How to Handle Hot-Weather Hunts

Tips for functioning at peak efficiency during hot, early archery seasons.

How to Handle Hot-Weather Hunts

Fall and bowhunting are synonymous in my mind, so when August and September early archery seasons roll around, fall has essentially arrived for me. This isn’t exactly correct, obviously, as even September in most of the country is technically a summer month, complete with simmering heat and pounding sun. While frosty mornings might hint at coming fall, soaring midday temperatures quickly erase that impression. This reality really hits home while installed in an August pop-up blind waiting for a Montana or Wyoming pronghorn to arrive for a drink, staggering to a waiting truck under a smiting sun with a load of quartered elk meat after a successful morning of chasing bugling elk or chugging up a steep ridge while stalking a bedded mule deer.

Bowhunting comfortably, and safely, during warm early seasons keeps you functioning at a higher level and pushing father than your competition.

Better Bases

An old adage says clothing makes the man, but the right clothing also makes the bowhunter. This no doubt brings to mind chilly November treestand sits, but it’s true even during the mild days of early archery seasons.

Warm early seasons are really the only time cotton camouflage T-shirts or button-ups and military-style six-pocket pants make any sense. There are certainly no shortage of cotton goods on the market — which also accounts for so many hypothermic bowhunters as true fall arrives with its chilly days, wind and icy showers, or simply during an evening ATV ride after a sweaty hike. Cotton works fairly efficiently at wicking away body moisture, but it also dries slowly — as anyone who has forgotten to put their blue jeans in the clothes dryer the night before work will know. This can be beneficial when it’s particularly hot, any breeze can turn your clothing into a portable evaporative cooler. The same action that results in hypothermia during cold weather can actually cool you off during hot days — the reason I regularly dip my hat in water when feeling especially overheated.

That said, “moisture management” has become the big thing in modern outdoor clothing. While cotton can act as air conditioning, it can also leave you feeling sticky or clammy, while also binding range of motion when negotiating deadfalls or steep terrain. Modern polyester-material base layers are specifically designed to wick moisture away from the skin and move it outward where it can dry. It’s all a matter of different material densities from the inside out. The best moisture management layers, like Under Armour’s Early Season, Sitka Gear’s CORE Lightweight Crew, ScentLok’s Nexus Active Weight Top and others keep you feeling cool and dry even while exerting yourself.

Many base layers now also include antimicrobial agents to retard human odors at the source. Merino wool, as found in First Lite’s lightweight Wick Hoody, LS Crew or Quarter Zip offer natural antimicrobial qualities. Medalist’s SilverMax base layers are impregnated with silver to kill odor-causing bacteria on the skin. Sitka Gear internal layers include Polygiene technology to perform the same duties. ScentLok also offers Carbon Alloy/Gold+Alloy “odor-filter” outfits in the lightweight Nexus series. These agents are woven into the fabric fibers so they last for the practical life of the garment. Odor suppression becomes most important several days into a backpack or boonies hunt without a shower, or even after a sweaty day hiking or hanging stands in muggy conditions.

Airy Attire

When it turns especially hot, say while cooking inside the aforementioned pronghorn pop-up blind under an unrelenting sun, or while bowhunting Columbia black-tailed deer in northern California or Arizona Coues whitetails during 100-plus degree August days, mesh-based 3-D outfits worn over shorts not only give you a concealment edge, but provide airy coolness. One of my favorites is Rancho Safari’s Shaggie System “ghillie” outfits. These include hanks of light camouflage material, burlap and hemp rope sewn to wide-gapped camouflage netting. The shaggy material breaks up the human silhouette like nothing else, while the netting allows cooling breezes to waft right through. First Lite’s mesh-shell Phantom Leafy Suit offers a more traditional option, while Shannon Outdoors’ 3-D Big Leaf Bug Tamer also keeps biting insects at bay.  

Of course many manufacturers offer airy outfits with “jersey” or ultra-light construction with multiple vents. Examples include Sitka Gear’s Ascent, ScentLok’s Savanna series, Under Armour’s ArmourVent, Cabela’s Performance Lightweight or Bass Pro Shops’ Tec-Lite. In Eastern regions plagued by ticks, there are even warm-weather options including embedded insect repellents, like GameHide’s ElimiTick Ultra-Lite products. 

