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Hunter’s Handbook is the official student “how-to” information pipeline of the International Hunter Education Association. As the experts in teaching safe, ethical and successful hunting, we are here to provide tips, tools, and great video content as well as offer you a place that you can learn more about your love and favorite past-time—hunting.  Spend some time with us.  New content is added monthly, and we are excited to share our expertise with you.  We wish you a lifetime of safe and memorable experiences in the outdoors.

Surviving the elements

In January 2014, a polar vortex carried arctic winds down from Canada into the Ohio River Valley, causing temperatures to drop to record lows. That severe cold snap also coincided with Ohio’s muzzleloader season, and there were very few hunters that were willing to venture out with wind chills at -20. But Chad McKibben was an exception. Despite warnings about wind chills and frostbite, McKibben headed to his stand and just after daybreak he was lucky enough to cross paths with a 165-inch whitetail buck that was moving from his feeding to his bedding areas.

Surviving the elements

Late-season hunting offers plenty of opportunities for success—if you can survive the elements.

Brad Fitzpatrick

 

In January 2014, a polar vortex carried arctic winds down from Canada into the Ohio River Valley, causing temperatures to drop to record lows. That severe cold snap also coincided with Ohio’s muzzleloader season, and there were very few hunters that were willing to venture out with wind chills at -20. But Chad McKibben was an exception. Despite warnings about wind chills and frostbite, McKibben headed to his stand and just after daybreak he was lucky enough to cross paths with a 165-inch whitetail buck that was moving from his feeding to his bedding areas.

Would McKibben have seen that buck on a warmer day? It’s hard to tell, but his willingness to hunt in the coldest conditions proved to be a critical element in harvesting that outstanding deer. Cold weather can oftentimes prompt game to move, and fresh snow makes it easier to see game. But winter conditions can make hunting uncomfortable or even dangerous if you don’t have the right equipment. That’s why it’s essential to have a winter war chest with the right tools for the coldest hunts.

The Right Clothes for the Worst Weather

To begin, we must first understand what happens when our body loses heat. Through metabolic processes our body generates heat—heat that we need to survive. If we lose too much heat then we are at risk of frostbite, hypothermia, and other serious conditions. The goal then, is to create heat through metabolism and keep that heat close to our bodies.

This begins by selecting a base layer, the first line of defense against the cold. Proper base layers will wick away moisture (since perspiration is another byproduct of cellular respiration) and trap the heat that our bodies generate. Select a base layer that is light and comfortable, then begin layering clothes on top of that base layer. These are often called mid-layers, and I like to add clothes that are slightly heavier than my base layer but are also wicking materials because I am trying to keep heat-robbing moisture away from my body. I may have one or two mid layers, enough to keep me warm without being bulky.

The last element in your clothing selection is choosing an outer layer which is designed to not only hold heat in but to protect you from external conditions. I prefer a natural material for this purpose—wool. Wool is a favorite of western hunters, and with good reason. Wool is quite warm, but it’s also tough and very quiet. I have a pair of pants and a jacket from Sleeping Indian Wool (made in the USA, and they’ll even tailor it to fit you) that serve as my go-to outer layer in snow and icy conditions.

A great deal of body heat is lost through the head, so a good hat is a must. I also carry a facemask, and gloves and warm socks. My favorite material for these items is—you guessed it—wool. Sometimes conditions are so cold on stand that you need something else, and in those situations consider electronic heated gloves and insoles. I have used a pair of ThermaCELL’s new heated insoles extensively this winter and have found them to be excellent, keeping my feet comfortable under the worst conditions. Good boots are the final tool in your cold weather war chest, so pay close attention to Thinsulate ratings. 400 grams is good, 800 is better, and there should be enough room in your boots that you can actually move your toes.

Another key factor to keeping warm is burning enough metabolic fuel that your body can do its job and produce sufficient heat. Carbohydrates break down quickly and provide a lot of energy. That can be great for a quick boost, but you may want something that will provide sustained heat. For this reason I like trail mix or energy bars, which usually have enough sugar to create energy quickly and complex carbohydrates, proteins and fats to sustain you for an all-day hunt in the coldest weather.