The snowy woods of the late season archery hunt are breathtaking, but not just for their beauty. The extreme weather adds a layer of complexity that a good hunter knows how to address. This means knowing how to stay warm while hunting so you can keep comfortable and safe, not to mention ready to shoot when that buck comes into range.
Layering Is The Key To Staying Warm While Hunting
Layering is the ideal strategy for staying warm while hunting mainly due to the versatility it provides. You can take off layers and put them back on as needed to adjust to your body temperature and the conditions outside.
This principle is especially important when hunting. Pretty much every style of hunting involves intense hiking and movement followed by long periods of sitting still. For instance, you have to hike through the woods carrying all your gear and then climb up into your tree stand, but then you don't move for several hours.
Hiking through the woods is going to heat you up. You want to be able to take off layers so you don't start sweating too much. Later, when you aren't moving, that sweat can cool and even cause hypothermia. Plus, you'll want to add on layers to trap in body heat and keep you warm, like an outer jacket and pants.
Furthermore, whitetail season occurs in the fall, when temperatures can shift dramatically from night to day. You'll likely need to adjust your layers accordingly.
Finally, layering helps regulate moisture as well as temperature. For example, you may need a waterproof upper layer in case of rain but a moisture-wicking bottom layer to control sweat.
RELATED: Best Rain Gear For Hunting
The base layer is the foundation of your cold-weather layering gear. It fits close to the skin to provide warmth but is thin enough that it doesn't inhibit your movement. A good base layer also wicks away moisture and is breathable to prevent cooling.
A great material to look for in a base layer is Merino wool, though many synthetic fabrics work well too.
The mid layer should focus on insulation. Its main goal is to trap in your body heat. It also acts as a buffer between the moisture-wicking base layer and the weather-proof outer layer.
Fleece and down are excellent insulative choices and provide high warmth-to-weight ratios.
RELATED: Kuiu vs Sitka Gear
The outer layer can also keep you warm through insulation, but its main job is to keep you warm by protecting you from the weather. This means waterproofing and windproofing. Deer hunting season tends to be wet and windy both.
Synthetic fibers are usually the best in this regard. Gore-Tex is a popular choice because it also provides some insulation.
Consider using a high end outer layer made from Gore-Tex, like the options from Sitka Gear.
RELATED: Best Hunting Clothing Brands
Keep Your Head Warm
When I was a kid, I can remember my grandfather wearing a knitted "skull cap" to stay way warm while hunting. He always used to say that you stay warm by keeping the heat from going up the chimney.
Your body loses quite a bit of heat through your head, and it's just as important to insulate as the rest of you. You should at least consider wearing a beanie, but it's a good idea to layer like you do the rest of the body. A balaclava makes a good base layer that you can combine with a beanie and/or hunting hat.
In any case, you should look for ear covering. Your ears have minimal blood flow and get cold fast.
Keep Your Feet Warm
Your feet are important body parts for hunting. You need to hike, climb and plant yourself to take the shot. You have to keep them warm. It's not just a matter of comfort. Warm feet are functional feet, and that can make all the difference on the hunt. Click here for an in-depth guide on How To Keep Your Feet Warm.
Since your feet are far from your heart and have little body fat, they need a lot of insulation to stay warm, especially if you aren't moving around. The best way to do this is with quality hunting socks, usually made of wool.
Nevertheless, you still need to worry about moisture-wicking when it comes to socks. Sweaty feet can get cold fast, and that can be a major problem if you're hunting. Sweaty feet also mean stinky feet. You don't want the deer to pick up your scent, so you want socks that wick sweat and neutralize odor.
Hunting boots are an outer layer for your feet. Therefore, they should be waterproof to prevent your feet from getting wet regardless of the terrain you're hunting in.
If you hunt the late season or in cold Midwestern or Northern climates, you may also want insulation in your boots. Just remember that you can't take your boots off like you can other outer layers, so calibrate the amount of insulation to the expected weather conditions.
Finally, there's a lot of other factors to consider for hunting boots other than just staying warm. You want ankle support and good traction for different terrains. You also want them to be comfortable, both for walking and sitting for long periods of time.
Heated Socks And Insoles
With thick socks and insulated boots, hunters sticking to the rut and those in the Deep South probably don't need anything else for their feet. But if it gets really cold where you hunt, especially if you have to trudge through snow, consider adding heated socks and/or insoles to your wardrobe.
These devices draw power from batteries to actively heat your feet. They can be a bit complicated since they have wires and battery packs to deal with, but it's worth it in frigid conditions.
Keep Your Hands Warm
Like your feet, your hands are extremities that get cold easily. At the same time, they're pretty important for hunting since you need them to draw and aim your bow or shoot your rifle. Either way, you want your fingers responsive and agile.
Gloves are fundamental to hunting, and good hunting gloves aren't just any old winter gloves. You want enough insulation to stay warm, but you still want to be able to move your fingers easily, have a good range of motion, and maintain tactile sensitivity.
Once again, layering is your friend. Consider a base layer made of a thin, wool mitten, ideally a fingerless one. Then add thick gloves with a synthetic waterproof barrier on top.
You can even get gloves with a finger covering that flips open. This way they keep your fingers warm when you don't need them, but as soon as you have to draw your bow, you have full use of your finger pads.
Hand warmers are a great way to keep your hands and fingers ready to go at a moment's notice. While some have batteries, there are plenty of convenient chemical hand warmers. Many are even reusable.
You can stick these into your pockets where you keep your hands while you're waiting. Alternatively, you can stick them down into your gloves, or look for hunting gloves with dedicated hand-warmer pockets.
