Cold weather bowhunting offers great opportunities to see and harvest some of our nation’s finest trophies in some of the most pristine environments on the planet however, doing so comes at a price. Do you have what it takes to stand up against brutal subzero conditions? Hunting deer in some of Montana’s most brutal, bone-chilling environments, where survival is dependent on preparation and on the fly decision making has taught me some valuable lessons. Here are the top seven:
Stand Guard…in Layers!
Dressing for cold weather hunting is not as much about dressing in layers as what comprises the layers. Starting with a moisture-wicking under garment like Under Armour is a great way to suppress moisture, by way of perspiration. The next layer, also good as the initial base layer is a set of polypropylene thermal underwear. Polypropylene also possesses great moisture wicking, great drying, breathing and insulating characteristics. The next layer may be comprised of fleece. Fleece shares the nearly the same insulating ability as wool at half the weight however, because of its inability to protect from biting wind, I do not recommend it as your outer layer. My personal choice for an outer layer is wool. Yes, wool is heavy, but it’s virtually waterproof, protects well from the brutal whipping wind and has a phenomenal insulating factor. And, because bulk is a bowhunter’s enemy, wool is quieter and far less bulky than most down outer wear applications. Because we also spend a lot of time on our feet, heat loss via conduction is a serious concern. My premier choice for footwear is a 1600-gram Thinsulate waterproof hunting boot at mid-calf height coupled with wool socks and ThermaCELL’s new Heated Insoles, the combination cannot be beat! Turn the ThermaCELL Heated Insoles to the high setting of 111 degrees and you’ll swear your sitting fireside!
Hypothermia! It’s the number one killer of ill-prepared hunters in blistering cold conditions. Hypothermia attacks when your body temperature drops to a point that impacts normal metabolism and your body is incapable of replenishing lost heat, usually around 95 degrees. As hypothermia quickly progresses uncontrollable shivering and mental confusion set in leaving a slightly disoriented hunter utterly lost and incapable of making critical, sound decisions. The number one catalyst for a healthy dose of hypothermia is moisture. Killing moisture at its onset is critical to combating opportunities to develop hypothermia.
Keep it Covered!
Keep every exposed part of your body covered, at least within reason. We can’t very well run around like wool mummies but we can protection from conduction as mentioned above. A fleece or wool balaclava is perfect for dangerously cold temperatures where frostbite is a concern on exposed skin and ice particles may be as comfortable to breathe in as you would like. Good boots and insulated bowhunting gloves also are essential to protect against frostbite.
Compression is King!
As mentioned above, wool is a great choice as an outer garment not just because of its great insulating properties but also because unlike other bulky garments, wool is generally flat, laying close to your body contour. Before hunting in cold weather, dress in all layers you expect to hunt in and practice. Ensure there is no contact between you, your bow and your string. Also make sure your layers do not inhibit your ability to shoot with proper form and anchor in the proper place. Contact with layers must be dealt with and can be improved by applying a compression sock to the forearm of your forward hand and even an outer belt around your torso, if necessary.
Survival is Serious Business!
Carry a first aid kit and outdoor survival kit including water-resistant matches or a lighter, fire starters, a compass and or a GPS, your cell phone, emergency blanket, poncho and other items in your backpack. You may laugh but I also carry my ThermaCELL mosquito repellant unit. ThermaCELL operates by igniting a butane cartridge via a spark one cartridge can burn for as long as four hours. In a pinch, that ThermaCELL unit does a great job of warming hands and other things and the butane may come in handy as a fire starter if you find yourself in survival mode! Great resources expanding on first aid and survival kits can easily be found via your internet search engine.
Eat Like a King!
High calorie foods also are suggested your metabolism has more to do with your body heat than many people realize. You must have calorie intake to keep your metabolism at a normal state. Slowing of your metabolism as a result of calorie intake can lead to loss of body heat and hypothermia.
Plan Your Hunt, Hunt Your Plan!
Having a plan before you hit the woods just makes survival sense! Adhering to a good plan only increases your chances of having a successful, memorable and safe hunt. However, things can and do happen when we least expect it. Anytime you venture into the woods, especially in extreme, life threatening temperatures, make sure you outline your hunt as much as possible. Include detailed information about your hunt locations, dates, times of travel, trail markers, companies, outfitters, other hunters in your party including contact information, etc. Leave a copy of all of your plans with someone you trust who is not going with you. If the unthinkable happens, people are more apt to effect product searches by using a copy of your itinerary and hunt plan.