Cold Weather Clothing
On opening morning of my first Canadian deer hunt, I was walking down the hallway of the hunting cabin headed toward the back door when my guide stopped me. He was looking at my boots and coveralls and the layering system I had on underneath. After checking my clothes out he said, “You’ll be fine.”
My guide was aware that this was my first trip to Canada and the cold temperatures we would be hunting in that morning. I thanked him for being concerned for my comfort and safety as we walked out into the cold Canadian air.
The outfitter did not know that I had spent the previous four years preparing for this hunt. When I began thinking about hunting in Canada, I read every article that I could find on the subject of cold weather clothing. I was aware that during hunting season the temperatures in Saskatchewan, Canada could reach as low as -20 to -30 F or colder. Keeping this in mind, I got the advice from hunters who had hunted many times in Canada. I contacted several Canadian outfitters for their recommendations on what type of clothing I would need. I also talked to different clothing manufacturing companies and had them explain what their clothes were designed to do.
After reading this information and talking to these people, I knew I needed to buy a completely new hunting wardrobe. Even though I have hunted a few times in the Southeastern United States with the wind chill well below zero degrees F, the hunting gear that I wore on these Southern hunts would not be adequate for the cold temperatures of the North.
By doing research and getting advice from others, I managed to assemble my cold weather hunting gear. The following is a list of the clothing and accessories I recommend for a Canadian hunt.
1. One pair of polypropylene socks (or equivalent). Wearing polypropylene next to your skin will help wick moisture away from your feet. My outer socks are a heavy weight wool sock.
2. A quality pair of waterproof boots with a rating of -100 to -150 degrees F is a must. Usually these are the big pack boot type which are not very good for walking. However, most hunting in Canada is done from tree stands, ground blinds or shooting houses and there is very little walking involved.
3. Boot blankets. When buying boot blankets, make sure they are large enough to fit over your pack boots.
4. Polar weight polypropylene thermal bottom (or equivalent). Just like the socks, the polypropylene will wick moisture away from your body.
5. A pair of 30 ounce wool pants.
6. Polar weight polypropylene thermal top (or equivalent).
7. Turtleneck shirt. Wearing a turtleneck shirt will help keep the neck area warm and also help prevent body heat from escaping.
8. Flannel shirt.
9. Wool sweater (pull over type).
10. Fleece coveralls or parka and bibs that are waterproof and windproof with 200 grams of thinsulate. To allow for layering, I recommend buying this garment two sizes larger than you normally wear. Layering is key as multiple layers create dead air space which is good insulation.
11. Fleece thinsulate gloves. These gloves need to be waterproof and flexible enough to fit into the trigger guard of your gun, or buy the type that allow the trigger finger to be exposed.
12. Orange goretex insulated cap with a built in head and facemask. I use the insulated fleece type designed for very cold temperatures. Most body heat is lost through the head area so wearing good warm headgear will help retain this heat.
13. Polypropylene balaclava or facemask. I wear this under my insulated cap.
14. Neck gator. This is another way to help keep the neck area warm.
15. Medium weight solid white or orange suit. (The law in Saskatchewan requires that one of these colors be worn as an outer garment). I wear the solid white color because it blends in with the snow.
16. Bomber jacket. I keep this jacket in my backpack just in case I need an additional layer. The one I use has 100 grams of thinsulate.
17. Tube type hand warmers. These work great to put your hands in while sitting in a tree stand or ground blind.
18. Air activated chemical hand, body and foot warmers. Putting these in your boots and gloves will sometimes be the determining factor between continuing your hunt or returning to camp.
In addition to having hand warmers in my boots and gloves, I sewed four pockets into the back of a tee shirt, two at the shoulder blade and two in the kidney area. I then place chemical hand warmers in these pockets and the heat that they create feels very good on my back. I don’t wear this tee shirt next to my skin for fear of getting burned but generally wear it over at least one other shirt. Having warmers in my boots, gloves and on my back make a huge difference while hunting in very cold temperatures.
When I am hunting in Canada, I wear all of the clothing listed above with the exception of the bomber jacket and boot blankets. I carry those two items for extreme conditions and luckily have never needed them. It is nice to know they are available if conditions turn for the worse.
