As an avid hunter and someone from the Midwest, I hunt in a very wide range of weather patterns and temperatures. Living in Chicago, I have to travel to my favorite spots, so I’d better make sure I am prepared for everything! During the hunting season, you can find me with the tires on the ground, rolling from the southernmost tip of Illinois to the great north woods of Michigan. Dedication is the name of the game and hunting in cold weather takes a lot of it! Having a hunt cut short due to the elements is absolutely disheartening. Months and months of waiting and work all come down to a few short weeks, so it’s absolutely necessary for this hunter to be ready at all times.
Cold Is Different on the Hunt
I will be the first person to admit that I am as self-taught as they come when it comes to hunting. One of the biggest lessons I have learned along the way and try to instill in everyone I talk to or bring out for a hunt is to prepare for the cold. Proper preparations, if done correctly, can lead to a very enjoyable hunt – even in sub-zero weather such as the recent Polar Vortex that had the country in its grips. During a normal winter, the weather man might say it’s very comfortable outside, and you might think the same. That’s until you go and climb a tree or sit in the wind dead still for hours. That changes the game.
Unfortunately, I am not graced with the option of driving my truck or ATV to my spots, as the terrain is far too rough and usually far from the nearest road. I do a lot of walking and even climbing rock faces to get to the spots I know that the big deer roam. I have fallen through frozen rivers and irrigation ditches during the pitch black morning hours and still made it through the hunt. That’s because I prepare – I will never underestimate the weather or the potential situations that could come about.
The reason is this: if you’re going to be in cold weather while you’re active and doing your daily routine, you’ll probably feel fine. However, that same temperature will feel absolutely frigid once your circulation slows down – say, when you’re in a tree stand. The answer layers – and smart layers – with good gear.
Base Layers – and Lots of Them
Base layers have come a very long way from the “long johns” or long underwear I would wear as a kid. Today’s advances in technology will keep you warmer than ever before and are worth their (typically light) weight in gold. Some of these are rated for different levels of cold and are made of different materials depending on the brand. Be sure when you’re purchasing a good camo jacket/pants or Bib System for the cold, go a size or two larger to accommodate for the base layers and additional clothing.
When you’re sitting still for hours, the cold will begin to find holes in your plan and gaps in your apparel. If you don’t prepare, it will certainly find its way to get to you. This is why you must try to tuck everything in. Stuffing your shirts into your base layer pants or underwear will help retain that much more body heat (and in the coldest weather, every bit counts). Tucking your socks up between your base layer and pants means that body heat has nowhere to go. My advice? Bring extra socks out with you just in case you fall in water, snow finds its way in, or your feet start to perspire (and in a pinch, they can double as gloves). A good set of socks is nothing short of a lifesaver. And size up when buying boots to accommodate any extra pair of socks you’ll likely slip on.
If it’s extremely cold, multiple base layers will be required and the more tucking that can be done that better. When the wind kicks up and your circulation slows, the cold really sets in and precious body heat WILL escape!
Getting to the Spot is Half the Battle
The one main thing and the biggest concern for everyone including myself is the burning of tons of calories just getting to the stand or blind. When on these hikes into the desired locations, I of course am layered up, but YOU can be your biggest enemy of all. Carrying all the gear is a workout that will jack your body heat quickly! Sweat can be the ultimate factor in determining your ability to hunt in cold weather. Once your clothing soaks up the sweat and you get to your spot, it can freeze and drop your body temperature so fast your teeth will chatter away all the game!
The best solution is to stop and rest. You shouldn’t be clipping through the woods at a high speed anyway. Moving too quickly also alerts the entire environment to your presence and elevates your heart rate. If you can’t avoid it, stop right where you are and begin to remove layers and prevent excess sweating. Not that you’ll need a reminder, but once you get to your spot, be sure to layer up again.
Planning Makes All the Difference
Remember if it’s cold out, or there is snow on the ground, it’s going to take you longer to get there. Plan ahead leave a little bit earlier so you can regulate your body heat as you head out for the day. Also keep in mind all the added time to layer up correctly. Dressing is a much longer process than throwing on your pants and shirt and walking out the door like an early season bow hunt!
Finally, get lots of sleep, as exhaustion makes the body more susceptible to the cold. And most importantly – be comfortable! Sitting in the extreme cold takes mental willpower as well as physical endurance, so make sure what you’re wearing is comfortable. Being comfortable can make a horrible “too cold, I won’t see anything” day into a “Awesome! A cold blast, that will get them moving” day. Don’t be a fair weather hunter – just take the proper preparations and bag that animal.
Be sure to check back in for part 2 of “Cold Weather Hunting” to find out more about gear and proper preparation to hunt in the cold.