Tag Archives: cold weather hunting

Travails from a Frozen Mountain

Wasatch Mountains, Utah

Travails from a Frozen Mountain: A Cold Weather Hunting Story

In 2013 I bagged a giant 200-inch buck and was determined to repeat this feat in again 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.

The Wasatch Extended Hunt

Fortunately, Utah offers an extended bowhunt which lasts from mid-September through November. I’ve seen a few great bucks in those steep and rugged mountains over the years.

A week after the September general hunt ended, I took a two day trip into the mountains above Salt Lake City. I had both an unused elk and deer tag, as well as a floundering bowhunting blog dangerously void of success stories.

But this trip stunk! 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 couldn’t get the job done during 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.

Rut Hunt Round 2

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, and I was a little skeptical.

My frozen bivvy camp.

I was feeling a little ill on my hike in. In bed that night I was suddenly gripped by fever and a 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 1000 vertical feet in search of deer.

I finally spotted a couple bucks 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 down on 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.”

Rut Hunt Round 3

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. It was so cold that I could hear things freezing in my pack. What had I gotten myself into?


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 sleeping bag with me, 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 extra pck items into my coat pockets just to trap the heat in. My lungs, heavy and tender from illness, coughed and wheezed in the frigid air.

My pack thermometer.

There still wasn’t enough snow to push the deer down, so I hiked farther and farther up the canyon. On the evening of the second day, I finally located both elk and deer near the top, but it got dark as I  tried to close the distance in the crunchy snow.

I was planning to hunt 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 and on the third day I had no choice but to pull out early.

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

The next morning, while hiking up the steep ridge above camp, the skies began to darken. Just as I was reaching the “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 a hasty 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 is all that mattered.

Hoping to catch a break in the storm, I holed up under the bows of a huge pine tree. I was passing the time, poking away at my little video-poker game, when I heard a nearby shuffle. I looked up and 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 was sitting in the most coveted shelter in all the woods because that poor buck stood there looking at me for 20 minutes and turning completely white with 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 big 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…or so I thought.

The blizzard continued 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 the likes 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 even draw one inch. I worked to de-ice it using my breath and rubbing it with my fingers throughout the day.

Snowed into camp.

The snow was well over my knees as I trudged up the mountain in search of that big buck from the night before. 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 until I was forced to abandon the stalk altogether.

Completely exhausted from plowing snow all morning, 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!

Video still of giant buck in snow.

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 when his dog saw the deer it ran after them in a barking fit. The deer splashed away through the snow and out of sight. In my weary state I knew I could never catch up to them. Disgusted and exhausted, I hiked back to camp, threw my tent in the sled, and headed for home.

Rut Hunt Round 4

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 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.

My last chance buck, 2015.

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 would any mountain seem too steep.

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

Winter Weather Camping and Hunting


Surviving Cold Weather Hunting

The arctic weather lately reminds me of a couple days I spent on the Wasatch extended hunt last 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 two-man tent. I was also four miles from civilization and alone.

Although I’d spent some cold nights afield before this trip, I had some serious challenges this time.

To save on weight I only brought enough food for two or three nights, which included 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-full fuel canister surprisingly froze and stopped working, so I couldn’t eat my freeze-dried meals until I thaw it out. My little bottle of scent spray froze solid, and my bow also froze after getting snowed into camp.

To keep from freezing to death, I slept in my down coat and stuffed several hand warmers into my sleeping bag. Within two days I’d eaten all my food just to stay warm and had to cut the trip short. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I didn’t find any deer either.


Problems and Fixes

The problem with freezing temps is the sheer energy needed 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 possible fixes:

  1. Wet Feet:  Once your feet get wet, your body temperature will plummet. Even the best waterproof boots eventually become saturated when hunting in snow. The Fix: Change your socks and insoles often. Wear only thick wool socks since wool retains heat when wet. Also, I waterproof sprays (such as CampKote or Scotch Guard) will give provide a little extra time before your boots get wet in snowy conditions.
  2. Fuel Canister Freezing: On this trip I packed a half-empty fuel canister in order to stay 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.
  3. Water Filter Freezing: Your water filter will freeze and be very difficult to thaw. 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 if it’s warm enough, or in your day pack if there’s room.
  4. 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 your pack water against your back at night.
  5. Frozen Food:  The Fix: Easy; don’t bring any food that can freeze. Also, bring lots of extra food, especially carbs! You’ll always burn more energy when your’e cold.
  6. Freezing Hands: Like boots and other clothing, gloves eventually become saturated when snow hunting. Once your hands freeze,  you’re done; good luck drawing and shooting your bow! The Fix: Wear nitrile gloves under your hunting gloves. I always carry Nitrile (rubber) gloves anyway, and out of necessity I found they work wonders to keep your hands warm. Even if your hunting gloves become saturated, the nitriles provide a barrier between your hands and moisture. It makes a huge difference.
  7. Frozen Bow: Because my bow doesn’t fit in my bivvy tent, I left it in the snow outside which formed ice around the cams. It took a long time to thaw it out using my breath and hands. The Fix: Either keep your bow in the tent or cover it in a bag or hang it in a pine tree.
  8. Night-time Warmth:  My sleeping bag is rated for zero degrees which did little to keep me warm. The Fix: I slept with a down coat on, two pairs of thermal bottoms, and two pairs of wool socks. It’s all about layering. I also stuffed several hand warmers into my sleeping bag.
  9. Hypothermia: When hunting alone in arctic conditions you must always be prepared for the worst. The Fix: The key to staying warm, especially when sitting ambush, is layering. And not just any old layers, but down layers (e.g. feathers). My main coat is all down. But at 0-degrees it’s sometimes not enough. So what to do? MORE down layers. I always carry an extra sleeveless down jacket in my pack. Rarely do I actually need it, but when things get rough, or wet, or get God-forbid an emergency arises, that extra down jacket will save your life. Double-down; that’s the secret; don’t forget.


Auxiliary Heat Source

Hand and body warmers are a life saver! Incidentally I only use the Hot Hands brand. They last longer and are way hotter than other brands. Just 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 painful burns on the tops of my feet. Otherwise they worked great.

When sleeping or sitting still for long periods of time, an external heat source is often necessary, and body warmers work great. The best type is the sticky body warmers. Just peel and stick anywhere. They are most effective near your core and main arteries. The best place is halfway between your armpit and heart (left side of the body).


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 just to survive. But you have to ask yourself, where else would you rather be? The cold is just part of the extended hunt experience. Either you’re up to the challenge or you’re just a fair-weather hunter. Decide what your goal is and stick to it. A little cold weather is nowhere near as miserable as eating an unused tag!


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