Cold Weather Shooting Tips
The first time I sat in a treestand when the mercury fell below freezing, I couldn’t believe my troubles. My bow — always been a good friend, easy to draw and accurate as a laser-sighted sniper rifle became stiff and gruff, a Mr. Hyde to summer’s Dr. Jekyll. Plus I was too cold to sit without doing the hully-gully on stand. It’s no wonder every deer in the county knew right where I was long before they came within bow range.
Extreme late-season cold weather can take a toll on both the body and your equipment. I quickly learned many years ago that if you want to be able to shoot an accurate arrow in bitter weather, you have to make some modifications in both your equipment and your preparations. The time to do so is now, well before bitter weather arrives so you’ll be ready to rock when the time comes.
Keeping Warm and Dry
Unless you live in cold country, you don’t realize how important it is to prepare to stay warm when you are planning an all-day sit 20 feet up a leafless tree when the temperature drops and the wind is blowing. It is imperative you stay warm as toast to be able to both sit still for hours in bitter weather, then make the shot when the opportunity arises. That means fueling the body, then dressing properly.
Important is a solid breakfast built around carbohydrates that can be easily digested and turned into body heat. I like pancakes and peanut butter toast, food that will stick with me all day long. My daypack contains some chewy granola bars and a sandwich for lunchtime. A Thermos of hot chocolate helps, too, but I also bring water to prevent dehydration.
It is critical to wear wicking undergarments made from synthetic materials, not cotton. Hydrophobic fabrics – meaning they hate water – will wick sweat off your body and into the next layer of the clothing, negating the convective heat loss that will chill you to the bone.
Nothing eats you up faster on bitter days than the wind! That’s why blocking the wind is crucial to your comfort and efficiency as a bowhunter. I wear fleece or other synthetic outerwear featuring either a Gore-Tex or Gore Windstopper membrane. Both membranes breathe to let moisture vapor out away from the body and also block 100 percent of the wind. I have found that wearing an upper and lower body garment with these membranes allows me to wear less total layers which makes me less bulky, which makes it easier to shoot my bow without fear of a shot-destroying bowstring-clothing collision.
Don’t overlook the head, feet – wear warm pac-type boots and wicking socks – and hands. Because it is impossible to shoot well with bulky gloves on, I wear only a light pair of gloves. I keep my hands warm by wearing a muff around my waist that I can stick my hands in while waiting. In the muff I keep a chemical handwarmer going. I’ve used this system in weather as cold as -30 degrees F. and stayed plenty warm.
If you wear a face mask in bitter weather, be sure to practice shooting with it on before hunting. The mask can slightly alter your anchor point and if you’re not careful, interfere with the bow string during the shot. Best to figure these little ‘gotcha’s’ out before a big-antlered buck walks within spitting distance of your stand. Also, bulky jackets can interfere with bowstring travel during the shot. Wearing a full-length arm guard will help keep your sleeve off the string. So will an archery chest protector. I like to wear binoculars around my neck using Crooked Horn Outfitter’s Slide & Flex Bino System, which also compresses my jacket and keeps it away from my string.
There are several products that have helped me stay warm in bitter weather. They include:
- Disposable heat packs from Heatmax (540/328-5950) or Grabber Performance Group (1-800/423-1233.) These include hand warmers, toe warmers, and larger body warmers. They even have gloves, socks, kidney belts, and muffs with pockets for warmer paks. I never leave home without a large supply of them!
- The Heater Body Suit (920/565-3273) is built like an insulated sleeping bag, and designed to be worn over your outerwear on stand. When it is time to shoot, it quickly and quietly slides down, allowing you to shoot your bow unencumbered. It works great.
- Icebreaker (706/754-3732) makes both the Boot Blanket, a large over-boot, and the Handblanket insulated hand muff. Both feature Hollofil 808 insulation. Arctic Shield Boot Insulators (1-877/974-4353) are overboots that use their Refleck-Tek technology to help keep feet warm; they weigh just 8 oz., roll up to fit into your daypack, and have been tested to minus-109 degrees F.
The PolarWrap Exchanger (901/767-4171) is a balaclava of sorts that utilizes a patented thermal exchange system that captures the heat from your breath and uses it to warm and humidify your next breath to help keep your core temperature up. It works incredibly well.
Bow Modifications You might be Hercules and easily draw 70 lbs. during early bow seasons. When late cold weather comes though, the combination of stiff muscles from long sits in a deep freeze and the extra clothing layers that must be worn make it tougher to smoothly draw that same bow. I like to crank my draw weight down 10 percent for bitter-weather hunts, going from my normal 70 lbs. to about 63 lbs. I can easily draw this weight in the cold without having to ‘cheat’. When you turn the bow down remember that you have to re-tune it until it is shooting bullet holes through paper and then re-set your sight pins.
I also re-lubricate my bow’s moving parts with a graphite or synthetic product like Eezox (330-898-1475), which maintains its lubricating ability down to minus 95 degrees F. I use the same stuff on my release aid. Bows with wood or plastic grips are preferred in cold weather over bare metal grips, for obvious reasons. Wrapping the grip with tape, leather or foam can help, too. It is also a good idea in bitter weather to hang your bow from a hook attached to either the tree or your tree stand. Holding an ice-cold metal bow riser it in your hands will chill them rapidly.
If you use a peep sight, be sure to constantly check it for ice. One time I had some snow fall from an overhanging limb onto my bow, which was laying across my lap. Thinking nothing of it, I brushed it away and resumed my vigil. When a deer finally showed and I came to full draw, some snow had gotten into my peep sight’s hole and frozen like a little ice cube. I couldn’t see a thing, and had to pass the shot until I could clear the peep. This I did by sucking on the peep until the ice melted away.
Making It Work
One November found me in a southeastern Kansas treestand on a 10-degree day. About 1:00 p.m. a P&Y buck came trolling past looking for does in estrous. I slipped my hands out of my muff and lifted my old Mathews Switchback, arrow already nocked, off the bow hanger. I hooked up the release and when the deer strolled past at 45 yards gave a single doe bleat as I came to full draw, an effortless motion thanks to my reduced draw weight. When he stopped just 10 steps from my tree looking for the doe he just knew was nearby, I released, my bowstring never brushing anything but air. The shaft flew like a laser beam and before I knew it I had the pleasure of warming up while admiring a dandy 10-pointer.
It can be the same for you, too. Just remember that bowhunting bitter weather is different from the dog days of the early season. Eat well, dress properly, and modify your bow, and you, too, will enjoy red-hot bowhunting during the coldest days of the year.
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