When planning a cold weather hunt, buy good quality clothing and boots and make sure the size is large enough to allow room for layering. With the proper gear, hunting the North can be a pleasurable and rewarding experience.
Tom's Outlook on Cold Weather Clothes
I caught my biggest largemouth bass on a miserably cold, windy winter’s day and killed my biggest whitetail on an equally miserable day in November. I have ripped across a lake in minus 3 degrees weather in a bass boat running sixty miles an hour (wind chill charts indicate -30 degrees f) without getting cold. There were few if any other folks hunting or fishing on these days because the conditions were not suitable for humans unless they were well prepared to deal with the elements
As a teenager still in school and who had just gotten a permit to drive, I tried to deer hunt on a cold November day when everything was covered in a heavy coat of frost. By sunup, I had headed to the truck with numb hands and feet. It was an effort to get the key in the door of the old truck but I finally got it done. I was dressed in a couple pairs of jeans, a light jacket, a cap, brown jersey gloves, two pairs of warm weather socks, and uninsulated boots. To say that I was cold would be an understatement. I promised myself that if I ever grew up and had the money to buy my own clothes I would never get that cold again.
I pretty much have stood behind that promise and I have to say that I can hunt in the most miserable conditions and not get cold. There have been times that I have been ridiculed by my fellow hunters when they see my pile of cold weather gear, but on the other hand I have witnessed these same hunters heading to the truck because they froze out. Through years of trial and error, I have fine-tuned what works for me in cold weather. The following is what I have settled on that works for me when it comes to staying warm.
One of the first things that I ditched were coveralls. I don't like my movement to be restricted and I felt very confined when wearing coveralls. Lynn's cold weather clothing includes coveralls and they work very good for him, but that comes down to what an individual is comfortable with. One thing I know is that Lynn isn't going to freeze out on a deer stand, either. I opt for the bib overalls to be able to layer my system to my liking, where I can add to or take off items as the conditions change. My under layer is polypropylene which wicks moisture away from the body and I don't want it very tight, either. I am pretty bad to wear a heavy pair of sweat pants over the polypropylene simply because they are designed to hold heat in. Or I may opt for a pair of wool pants. A wool shirt and a heavy wool sweater goes over the poly on top with either Thinsulate or other similar material good quality bibs over this. When it is extremely cold, I add a long Thinsulate parka with all the goodies like Goretex and Windguard to the outfit.
For my feet, I like the 16 inch boots which lace from the toe to the top because I can open them up to add some of the good quality socks that are available today. I used to wear wool socks, but now prefer to wear a synthetic sock designed for extreme weather. I always hunt with gloves on even when it is warm but I cannot function with fingers in my gloves. I either buy gloves without fingers or simply cut the fingers out of the gloves on my right hand. I have used many kinds of gloves over the years but the gloves I like the best for my initial pair are Army surplus wool gloves designed to be a liner for heavier leather gloves. They are readily available almost anywhere and they are only a few dollars a pair.
I use a heavy, long cuffed pair of gloves made of Thinsulate or other super insulating material for extreme cold, but most of the time I keep my shooting hand with only the light wool glove with fingers removed. This calls for a hand muff that goes around your waist and they are invaluable in cold weather. I have cases of chemical hand warmers in my hunting room and they work very well in keeping something warm to place cold fingers around.
For my headgear, I love the wool or knit toboggans, but also have one with a bill to assist when looking into the sun. I have several balaclavas that are wonderful in helping keep the neck and head warm, but I often use them without using the hood.
One other item that I got on to several years ago and will never feel that my extreme gear is complete without is a Heater Body Suit. These incredible cold weather over suits are so great that they will make it possible to stay in the extreme cold all day without getting cold. I have come to the place where I back off of my clothing, dressing lighter than I normally would when it is not terribly cold and then use the Heater Body Suit to do the rest. I have sat comfortably for many hours on end in very cold weather without ever getting the least bit cold. I have also slept in mine on cold nights in a deer camp, too on several occasions. The Heater Body Suit is guaranteed to keep you warm down to -30 degrees. My pal Brenda Valentine, who hunts all over the world has several and always takes an extra along in case her cameraman or guide does not have one. If you truly want to hunt in extreme conditions put the cost of a Heater Body Suit in your budget.
