Freezing temperatures and harsh hunting conditions don’t sound appealing at first glance. But bowhunting in cold-weather months offers many advantages. For instance, animals are seeking food sources, which makes them easier to pattern. Fewer hunters are out, which puts less pressure on animals. And if there’s snow, tracking and patterning is easier. Winter is also a great time to hunt predators and stay in the woods after deer season.
Despite such advantages, most hunters spend winter on the couch. The elements are the main deterrent and shouldn’t be dismissed. After all, cold weather gets dangerous without proper gear and planning. For intrepid hunters, a proper clothing system makes hunting comfortable when it’s 20 degrees and colder.
Sweat kills in cold weather. To hunt in cold temperatures, you need a layering system that lets you manage heat retention. The basic principle is to remove layers when active and wear them when stationary. A typical cold-weather layering system starts with a light insulating layer next to the skin, and then insulating layer(s), and then an outer layer. The layering materials you choose depend on the conditions.
Synthetic vs. Down Insulation
Insulating layers come in two basic options: down and synthetic fibers. Down from ducks and geese is lighter and warmer than synthetic insulation. It’s also more expensive, typically noisier and loses its insulating properties when wet. Synthetic insulation is quiet, heavier than down, and retains its insulating properties when wet. If you hunt where it’s dry and below freezing, down is the way to go. If you hunt areas where it often rains or snows, synthetics work best.
Merino wool is fantastic for mid-layers, and also works as the base layer next to the skin. Merino wool breathes and retains heat exceptionally well. It’s also quiet, and has natural antimicrobial properties that reduce human odor. Take care when washing merino wool. In other words, read your clothing’s washing instructions.
No Cotton in the Cold
Cotton is great for many casual applications, but it’s horrible for cold-weather hunting. Cotton doesn’t wick moisture and doesn’t dry quickly, which can be dangerous in cold weather. Moisture draws heat from your body, much like water cooling you on hot days. Even sweat can lower your core temperature. Jeans and most T-shirts are made of cotton. Leave them home in favor of wool or synthetics.
Gloves and Hats
A cold bow can feel like a chunk of ice if held all day. Some great gloves provide warmth to keep your fingers mobile. These gloves, typically called “shooter gloves,” are great options. A specific model, called “glittens,” are mittens that let you quickly expose your fingers. They’re perfect for traditional bowhunters because they provide fingers direct contact to the bowstring.
Insulated hats, of course, are mandatory. They protect your head and should cover your ears. Wool beanies are good options when you’re active or if the weather is mild. For extreme cold, trapper-style hats can be a difference-maker when temperatures dip below freezing.
Boots and Socks
An insulated rubber or leather boot paired with thick wool socks is a great system for cold-weather hunting. For even more warmth, consider slipping down booties over your boots. They’re like a sleeping bag for your feet. They can make the difference between misery and a great day in the woods.
Practice Like You Play
Be sure to practice shooting while wearing your full cold-weather setup. Make sure your bowstring does not catch on any of your layers, and that you have full range of motion. If your string catches on your jacket sleeve, use an armguard and a chest protector to compress your layers.
Don’t let snow and cold temperatures end your bow season. Winter offers too many great bowhunting opportunities to justify staying indoors. With proper gear and clothing, cold-weather hunts provide enjoyable and successful experiences.