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Choices for Frigid Conditions, Part Two

PhotoBy John M. Moschella

-- In my previous article on hunting in frigid conditions, I presented ideas for staying warm in below zero temperatures. As several readers noted, I did not address keeping the head warm . . . an important omission, considering that the majority of body heat dissipates from this area of the body. Therefore, the second part of this article will address keeping the head warm as well as how to care for hunting equipment, plus other relevant suggestions.

To pick up where I left off, headgear is an important article of clothing in the quest to stay warm. Virtually any type of cover will provide warmth. Under Armour now sells head coverings of the stocking cap variety, which provide warmth and breatheability, a needed combination considering the amount of walking one might do in the course of a day's hunt. This is not to say that the versatile wool variety will not perform well in hostile weather. Remember that whether dry or wet, wool works.

In frigid conditions, consider the "mad bomber" variety of hats that will certainly serve the purpose. Regardless of the hat shape, the key here is thickness and layering, when used in combinations the results will be successful. This leads to my second point relative to headgear.

Many companies are now making balaclavas (hoods) that provide warmth not only to the head, but also to the neck, shoulders and torso. My recommendation is the larger, the better. With the exception of Under Armour, a tight fit is usually a recipe for cold. Not only does it potentially cut off circulation, but it is difficult to don and remove. On the contrary, a larger garment means greater mobility. Noting that movement is the bane of any hunter, constrictive clothing will not allow the hunter to move one's head easily, especially if the hood continually becomes dislodged, thereby forcing rearrangement.

I have found that a large balaclava, especially with an attached turtleneck, allows me to move without constantly having to re-position my headgear. Something else to note, a large turtleneck allows the hunter to tuck one's mouth and nose into the turtleneck and lift it out if need be. Remember, this is for an extended sit in frigid conditions where warmth is a priority.

Facemasks also serve the same purpose, but wearing one for long periods and attempting to eat or drink complicates matters. In addition, condensation can build up at the openings and freeze, making the mask uncomfortable. By wearing a thin cap, a loose fitting balaclava with an attached oversized turtleneck will provide comfort, warmth and mobility.

A word about visors for that all day sit: remember that the sun will move as much as 180 degrees throughout the course of the day. Sometimes sun glare might become an issue, and visors work. They will do wonders to help shade one's eyes from the sun. Consider taking one with you or find a warm cap with a visor. Work on the combinations that best suit you.

One more word about visibility: winter usually means hunting in the snow, which produces considerable glare, even on a cloudy day. One can avoid those headaches associated with excessive squinting by taking a tube of the anti-glare paste with you. Baseball, and football players use it for a reason, and it is not to look macho . . . it works! The first couple of times I used it, my hunting counterparts laughed at me, by the end of the week, my tube became a "must have" for the entire camp. Laughing aside, pack a tube. As for sunglasses, they reflect the sun, can fog up and cannot be worn with most masks. Enough said.

Preparing oneself for the cold is one aspect of hunting in frigid conditions; having a properly operating firearm is another. Firearms must be prepared for extreme weather conditions, and this starts at home. Oil, although a friend to steel can be an enemy in the cold. As the temperature decreases, the viscosity of oil rises. It becomes thick, gooey and certainly not conducive to smooth operation. The alternative is to have all the oil removed from the firearm. Take the time to visit a gunsmith who can remove all the oil, especially from the firing pin assembly (bolt). This will help to ensure that when the trigger is pulled, the gun will fire.

By the way, temperature extremes can affect the accuracy of a firearm. Make sure a few shots are taken with a cold barrel to ensure its consistency. On a related point, several times I have been asked my opinion regarding wood versus laminate stocks and whether temperature extremes affect accuracy. I have used both with equal accuracy and have no real preference. A wet barrel is another issue.

When in the field, especially during rainy or snowy conditions, place a small piece of tape or a small balloon over the muzzle. This will prevent anything foreign from entering the barrel, especially if dropped.

Pick up any hunting item and there will be some mention of its ability to operate in freezing conditions. A practice not commonly employed, which sometimes raises the eyebrows of fellow hunters, is leaving the firearm outside throughout the entire trip. Assuming the firearm is first, void of oil, this practice will eliminate any condensation occurring from taking the firearm inside each night. Just remember to cover the scope with caps, place something over the muzzle and make sure the firing pin is in the fired position.

