When we hunt late season in the west, midwest, mid-Atlantic, east and New England, a time when temperatures range from 30 degrees (F) to below zero and big animals are on the move, it’s a time to be in the field or in a stand. During this magical time of the season the cold isn’t just uncomfortable. It can devastate your body’s ability to perform at peak levels. It can also impact brain function. How you prepare and dress for these cold weather hunts can mean the difference between taking an animal or not.
If your body is not protected from the cold with proper cold weather performance apparel, cold weather can take away the hard work and energy expended to prepare for season. Even small, but important, things like the the care necessary to quietly walk into, or stalk, a hunt site can be impacted by cold. Footsteps become clumsy and heavy. One wrong step and animals flee. Raising your bow can be unsteady. At full draw your aim can be challenged. Finding your anchor point – which you’ve done thousands of times – can prove difficult. Releasing your arrow can be a heartbeat too soon or too late. And all too often the hunter blames himself when things don’t go as planned.
What if these challenges were attributed to the body’s response to cold? And is there a way to be successful when Mother Nature throws you a temperature curve?
Important points to keep in mind:
When the temperature of your muscles fall below 82°, your endurance decreases. Fact. So, it makes sense a key to cold weather hunting success is keeping your muscle temperatures above that level. And the key to keeping muscles warm? Proper body insulation. And the key to proper body insulation? The right hunting apparel.
30 at 10.
In 2015, ESPN’s “Sport Science” series simulated the frigid environment professional football players endure during a late season game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay by using an ice truck. The temperature in the truck was set at 10 degrees (F). The host of the series, who had taken baseline temperatures before he went into the frigid vehicle, spent 30 minutes inside.
This is what he experienced:
• Strength of grip: The host entered the truck with his core body temperature at 99 degrees. To help maintain the temperature, the cardio vascular system pumps less blood to our extremities. It took only 15 minutes for the temperature of the host’s skin to drop to 35-degrees. When the strength of his grip was tested, it was half the level demonstrated prior to entering the frigid truck. Think about that. Half the strength in only 15 minutes. In that amount of time the critical movements required to move smoothly to reach for your bow, grip it, draw back with stealth, find your anchor point, zero in on your mark, hold yourself at full draw and release a perfect shot are negatively impacted. One movement in the process – just one – that doesn’t have the fluidity you practiced for hours and hours during the off season, and for many your entire hunting life, can ruin your chances of success before the bow is even in your hand.
• Glucose burn: After 30 minutes inside the truck and exposed to frigid temperatures, the host’s core body temperature was remarkably stable at 99 degrees. But, for the body to keep the core protected and functioning, it robs from stored glucose at a rate of five times what’s used in warm weather.
• Time to react: Rapid loss of glucose means less energy available for hunting performance. The “Sport Science” show host found his reaction times lowered by 45 percent. Any chance a big buck’s reaction time declines by 45 percent? Not any buck we know of. So, while our body’s loss of heat and glucose negates a hunter’s ability to react as needed decreases in cold weather, it has the opposite effect on big game. They never move with more speed and agility, and with senses on high than they do in cold weather. Yes, you want to be out in the cold when big animal activity is at a peak. You should be out. But with big game functioning at their best and you possibly functioning at sub-optimal levels – the gap between man’s ability to take an animal and the animal’s ability to avoid being taken grows wider and wider. At these times you want and need every advantage. And the only way to find that advantage is keeping your body and muscle temperatures up. And you need help to do that. Help that can be found in high performance, cold weather hunting, base layers, hunting mid-layers, hunting pants and jacket, caps, gloves, and important accessories such as neck gaiters.
Cold = clumsy.
Muscle performance - hiking with stealth, drawing your bow, holding at full draw - and fine motor skills - finding your anchor point, triggering your release properly and at the right instant - declines and with every 1.9° (F) drop in muscle temperature.
Meanwhile, the average skin temperature throughout the body is 91.4°. But when this value drops below 77°, extreme discomfort is felt. Values as low as 73.3° can be dealt with, but that’s when limb movement becomes clumsy and man’s joints stiffen due to synovial fluid inside and surrounding them becomes “thicker” as temperatures drop. Where to learn more: DNA Sports Performance (2013)
Loss of cardiorespiratory endurance
There are three factors that contribute to a decrease in endurance due to cold weather, but the primary cause is due to a decrease in maximum heart rate when the body is cooling. This cooling effect hampers hunters abilities to sustain strenuous movement. The drop in endurance you experience depends on environment and your fitness level. Source: Human Kinetic.
For sportsmen and outdoor athletes, cold weather performance apparel isn’t only about staying warm and comfortable in cold. Appropriate apparel choice can directly impact your success in late season.
Suggested cold weather apparel:
Selkirk Hunting Jacket and Pant
Waypoint Hunting Jacket and Pant
The Insulator Hunting Insulation Jacket, Vest, Pant, and Cap
Cascade Fleece Hunting Performance Hooded Pullover, Leggings, Neck Gaiter, Glove, Cap
IconX Heated Core Vest
IconX Base Layer and Merino Wool Base Layer
Shenandoah Fleece Pullover
Selkirk Waterproof Insulated Glove
Merino Wool Glove Liners
Merino Wool Cap
We’d like to thank Amy Hatfield and the team at Grand View Outdoors for their invaluable assistance in the creation of this article.