Learning how to prepare for cold weather is a great asset which will help you stay warm and alert on stand for longer periods of time and make your hunting trip a much more enjoyable experience.
SAFETY IN THE WHITETAIL DEER WOODS
Shooting light was fading fast in the field I was watching. It was growing even darker in the woods behind me and off to my left. Suddenly from out of the clear cut on the far side of the field came a small doe. I watched the doe feed for a moment before she returned to the clear cut. Later a mature doe appeared and quickly following her with his nose sticking out and his antlers laid back was a 140 class 10 pointer. The buck was about 130 yards away. I raised my favorite 30-06 and was settling the cross hairs on his shoulder but something did not look right. It appeared as though there was a light over the bucks back. After taking another look it was indeed a light, a light from a living room lamp in a log cabin on the far side of the clear cut.
I remembered what I had been taught about gun safety and that was to always be certain of your bullets final destination. I lowered the rifle and hoped the buck would give me a safe angle for the shot. There would be no such luck today. The doe returned to the clear cut and of course the ten pointer was very close behind. I sat and watched as complete darkness surrounded me and another deer season had just come to a close.
That hunt took place on January 1, 1993. I have often thought to myself, “Given the opportunity how many hunters would have taken that shot?” I would like to think very few but I can’t help but wonder. I definitely made the right decision that day by not shooting that buck because it was not a safe condition. In situations like that, the training we receive in gun safety enables us to make the correct decision.
Always keep in mind that as hunters we have to be responsible not only for our own safety but for the people around us as well. The following is a list for firearm safety we need to practice and be familiar with.
The Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety
I. Treat every gun as if it were loaded and ready to fire; keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
II. Watch the muzzle! Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and be able to control the direction of the muzzle even if you should stumble.
III. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions and that you have only ammunition of the proper size for the gun you are carrying.
IV. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it before you shoot; know identifying features of the game you hunt.
V. Unload gun when not in use. Take down or have actions open; guns should be carried in cases to the shooting area.
VI. Never point a gun at anything you do not want to shoot; avoid all horseplay with a gun.
VII. Never climb a fence or tree or jump a ditch with a loaded gun; never pull a gun toward you by the muzzle.
VIII. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting.
IX. Keep guns and ammunition separate in locked storage beyond the reach of children and careless adults.
X. Avoid alcoholic beverages before or during shooting.
While hunting there are items that I like to carry in my backpack. Some of these are for safety purposes and some are hunting accessories. The list is as follows:
Safety harness, compass, radio, cell phone, whistle, extra jacket, packable rain gear, drag and pull-up rope, surgical gloves (for field dressing), knife, range finder, binoculars, paper and pen, water and food, small saw, lighter, water proof matches, three small flashlights, deer calls, rattle bag, universal tool, flagging tape, reflective trail marking tacks, small first aid kit.
Some of these items we will probably never need while out in the field hunting. However, it is good to know they are available if an emergency arises.
Another safety issue is something that I was taught while working with the United States Forest Service and I consider it valuable to me as a hunter today. The forest service crews would drive the work trucks out into the field to a job site. We would always turn the trucks around and have them face the direction we intended to leave. The reasoning behind this is that in an emergency situation it saves time and the driver is less likely not to panic, not get the truck stuck in the mud or something of that nature. So while hunting, I always try to park my truck facing the direction in which I intend to leave. If I have to leave in a hurry I simply get in the truck and drive away.
General Safety Tips:
l. Always let someone know where you are hunting and when you plan to return.
2. Wear hunter orange or the safety color required in the state where you are hunting.
3. Use good judgement and common sense while hunting.
4. Know how to use your global positioning system (GPS) and compass.
5. When hunting in a group, take care of one another.
6. It is a good idea to have a map of the hunting area with you.
7. Know how to build an emergency shelter and a fire in case you become lost for an extended period.
8. Knowing CPR and first aid can be life saving.
Gun and general safety rules need to be followed not only while hunting but at the shooting range and in life in general. As hunters we owe it to ourselves, our family, our friends and to the sport of hunting to be as safe as possible. Our lives and family depend on it.
For hunter education classes contact your State Department of Natural Resources and Game and Fish Division.