January 29, 2014
Tips for Hunting in Extremely Cold Weather
By Phil Bourjaily
The first day of the first Polar Vortex a few weeks ago we had a high of 4 degrees and 25-30 mph winds out of the north. So, of course, a friend and I talked each other into goose hunting. Going out in weather that can kill you every once in a while is a worthwhile and humbling experience. * You learn a lot, too: mostly you learn that everything sticks, freezes or breaks in extreme cold.
We set decoys and blinds, then sat in a warm truck and waited an hour for the geese to fly. When they appeared we jumped into the blinds. It wasn't snowing, but it may as well have been. The wind blew the gritty snow on the ground over us constantly. It was almost like cold sand. It got into everything (note the chamber of my gun). I was fine until my shooting hand got wet. I had pulled it out of a glove to warm my fingers with a handwarmer and snow blew all over it, then body heat melted the snow. I kept it warm under my coat in my armpit long enough to shoot another goose. Then I noticed the whole hand was turning waxy, white and numb. I took a break and went back to my Jeep to warm it up before more serious frostbite set in. I was able to come back and finish my limit and pick up decoys. And, my fingers are intact and 99.9% back to normal.**
I did a few things right and a few wrong on that hunt with regard to dealing with the cold.
Wrong: Obviously, I didn't keep my hands warm. The next day I picked up a pair of glomitts, those gloves with a fold-back mitten top. You can put a handwarmer in the mitten and keep your fingers fairly warm. It worked well on the next hunt, which was almost as cold but not as windy.
Right: I nested in my blind. I have started putting a foam camping pad in my layout blind to keep me up off the cold ground. Mine is an old LL Bean pad made for car camping. It's over an inch thick and really makes a difference.
Right: I cleaned all the oil out of my gun's action and used just a bit of BreakFree. It cycled perfectly.
Wrong: Unfortunately I neglected to do the same to the magazine tube and spring. After a while it froze so I couldn't load a second or third shell, turning my gun into a single shot.
Wrong: I should have followed reader Chris McLure's tip about putting electrical tape over the muzzle of a gun to keep it free of mud and snow. As it was, snow got in the barrel of my gun. I cleared it by blowing the snow down the barrel and some of that snow must have gotten into the bolt, melted, then froze, eventually freezing my firing pin. My gun went from a three-shot to a single shot to a gun that just make a clicking sound when I pulled the trigger.
Right: I dressed in layers. I even wore two hats: the one in the picture, and one of those Mad Bomber hats over that, a combination that is more than twice as warm as one hat. I have mentioned the Cabela's electric heated vest previously. I wore that over long underwear and under a Filson wool sweater and topped it with Cabela's very warm Waterproof Insulated Snow Parka and Bibs. Except for my fingers and toes, I kept warm.
*Days like that put me in awe of the Chosin Reservoir marines and the soldiers at the Battle of Bulge, who endured weather like this without a break for days on end, without anything like the gear we have now. And they had people trying to kill them.
**A local doctor who had sumitted Everest once spoke to my son's scout troop. He said when he told other climbers he had made it to the top they would say, "Show me your fingers," and since he still had all ten, they wouldn't believe he had been to the top.