Outdoors column: Keeping it comfortable during a cold deer hunt

Special to Enquirer HeraldOctober 23, 2013 

Just this week, the early morning temperatures have dropped low enough hunters need to think about how to stay warm in the treestand.

When I think back to my early days of deer hunting, which always seemed to be miserably cold, I never understood why I always froze when I hunted if I was as well dressed as an Eskimo.

Most everything that I wore was insulated, including my long johns, cover-alls, boots and gloves. But none of it seemed to do much good.

Today, however, I’m fully aware of the mistakes I made. Now I’m able to hang in there for hours upon hours even when our temperatures dip to their lowest point of the season.

In hopes of improving the experience for everybody when the mercury plummets, let’s take a look at what’s true, what’s not and what you might be able to do just a little bit better.

One of the biggest mistakes that deer hunters make is allowing the cold morning temperatures to determine what they wear. I can promise you that no matter how much or how little you have on, by the time you’ve marched all the way to your treestand while hauling your gun or bow and gear, you’re going to be sweating.

Not only is this hurting your chances of seeing that buck due to the likelihood of him smelling you first, it’s naturally bringing your body temperature down once you’ve become sedentary in the stand. That moisture becomes trapped within your clothes, leaving you wet and results in your body’s core temperature dropping tremendously.

Your best bet is to wear layers. These layers not only work as insulators themselves, but allow you to wear less on your way in and put your heavier clothing on once you’ve settled in that tree.

A key element within this is to make sure that these layers are made up of the right materials. Gone are the days of the cotton long johns.

Cotton collects perspiration and can hold as much as half of its weight in moisture, which won’t dry out all day. Synthetics are a much better choice and the ones on the market now often include some sort of scent control. These man-made materials are great at wicking the moisture away from your body and allowing it to dissipate through your outer layers. Thus, you stay dry and warm.

Even better, these clothes can be purchased for specific temperature ranges including milder temperatures, cooler, cold and extreme cold.

Insulated boots are a must on bitterly cold days but have you made the mistake of putting on three or four pair of socks to keep those tootsies toasty?

The more layers of socks, the tighter those boots are going to fit. This actually has less insulating value! Trapped air is what insulates you from the cold. A tight fit allows your boots, insulated or not, to conduct heat straight from your feet.

The best route to take is a thin, synthetic sock liner, available at all sporting goods stores, inside of a good pair of wool socks.

These liners also have wicking properties and make a major difference in your comfort. As long as you can still feel some room and wiggle your toes, you’ll be much better off.

Back in the old days, goose down was the insulator of choice for all outerwear. There’s no doubt that down is the best natural insulator available but has its limitations. You see, once it’s wet, it’s worthless.

Technology has brought us much better choices that include synthetic insulators with names such as “Hollofil.” My outerwear for the coldest days consists of bibs and a heavy jacket made by Arctic Shield.

These work so well that they come with a warning to let you know that wearing them while active will raise your body temperature to dangerous levels.

Between them and my insulated underwear, I wear nothing more than a pair of hunting pants and shirt with the occasional fleece pullover replacing the Arctic Shield jacket because it sometimes works too well!

I only wear gloves on the milder days. Mittens work better than gloves for the same reason that having room in your boots makes a difference.

The ones I use have slits in the palms that allow you to slip your fingers out whenever you’re ready to take a shot or do something that requires more dexterity.

I’ll typically only use them on the coldest of days, opting to use a fleece handwarmer that straps around my waist most of the time. If the temperatures are somewhere in between, I’ll toss a couple of chemical hand warming packets in there to help knock off the chill.

Don’t forget to cover your head since a great deal of heat can escape the body from it. If it’s really cold or the wind is up, I use a fleece headcover that leaves nothing but my eyes exposed.

Do you always eat breakfast before the hunt?

Even though you aren’t exerting much physical energy while perched in a tree, your body is constantly burning its fuel supply.

Our bodies have a built in defense that protects our organs and vital functions by decreasing blood flow to the extremities and concentrating it where it’s needed most. Shivering is the body’s way of telling us that we need to generate more heat and the process of digestion is one way to do it. Foods such as jerky or nuts are great choices.

Just don’t bother grabbing a honey bun or some type of candy. Sugars burn much more rapidly and won’t do you any good by the time you’ve arrived at your chosen location.

Lastly, remember that alcohol works against you. Sure, those old cowboys in the movies always passed a bottle around to “warm up” but that’s a trick.

In truth, alcohol widens the blood vessels and, although it does give a brief sensation of warmth, it’s not real. What many don’t understand is that the sensation comes from the accelerated heat loss that it causes.

Staying hydrated with water will work in your favor and is the smarter way to go.

With all that we know today, there’s really no excuse for being miserable out there. I can promise you that just applying these techniques to your hunt preparations will help you to get that much more out of your trips afield when the numbers on the thermometer run low.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow him on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors

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