This weekend, even before you read this, those frigid temperatures I love will return and this time for a bit longer. And, when temperatures drop I get tunnel vision. I think about all those dead bugs (smiling) … and hunting! Even better, hunting without all those biting, prodding insects and snakes; however, with our colder temperatures, and forecasters are calling for a much wetter and colder winter this season, we must also take extra precautions considered relatively foreign in concept to us Texans. To that end, let’s talk about cold weather hunting.
Cold weather hunting offers great opportunities to see and harvest great animals, including deer, hogs, fall turkey and waterfowl on some of the finest, mosquito-, snake- and scorpion-free, ground in our Lone Star state. Don’t believe me? Take on a duck hunt down at Richland Creek WMA; you’ll be hooked! However, hunting is such great conditions comes at a common sense price; be prepared or become a victim.
If you recall, several years ago, we certainly did have a two week stretch where temperatures dropped to single digits and wind chills dropped to around zero. It’s happened before; it’ll happen again, maybe this winter. Do you have what it takes to stand up against those brutal, bone-chilling conditions? Hunting deer and elk in some of Montana’s most brutal, bone-chilling environments, where temperatures sometimes drop to 40 below zero, has taught me that survival is dependent on preparation and on the fly decision making… and to be honest, during those times, I’ve learned some hard, sobering, invaluable lessons, thankfully without serious injury… or death since I’m happily typing this for your unadulterated entertainment.
Seriously, here are some of my best tips for hunting in extreme temperatures that even we here in Navarro County are sometimes exposed to. Believe me. Even here, danger lurks for those who dismiss the potential for cold weather injuries. Here are the top seven tips:
Stand Guard...in Layers!
Dressing for cold weather hunting is not as much about dressing in layers as what comprises the layers. Staying dry is critical to avoiding cold-related injuries. When duck hunting I use neoprene chest waders with wool socks that are pre-treated with Scotchguard on the seams and at least 5mm thickness. I recently found some great waders at online for a great price. They are Duck commander 800-gram Extreme-Prene chest waders with hand warmers! I wore them during the last cold snap for a walk through a marsh and they were more than enough but not over the top!
For regular dressing, 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 hunter’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 cold weather footwear is Grubs Treeline 10.5 waterproof hunting boot with the stretchable calf panel, since God “blessed” me with big calves, coupled with wool socks. If you have lighter boots, NOTHING compares to the heavenly bliss I experience with ThermaCELL 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 are no obstructions between you and your rifle. If you’re bowhunting (my preference) ensure there is no contact between you and your bow, especially with respect to your bow string when you are at full draw. 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 in more remote areas, an outdoor survival kit that includes water-resistant matches or a lighter, fire starters, a compass and or a GPS, your cell phone, Brunton flexible solar panel mat, emergency blanket, poncho, lightweight rope, flashlight, a sharp knife and other items in your backpack. The Revelation Amp from Real Avid is a perfect hunting knife this incredibly durable, razor sharp, holds a great edge, incorporates a gut hook, drop point blade, saw and even high intensity lights – a great knife and flashlight rolled into one!
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. Drinking fluids also applies here. It’s easy to forget that dehydration is a real danger. Keep your water in a place that doesn’t freeze. Remember, you use more energy eating snow than it ever benefits; eating snow is not a good option. Melting it and drinking water is your best resource beyond just collecting and drinking water itself. That said, you should also have a way of filtering it. Tainted water is often much worse than no water at all.
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 productive searches by using a copy of your itinerary and hunt plan.
Hunt hard, hunt often, stay warm!