While on a recent late-season muzzleloader deer hunt in western Illinois, we experienced some very cold temperatures for part of the hunt. It certainly made sitting in a tree stand all day a challenge. Fortunately I was well-prepared with lots of cold weather clothing and I was able to endure. However, I wasn't always as well-equipped, and I have learned over the years what's needed. This two-part article outlines my formula for success. Part 1 of stay warm when hunting dealt with clothing. Now we'll look at other aspects of the overall strategy.
|Hand and feet warmers are a must for hunters braving the winter weather.|
Don't Put on Your Outer Layers Indoors
One of the biggest problems with staying warm all day is staying dry when you first head to your stand. Although the various base layer materials mentioned in Part 1 do a good job of wicking sweat away from your skin, the best medicine is always prevention. If you can avoid overheating before you get to your stand, you will stay dry. At the least, don't put on your outer layers indoors in the heat, as you will be sweating before you even step out the door. I keep my outer layers in scent-free containers in my truck so I can put them on outside. If I have a long walk to my stand, or will have to trudge uphill or through heavy snow, I will tie my parka around my waist rather than wearing it, and unbutton my other top layers, and then put everything on once I'm at my stand. I may also carry in some layers in my pack instead.
External Heat Sources
I make use of whatever technological help is available and practical when trying to stay warm. For instance, I have been very happy with the ThermaCELL Rechargeable Heated Insoles to help keep my feet warm. I may also add chemical foot warmers inside my boots to keep my toes toasty warm. I will also use some type of hand warmer inside my gloves and particularly inside a fleece hand muff. This combination often allows me to get by without a glove at all on my shooting hand. When hunting out of a ground blind or elevated box blind, a portable propane heater can also be a game-changer.
Internal Heat Sources
Simply put, food is energy and energy is heat. You must keep the fire stoked if you hope to stay warm all day. I'll start with a hearty, warm breakfast, whether the traditional bacon/sausage/ham and eggs, or even just a bowl of warm cereal or oatmeal. Wash it down with coffee, tea or hot chocolate to get your body off to the right start. I will carry an insulated Thermos of hot chocolate or soup in my pack to warm me up during the day. Alcohol is out of the question — not only should it never be consumed until the guns are put away for the day but just one alcoholic drink might make you feel warmer while it actually lowers your core body temperature by causing your blood vessels to dilate, moving warm blood closer to the surface of your skin while pumping blood away from your core. That's not good.
If I plan to be out all day, I will pack a substantial lunch consisting of pizza slices or at least two hearty sandwiches, as well as high-protein snacks such as nuts, trail mix or energy bars.
Over and Under
When hunting out of a roomy blind, some hunters will also wrap up in a blanket or sleeping bag, which can make long hours in the field much more comfortable. I use a Heater Body Suit, as it is made for this purpose. Speaking of comfort, I also make sure that I am sitting on a high-quality, padded chair or seat cushion of some sort to keep my butt from absorbing cold from the ground or a metal tree stand.
No matter how good the seat is, however, I do have to stand up periodically to stretch and give my derriere a bit of a break. Not only does this keep your body from getting stiff, but it also gets your blood circulating better and gives you a shot of warmth. If I'm on the ground, I may even go for a walk around my blind, just to build up a bit of body heat. Even climbing down from a treestand for a bit of a break at ground level and perhaps getting out of the wind can certainly extend the time you can remain on stand.
Hunt at the Right Time
Finally, if there's no way I can comfortably stay out all day, I will look to just hunt the usually most productive "shoulder hours" around sunrise and sunset, while keeping warm indoors during the mid-day. It's not my preference, but at least I will be comfortable and not shivering uncontrollably when that trophy buck finally walks into view.