How to stay warm during a long day in a cold deer stand.
By David Hart
There you sit, all warm and toasty in the cab of your truck, heater on full blast, radio cranking out your favorite tunes. It’s cold, finger-numbing cold, but you did your time. Two hours in a treestand was enough for you. Besides, you didn’t see any deer.
But while you toast marshmallows over your defroster, another hunter is raising his rifle on the same buck that pranced past your treestand minutes after you packed up your gear and walked out. Maybe he’s just more dedicated and willing to sit through bitter cold. More likely, he’s prepared for the weather.
These days, every deer hunter should be able to stay in the woods through even the coldest weather. Modern clothing, along with various gear and gadgets, offers warmth, comfort and protection from wind and rain. There are jackets that block wind, high-tech clothing that conserves heat, and cheap, yet miraculous little packages that generate glorious heat as soon as they are exposed to oxygen.
What did we ever do before the invention of disposable hand warmers? A combination of cellulose, carbon, vermiculite, salt, iron and water, they generate heat that averages about 135 degrees. They are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes, making them the perfect addition to any cold weather hunt.
Used wisely, they can ward off all but the most extreme cold and keep you in the woods from daylight to dark. But the key to getting the most from disposable warmers isn’t necessarily how many you use, but where you use them. They aren’t just hand warmers.
Stuffing a couple down your pockets or holding them in your hands will do little more than offer temporary relief from the cold.
Instead, says Texas hunter Steve Shumaker, place them in strategic locations so they provide the most benefit to your entire body. A frequent visitor to Saskatchewan, Illinois and other cold-weather deer hunting regions, he’s experienced enough severe weather to know what works and what doesn’t.
“Disposable warmers are great,” he says. “I’ll use eight at one time if it’s extremely cold. I put two small ones on my neck over my carotid arteries, two larger ones in a waist belt that go over my kidneys, two more on the inside of my thighs and two in a hand muff.
“The idea is to place them over areas with high blood flow so the heat gets carried to other parts of your body. I stay warm all day, even my feet and my hands.”
Shumaker warns not to put disposable warmers directly against your skin. Instead, he’ll put them on the outside of his innermost layer, sometimes using duct tape to keep them in place.
Layer It Up
Disposable warmers can only do so much. To beat the cold, you’ll not only need quality clothing, you’ll need lots of clothes that are made for the sole purpose of keeping you warm.
After years of toughing it out with cotton long underwear, flannel shirts and other old school clothing, Pennsylvania hunter John Urban discovered such products like Under Armour, Polartec and Cabela’s WindShear. He also discovered layering.
It’s no secret that wearing several layers of thin clothes keeps you warmer than one or two thick layers, but many hunters still don’t use the layering system. Urban hasn’t missed a moment in a treestand since he discovered the benefits of layering, including a day in northern Pennsylvania that saw temperatures dip to 3 below zero.
“I’ll have three layers on my legs, including Under Armour ColdGear long underwear, Polartec underwear over that and then a pair of Cabela’s insulated Microtec pants,” he said. “On top, I start with an Under Armour ColdGear long sleeve shirt, followed by as many as three or four other layers before I put on my jacket. At least one of those layers is Polartec fleece. It just depends how cold it is.”
What he wears on top of those layers depends on conditions — wind, rain, snow or sleet. Wind can sap the heat from the best layering system, which is why Urban wears Cabela’s WindShear products on windy days. GORE-TEX outerwear is also ideal at stopping the wind, as are products that contain both GORE-TEX and WINDSTOPPER fabric.
Scent-Lok has stepped up its base layer line to include tops and bottoms for any weather conditions. Choose from three different insulation weights, or mix and match weights to create the ultimate layering system. Even better, you also get scent protection with their new Carbon Alloy technology.
Top off your Scent-Lok base layers with their windproof Rampage outerwear, or go with the ThunderTek line for windproof/waterproof protection from the elements.
Although somewhat expensive, Sitka Gear products are some of the best on the market at stopping both wind and rain.
Whatever outerwear he chooses, Urban usually buys a size larger than he normally wears because it allows him to layer without feeling constricted. Clothes that run slightly larger also help trap more air, and that warmed air is what keeps you in your stand.
Nothing can conserve warmth like a full-body suit. Although they’ve been around for quite a while, body suits like those made by Heater Body Suit are becoming increasingly popular among cold weather deer hunters.
They are little more than a body length sleeping bag with legs that zip up tight around your neck. To help conserve heat, they do not have arms. These suits do, however, have separate legs and the feet are large enough to wear over bulky boots. A front zipper allows quick access to your gun or bow.
A few body bag type products have a single compartment to accommodate both feet, much like a sleeping bag.
Some hunters carry an old sleeping bag into the woods and slide inside it when they reach their destination. It’s probably not the best option for hunting out of a treestand, nor is it the most efficient way to stay warm. But, an old sleeping bag can be a cheap way to beat the heat.
One big advantage of body suit products is they’re available in wind-blocking and rain-blocking models, as well as a multitude of camouflage options.
Go To Extremes for the Extremities
For some hunters, body suits, layered clothing and disposable hand warmers can be the ticket for a cozy day in the deer stand, but many can’t warm their feet, no matter what they do.
Giant, insulated boots, wool or synthetic socks, disposable toe warmers, even electric socks won’t help.
ThermaCELL, the company that developed the highly-popular fuel cell mosquito repellent, has come out with a new way to keep your feet warm.
Their Heated Insoles are rechargeable insoles that slip in and out of your boot and keep your feet warm for hours. Even better, they can be turned up or down or on and off with a remote control, saving battery life as well as reducing the hassle of taking your boots off every time you want to shut them off.
Some people swear by disposable toe warmers while others like battery-powered socks. Urban, however, doesn’t care for either. He prefers a pair of nylon socks followed by a pair of Polartec socks and a pair of LaCrosse Alpha 2000-gram insulated boots. That combination is all he needs.
He also layers his hands, starting with a thin inner glove under thicker Under Armour gloves. If that’s not enough, Urban also uses a hand muff with a disposable hand warmer inside it.
What Not To Wear
Urban doesn’t layer up before he heads to his stand. In fact, he doesn’t wear much at all if he has a long hike. Walking, even in extreme cold, can produce plenty of sweat if you are wearing heavy clothing. When you finally reach your destination, that sweat turns ice cold, stealing vital warmth when you need it most.
“I wear only a couple of layers of undergarments when I walk to my stand,” Urban said. “I wait until I get there to put on my heaviest layers.”
One thing he never wears is cotton. Although many consider it far more comfortable than synthetic materials, cotton tends to hold moisture, which draws precious heat from your body.
Cheat If you Can
If it’s an option, both Urban and Shumaker will sit in a fixed tower blind or a portable pop-up blind. Tower stands have been in use for a long time in places like Texas, and pop-ups have become popular in the past few years.
Not only do they allow more freedom to wiggle and squirm, they block wind and, to some extent, contain body heat.
They won’t hold enough heat in extreme conditions, and that’s why smart hunters rely on portable heaters.
A portable propane heater can weigh just a few pounds and runs off a small bottle of gas about the size of a softball. They typically have an automatic shut-off feature if they tip over, making them safe for any situation. It’s one more thing to lug in and out of the field, but if it’s below freezing, it’s a luxury worth the effort.
There’s nothing wrong with using any gadget, even a space heater, if it keeps you in the woods. You’ll see a lot more deer than you would through the windshield of your truck.