Expect the Unexpected

When plying Western early archery seasons, in particular, and especially when chasing high-country game such as elk and mule deer, leave camp each day expecting the unexpected. Just because hot weather predominates doesn’t mean a sudden thunderstorm won’t temporarily cool things off. You never know what will arrive in August and September, including cold rain or even early snows in alpine habitats. The bowhunter needs to be prepared for anything. Smart layering is the key to comfort in wildly-fluctuating conditions.

For instance, while unloading my ATV for a 10-mile ride into a remote jump-off point during an Idaho September elk hunt, you can bet I’ll be able to see my breath. The fact my face will be sweat-streaked by 10 a.m. offers little comfort while riding in.

Besides the standard outfit you’ll hunt in — base layers and light shirt and pants — the early season bowhunter would be a fool to venture far without reliable rain gear. I prefer something lightweight and easily stored, so as not to consume an inordinate amount of pack space. When hunting high mountain country, I’ll also pack a highly-compact but insulated jacket like First Lite’s Uncompahgre Puffy Jacket. This has come in handy after being caught out after dark while chasing bugling elk miles into wilderness and inclined to stay the night to be on hand for a morning hunt, or layered under waterproof gear while driving an ATV in rain. Most of the time it simply gets used as a pillow while taking midday naps.

Vital Hydration 

When it’s warm and you’re pushing hard, hydration is the top priority. Adequate hydration allows you to operate at peak performance, pushing just a little farther than other hunters. Dehydration can ruin any hunt. I find when pushing hard — say, climbing 1,500 vertical feet to outmaneuver a mountain mule deer — I must remind myself to take periodic breaks and take a couple deep pulls from the water bottle.

Modern daypacks from makers like Alps Outdoorz, Badlands, Sitka Gear and Rancho Safari (CatQuiver models also acting as back quivers), just as examples, commonly include one to two water-bottle hip pouches to keep hydration within easy reach. For the K.I.S.S. crowd who like to travel light, companies such as Western Recreation and Neet Products offer belt-mounted water-bottle holsters.

I’ve long made a habit of toting a lightweight water-filtration bottle, like Katadyn’s BeFree Filter (in .6- or 1-liter options). Vestergaard also makes the compact LifeStraw, which filters as you draw water through it, while MSR offers the TrailShot pocket-sized water filter. These products make it easy to take advantage of questionable water sources in the field, allowing hydration on the run without the worry of ingesting harmful bacteria or amebas that can end a hunt in a hurry, even from seemingly clean sources. These options are most useful in mountain country where clear creeks and springs are plentiful. I don’t think I’d trust these simple products on cow-polluted or stagnant waterholes, choosing a more sophisticated water-filtration pump from MSR or Katadyn in these instances. One of my hottest New Mexico elk spots, for instance, 8 miles into rolling wilderness, offered no water but for man-made stock tanks, from which we filtered all our water needs for 2 or 3 weeks at a stretch.

Alps Outdoorz (Reservoir 3.0), Badlands (Water Reservoir), Blackhawk! (Antimicrobial Hydration Reservoir) and others offer daypack-compatible hydration bladders with over-the-shoulder, on-demand drink tubes. These are especially stealthy, because as you draw your water supply down they won’t slosh during a stalk to alert game. These bladders are held in special interior slips between a daypack’s main compartment and back, with a drink-tube port at the top and Velcro straps along a shoulder strap to hold the tube at ready. I usually add a couple tablespoons of Wilderness Athlete’s Hydrate & Recover to water, though bladders must be cleaned thoroughly afterwards to avoid mold or bacteria growth.   

Which brings up an important point about hydration: When working especially hard under a hot sun water alone isn’t always the smartest choice. Sports drinks (powder versions added to water) include essential minerals such as potassium to soothe sore muscles, an important detail when making calves burn during long hikes and steep climbs or thighs ache after jogging to cut off traveling elk. When essential mineral and salt reserves are exhausted through heavy sweating, heavy intakes of water alone can actually cause stomach cramps and vomiting that further exasperates dehydration and lethargy. Ultra-marathoners also taught me that prepared sports drinks are generally oversaturated. Mixing sports drinks at half strength ensures your body can actually absorb minerals for maximum benefits.

