had to do something different to break this unusual dry-spell of seeing only antlered deer. I was still up-in-the-air over where I would hunt that day until I checked the weather forecast. When the weatherman called for a low of 8 degrees and indicated it would only climb to 10 degrees by noon, I knew it was time to break out my "secret weapons" for successful cold-weather deer hunting.

My property in Lawrence County sits adjacent to 400-acres of PA State Game Lands. I know when it gets down into single digits approaching zero or the temperature even falls into negative numbers, most hunters won't be able to sit still past 9 AM. After two hours of enduring the bitter cold, their numb feet will force them to get up and walk around in an effort to warm up. When they start moving around on the game lands, they'll inadvertently push deer out that will eventually try to seek sanctuary in the thick cover on our property. I've had this scenario play out at least a half-dozen times over the past 19 years we've lived in Lawrence County and I've successfully tagged both bucks and does under extremely frigid conditions.

From 1985 to 1989, I was assigned to Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks, Alaska. As a young Field Artillery Lieutenant, I spent over a third of each year out in the field, which included a stretch of 17-days when it never got above -40F and during Joint Training Exercise Brim Frost '89 in January 1989 when the thermometer bottomed out at -82F in the Tanana Flats, south of Fairbanks. My "secret weapons" for frigid weather deer hunting in Pennsylvania are the same boots I wore in Alaska in much colder temperatures, what the U.S. Army officially calls, "U.S. G.I. Extreme Cold-Temperature Boots, White, Dry-Cold Environment". These over-sized white rubber boots were known to Arctic Soldiers as "VB" (vapor barrier) boots or they were simply referred to as "bunny boots".

Most individuals are not aware of the differences between the black military surplus "Mickey Mouse boots" and the white military surplus "bunny boots". The official name for "Mickey Mouse boots" are "U.S. G.I. Extreme Cold-Temperature Boots, Black, Wet-Cold Environment" and they are rated to keep your feet comfortable to -20F. "Mickey Mouse boots" were first produced for soldiers during the Korean Conflict, since numerous U.S. soldiers suffered cold-weather related foot injuries wearing only leather boots during World War II in Europe. The Korean Peninsula has a wet-cold environment, much like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Conversely, white "bunny boots" are designed for a dry-cold Arctic environment where winter temperatures seldom, if ever, exceed 20F (above zero) and they are rated to keep your feet comfortable to -65F. (The white VB boots, while rated to -65F, were all we had to wear in Alaska and I can attest they still kept my feet warm when the thermometer bottomed out at -82F in January 1989.)

Both the black "Mickey Mouse boots" and the white "bunny boots" have an insulating layer of wool that totally surrounds your foot. The wool is sandwiched between outer and inner layers of rubber. (Some military surplus websites and catalogs include photos of a military surplus cold-weather boot cut in cross-section, so you can see the thick wool sole and the wool layer that surrounds your foot between the layers of rubber.) Keep in mind that the moisture from your feet sweating gets trapped inside the rubber boots, so we used to routinely change our socks at least twice a day in Alaska.

There is an ongoing fallacy out there regarding the air valve found on both "Mickey Mouse boots" and "bunny boots". Some individuals believe you are supposed to open the valve and blow air into the boots to help keep your feet warm. This is incorrect, since your breath will put moisture into the wool and reduce its insulation value. The air valves are on the boots, so that when you go up on a military transport aircraft to higher elevations, the air inside the two rubber layers doesn't expand and constrict blood flow to your feet. (You basically open the valve to equalize air pressure between inside and outside your boots at higher elevations; otherwise, you keep the air valve closed at all times.)

Believe it or not, VB boots are so warm, my feet actually sweat in them when I'm sitting still at temperatures above zero. Even though it's only 250 yards from our house to my elevated hunting blind at the back of our property, I never wear them for the walk out or back. I normally carry them in a duffel bag and them put them on once I've climbed up into our "shooting shack".

(They are rather cumbersome for safely traversing up and down climbing sticks.) However, they do enable me to sit completely still for hours in the bitter cold, when most other hunters have to move to keep warm. My VB boots once again worked their magic back on December 9 when another hunter pushed a mature doe past me a little after 11 AM and she fell to a well placed .25-06 bullet at 85 yards. Without them, I doubt I could have remained motionless for 4.5 hours in single degree temperatures.

While most military surplus stores and on-line websites will carry the black "Mickey Mouse boots" and/or the white "bunny boots", I am most familiar with The Sportsman's Guide where I purchased my VB boots, Coleman's Military Surplus where my dad and my uncle bought their "Mickey Mouse boots", and Bob's Army & Navy Store in Clearfield, PA, which normally has a good selection. You can typically find used, but in good condition, "Mickey Mouse boots" either on-line or in stores for under $50.00 and can expect to pay up to $75.00 for new, never issued "Mickey Mouse boots". From my experience, white "bunny boots" with their additional insulation and colder temperature rating will often cost $10.00 to $20.00 more than used or new "Mickey Mouse boots"; but you can still expect to pay less than $100.00 to get first-rate cold-weather boots that will keep your feet warm. Typically, both the black "Mickey Mouse boots" and the white "bunny boots" run one size large, so while I normally wear a size 12 shoes and boots, my feet are comfortable in size 11 military surplus cold-weather boots.

If you are like my dad or my uncle and have had problems with cold feet painfully interrupting your hunting, then military surplus cold-weather boots may be the way you need to go to keep warm and focused on stand. (They both purchased their boots within the past two years after I offered the suggestion.) Military surplus cold-weather boots are ideal for hunting, ice fishing, snowmobile riding, and other work or farming applications where you may be out in the cold for extended periods with limited mobility. Soldiers have no choice but to be out in the cold for extended periods at times, why not consider wearing the same high-quality cold-weather footwear that protect the feet of the proud men and women who protect our freedoms.



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