Camping & Survival

Five Tips for Cold Weather Hunter Safety

Dave Dolbee with trophy Quebec-Labrador Caribou.

This year it does not matter whether you hunt in Texas, Virginia or Michigan, you are dealing with colder weather than you have faced in years when hunting. You need to be sure all your hunting party is well prepared for cold weather hunting with hunter education training for cold weather.

Weatherby rifle laying in the snow
In the cold everything expands, making all the actions a little tighter.

Five Tips for Cold Weather Hunter Safety Training

1. Prep your gun for the cold weather

Start preparing for the hunt before you ever leave home by cleaning your gun thoroughly. I know, like you, I limit the cleaning during hunting season, but in the cold this can lead to a malfunction. In the cold everything expands, making all the actions a little tighter. Take a little gun oil and mix in some dirt and grime. Mother Nature then adds in a little cold causing expansion and before you know it, you have a malfunctioning firearm. Be sure the gun is not lubricated as the lube will gum up and cause the action to stick.

2. Dress in layers

First rule of dressing for the cold – dress in layers. You will start the day very cold and warm up as you move and the day warms. You should have a base layer to move moisture away from the skin (wicking), a mid layer for insulation and retention of heat and a top layer for added insulation. If it is really cold, you’ll want a heavy insulated coat.

Layers allow you to remove or add clothing to control your body temperature as the conditions change. Invest in high performance fibers for maximum effectiveness, lightness and providing agility for freedom of movement. Cotton kills, particularly denim (jeans) as it soaks up the moisture and can cause serious problems staying dry, which is crucial for safe hunting in cold weather.

Bowhunter stalking game in snow
Layers allow you to remove or add clothing to control your body temperature as the conditions change. Invest in high performance fibers for maximum effectiveness, lightness and providing agility for freedom of movement.

3. Prepare for the extreme

Check the weather report and be prepared for the worst. Safe hunting in cold weather requires you to be over-prepared: know the weather, have a survival kit and make sure someone knows where you are hunting and when you will return. Three factors to consider for a survival kit: fire, shelter and signaling. Number one, have a way to start a fire. And not just matches as the possibility of them becoming wet is high.

Have a fire starter with you and something to use as tinder such as cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly or dryer lint mixed with paraffin. Carry your cell phone, but have a compass as backup. You may be out of range and batteries drain much quicker in the cold. Leave a hunt plan with someone. Tell him or her where you’ll be and when you will return.

4. Listen to your body

The biggest detriment to safe hunting in cold weather is the danger of hypothermia. Hypothermia is the process of cooling to the point of death when your body temperature drops below 98.6 degrees and stays there for an extended period of time. It is most common when someone has become wet and stays wet. That is why survival instructions always focus on layering your clothing in order to keep yourself dry—therefore avoiding a drop in body temperature.

The first sign of hypothermia is shivering. If you start to shiver or one of your hunting buddies, add layers, start a fire and get warm. You can deteriorate fast in the cold so you must act quickly. Rather than trying to teach you all the ways to deal with hypothermia, just remember, if you are shivering or observe someone else shivering, add warmth and get to shelter as quickly as possible.

5. Remember ACTT

While you are in the field remember the basics of a safe hunt as taught in your hunter education training: ACTT.

  • Assume every gun is loaded.
  • Control the muzzle. Point the gun in a safe direction.
  • Trigger finger. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.
  • Target. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond.
Dave Dolbee with trophy Quebec-Labrador Caribou.
There does not have to be snow on the ground to encounter extreme conditions. Prepare for whatever Mother Nature may throw your way.

Winter hunting can be fun and allows you to hunt different species than the fair weather hunter. To ensure a safe hunt requires being smart and being prepared. You learn the basics in hunter education, but if you are serious about cold weather hunting, consider extra training and research to be well prepared.

Enjoy the hunt!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (9)

  1. I have found the product line of Slip 2000 to be excellent. Extremely slick, dust permeable and non-attracting. Penetrates well.

