By Alex Comstock
Hunting in the cold can mean different things to different people, depending on where you hunt, and what you're used to. For me, I wouldn't categorize extreme cold as anything above zero degrees. But once it's gets around zero, and below zero, I don't care who you are, that's cold. I've experienced many good hunts in the extreme cold, and knowing how to hunt in that weather can ultimately decide if you'll ever do it more than once. Here's a few things that have helped me hunt in extreme cold.
Proper preparation is the first step to having a successful hunt in the extreme cold. Knowing what you're getting into and how to attack it is critical. The worst thing you can do is either under dress or over dress for a walk in. If you under dress, you may not be able to hunt for as long as you want, and if you over dress and get all sweated up on the walk in, you'll be freezing before you know it. Understanding what you're getting into and how to prepare for it is crucial. This may be the most important aspect to hunting in extreme cold conditions.
Hands and Feet
In most cases, the first thing to get cold in extreme conditions are my hands and feet. The longer I can keep these warm, the longer I'll last in the elements. For my hands, I want to wear something extremely warm for the walk in, and when I get to the stand or blind, I'll transition from the warm gloves to my thinner pair of gloves, and then I keep my hands in a hand muff while sitting, usually filled with hand warmers. This year, I changed all of my clothing to Sitka Gear, and when wearing the Sitka Fanatic Jacket, it's got a built in hand muff, which is ideal for me.
When it comes to keeping my feet warm, I wear two pairs of warm socks, with disposable foot warmers in between my two pairs of socks. I've found this to be a very effective way to keep my feet warmer for a longer duration. A recent trick I've learned is to place a butt pad that you would normally sit on and place it on the ground, and put your feet on top of that. It can make a big difference with the cold from the ground or treestand being transferred to the pad instead of your feet. No matter how warm you dress, if your hands or feet get cold, odds are your hunt is all but over with.
Head and Face
When it gets to be arctic temperatures as it was in the blind for me the other day (-35 degrees wind chill) it can be a challenge to keep your face warm. I recommend wearing some type of warm neck gaiter. If it can cover your neck, and you can pull it up to cover most of your face this is ideal.
When it comes to your head, this is where you can lose a lot of heat. Make sure you've got a solid hat that is insulated well. One thing I do is wear some type of skull cap for the walk in, and when you get to your stand or blind, then put on a warmer hat over that. The combination of the skull cap and warm hat over it can really help keep warmth in.
An important part of hunting in the extreme cold is the ability to wear the right amount of layers and still do the most important part which is being able to pull back your bow. Throughout most of my life, when it got to be below zero, I'd be wearing damn near 7 or 8 layers and how I ever got my bow back is beyond me. I've heard it time and time again. When it's frigidly cold, and you put too many layers on, it can be a challenge to pull your bow back when the time comes.
This year, with my switch to Sitka Gear, late season is where I've noticed the biggest difference from years prior. I can wear just a few layers and as long as I'm keeping my extremities warm, I'll be good to go. If you want to look into any of the Sitka system, what I wear on the coldest of days would be as follows. On bottom, I start with the core heavyweight pants, followed by the stratus pants, then the fanatic bibs for the outer layer. On top, I wear the core lightweight long sleeve shirt, fanatic hoody, fanatic vest, and then fanatic jacket. That combination kept me plenty warm even as I sat in temperatures that pushed -30 with the wind chill the other day. You don't need this system, but if you can find the right layering system for you and still have enough mobility to not have to worry about getting your bow drawn back, that's what it's ultimately about.
When it comes to hunting in extreme cold conditions, knowing what your getting yourself into is key. There may even be things you need to sacrifice to make it work. For instance, I normally get dressed in my hunting clothing at the truck. When the temperature is in the negatives, and on another level of cold, I'll get all ready inside, and drive to my hunting spot with my clothes on. It's not ideal, but I know my hands will make it longer without freezing if I don't have to expose them to the cold while getting changed, and it's something worth trading in my mind. Hunting in brutal cold can be tough, but the feeling of harvesting a buck in weather most people would deem crazy to hunt in is quite remarkable.