Hunting Bad Weather – When to Hunt, and When to Sleep In…
Julie McQueen 05.15.11
When we think of hunting in bad weather, we tend to think of extreme cold, strong winds, and freezing rain. The other side of that equation is stifling heat, dehydrating extremes, or high altitudes. Either way you look at it, we have to consider the weather any time we decide to hunt in the elements. Taking precautions can be the difference between putting yourself and others in danger, or making the right decision to stay in when the weather just won’t cooperate. Here are some examples of what to do when you’re just not sure of what to expect from mother nature.
It doesn’t matter how fit you are, or even how many precautions you take: When you hunt high altitudes you take a risk of becoming ill from the lack of oxygen to your system, as well as from dehydration. By adding in the factor of having poor weather you are multiplying the risks of going on that hunt. The weather can change quickly no matter where you’re at, but in high altitudes you have few choices on where to go to hide from it. If you are planning on heading to high ground be sure to study the weather patterns closely for that time of the year. On guided hunts you can typically rely on your guide to help you make the decision on when to stay behind, or when to push on with the hunt.
If you will be hunting above 12,000 feet, then you should keep in mind that the air will have 40% less oxygen than at sea level. Take time to adjust to the altitude, and don’t take any chances with ‘toughing it out’ if you begin to feel sick. Dehydration and Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) are serious issues. Many people fail to associate high altitude hunting with sunburn, but just like frostbite, it can happen quickly when the conditions are extreme. Keeping your skin covered with the proper clothing can prevent damage to your skin.
If you decide to go through with the hunt, be sure to have proper gear for the trip. If you aren’t sure about what to pack, or how much, calling your guide service can prove to be beneficial. They should be able to point you in the right direction on thermal insulation and what they can provide for you if you don’t have access to some gear. For example, GPS locators and weather radios are generally provided by the guide service.
One of the most obvious objects to pack when you are planning on hunting in extremely hot conditions is sunblock. Protecting your skin from the elements is not only smart, but has been proven time and again as detrimental to our long-term health. Sunblock cannot, however, protect you from overheating and dehydration due to the elements. Wearing the right types of clothing, drinking enough water, and conserving energy will be necessary for even the most fit person to hunt in extreme heat.
Heat exhaustion can be upon you quickly, and once you feel the effects of it you need to take immediate action. A cold rag dipped in water and tied around the neck will begin to cool the body, but drinking water is absolutely necessary to hydrate. When you begin feeling dizzy, faint, headaches, or muscle pain you should rest your body in the coolest place possible. Taking a cool shower will relieve some of the symptoms, but hydrating the body from the inside out should be the first step.
Extreme heat is the number one weather related cause of death in the United States. It’s a serious thing, and we all know our own limits. While one person may feel comfortable walking through the South African bush in the sweltering conditions, the next guy may be better off staying behind for a day, resting, and rehydrating. When your heart rate rises due to exertion, the blood in your body gets nearer to the skin’s surface, which in turn allows heat loss. Therefore, sitting down in the sun isn’t as dangerous as tracking big game in it.
The ‘gear factor’ comes into play when we consider humidity into the equation. Humidity in the air will make it more difficult for sweat to evaporate from your skin’s surface. This means that your body isn’t cooling itself down as efficiently. If you wear proper clothing your body is able to cool itself down as the lightweight clothing wipes the moisture from your skin’s surface. Many clothing companies have honed in on this fact, and it’s simple to find clothing that is specifically made for keeping your body cool in extreme heat conditions. Before you plan a hunting trip into the extreme heat, it’s imperative to accumulate the proper gear.
When we talk about extreme weather conditions, most of us immediately have visions of cold winds and low temperatures. Personally, cold weather has a brutal effect on me, and my tolerance level is low. Different people have different levels of tolerance for cold temperatures, and it’s best to know your limits. There is no sense in subjecting your body to the elements if it will have negative long-term effects, and during the process you aren’t able to function enough to hunt the animal you’re after. An example of this is one day during whitetail season last year. My body temperature dropped so low that I would not have been able to draw my bow back if a deer had walked out. I called it a day, and got into a warm shelter as quickly as possible.
Frostbite is the obvious damage that we consider when cold temperatures have our limbs tingling. The parts of your body furthest from your heart will be affected most quickly. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit the body begins to strive to preserve its core temperature. In order to do this, the blood vessels close to the skin begin to constrict, and the extremities experience a loss of blood flow. There are a few different levels of frostbite, and at the first sign we should begin to take action by warming the area. Keep in mind, however, that if a body part re-freezes after being warmed, the damage could be even more severe.
Wind burn and sunburn are also common ailments when hunting in extremely cold conditions. Wearing the proper clothing can prevent these issues, yet once the skin has been burned you cannot un-burn it. Prevention is the key when it comes to extreme conditions and protecting your body from the elements. Many inexpensive heat packs can be carried as a way to ward off the onset of frostbite. Considering the end result, a few extra ounces of weight is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that a heat pack can bring. For anyone who will be in the elements for an extended period of time, a magnesium fire starter is a sure way to start a fire even in damp conditions. These additions to your gear bag could mean the difference between throwing in the towel early, and braving the elements for another day of hunting.
It’s understandable that many people will choose to continue on with the hunt even when they know the risks involved. So, how cold is too cold for a human to survive? When your body is not able produce heat as quickly as it loses it. It really is that simple. If your body temperature drops below 95 degrees, then you will begin to experience the onset of hypothermia. When you are booking your trip, keep in mind that once frostbite, hypothermia, or dehydration symptoms begin to occur, medical treatment may be necessary. If there are no medical treatment facilities immediately available, then even more precautions should be taken against the elements.
It’s understandable that many outdoorsmen (and outdoors-women) will take risks in order to achieve their dreams when it comes to chasing the next trophy animal. I’m not one to judge, as I would also put my body to the test in order to have a chance at my trophy of a lifetime. By educating ourselves on how much is too much, and what to do just in case, we can feel more confident when we take the step of walking out into the elements in pursuit of our passions.
How cold is too cold? How hot is too hot? Did I climb too high too quickly? These are all questions that should be answered before you take the plunge, and before you are forced to abandon a journey that could have been a success.