Whitetails 365: Hunting in Cold Weather

By Tom Peplinski

The late hunting seasons can be some of the best times to kill a giant whitetail buck. Undoubtedly! In some cases, it can actually seem too easy. That’s right…too easy! This is the case because of some very good reasons all line up when the temperatures dip into the bone chilling degrees. Big bucks that have just spent a month or more doing a bunch of chasing and breeding have a long winter to look forward to. They need food; sometimes badly. With the fall harvest completely over, any remaining food sources will congregate deer making them easy to find. They aren’t spread out like they were in early October when they were on a bed to feed pattern then. And, because of the cold, (and I’m talking the coldest of the cold days), I think they just simply have to get up and eat to try and stay warm helping to make them daylight active.

This all sets up for some very good hunting in December and January. The colder the better! Add some snow, even better! Bring a little wind making it even colder, you bet. Cold late season hunting can certainly be a great time to harvest a buck of a lifetime. But there is one problem. As cold as it is for an animal that has lived for thousands of years adapting to this environment, it is even colder for us. We have not adapted to this environment, quite the opposite actually. But we still have the advantage because we have clothing and other ways to beat the cold.

Cold Weather System
Back in my very early days of hunting whitetail, I would simply freeze when on the stand trying to hunt late season deer. My hunting clothes were nothing more than my work clothes with an added layer or two. I never sat in blinds, (because I couldn’t afford one), and enclosed blinds with windows were just not used. I hunted from tree stands and climbing stands where I was completely exposed to the elements. If I sat on the ground, it was usually in snow making it even colder sitting on what was essentially an ice cube.

Today, I’ve learned my lessons from hours of miserable sits in freezing weather. I actually had several times I had to leave evening hunts early because I started to shake—I was so cold. Not only is that not safe, I don’t know how I would have shot or arrowed a buck in those conditions.
After almost 40 years of chasing deer in the cold, I’m first now finding it comfortable to hunt in the late season. The reason is this…I’ve always wanted to upgrade my clothing and gear to make it more comfortable hunting in extreme cold; but because I’ve never had unlimited money. I chose instead to sacrifice cold comfort for other things that I thought would help me reach my hunting goals first. Now, after all those years of freezing, I’ve finally come up with and purchased gear that has made my late season hunting warm. Mostly because I have been able to finally be at the point where I don’t feel I am sacrificing other more important gear and habitat stuff. This is my system:

First, I’ll pick hunting the late season in some kind of blind if I can. Pop up blinds are more portable and offer better ease of relocation, but they aren’t as warm as hard blinds. I’ve found that the cheapest of these blinds will do the job just fine. However, they don’t hold up all that well to wind or a heavy snowfall. Today, if I’m choosing a pop-up blind, I’ll typically pay more and get one that has a thicker canvas type covering. They stand up to wind and heavy snow much better saving me money in the long run.

For a more permanent position like some of my late season muzzleloader spots, I’ve built wooden blinds or purchased fully enclosed blinds. My home-made wooden blinds are great, but offer almost no portability. So, I’ve also started to purchase a couple fully enclosed blinds with windows in them. These blinds are super warm and very durable. They do the job in really cold weather, and because they are fully enclosed, I feel that they greatly reduce any noise or scent leaving them while I’m on stand. There are a ton of options out there, but I’ve found that the Maverik line of blinds offers the best value. They are a no-frills approach, but get the job done that I’m asking them to do. Hunting in extreme cold, but in a blind can make a huge difference in a hunter’s ability to stay out.

Second, I’ve now started to purchase better cold weather clothing. I’ll start this conversation off with saying that I am not at all brand loyal. I’ll take the best value in what I want over any brand or camo pattern. My clothes are a mix and match of what works for me, and with what I wanted in hunting clothes. This is important for me to convey to the reader because as I give you specifics to what I’ve bought, (that works for me), I can’t stress enough that it would probably be different today based on what I could find today.

My base layers are from LL Bean. I have enough base layers so that I can wear a fresh set every day. I don’t personally like the wool base layers, so mine are all polyester. My long sleeve upper base layers also have thumb holes which I love. They keep cold from getting into my sleeves.
After my base layers, I’m still mainly using my old camo layers. This is a mix and match of polyester flannel shirts, sweatshirts, and thinly insulated pants and uppers. But I’ve added the purchase of a down jacket. It’s an Eddie Bauer Cirrus Lite Down Jacket that I picked up on sale for $40 last year. It’s AWESOME! I see they are now selling for about $60, but would still be well worth it.

I’m still using my older insulated bibs, but I’ve also added a First Lite Solitude Insulated Jacket. I chose this jacket specifically because it allows me to run my hands and arms through the jacket and under my bibs. This keeps my hands toasty all day. The jacket itself is pretty nice, but the feature that made it my choice were the slots in the jacket that allowed me to keep my hands warm!

When it comes to my feet, I’ve been using a system down there that has worked for me for many years. I’ve been using a pair of LaCrosse Burly Classics for a long time. But, when it comes to cold weather, I’ll still use my Classics but I cover them up with insulated boot covers. Mine are very old but still work great. This allows me the comfort of lightweight rubber boots so my feet don’t overheat on long walks in. Then, as soon as I’m on stand, I’ll put on my boot covers. My feet stay warm all sit! My blankets use Velcro…don’t get a set that uses Velcro. In fact, I’m actually thinking of upgrading, (even though mine still work fine), simply to get rid of the noisy Velcro closings. This brings up another point…I pack most of my clothes in on most hunts, but especially on cold days. This allows me to stay cool and dry and long walks in. Nothing will make you chill faster than sweat.

Staying warm in freezing temps will help you stay on stand longer. That in turn can help you hunt and harvest a buck of a lifetime during a great time of year. Target the areas that get cold on you first with good gear and you’ll stay warmer and more comfortable.