January 03, 2011
By Steve Bartylla
In Wisconsin, when the temps are flirting with the 30-degree mark in late December, you can't help but think it's warm, but today was one of those deceptively cold days. Add a steady sleet and a stiff wind to otherwise "balmy" winter temperatures in the upper Midwest, and anyone who's underestimated the conditions is in for a long day afield.
On the opposite side, try convincing your 13-year-old son, who's filled with all the testosterone, excitement and determination of a young man out on his first late-season bowhunt, that he needs to wear a Heater Body Suit. Add in that he'd killed two deer during firearms season and any attempt at logic is hopeless. After all, he was the expert now. Besides, as he said, "Hunting is about suffering, dad."
Not surprisingly, it didn't take long after settling in into the stand for him to understand what he'd gotten himself into. With the body heat generated during his walk to the stand now a distant memory, I sat snuggled in the Heater Body Suit in my stand, as my son, Zach shivered in the stand attached to the other side of the tree. His clothing soaked, I knew he wouldn't be so proud as to refuse the hand muff and chemical packs I'd stuck in my bag for him. After thanking and assuring me he wanted to stick it out, I knew that the worst was yet to come.
Because of the weather conditions, I hadn't planned on a long sit. So, it wasn't much longer before the does began pouring out into the field. As one approached our stand, Zach stood and prepared himself for the shot. When the doe dropped her head to feed, he made his move.
Well, he tried to, anyway. With the cold having drained his strength, try as he might, he couldn't come to full draw on his first attempt. On his second, he managed to pull the bowstring all the way back. Unfortunately his inability to hold steady resulted in his arrow sailing under the doe.
As we walked back to the truck, my arm on his shoulder, he apologized for not listening and ruining our hunt.
Laughing, I explained that nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, this had been an extremely productive evening. He'd learned one of the more valuable lessons one can learn about hunting. Being comfortable is one of the most underrated factors in hunting.
ADVANTAGES OF COMFORT
Far too many seasoned hunting veterans make the same mistake my own son did that afternoon, four years ago. Like it or not, the comfort factor can make or break the outcome of a hunt.
Of course, there are the obvious reasons. If you get cold, you are more likely to leave the stand. Frankly, it's pretty hard to fill tags legally when you're driving home.
Perhaps worse is when you do stick it out. As happened to my own son, being cold can drain your strength and disrupt your ability to shoot accurately. For three full years, I'd watched him drill targets so well that many adults would have been envious. Unlike myself at his age, the boy could flat-out shoot. Because of weight training for wrestling, drawing 60 pounds had never come close to being an issue for him either. However, once the cold sinks into your bones, both strength and accuracy can suffer immensely.
Even when those aren't issues, a lack of comfort can get into your head. Though some may disagree with me, I feel hunting is as much a mental game as any other sport. When you are focused and believe today is the day, your odds of a self-fulfilling prophecy increase significantly.
Being miserable has the strong tendency of ruining that. You shift in the stand more. Your attentions are on how much longer before you can leave and how good it will feel to be warm again. Unfortunately, even when you try to concentrate on the task at hand, you're not anywhere near as sharp as you normally can be. It simply stacks the odds for failure.
Luckily, unlike when most of us were kids, there is now an abundance of high-quality hunting clothing and gear to beat the cold and keep us in the game under the most miserable conditions. In fact, there are two different approaches that can work very well.
The one I exclusively rely on these days is using the Heater Body Suit (www.heaterbodysuit.com). It is effective, extremely easy to use and more cost effective than the alternative.
The 5-ounce polyester tricot outer and inner shell material is brushed to produce an ultra quiet fabric. Contained within is a DuPont wind barrier membrane and U-300 Ultra Thinsulate insulation. This body bag has independent legs, allowing the hunter to move in the stand, but it has no arms. With a zipper running from one ankle all the way to the collar, it traps the body's own heat to allow the hunter to withstand even the most extreme conditions comfortably.
To add to its functionality, it has a dual elastic strap system to keep the suit in place while shooting. Shouldering the gun or coming to full draw cause the suit to quietly slip off the shoulders for a completely unaffected shot. The straps then hold the suit in place to keep the suit from falling farther away than it needs to, reducing unwanted movement.
This highly effective shell not only beats the cold, but it also provides several other advantages. First, it allows for dressing light when traveling to the stand. That eliminates the need to decide between working up a sweat going in or creating an odor plume by changing near the stand. Dressing light also removes the concern that shooting form could be affected by bulky clothing.
