Across much of the United States, hunting seasons for a variety of game species start in the fall and continue through the winter months. Hunting wild game during any season has its challenges: hunting during the often brutal and unforgiving weather of winter has its own set of unique challenges. Conditions can change in a matter of minutes during the winter months turning a casual hunting excursion into a survival situation. Knowing how to stay safe while hunting during the winter months is important.
The Health Challenges
Deep snow, frigid temperatures, frozen lakes, icy rivers, hidden crevasses under the snow, dangerous snow drifts, howling winds, blinding whiteout conditions and sudden snow storms are some of the dangers you need to be aware of and prepared for if you plan to hunt during the winter months. And if it has been an exceptionally long, difficult winter for the wildlife, you may also find yourself in danger from hungry predators desperate for a meal. Of course the geographic location of where you are hunting may determine the severity of some of the challenges you may encounter. The truth is, hunting during winter months in any location requires a little more preparation than hunting during milder seasons.
Because you are often dealing with much colder temperatures, you are exerting more energy than normal just to keep your core body temperature warm. Also, if there is more than just a dusting of snow on the ground, you may realize maneuvering across the landscape requires more work than normal. The added stress of packing out any game you harvest through deep snow can also push your body to its limits. For these reasons alone it is important to be in good physical shape if you plan to hunt during the winter months.
Even if you plan to hunt from a stationary location such as a treestand, getting to and from your desired location in colder temperatures with a blanket of snow on the ground requires more energy. So does staying warm in your treestand when compared to a cool autumn day. It is important to know your own body and its limitations. Although you may have made a New Year’s resolution to get healthy, and walking through deep snow with added gear on your back seems like a great fitness program, it is not. In fact, it may do more harm than good and increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. The added strain on your muscles, lungs and heart caused by walking through deep snow coupled with cold temperatures could be a deadly combination.
The Right Clothing
Whether you are hunting the open prairie lands of Eastern Colorado or enjoying some late season hunting in the Deep South, hypothermia is a danger. Women hunters tend to get colder faster than our male counterparts putting us in danger of hypothermia quicker. Layering with the right clothing is essential. Cotton is the enemy, because it retains moisture and does little to keep you warm. Instead, opt for different weights of wool or synthetic clothing designed to wick away moisture from the body while retaining your own body heat. Proper footgear, such as wool socks and waterproof insulated boots, are also essential.
Additionally, some heat escapes through your head, exactly how much heat you lose via your head has been a source for much debate among doctors. Regardless of the percentage, you still lose some heat from your head so a snug fitting, insulated cap, which covers your ears is a must—so is a good pair of insulated waterproof gloves. Many women hunters with longer hair tend to put their hair up in a pony tail while hunting, exposing the back of the neck, which cools the body even more quickly, so wearing a neck gaiter is a good idea. It is also a good idea to carry air-activated heating packets to drop into your boots, gloves, hat or pockets.
Because I get cold pretty easily, I discovered an inexpensive way to help keep my core temperatures warmer. The adhesive type of over-the-counter non-medicated, warming pain patches—typically used for lower back or shoulder pain—work well if applied to the front and back of your abdomen to keep you warmer. Some of these types of pain patches contain a hot pepper ingredient that disperses warmth over a long period of time, usually 10 to 12 hours. Unlike some bulky heat packets, these warming patches do not require air to activate, they are paper-thin and adhere to your skin quite well.
IMPORTANT: only get the heat type and not the type that cools or contains menthol.
Return for Part 2 and 3 of “Winter Weather Hunting Safety Tips” as we take a closer look at some of the other dangers you may encounter if you venture outdoors to hunt during the winter months.