Tag Archives: cold weather hunting

Travails from a Frozen Mountain

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Travails from a Frozen Mountain: A Cold Weather Hunting Story

In 2013 I bagged a giant 200-inch buck. I was determined to repeat this feat in 2014. But dreaming too big doth a nightmare make!

The regular season was a frantic search for non-existent superbucks. The biggest buck I saw grossed well below 190”, and all told I passed up more than a dozen smaller four-points..

Fortunately, Utah offers an extended bowhunt which lasts from mid-September through November, and I’ve seen a few great bucks in recent years.

A week after the September general hunt ended I took a two day trip into the woods above Salt Lake City. I had both an unused elk tag and deer tag, as well as a floundering bowhunting blog dangerously void of hunting success. In the end, that trip sucked! Everywhere I’d seen deer in the past I found nothing but old tracks and other hunters. The biggest problem with the extended hunt is the pressure from hundreds of fools-like-myself who can’t get the job done in the regular season.

So I was patient and waited for November when the big deer come down from their snowy, high-country haunts to participate in the rut.

On November 5 I hiked a few miles up a steep canyon and pitched my tent beneath an old pine tree. For years this was the place to be during the rut. I once saw five 4-points all fighting for a small group of does. But this year there was very little snow, so I was a little skeptical.

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I was feeling a little ill on my hike in. In bed that night I was suddenly gripped by a fever and sore throat. I tossed and turned all night, and by morning I was sick as hell. I went hunting anyway. Sadly, there wasn’t a single buck in the whole canyon. I spotted a couple decent elk in the distance, but passed them up in hopes of finding a good buck.

The second night was a disaster. I shivered and tossed all night with a full-body fever, sore throat, and coughing. I woke up dizzy and sore, but clambered out of my tent anyway. Determined to hunt through my illness, I somehow managed to hike even farther, covering 1000 vertical feet.

Finally, I spotted some deer rutting across a canyon: bits of antler, fur, and deer prancing around in the trees. Excitedly, I stood up, took two steps towards them, then reeling with dizziness, flopped back to the ground. My hunt ended right there. I dragged my bent-over body off the mountain, swaying like a zombie. Each step pounded in my head; every muscle and joint wrenched with pain. I passed a couple hikers on the way out. They said, “Hi,” and I could barely croaked out a sickly hello.

Ten days later I crawled out of bed and headed back up the mountain. Still weak and feeble, it took three hours to reach my lonely tent under the pine tree. The weather had turned bitterly cold that week. The cold air streaming down the canyon stung my exposed skin. This was going to be a cold hunt!

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It was so cold that I could hear things freezing in my pack. By the time I crawled into bed, my water jugs were mostly frozen, my pile of boiled eggs froze solid in my pack and split open, my energy shots froze, as did my scent spray, Visene, and water filter. When I moved in the night, flakes of frozen condensation snowed down on me. I stuffed every bit of clothing I had into my sack and wore six layers of uppers including my down coat.

Cold be damned, by morning I was out hunting. I squinted through freezing eyeballs and couldn’t sit still very long before catching a chill. I wrapped a game bag around my neck and stuffed everything in my pack into my coat pockets just to trap in the heat. My lungs, heavy and tender from illness, coughed and wheezed in the frigid air.

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There still wasn’t enough snow to push the deer down, so I hiked farther and farther up he canyon. On the evening of the second day, I finally located both elk and deer near the top. Unfortunately It got dark while trying to close the distance in the loud, crunchy snow.

I was planning to hunt three to four days, but was running dangerously low on food. I failed to anticipate the amount of calories my body would burn just to stay warm. On the third day I had no choice but to pull out early.

The following week, on November 22, I headed back to the hills for one more big push. The forecast called for heavy snow and blizzards, which I welcomed with open arms. Hopefully it would push the deer down lower.

The next morning, while hiking up the steep ridge above camp, the skies began to darken. Just as I was reaching the upper “elk zone”, I spotted movement way back down where my tent was. An entire herd of elk had moved in, including a few good bulls. Still trying to catch my breath, I began my descent. Halfway to the bottom, some damn hunter appeared and spooked the whole herd off.

It started snowing around this time. I followed the elk tracks for about a mile and a half until they left the canyon. Luckily I ran into a bunch of new deer tracks. The snow was really coming down and the wind howled through the aspens and pines. Pretty soon the unrelenting snow was blasting horizontally and stinging my eyeballs. I scrambled from pine tree to pine tree, ducking and diving for shelter from the blinding snow. It was late afternoon and I was nearly two miles from camp in a violent blizzard. The deer tracks soon disappeared under a fresh blanket of drifting snow, but at this point, shear survival took precedence over hunting.

Hoping to catch a break in the storm, I holed up under the bows of a huge pine tree. To pass time I pulled out my little video-poker game and poked away at the screen. I heard a scuffle nearby and looked up. Ten feet away stood a little 3×3 buck peering into my tree hollow and wishing I wasn’t there. He spooked out to 50 yards and stared back at me. Apparently I’d found the most coveted shelter in the woods because that poor buck stood there for 20 minutes turning completely white in the snow. With the end of the season nigh, I considered shooting him, but changed my mind. I envisioned myself out there field-dressing the thing, and then having to climb into its body cavity for warmth. No thanks!

With the storm worsening and evening falling fast, I had no choice but to make a run for it. I headed straight into the blasting snow, but hadn’t gone very far when up ahead, through the murky twilight, I caught the movement of a large buck chasing some does. A second later the wind swirled and blew them out.

My knee was killing me as I hobbled into camp that night. My clothes were soaked and I was starving, but at least I’d brought extra food this time. Tomorrow would be better.

The blizzard didn’t let up all night. Every couple hours I’d wake up and bang snow off my collapsing tent. I slept in until about 9:00 when the storm finally broke and the sun lit up a winter wonderland as I’d never seen. I burrowed out of my tent and dug my bow out of snow. It was caked with ice and wouldn’t draw even one inch. I worked on de-icing it with my breath and hands throughout the day.

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The snow was well over my knees as I trudged up the mountain in search of that big buck from the night before. Later on I spotted a group of deer way up high and spent several hours working towards them. The higher I climbed the deeper the snow got and eventually I was forced to abandon the stalk. Completely exhausted from plowing snow, all I could do was head for the trail at the bottom of the canyon. When I got there I was surprised to see a beautiful 4×4 buck chasing some does on a nearby slope. Finally, some hope!

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While contemplating my approach, a dog appeared out of nowhere and began barking up a storm. There was a cross-country skier coming up the canyon and his dog had run ahead, noticed the deer and went crazy. The deer splashed away through the snow and out of sight. In my weary state I knew I could never catch up to the spooked deer. Disgusted and exhausted, I hiked back to camp, threw my tent in the sled, and headed for home.

On November 28, the weekend after Thanksgiving, me and every other hunter with a tag headed for the hills. The Black Friday hunting pressure had pretty much blown out the entire mountain. I never saw it so bleak! I hunted a new, different canyon that day, closer to the road. Partway up a side draw I jumped a little forked-horn buck. He ran to 50 yards and stopped, just in time to catch one of my arrows through his chest.

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My last chance buck didn’t come anywhere near my 200-inch goal; hell, it barely broke 20-inches! But I gained something. Actually I gained a lot. I gained venison. I gained humility; grim humility bordering on disgrace. I also gained strength; both mental and physical strength beyond measure! Never again would anything be too difficult; never again would any mountain seem too steep to climb.

You might be wondering, would I do it all over again? The answer is a decisive YES, starting this November.

Surviving Cold Weather Hunting

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Surviving Cold Weather Hunting

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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Problems and Fixes

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.