BRAINERD, MINN. – If you hunt deer with a muzzleloader, or have an unfilled archery deer tag, you're destined to spend some cold hours perched in a deer stand in the coming days and weeks.
I recall a particularly cold evening bow hunt that took place a while ago — let's just say this was before the days of chemical hand warmers and keyless auto entries. I was keeping watch over a snowy cornfield, perched a dozen or so feet up an oak tree. By sunset I was nearly frozen. I climbed down from my deer stand and walked through the woods toward the road, the squeaky snow beneath my footfalls a testament to the below-zero temperature.
Upon arriving at my vehicle, I was able to get the key into the door lock, but my icy fingers had neither the coordination nor the strength to rotate the key. It took about 30 minutes of jumping jacks and walking circles around my vehicle before my hands warmed enough to finally turn the key.
Thank goodness, options for cold-weather hunters have improved drastically since those days. Caps, gloves, boots and other cold-weather apparel are so much better because of modern fabrics that are lighter, provide more insulation with less bulk and wick away perspiration. And now we have the added option of chemical or electric warmers to further stave off Old Man Winter.
Everyone knows the key to keeping warm is layering — specifically, clothing that can be added or subtracted depending on weather conditions. Perspiration is our enemy.
But on the deer stand the stationary hunter is less concerned with sweating than retaining body heat. Here is a formula for cold-weather dressing that works well for me.
My three base layers are made of the latest hi-tech moisture-wicking material. I start out with a pair of briefs. Then I add tightfitting long underwear top and bottom. After that, I add a looser fitting but thicker layer top and bottom. For these first three layers, I like the brand Under Armour, but there are many other options.
After that I don a layer of puffy acrylic. That creates dead airspace. Should I perspire, I need my clothing to draw moisture away from my body and allow it to dry. None of the layers I've mentioned so far is wind resistant so I next add a wind-resistant and breathable layer of Gore-Tex. The final layer is a bib and heavy parka combination insulated with Thinsulate. The outer material is Gore-Tex.
I keep my head warm by wearing a neck gaiter, a windproof stocking cap with a facemask, and a hood if the windchill is below zero.
To keep my hands and feet warm on cold-weather hunts I always use chemical or electrical warmers. For my feet I like the rechargeable electrical insoles by ThermaCELL. I keep my fingers toasty by placing chemical warmers in my mittens, or use a hand warmer muff strapped to my waist, again employing chemical warmers.
I've found this combination keeps me warm for at least three hours, even when windchills are below zero.
Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.