Cold weather can certainly make for long days in the stand, so when the frigid, frosty air finds your favorite hunting locale this year, will you be ready? As I sit here and gaze at the oversized luggage and ridiculous amount of gear packed for my annual pilgrimage to Western Canada, I will soon be reminded of what cold weather hunting is all about. Last year alone, over one hundred hours were logged in before my whitetail appetite was fulfilled. It wasn’t pickyness that kept me in the frigid air, it was simply misfortune. Days afield have brought about -20 degrees mercury readings with a sharp wind chill creating even harsher conditions. With a lot of determination along with the proper gear, I’ve comfortably made it through many of these types of days.
In order to withstand all that Mother Nature can throw at you, planning ahead is your only option. Sitting all day in an open tree stand is brutal when the wind is bearing down on you. Toss in a mix of snow to go along with that wind and you got a real long day ahead of you, trust me, I have experienced this scenario first hand. Not only does the snow blanket your clothing but after a period of time makes you feel damp and cold, even when wearing all that gear. Sitting in this arena may only last a few hours if you’re lucky. On these types of outings, a covered blind is the only option in my opinion. If you’re planning your hunt of a lifetime with an outfitter in this type of climate, make sure you understand exactly what type of stand you will be hunting in.
Recently I’ve hunted in Alberta with an outfitter who uses propane heaters with a small propane bottle, the same size used with a gas grill, suspended from the blind. I was skeptical at first, but after watching numerous deer (including some real nice bucks) move about my stand unaware of my presence, the welcomed heat source proved to not be an impediment to the hunt. Depending what style heater you use, personal safety must be considered at all times. The open top burners like we used must be kept clear of the blind walls and free from any gear within proximity. On a few occasions I’ve seen hunters return to camp with charred boots and burned pant legs.
When the temperature hovers at a more reasonable range, 0-20 degrees, wearing the proper clothing layers along with a few heat packs will make your day much more tolerable. Today’s market is filled with a large variety of synthetic clothes that breathe and wick moisture away from your body. One key to outlasting the cold is keeping moisture off your body, if you don’t I guarantee your day will be short. After the synthetic base layer, I’ll opt for one and often two layers of polartec. Polartec acts the same way as the base layer with its wicking properties, yet has amazing heat loss resistance, which is also a must during a long cold sit. The final outer layer consists of a heavy insulated parka and bibbed pants. Bibbed pants significantly keep cold drafts off your lower back, a point of major heat loss.
A common complaint during a long sit is the body is simply not generating any heat. More often than not, an oversized breakfast keeps the furnace stoked during the early stages of the day. When 2:00PM rolls around and there’s no trail mix left, how else can you generate body heat? My simple yet effective solution consists of heat wraps that fit around the waist similar to a back support belt. Found at nearly every corner drug store, these little wonders are priceless. Just one of these will generate heat all day long, however, when the temperature is brutally cold, I will utilize two. With one heat wrap affixed to my lower back and one at mid back, my longevity during a frigid stand hunt is significantly enhanced.
Once the body is content, a special focus is required for the head, hands and feet. It does not take long for extremities like fingers and toes to get chilled beyond tolerance thus ending your hunt early. Keeping my feet warm is my biggest challenge and after a few rounds of near frost bite while riding snowmobiles, my feet get cold rapidly. Like most everything today there are multiple options to choose from. My main focus in this area is to keep moisture out of my boots prior to sitting. In doing so, the pac boots I use stay off until I’m in the blind or headed out on a quad. While in the truck, the sneakers stay on. Along with the pac boots, a thinly-heated charcoal-based insole provides the ultimate day long comfort inside my boot liner. One of the best fifty dollar investments I ever made was in a pair of insulated boot blankets. Tossed over shoulder or in a back pack, boot blankets are truly remarkable. When combined with the pac boot and heated insole, this added layer of protection will provide hours of heat thus keeping your feet warm and comfortable for hours.
Hands, like your feet can also be tricky. A bulky pair of mittens work fine for glassing but feel very unnatural while handling your bow or rifle. When you take hand protection on and off and expose your skin, it’s only a matter of time before you can’t hang onto anything, let alone make an accurate shot. My system for this is twofold. A bulky pair of mittens over a thin synthetic glove that possess non-slip grip is my first line of defense. The non-slip grip is essential for shooting a gun or bow accurately and safely. One year while sighting in my rifle I decided to test out a pair of new synthetic gloves before I committed to using them in the field. My first shot with the 300 Win Mag proved very entertaining as the rifle jumped out of my fore end grip and nearly took my cap off. I will quickly pull off a mitten before preparing to shoot and the glove liner keeps the frigid sting away from my hand for a short period of time. My second line of defense for keeping the digits warm is a hand muff with a heat pack inside it. This system works great when the gloves get a bit damp from perspiration and cannot dry out. I simply take off the damp gloves or swap out for a new pair and insert them into the hand muff.
The overall layering system is the most effective way to prepare for a long day in the stand but it can also be advantageous when it comes time to track or walk to a new location. By peeling off synthetic layers, you can stay warm and dry for hours to come. While hound hunting for bears this past October, I simply dressed in one of my base layers and it proved to be quite effective when it came to wicking moisture away from my body while the material dried rapidly. It was truly impossible to not to perspire while chasing dogs for miles up and down steep mountainous terrain. Investing in a layering system will cover multiple scenarios for many types of outdoor activities and is the best bang for the buck. Combine everything mentioned with a large comfortable backpack and you will be ready for whatever the hunt and Mother Nature throw at you. Good luck with your cold weather hunt and please stay warm!