  2. Stay away from 3 and 1 oil especially in the cold temps..G-96 is the best treatment since it was designed for missiles and hot and cold don’t affect it..WD-40 attracts moisture and will mess up yor firearms, so don’t use..An extra 2 pair of good socks (wool mix) are a lifesaver..One pair for your feet and the other for a spare set of warm mittens that keep all your digits together for warmth..A space blanket for warmth, protection from rain/wet snow and the silver side will help signal help or reflect aircraft radar..Whistle with a compass takes little space and some have a waterproof matchbox built in as a plus..

  3. Fido is right, everything CONTRACTS when cold, not expands, and most metal parts are moving against/adjacent to metal parts, so they are all contracting at ‘about’ the same rate, so no harm no foul. What can cause binding is the fact that many plastics can contract at a rate about 10X that of metal, so plastic adjacent to metal could contribute. AND, grease and oil becomes more viscous at cold temps. which is the dominant culprit of what creates the extra friction / tightness of moving parts.

  4. This is actually some pretty good advice. Much better than than the standard jargon.

    A couple of things that weren’t mentioned might help.

    1) Synthetics are good, but wool though far heavier can be just as good and has the advantage of being much quieter for hunting applications.

    2) In addition to carrying a good coat (with a hood) , if you are hunting deep in the woods (which hunters rarely do), it’s certainly a good idea to bring a sleeping bag and a couple of poly tarps along. I buy the 6 mill plastic from Walmart in my endeavors. It is very light, and you can make sleeping arrangements with it.

    3) If you are going into the Bush any distance, it really helps to bring along a sleeping bag even if you have no intention of using it. Especially if the car breaks down.

    4) Warm mittens in cold weather are just as important as a coat. I’ve been caught in low temperatures, and if your hands are too cold, your fingers do not operate. You can have all the fire starting material in the world, but if your hands are like stumps (and it doesn’t take much) it won’t mean anything.

    For me, I won’t go into the Bush without expedition weight mittens. You can get them far cheaper if you purchase Army Surplus. Survivalist rarely talk about this most important item.

    And, since you will be driving, it wouldn’t hurt to take some camping gear with you, for example at least two closed cell sleeping pads,

    If you get injured of need to sleep on the snow. They are invaluable. Caution: An air mattress does nothing to insulate you from the cold. Check out your “R Factor” of the pads that you own.

    Always take a Balaclava with you. It can sure help when it gets really cold.

    5) Matches: True, matches will not work when wet. Do not trust todays “kitchen matches.” They are inferior to the ones used in the old days and will be very difficult if not impossible to light during an emergency.

    Those of us that study survival swear by the UCO Survival Matches that outfitters like REI sell. They are cheap, and bomb proof.

    In addition to a Bic lighter which is difficult to light in cold weather, some of us carry Ferro rods along with a tinder starter like Maya Dust or pure cotton balls dabbed in petroleum jelly.

    6) Always carry a good poncho in addition to your rain gear.

    7) I always carry a full size sharpened axe and Buck Saw in my trunk along with a good sized Come A Long and some climbing rope. This is especially important in a mountainous region. I also carry a climbing harness for those just in cases. Since it is in the trunk of the vehicle it is not a problem.

    8) Always bring water. You get dehydrated in the cold just as easily as in the heat. Hydration is much more important than food. While on the subject of food, hypothermia can be caused by the fact that you have not eaten and fave few calories to burn. Bring chocolate, nuts, dried fruits, and anything with fat on it like cheeses and peanut butter. This will give you fuel to stay warm.

    9) Lastly, nothing was said about a map. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of hunters are not going to need one, and you do have a cell phone, it makes a lot of sense to get in the habit of always knowing the lay of the land. That way, if you are always mindlful of where you are, you can never get lost.

    I always carry a state Gazeteer in my car. No matter where you are, or where you hunt in that state, it breaks the area down to the point where with a compass and knowledge of where you were, you can find the next road or property to help you out of a mess. To me they are invaluable. And they are cheap.

  5. The bolt does not expand in the cold. Your lube is gumming up and sticking. Find a lube that is rated for lower temperatures. Also any snow that gets into the receiver with melt and re freeze making things stick.

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