January 27, 2023
The mid-October guided trip for turkeys in West Virginia’s Cranberry Wilderness had begun with temperatures in the mid-60s, light winds and blue skies. My lightweight camo became wet with perspiration from trekking up and down the mountains in the warm weather, and by the time I returned to camp near dark, the temperature had dropped into the 30s and the wind had begun blowing from the northeast. Then things got worse.
The camp cook accidentally set fire to the tent, causing a gaping hole in the top. Soon afterwards, snow began falling through that chasm, the wind began howling at over 35 mph, the temperature plunged into the low 20s and I spent truly the coldest night of my life. The next morning, I awoke to snow covering my lightweight sleeping bag. Shivering uncontrollably, I told my guide that I was leaving and started the 3-mile snowy slog back to my vehicle. I recall keeping the car’s heater on high most of the way home.
We can’t plan on certain things happening—such as a camp cook starting a grease fire then trying to extinguish the flames by pouring water on them—but we can strive to wear the right kind of clothing to keep us afield from dawn to dark during frigid conditions. Often, that requires more innovative thinking than just dressing in layers and keeping an eye on the forecast.
Identify Your Cold Spots
Dave Larsen, CEO of hunting apparel manufacturer Gamehide, believes that hunters should first consider their individual metabolism and cold spots. "For example," he says, "we have one staff person whose metabolism runs hot all the time, and he always dresses light in even the coldest weather. For me—and this has changed as I’ve gotten older—my feet are my cold spots. I’ve got to make sure they stay warm or my whole body will grow cold. Another challenge is to choose clothing that will stop the wind without impacting air flow underneath, and will add warmth but not bulk."
Settle in for the Long Haul
What we do after we reach our stand site also plays a major role in how well we stay warm during frigid conditions. "Many hunters, myself included, will wear a light shirt and pants for the walk to their treestand," Larsen says. "But some hunters often make one of two mistakes after they get there: They either immediately put on their heavy clothing or wait until they get cold to do so.
"What I recommend is when you first arrive, wipe away the excess moisture that has accumulated on the way in," Larsen continues. "Then, after you are as dry as you can be, immediately put on your warmest clothing, again making sure that you pay attention to your individual cold spots. You definitely don’t want to wait until you’ve gotten cold to put on extra clothes because by then you’ve lost the warmth you built up on the way to your stand."
Larsen says another advantage of this routine is being able to settle into your stand for the duration without squirming about and risking being spotted by game. Plus, you’ll be able to concentrate more on the hunt than on how cold you are becoming.
Dress for Success
Virginia offers a two-week January turkey season, and with a tag to punch, I went hunting on a day when the windchill factor hovered in the mid-teens, snow already blanketed the ground, flurries occurred periodically, and the wind pummeled me constantly. My cold spot is my chest and stomach area, so I donned two layers of wool underwear, a fleece quarter-zip top and my warmest camo jacket. For my head and face, I pulled on a 100 percent wool balaclava.
My legs rarely become cold, so I made do with a single layer of wool underwear and the jacket’s matching pants. Wool socks were coupled with a pair of boots with 1,200 grams of Thinsulate, and I slipped on a pair of insulated gloves. It took me until 11:15 a.m. to find and scatter a flock, and a full two hours went by before birds began to periodically answer my calls. I can’t say that I was toasty warm as the hours went by, but the wait was tolerable. The 10.8-pound jenny I killed at 5:15 p.m. gave me my biggest hunting thrill of the season.
Gamehide’s Dave Larsen recommends hunters add these four things to their cold-weather wardrobe if they don’t use them already.
- Hand Muff: Larsen says that many wintertime hunters try to keep their hands warm by wearing heavy-duty gloves, but don’t like the bulk when it comes time to pull a trigger or release an arrow. The solution, he says, is to wear light gloves and keep your hands inside a muff, attached around your waist, until it’s time to shoot.
- Neck Gaiter: Larsen believes one of the areas that hunters often neglect to protect is their necks. A warm, soft gaiter does a great job of keeping the wind off the neck and face while helping to keep heat from escaping through the collars of upper-body layers.
- Face Mask: Even a lightweight mask will serve as some protection from the wind and cold; a heavy-duty one will help even more. Or try a wool balaclava.
- Bib Overalls: Larsen says his company’s Pant/Bib garment adds an extra layer of warmth over the kidney area like a full bib does, but without as much bulk.
An environment-friendly, air-activated heat pouch
If you’ve made a concerted effort to cut down on single-use products and are always trying to think of ways to repurpose things rather than send them to the landfill, there’s a new air-activated warmer option that’s right up your alley. Ignik is the name and reducing waste is the company’s game.
All of Ignik’s warmers, which include hand warmers, toe warmers and full-foot warmers, come in resealable (and recyclable) packaging that allow the warmers to be used for up to 72 hours after the initial opening. On top of that, the company claims the warmers are 98-percent biodegradable and that the all-natural contents of the pouches can be added to compost once they’re done producing heat.
The Week-Long Warm Pack ($29.99; ignik.com) includes two pairs of foot warmers (which produce 8 hours of heat), six pairs of toe warmers (6 to 8 hours of
heat) and 12 pairs of hand warmers (10 hours of heat).—John Taranto