Additionally, being enclosed in the suit hides hand movements. The motions of drawing a grunt tube to hunter's mouth or rattling antlers has resulted in previously unseen deer busting hunters many times over. Since this movement is conducted almost exclusively inside the suit, that concern is virtually removed. As a matter of fact, numerous experiences have led me to the firm belief that, due to the suit's shape, it breaks the hunter's silhouette to the point that deer don't recognize the wearers as being hunters or threats.
Finally, its design provides the ability to remain comfortable in temperatures ranging between double-digit negatives and 35 degrees. When the temps are in the thirties, I simply leave the zipper down and drape the suit over my shoulders. As the temp drops in the late afternoon, the zipper comes farther up until I'm comfortable again. This ability eliminates the need to bring extra clothing, as well as the extra movement and odors associated with putting on and shedding layers on-stand to remain comfortable.
Ultimately, any cold-weather clothing comes down to effectiveness. It must keep the hunter warm, comfortable, quiet and allow for unimpeded shots. The Heater Body Suit does all of this and more for the stand hunter. Flat out, it is a great aide in keeping your mind in the game.
The other method is the time-honored layer approach. Perhaps no other category of hunting equipment has seen more advances than those associated with hunting clothing. Frankly, as exceptional as the Heater Body Suit is for stand hunting, the layered approach is really the only option for those wanting to stalk prey.
When pursuing the layered route, everything begins with the outer layer. To be most effective, this layer must possess several traits. First, it should be obvious that the product must have the ability to keep you warm. Comparing insulation ratings helps ensure that a suitable garment is selected.
Second, it's critical that the outer layer is quiet. Sound seems to travel much farther during the late season, and most big game animals are more sensitive to unnatural noise at this time of year. When considering an outer layer purchase, try it on first and go through the motions involved with drawing a bow. Next, rub up against objects and scratch the fabric with your fingernails. Taking those easy steps will allow you to judge if the noise level it generates is acceptable.
Third, the less bulk the better. Walking in bulky clothing can't help but make more noise as it rubs against itself. That same bulk catches on vegetation and has the tendency to cause string slap. Neither contributes to good outcomes while hunting.
Finally, it's not critical, but definitely nice when the outer layer is waterproof. Snow has the tendency to melt when contacting an outer layer. This in turn leads to the hunter getting wet and cold. If the garment is waterproof, that concern is removed.
After selecting a good outer layer, one must address the base layer. Here, warmth and comfort are the big concerns. When considering a purchase, for those with sensitive skin, check the materials to be certain that it's not constructed of something known to cause irritation.
Furthermore, the base layer must wick moisture away from the skin. Even when one tries to avoid sweating, it will occur at times. A fabric that wicks the moisture away will keep you much warmer and more comfortable.
Last, fabrics and technology that kill, adsorb or stop odors from forming are good choices. Because the base layer is the first line of defense against odors, it's always best to stop them there.
As for the middle layers, I have found both fleece and wool clothing to be good choices. Both contain a surplus of air pockets for retaining heat. When hunting in windy conditions, an inexpensive windbreaker can be worn right under the outer layer. It is amazing how much that small step can help.
When considering socks, I've found a two-tiered approach best. A thin, moisture wicking, odor-controlling sock should come first. Next, it's still hard to beat thick, wool socks for the outer layer.
While addressing feet, the choice of boots is determined largely by whether one will be using a Heater Body Suit, a form of boot blanket or relying strictly on boots to keep the feet warm, as well as whether the tactic will be stand hunting or stalking.
When stand hunting and relying strictly on boots for warmth, the lower their temperature rating for your boot, the better. When deciding on a temperature rating, remember that they indicate the lowest temps that one can wear these boots while walking. There's a tremendous difference when one is sitting motionless.
Personally, I've always preferred wearing lightweight, rubber boots. This allows me to stalk or get to my stand quieter than in larger, warmer boots. It also reduces the amount my feet sweat when walking. Before I began using a Heater Body Suit, I used chemical warming packs in my boots and slipped Boot Blankets over top. This combination, along with good socks, allowed my feet to stay warm.
Speaking of Boot Blankets and chemical packs, several accessories designed to beat the cold can be tremendously helpful. Just as Boot Blankets and warming packs can allow a hunter to go light with boots, hand muffs and chemical packs allow for light-weight gloves or none at all. For those who hate shooting with thick gloves, the combination provides a very good solution.
Neck warmers also serve a very useful purpose. Moving up to the mouth, for the brutal cold, ski masks are often required. For bowhunters using kisser buttons, cut the mouth area to allow it to rest normally. Finally, a high-quality hat is worth its weight in gold.
Few things can take hunters out of their mental game more quickly than being cold. Luckily, today's equipment makes it relatively easy to make that an issue of the past. Sure, reminiscing about how miserable a hunt was might make for good campfire stories and badges of honor, but showing off the buck you killed in seemingly miserable conditions is more fun.