Surviving Cold Weather Hunting

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The arctic weather lately reminds me of a couple days I spent on the Wasatch extended hunt in November. This particular trip corresponded with the two coldest days of the month. Nighttime temps reached zero degrees just outside the thin walls of my little one-man tent. I was also four miles from civilization and alone.

Although I’ve spent some cold nights in the wilderness before, this trip had some real challenges:

To save on weight, I brought only enough food for two or three days/nights, including three boiled eggs. Before I got to my secret camp tree, the eggs were frozen solid, cracked, and inedible. On my way to camp I filtered a bunch water, and afterwards my water filter froze up and became inoperable. I fought the whole time to keep my water jugs from freezing solid inside the tent. My half-filled fuel canister surprisingly froze and stopped working, so I couldn’t eat my freeze-dried meals until I could warm it up. My little bottle of scent spray froze solid, and my bow also froze after getting snowed on. To keep from freezing to death, I slept in my down coat and stuffed several hand warmers down my sleeping bag. Within two days I’d eaten all my energy food just to stay warm and had to cut the trip short. As if this wasn’t enough, I couldn’t find any deer either.

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The problem with freezing temps is the shear energy necessary to survive, which leaves less energy to hunt. Believe me, morale was low on this trip. Below I’ve listed several cold weather challenges and fixes:

  1. Fuel Can Freezing:I packed a half-empty fuel canister in order to keep light. A half-empty can will freeze and lose its pressure. The Fix: Bring a full can and/or stick it in your armpit for five minutes every morning and night to warm it up. This can be very uncomfortable, but at least you can cook.
  2. Water Filter Freezing: Your water filter will freeze and be very difficult to thaw out. The Fix: Bring extra water bottles and filter as much water as you can in the beginning. You can also keep the filter in your tent but it will still freeze while you’re away.
  3. Frozen Water Jugs: The only thing more dangerous than being cold is being cold and dehydrated. The Fix: Three methods I used: Each time you see ice forming in your jugs, boil a third of the water and dump it back in the jug, sleep with the water close to your body, and keep the water in your pack close your back.
  4. Frozen Eggs/Food:  The Fix: Easy; don’t bring any food that can freeze. Also, bring lots of extra food, especially carbs! You’ll burn a lot more energy trying to stay warm.
  5. Frozen Bow: Because my bow was too big to fit in my tent, I left it in the snow outside which formed ice around the cams and took several minutes to thaw out using my breath and hands. The Fix: Either keep your bow in the tent or hang it in the tree.

Frozen Body:  My sleeping bag is rated for zero degrees which did little to keep me warm. The Fix: I slept with my down coat on, two pairs of thermal bottoms, and two pairs of socks. I also stuffed several hand warmers down my bag. While hunting I carried extra thermals in my pack.

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Speaking of hand warmers, the ones I use are called Hot Hands 2. These are way hotter than the originals, but a word of caution: keep them away from bare skin. My feet got so cold in the night that I stuffed a hand warmer down each sock. I woke up in the middle of the night with very painful burns on the top of my feet. Otherwise they worked great. When sleeping or sitting still for long periods of time, an external heat sources often a necessity.

The cold takes a lot out of you, both physically and mentally. It’s a lot easier to throw in the towel when you’re forced to spend so much energy to survive. But you have to ask yourself, where else would you rather be? The cold is just part of the extended hunt experience, and either you’re up to the challenge or you’re just a fair-weather hunter. Decide what your goal is and stick with it. A little cold weather is nowhere near as miserable as eating an unused deer tag!

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Although the freezing temps and starvation forced me off the mountain early, I returned a week later. And though I got snowed on pretty good, I really loved being back at my little mountain home. Survival and success in arctic conditions really comes down to preparedness and mental toughness. If you are prepared for the cold then there’s nothing to worry about except bagging a giant buck.

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