When torrential thunderstorms arrived in the middle of the author’s Montana pronghorn hunt, waterholes were out. He would have to resort to hot, humid belly-crawl stalks to find success.
When torrential thunderstorms arrived in the middle of the author’s Montana pronghorn hunt, waterholes were out. He would have to resort to hot, humid belly-crawl stalks to find success.

Shun That Sun!

Early season bowhunters should also consider protection from all-day sun. Skin cancer set well aside, keeping UV rays off exposed skin reduces possible dehydration and painful sunburn. Applying sunscreen doesn’t make you a wimp. A minimum 30 SPF-rated sunscreen slathered liberally to exposed skin, especially the nape, nose and ears, reduces potential problems — especially at high altitudes with its thinner atmosphere and less UV-ray filtration.

As a fair-skinned boy with Irish blood — and someone who loathes greasy, eye-stinging sunscreen — my standard approach has long been to limit exposure altogether. I don long-sleeve shirts, button them to the top and turn up the collar. Thin stretch-fit gloves and a wide-brimmed hat are also wise precautions. I know logoed ball caps are en vogue, but they leave your neck and ears vulnerable to sunburn. I have created a head cover from a face mask of thin camouflage netting, cutting out the face portion and wearing this hood under a brimmed ball cap to cover ears and neck. When I pass near a stream or spring I soak it with cooling water and enjoy the air conditioning as it dries. A kerchief tied around your neck also keeps the sun at bay, and comes in handy if you need something to wipe condensation from optics lenses or sweat from your eyes.    

Early archery seasons are my favorite time to be in the field, as they offer some of bowhunting’s most productive opportunities. But warm-weather bowhunting also means you must dress for success, choose hunting togs that keep you cool and comfortable, and protected from the sun. Just as importantly, staying properly hydrated allows you to run harder and longer while seeking early-season success.

Sitka Sun Hat
Sitka Sun Hat

Sidebar: Early Season Outfits

Sitka Gear: Ascent Shirt and Pants from Sitka Gear are designed for hot days and tearing up rough terrain. The material is a highly breathable four-way stretch synthetic that won’t bind and is tough enough to stand up to hard use. Pants include mesh-backed pockets for ventilation and internal mesh knee pad pocket for hands-and-knees stalking padding. All pieces are articulated to further accentuate freedom of movement and include Polygiene Odor Control Technology. Pair with Ascent Glove and wide-brimmed Sitka Sun Hat (right). Gloves include Printed Ax Suede synthetic palm and conductive index finger and thumb to operate touch-screen GPS or smartphone. The soft contour hat includes dark underside to limit eye strain. Learn more at www.sitkagear.com.

First Lite: First Lite’s Wick Hoody and Obsidian Merino Pants (below) make ideal hot-weather attire. The Wick Hoody is an ultralight shirt designed to keep you cool, using airy 150-gram AeroWool and 125-gram AeroWool mesh vent panels and a loose-fitting hood for added sun protection. It is quick drying and odor resistant. Obsidian Pants are quiet, odor-resistant and ergonomically designed from Merino/nylon-rip-stop fabric. Stretch nylon panels enhance freedom of motion and increase ruggedness in high-wear areas. They come with removable suspenders. Pair with 5 Panel Tech Cap, a lightweight breathable ball cap, Wick Short Boxer Brief of 150 AeroWool and lightweight 200 gram AeroWool Liner Glove. Learn more at www.firstlite.com.     

First Lite Obsidian Pant
First Lite Obsidian Pant

ScentLok: New Savanna Crosshair Aero Early Season Jacket (below) and Pant are 20 percent lighter than past Savanna Crosshair wear. They combine Carbon Alloy odor-absorbing technology with new No-Sheen fabric for added stealth. Wicking action aids moisture management and useful pockets are included throughout. Pair with Savanna Lightweight Shooter’s Gloves and Headcovers. Gloves include Touch Tech fingertips for touch-screen devices, silicone-printed palms and Carbon Alloy and antimicrobial treatment. Headcovers include built-in cap, mesh ear panels and the same odor-suppressing technologies. Learn more at www.scentlok.com.

Savanna Crosshair Aero Early Season Jacket
Savanna Crosshair Aero Early Season Jacket
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