December 15, 2015
Growing up in South Dakota meant avoiding the cold wasn't an option. If you hunted in December, then you'd need to be as tough as the deer you were chasing. Late season hunting separated the men from the boys, or the hardcore hunters from everyone else.
A couple years ago my buddy drew a highly coveted muzzleloader tag, and I was invited to join him on the hunt. The season ran the whole month of December, but we didn't get out until after Christmas. With a temperature of -10°F and 30 mph winds, we were faced with a wind chill of -39°F.
Temperatures that low will induce frost bite within 10 minutes. My hunting partner and I were dedicated (or stupid), and endured those brutal conditions for three solid days. By no means was I ever comfortable on that hunt, but I did discover a few ways to make hunting in the cold more enjoyable.
Here are five items to toss in your backpack that are sure to help you stay warm on your next cold weather hunt.
Keeping your hands functional is crucial for any late season hunt. If you've got numb fingers, good luck operating your binos, rangefinder, phone or release. Luckily, there are some really cheap ways to prevent this.
Air activated hand warmers are the most common way hunters fight the cold. Available at most gas stations and costing around $.50 each, it's easy to see why guys stockpile them. Simply give them a shake, place in your pocket and enjoy the added warmth.
A more reliable source of heat is a reusable catalytic hand warmer. The most popular brand is Zippo, which sells 12-hour warmers for less than $20. These phone-sized devices run on lighter fluid, but are odorless once they start burning.
Science tells us that a well-hydrated person can better regulate their body temperature. However, not just any liquid will do. It's important that your coffee, tea or water is hot when you drink it. If you wait too long and your beverage becomes cold, you're actually hurting yourself.
A cold liquid in cold weather will use much needed energy while it heats up to your normal body temperature. A hot liquid in cold weather will add heat to your body and feel good in your mouth and throat, but most importantly your kidneys.
Kidneys that slow down due to lack of water tend to be the first things to get cold. By keeping your kidneys hydrated, blood can adequately find its way to your hands and feet, also making your extremities warmer.
An easy way to ruin a late season hunt is by getting something wet. If you're bowhunting in the snow, it's not "if" you'll need extra gloves, it's "when."
Even more valuable is an extra facemask. It's inevitable that moisture from your breath will turn your facemask into an ice cube, rendering it useless. A bonus gaiter or balaclava in your bag will make your hunt much cozier.
The best part about bringing extra gloves, extra socks or an extra facemask is that they weigh less than your knife. It's just plain practical to toss them in your backpack.
A small blanket in your bag can make the biggest of differences. My favorite use is to toss it over my knees or arms.
Extra layering around your knees is helpful because the fabric there naturally stretches and gets thinner, losing its insulating qualities. Also, most jackets are built with less insulation in the arms than in the body. A lot of hunters don't realize that their 200-gram parka may only have 150-gram insulation in the sleeves.
Another place to use a blanket is under you. As someone who is a big fan of inexpensive treestands, I know how thick (or not) some seat pads can be. If your seat pad is paper-thin or nonexistent, a little extra layering between you and the metal will keep your rear there longer.
At 10 degrees, the wind chill drops about 5 degrees for every 5 mph of wind. Extreme wind gusts in the Midwest can cut through even the fanciest hunting jackets, but won't penetrate the cheapest of raincoats.
If the wind does start to bite, it's nothing to slide on one more layer. Although raincoats can sometimes be noisy and not as odorless, strong winds that justify rain gear can usually mask your sound and smell.
Just like packing extra gloves, bringing rain gear in your pack doesn't add much weight. I've also realized rain gear has the supernatural power to cause clear skies, because I only seem to get poured on when it's sitting at home.