Question: I love late-season bowhunting, but I hate the cold. Do you have any advice for how to stay warm while hunting on stand during the last days of the season? T. Burkey, via e-mail
Answer: As a lifelong resident of Minnesota, I can safely say that I've spent quite a bit of time working on this problem myself. Most of the focus when it comes to staying warm involves base and outer layers. While it's true that you need quality core layers, as well as an outer shell that will trap heat and block the wind, there's more to it than that.
Anyone who has spent a single morning or evening on stand when a north wind is blowing and the temperatures are flirting with zero knows that the first body parts to get cold are always your hands and feet. The true battle for staying comfortable when it's bitterly cold involves addressing your extremities.
Keeping your hands warm is, at least in my opinion, easier than the job of not allowing your feet to turn into frozen clubs attached to your shins. A good handmuff is a must. It's even better if you can stuff a chemical handwarmer or two in there. I despise wearing a glove on my release hand, so I tend to opt for a heavier glove on my bow hand, and at most a lightweight glove on my release hand. This means that for most of my sits, my hands are in the muff and staying toasty.
Feet are a different story. Good boots are without a doubt the best option. Kenetrek's Northern boots are the best cold-weather footwear I've ever run across. They aren't cheap, but they are worth every penny given their 6mm liners (removable), 400-gram Thinsulate Insulation, and 3mm of wool felt. This is all well and good, but what makes the Northern boots stand out is that they also feature an extra 600-gram Thinsulate Insulation that wraps around your foot, and they incorporate a wool-felt insole underneath your foot.
Paired with the right socks, these boots will keep your feet warm when the mercury tanks. But you may want to take it a step further, as I did a few years ago when I spent several days on stand in northern Wisconsin during the last days of the season. Throughout that entire hunt, the temperature barely broke above zero. To survive even a few hours on stand without being miserable, I used ThermaCELL's Heated Insoles. I like these much better than chemical toe-warmers, because I can control the heat and only turn them on when I need them.
Once you've got your hands and feet taken care of, you'll need to address your head. Quite a bit of the heat we lose leaves us via our domes, and that makes the right hat essential. Sitka's Fanatic Beanie is my go-to headwear for the late season. Not only does this beanie keep your cranium from frosting over, but it's also designed to allow for nearly unobstructed hearing. Pair it with Sitka's fleece Neck Gaiter (so important), and you'll be set.
Naturally, it's vital to keep sweating to an absolute minimum when sneaking to your stand. Oftentimes during late-season hunts, I use a large backpack that is designed for Western backcountry hunts. The extra storage space these packs allow gives me the chance to carry most of my outer layers and accessories into my spots without overheating. There is nothing that will cool you off quicker than getting sweated up, and then sitting motionless in your stand or blind.
Avoid this, and avoid letting your extremities get too cold, and you'll be able to enjoy those last wintry days of the season much more. Good luck!