How To Stay Warm While Deer Hunting In A Tree Stand
Hunting from a tree stand makes it all the more difficult to stay warm since you aren't moving. In fact, a few of us at Deer Hunting Guide have a tendency to nod off! Luckily, there are a few tricks, in addition to those above, to maximize your body heat and stay warm.
This is especially important if you are bowhunting. It is almost impossible to draw your bow once you get cold and stiff.
Don’t Sweat On The Way To Your Tree Stand
One of the best ways to help stay warm in your tree stand is to avoid sweating when you hike to it. This is also one of the hardest ways.
If you have enough heavy insulation on to keep you warm when you're not moving, it'll heat you up when you're hiking. That's why layering is so important. Don't even put on your top layer till you've gotten positioned in your tree stand.
Additionally, get a base layer that's breathable and moisture-wicking so any sweat you do have doesn't build up on the skin. If you feel that you're heating up and might start sweating, slow your pace and open up your clothing as much as possible to provide airflow.
Eat To Provide Fuel To Keep You Warm
Your body heat is produced by your body metabolizing the food you eat. If you don't give it enough fuel, your body can't stay warm. Have a big breakfast before you head to the tree stand, and take plenty of snacks depending on how long you plan to be there. Eat at regular intervals.
Drink Warm Liquids
You can supplement the heat your body produces on its own by adding some with hot drinks. Thanks to modern thermoses, you can take hot coffee, tea or any other drink with you. It will stay warm throughout your hunt, and you drink a bit at a time to give you a boost of heat.
Stand Up And Stretch Every So Often
Your extremities need to get enough blood to stay warm. When you're sitting in the same position for long periods of time, your heart slows down and your blood vessels get pinched. To make sure the blood keeps flowing through your arms and legs and into your hands and feet, stand up every so often and stretch as much as you can given the size of your tree stand. Just be quiet while doing it!
When temperatures really drop, that is when our staff members get out the hunting bibs to stay warm in a tree stand.
Know The Symptoms Of Frostbite
If you're hunting in cold conditions, you should always be on guard for frostbite. Because it comes on progressively and is preceded by "frostnip," you may not even notice it or try to brave the initial symptoms and end up with painful or even permanent damage.
Frostbite basically happens when your skin or deeper tissues freeze from the cold. The first symptoms you might notice are numbness and tingling, usually in extremities like your fingers, toes or nose. From there, symptoms get progressively worse, moving from first to fourth degree:
- Numbness and tingling
- Swollen and red skin
- Blisters form
- Hardening of the skin
- Blood blisters form
- Skin turns blue and gray
- Skin loses all color
- Skin turns hard
- Skin loses all sensitivity
Each of these degrees involves deeper freezing of your tissues, including below the skin. While first-degree frostbite rarely results in permanent damage, fourth-degree frostbite can cause the affected body parts to fall off. In other words, take action when you notice those first tingles!
How To Treat Frostbite
If you suspect you have frostbite, even just first-degree frostbite, you should seek medical attention. However, if that isn't an option, there are a few things you can do.
- First, get out of the cold. Don't try rewarming the frostbitten body part while still outdoors. It could refreeze and cause even more severe damage.
- Next, rewarm the frostbitten body part in warm water no hotter than about 105℉ until it regains feeling. Don't use any kind of direct heat like fire or a stove.
- Finally, dress the frostbitten area with sterile bandages. If multiple body parts like fingers and toes are affected, keep them separated so they don't stick together.
Remember that these are instructions for mild first-degree frostbite. More severe cases require professional treatment, and you should follow up with a doctor in any case.
Know The Symptoms Of Hypothermia
Hypothermia is defined as a core body temperature below 95℉, which is about 3.5 degrees lower than normal body temperature. Like frostbite, it can come on slowly, and since it also affects the brain, you may not even realize it's affecting you if it's gotten severe.
You need to be able to recognize hypothermia from its initial symptoms so you can treat and counteract it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, these aren't too different from the symptoms of being cold in general like shivering.
A big giveaway is an increased heart rate and blood pressure. If you're shivering constantly yet feel like your heart is about to beat out of your chest, it's time to call it a day. From there, symptoms progress in four defined stages:
- Body temperature between 89.6 and 95℉
- Intense shivering
- High blood pressure and heart rate
- Increased urination
- Body temperature between 82.4 and 89.6℉
- Mental confusion and amnesia
- Loss of coordination
- Body temperature between 68 and 82.4℉
- Extremely low heart rate
- Slowed breathing
- "Paradoxical undressing" where you take off your clothes despite the cold
- Body temperature below 68℉
How To Treat Hypothermia
If you suspect your body temperature is dropping, you need to get out of the cold as soon as possible. Since hypothermia quickly begins to cause mental confusion, if your temperature drops too much, you'll become disoriented and may get lost in the woods.
The most important way to treat hypothermia is to get out of the cold and warm up. Do this by putting on as many dry layers as possible and covering up with blankets. Drink warm liquids, but avoid applying direct heat to your skin. Try to focus heat on your heart.
Make sure to follow up with your medical provider to ensure there isn't any unseen damage like frostbite.
Staying warm is essential to deer hunting, which normally occurs during the fall and winter. It's about more than just comfort. Staying warm means you can move agilely and tactilely to take an accurate shot, increasing your chance of success. Plus, the cold can be dangerous.
Yes, high quality hunting gear can be expensive, but if cared for properly, it will give you years of trouble free service.
Don't become a statistic. Get the right gear and have a cold-weather plan to have a safe and successful hunt.