It was not that cold, maybe 45 above. I was 18-feet up a slender tree and shivering so hard the entire tree was shaking. Time to unclimb the tree. I was about to shiver the rivets out of my treestand. I was lucky to get down with no injuries and warm up. I had made some serious mistakes.
This happened on the edge of Cheatham WMA in about 1980. I was on a gun hunt down there and walked almost a mile to my tree, wearing all my clothes and carrying my stand and rifle. The walk had gotten me wringing wet with sweat and my first two layers of clothes were soaked. To make it worse, there was a stiff wind blowing.
My first mistake was in my choice of underwear. Back then, we did not have a lot to choose from, but my cotton long-handles were about the worst choice I could have made. They were a veritable sponge, staying wet instead of wicking moisture out.
Then, I put on all my clothes, guaranteeing, I would get hot. Lastly, I walked fast, not stopping to cool down.
Today, I can and have hunted comfortably down to minus 25 degrees. It is all in the clothing, starting from the bottom out. Today, were I going to hunt in those conditions and money not being a problem (I'm not and it is), I would dress as follows.
I would start with UnderArmour base 4.0-$85 top and bottom or $170 a set. Over that, I would layer a set of Merino wool Icebreakers-$300 a set. Over that I would wear King of the Mountain, wool, tops and bottoms-a whole lot of money and perhaps a quality parka over that.
I would also wear a kidney belt with disposable hand/body warmers and a muff for hand warmers. For boots, I would have on my Schnee pacs with disposable foot warmers. You can own all of that for less than $1,000. Not much less, though.
But you can stay warm in brutal conditions. I no longer care to. I have a house I can stay in and stay warm. But the key to staying warm is layering and if the bottom layer is the quality stuff, you can make it. If that bottom layer not only insulates but wicks away moisture, you can save some money on the rest of it.
Good wool need not be expensive and it will keep you warm. Avoid cotton as you would a cottonmouth, (pun intended). It is your enemy. You can do a great deal with three or four light layers as long as the bottom layer stays dry. I also like a windproof outer layer, even if it only a shell.
Your head deserves special attention because you lose a lot of body heat through the top of your head. I like a full face mask that covers my head, neck and face. Mine is made of merino wool and I have had it for many years. I don't put it on until I am completely cooled down. If I am required to wear hunter orange on my head, I wear my cap on top of the hood.
If you have a long walk ahead of you, carry your outer layer in and be sure to cool down before you get fully dressed. Remember this, walking in snow will get you twice as hot and sweaty as walking hard ground. Snow will also get you wet. Sitting directly on snow is not a good idea. But hunting in snow can be productive.
One year in Alberta, we had a great day rattling in thick brush after a snow storm blanketed everything and fresh rubs showed the bucks had been on the move.
In real cold, sound travels farther, but you can also hear game approaching better and often see them better. It goes without saying, it also makes for better blood trailing.
So, if you are planning a deep freeze hunt this year, spend a few bucks on quality underwear and dress in layers. I'll just snuggle with the dog.
Although last year, I did hunt one morning when it was 14 degrees. I was comfortable and even killed a deer.
Contact John L. Sloan at email@example.com