The two-mile walk to my stand near Seeley Lake, Montana, took close to an hour. To avoid sweating, I carried my heavy coat on my pack and walked slowly. Finally at my stand, I attached my climbing belt, climbed slowly, secured my full-body safety harness above my stand, and stepped onto the stand.
My bow hung on the hook where I'd left it overnight. After pulling on my warm jacket, I lifted my bow and drew it to check things out. At half draw, the bow exploded, and I stood there dumbfounded, holding a handle with two bow limbs dangling from it by bowstring and cables. Inspecting the bow, I discovered ice in the cam grooves. Apparently it had pushed the string out of the groove, and pow! â€“ end of my hunt.
Perseverance comes easy in warm weather, but in winter, not so easy. Equipment Editor Curt Wells ideas prompted me to reflect on some of the ways I have persevered on winter hunts:
Don't sweat. If you're comfortable as you start walking to your stand, you're overdressed. If you have more than 100 yards to walk, tie your heavy jacket and warm accessories to your pack. Start out cold, and you'll just be getting comfortable when you reach your stand.
Check your gear. My experience in Montana says it all. Inspect cam grooves before you draw your bow, check the cable guard, and wipe down your arrows. Any slight moisture on these components will create icy bumps â€“ and disastrous results. If your arrow rest has moving parts, make sure they're moving. One 20-degree morning, a friend of mine took an easy shot at a big buck. Unfortunately, my friend's arrow rest had frozen solid, and the arrow hit two feet left of the deer.
Shoot a light bow. Hunting in the Edmonton, Alberta, Bow Zone with outfitter Jim Hole (www.classic-outfitters.com), I met Jim's brother Doug, who raved about the new bow he'd used to take a tremendous buck. The PSE bow had an axle-to-axle length just over 26 inches, and Doug had lowered the draw weight and set the draw length two inches shorter than normal. The combination of short bow, light draw weight, and short draw length made the bow perfect for stealth hunting in bitter weather. Stiff muscles and bulky clothes always hamper shooting, so make things as easy as possible for yourself.
Climb safely. Cold body, heavy clothes, and slick trees comprise a deadly mix. Don't even THINK about climbing a tree with anything less than complete fall protection. Use a climbing belt to ascend and descend, or, better yet, a climbing system like the Seat-O-The-Pants (SOP) Climbing System (www.summitstands.com). Always attach the tether of your full-body harness above your stand before releasing the climbing belt or system. And reverse the process for coming down.
Silence everything. One cold, calm morning in Montana, I called-in and killed a 9-pointer. Later, I backtracked the buck and found that he'd made a half-mile beeline to my stand. That's how far he'd heard my calling. That's good. On the flip side, negative sounds â€“ the rustle of clothing, clink of an arrow, scrape of boots on stand â€“ carry just as far in brittle winter weather. Even more than for warmth, select clothing for silence. And silence every aspect of your bow and treestand (see Tried and True for specific suggestions).
Add warmth. One day in the Edmonton Bow Zone, the temperature was 10 degrees with high winds. Heavy clothes alone wouldn't cut it. But the addition of chemical handwarmers and foot-warmer socks (www.heatmax.com), Icebreaker Hanblacket hand muff (www.icebreakerinc.com), facemask, wool scarf, and Heater Body Suit (www.heaterbodysuit.com) got me through.
Generate body heat. Maybe you can't do jumping jacks on stand, but you can exercise to warm up. Isometrics are static exercises that strengthen muscles and generate body heat. I often do isometrics on stand to warm up on frigid days. Google "isometric exercise" for a full range of exercises that will help you persevere through the worst conditions.