After spending six hours in the stand this past weekend, I got a new appreciation for the word cold. For me it’s not just the temperature, it’s the wind chill. There’s just no avoiding it when you’re fifteen feet up a tree in the dead of winter. And yet these frigid days offer some of the best post-rut hunting opportunities for whitetails.
Deer Behavior in Cold Weather
Extreme cold weather causes changes in whitetail behavior, some of which make them more vulnerable to us bowhunters:
- The second rut. About a month after the peak of the November rut, there’s a second rut fueled mostly by late-breeding fawn does. This creates new opportunities to pursue bucks looking to breed again.
- Increased deer movement. It’s common knowledge that deer seem to enjoy cooler weather. It gets them moving — especially during daylight hours — creating more opportunities during shooting time.
- Scare food supply. The food sources available to deer have dwindled, concentrating them around what fields and crops remain. They also need to spend more time searching for food, which might put them in front of your bow.
- The need to stay warm. Deer aren’t immune to the frigid temperatures. When it gets really cold, they start bedding in groups, often on south-facing slopes (which get the most sunlight). This can make them easier to find and stalk.
These are covered in more depth in my article on post-rut whitetail hunting strategies. There are disadvantages to hunting these colder times, however. The days are shorter, and the deer especially wary. We’re up against the best and brightest: deer that have survived the early bow season and the fusillade of gun season.
Unfortunately, and as I discovered this weekend, hunting in cold weather can be challenging. Keeping warm while sitting on a cold metal stand, completely exposed to the wind, is hard enough. Add to that the need to remain motionless, stay alert, and keep your shooting hand from going numb. When the moment comes, making an accurate shot is harder if you’re shivering or bundled up like a marshmallow. The right cold weather gear keeps you warm and agile, while not interfering with your vision, hearing, or ability to take a shot.
Many of the necessities of deer hunting (especially bowhunting) put the hunter in frigid situations: hunting in winter, sitting 15 feet up in a tree, and trying to keep still. Keeping warm isn’t just about comfort. As hunters we need to remain undetected by our prey, to see and hear them coming, and most importantly, to make an accurate shot. That’s hard to do if you’re shivering or bundled up like a marshmallow.
Cold Weather Head Gear
Keeping warm starts at the head, which gives off more heat than any other part of the body. It’s not just about the top of the head, either.
|Carhartt 2-in-1 Fleece HeadwearDeer hunters are usually hunting from downwind, and keeping tabs on wind direction, which means keeping your face into it. That’s rough to do when the wind is strong and bitter-cold. This fleece headwear combines a beanie-type cap with ear covers and a drop-down face mask to keep your nose and cheeks warm. When not in use, you can tuck the face mask up into the hat.||$18|
|Mossy Oak Full Spandex Face MaskThis is what I wear most days, a spandex pull-on camo “ski mask” in Mossy Oak pattern. It’s light and breathable, so I wear it in early season to keep spider webs and mosquitoes away from my face. In the cold weather of late season, I wear it under a heavy cap and fleece neck warmer.||$9|
Gloves & Hand Warmers
Next on my list for keeping warm are the hands and fingers. Keeping these warm is often a challenge for the bowhunters because they need warm, unencumbered shooting hands to draw and shoot. A huge snowboarding glove will keep your hand warm, but won’t offer the feel or precision needed to shoot a bow accurately, at least in my experience. That’s why I never go into the field on a cold day without two things:
|Carhartt Flip It Bowhunting Gloves
These flip-top gloves are ingenious: with the top down, your fingers and thumb are fully unencumbered for drawing, shooting, tying knots, or doing any number of things that require fine motor control while hunting. When you want your fingers warm instead, the flip-top turns the glove into a mitten.
|HeatMax Hand & Body Warmer
The hand warmer has to be one of the most important inventions for outdoorsmen in this century. It’s just a brilliant concept: you open the packet, and the bag inside generates heat for the next 8 hours. I pack several of these per hunt and stick them wherever some extra heat is needed: in the glove, in the boots, and right down the pants. Seriously.
|$24 for 40|
Boots & Socks for Cold Weather
Another key area to keep warm is the feet, and this is all about the hunter’s comfort. Nothing’s more miserable than trying to sit still in the woods with feet that are wet or freezing cold or both. Not too long ago, I forgot my hunting boots and had to wear old tennis shoes out into the field. Now that’s the kind of mistake that really makes you appreciate a good pair of boots. I wrote a whole article on choosing the best hunting boots.
|LaCrosse Brawny II Thinsulate Hunting Boot, Mossy Oak
A serious hunting boot is a necessity for the cold weather hunter. I like these from Lacrosse because they have Thinsulate 800 gram insulation on the inside, and Mossy Oak Break-Up on the outside. That, along with the 100% waterproof lining and lightweight traction outsole are probably why this is the #1 bestselling hunting boot on Amazon.
|Smartwool Heavy Hunting Socks
Just as important as the hunting boots are heavy-duty hunting socks. You want wool because it wicks the moisture away from your foot and because it’s really warm. Keep a couple of pairs on standby so one is always clean [enough] for the field.
|Heatmax Insole Foot Warmer
Here’s an ingenious extension of the Hot Hands hand warmers – a larger, thicker warming packet designed to go in the bottom of your boot. It’s a more uniform heating strategy than shoving a couple of Hot Hands down your boot
|$26 for 16|
Cold Gear Undershirts & Leggings
Keeping your core temperature up while hunting in cold weather is obviously important, and key to this is good under-clothing, the kind that goes right up against your skin. Compression shirts and leggings not only trap in your body heat but your scent as well, another good reason to start wearing them as soon as the weather is cold enough.
|Under Armour Tactical ColdGear® Longsleeve Shirt
This ColdGear shirt is woven with two layers: a brushed poly interior that traps heat, and a durable nylon exterior that resists wind and cold. The material is quick-drying, stretchable, and includes an anti-odor technology to prevent growth of odor-causing microbes.
|Under Armour Tactical ColdGear® Leggings
These Dual-layer ColdGear leggings have a soft, warm interior fabric and a durable, slick, fast-drying exterior. Flatlock seams and 4-way stretch fabric make for smooth, unhindered movement.These have a working fly and reinforced waistband, so they’re fully functional. Not your grandaddy’s long underwear.
Outerwear for Cold Weather Hunting
Last but not least, hunters need good camo outerwear — jackets and pants or overalls that keep the core warm and (if you’re anything like me) provide lots of pockets for stashing gear.
|Russell Outdoors Drystalker Bib Overalls
These are made of waterproof, breathable materials with 4-ounce insulation to keep you warm on those cold, wet hunts. They come in several different patterns, too, including a winter brush pattern for snow hunts, and the popular Max-4 camo pattern for other occasions.
|Russell Outdoors Drystalker Hooded Jacket
The camo hunting jacket is a source of pride for any hunters. It’s more than just something to keep you warm: it’s a symbol of what you are, and what you obsess over from September to January (if not all year long). I’ve even been known to wear mine out in public (much to my wife’s chagrin) on shopping trips and the like. The Drystalker jacket is waterproof, windproof, and yet breathable.Two expandable front packets for you to cram with animal calls, Hot Hands, or whatever. There’s an extra zippered security pocket where I usually place the all-important car keys and deer tags. Wear it with pride!
Gear Up Now for Cold Weather
Cold weather is here for many of us already. Now’s the time to gear up for the really arctic days in the stand, if you haven’t already. Call it a Christmas gift to yourself, or an investment in future venison to get through those hungry months of winter.