This can be accomplished by using a snap cap, or if using a bolt-action, the choice for frigid weather hunters, simply pulling the trigger while forwarding the bolt into the receiver. The firing pin will slowly be released to the fired position; thus preventing the pin from freezing in the cocked position. The following morning, just cocking the bolt will free it if it has frozen during the night. This will ensure that the gun will fire every time. By the way, make sure the glove you are using can fit into the trigger guard.

Careful attention must also be paid to fogging. First, regardless of the quality, optics, binoculars or riflescopes will fog up when exposed to temperature contrasts. Leaving the firearm outside throughout the hunt will help to reduce the possibility of fogging, but breathing on it, placing it too close to your eye, even touching it with your bare skin will cause it to fog up. There is simply no way to avoid it other than take precautions, one of which is applying an anti-fogging paste to the lens. A lens brush can be used to dust away any snow or condensation.

Take care of battery-operated equipment as well. Try to keep batteries in your pocket and insert them in the device as needed. This will prolong the life of them. Taking extras is a smart move. Game calls and grunts can and will freeze, but there are options. Again, keep them close to the body for warmth and remove them as needed.

Unless hunters construct their own stands, they must take what is given to them, especially on a guided hunt. Sometimes the particular stand might be uncomfortable. One way to make that all-day sit more comfortable is to use a cushion. A warm cushion not only provides comfort for those all day sits, but adds warmth. Most are light and easily attach to a knapsack or fanny pack. One can never go wrong taking a cushion into the bush.

Speaking of packs, make sure yours is waterproof, especially if it will be exposed to the elements. Even water resistant material will allow water to penetrate. Waterproof is waterproof. Sounds simple, it is.

More and more stands are heated. Whether something as sophisticated as a built-in system or the small propane variety, heaters can turn what would be an uncomfortable day in the woods into a rather pleasant experience. However, there are certain issues associated with heaters.

Despite the relative comfort of a heated stand, foremost, there is the matter of odor. Propane heaters emit a distinctive smell. I have never been one to use a heater, regardless of the temperature, for fear my stand would be detected by a deer.

An alternative, if one must use a heater to make it through the day, is to turn the heater on only when needed. It might take the edge off the frigid cold and help to reduce scent. Make sure how to operate the device; sounds elementary until it needs to be relit with cold fingers. Remember that fogging can become a problem in an environment subject to quick, drastic temperature changes.

Heat packs are common equipment for any hunter; just bear in mind that they require air to activate and operate. Inserting them in boots with inadequate air flow limits their effectiveness. On the other hand, when placed in a muff they become a worthwhile addition. This, in combination with a light pair of gloves, will provide comfort on the coldest of days and allow for manual dexterity. My suggestion here is to purchase the warmest-rated hand or feet packs. Check the temperature on individual packs. The reports I have about battery-operated socks and such are that they work, but eat batteries.  

Expecting an extended day in the bush, food becomes a necessity. Calories translate to energy, which becomes heat. The choice of food is subjective. Regardless, it will freeze, so consider the following in selecting the menu.

I have read the journals of Canadian trappers in bygone eras and what they took with them to keep warm and the one common item was tea, hot, sweet, and strong. Called Trappers Tea by the locals, sipping it throughout the day will make the sit more enduring. Choose a thermos that can keep liquids hot for an extended time. Just remember, though, that caffeine leads to an increase in urination.

In summary, one of the best ways to see big game is to spend as much time in the woods as possible. Sitting quietly and limiting movement all day will help put the odds in your favor. In frigid temperatures, a few helpful tips can make the difference between that two or three-hour sit and an all-day hunt.

One final note, there is a saying that two heads are better than one. I would like to extend a special thanks to Craig Henry for lending his considerable expertise to this article. Craig is a seasoned veteran of hunting in extreme temperatures and his helpful suggestions were greatly appreciated.

John M. Moschella

Editor's note: Click here to read "Choices for Frigid Conditions, Part I."

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