Bitter winter weather is tough on people and game animals alike. Nobody and nothing likes being miserably cold. Still, this is a great time for a successful hunt, if you can beat the elements. Here’s how to do the latter:
1. Fuel Up
Your body needs fuel to burn to keep you warm. That means a solid breakfast and packing snacks so you can top off your tank every couple of hours. Carbohydrates are the key — stuff like pancakes and peanut butter toast sticks to your ribs and provide lots of fuel. Go easy on the caffeine, since it makes all of us pee too much, but some have been known to bring along a small vacuum bottle with decaf hot tea or coffee.
2. The Setup
Naturally you set stands where they need to be set. However, since I have found the time from mid-morning through late evening to be most productive for me now, I try and set stands so the afternoon sun is on me and, most importantly, so I can prevent the prevailing winds from pounding me head-on for hours. I may come down out of the trees and use a ground blind, though I find it much easier to do so when hunting with firearms than archery gear.
3. Layer Up
Layer clothing according to the temperature. Hunters generally agree that inner layers should have a wicking material to keep moisture from building up. The middle and outer layers should have a combination of breathable, heat-trapping materials. In addition, the outer layer should have some degree of wind resistance. I also try choosing outerwear made from fabric that is inherently quiet, like fleece or wool.
4. Boot Up
Nothing gets colder on a cold-weather stand faster than your feet. There are lots of pac-type boots with super-heavy insulation, and that’s what you need. Buy them 2 to 3 sizes too big so there is an air pocket near your toes.
5. Head’s Up
You can lose up to 80 percent of your body heat from your head, which is why a jacket with a hood is a good idea. When the weather gets brutal I wear a Bomber-style, ear-flap Northbound hat made by Sleeping Indian Designs I got two decades ago. It’s awesome. I also always pack along a balaclava and neck gaiter made from fleece.
6. Insulate Your Stand
What? When sitting in a tree stand, try placing a piece of old carpet underneath your feet. This will block out the cold and prevent it from burrowing through your boot sole. I’ve learned that even boots supposedly good down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit will let cold air in.
7. Use A Ground Blind
It’s much easier to stay warm in a ground blind then when sitting in a tree stand. Problem with today’s pop-up blinds is that when temps fall well below freezing the blind fabric also freezes, making it potato chip noisy.
8. Heat Packs
On bitter-weather hunts, I fire up several disposable body, toe and hand warmers at a time. They go on my toes, kidneys, even my neck, as well as where my hands are always close to them. You will never spend better money than buying these items by the case.
9. Hand Muffs
I love hand muffs that strap around my waist. Inside I have a couple of chemical hand warmers going, which allows me to wear relatively thin gloves. In turn, that makes accurate shooting easier. I love thin gloves with a wind-blocking membrane this time of year.
10. Safety First
Bitter winter weather is dangerous on many levels. Wearing bulky clothing and oversized boots make it so much easier to fall when climbing up icy steps to your tree stand. Any exposed skin can frostbite. Even roads to and from the field can be dangerous. Give yourself extra time so all movements are measured and controlled. Never hunt up a tree without a full-body safety harness system. Always tell someone where you’ll be and when you’ll be home. And while I’m not a fan of texting while on stand, this time of year my buddies and I check in with each other periodically for safety’s sake.
Have any tricks you use to stay warm on bitter-weather hunts? Please share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.