As the weather begins to drop around the continent (particularly in Canada where I live) I begin to reminisce about some of the more frigid hunts I have done.
Bowhunting late November whitetail, archery hunting coyotes in the rut, and most notably my 2016 trip to Nunavut in pursuit of a muskox all come to mind as some of the most uncomfortably cold times spent hunting in my life.
In northern parts of the country, and in Canada, bowhunting in minus 20 or 30 degree weather is simply a normal part of the hunting season. Heavy snow, frigid temperatures, and the chilling bite of the Northern wind add many challenges to a bow hunt, including testing your patience!
Having been an Albertan for my entire life, as well as having travelled north of the Canadian mainland with my bow, I have come up with some tips that will help you be more comfortable and successful in your cold weather hunts.
Whether the deep cold is a normal part of your season year-to-year, or you are gearing up for an artic expedition like I once was, some of these tips are sure to come in handy!
1. What is the best hunting gear for cold weather? Sleeve compression!
This was one of the first tips that was ever given to me as a young bowhunter in Alberta.
My first archery hunt was a December cougar hunt when I was 13 years old, and it sure was cold. I was so new to archery that shooting was not yet second nature to me, let alone shooting up into a tree. One challenge that presented itself that I did not recognize right away was the bulk of my clothing impacting my shot. Particularly, my left sleeve (as I am a right-handed archer) was surely in the way of my string as I released my string.
Before I ever took a shot at a cougar, one of the most experienced guides I have ever had the pleasure of hunting with grabbed some duct tape out of his truck and wrapped a few strips of tape around my left sleeve to compress my heavy jacket.
I didn’t understand at the time, but it all became clear to me as he left me to my own devices to figure out why that was a good idea… like any old-timer would.
That tip has stuck with me, and I have never taken a shot at an animal in a heavy winter jacket without some sort of compression for that sleeve. I have used tape, and in a pinch I have used my girlfriends hair elastics! Now, I keep a compression sleeve found at any sports store in my pack for just this reason.
My first archery animal, taken at the age of 13 in Alberta on a cold December day.
2. Freeze your bow
This tip was given to me by a legend of bowhunting. For the sake of anonymity, I will not mention his name, but his merit as one of the most respected bowhunters in history made me take this tip seriously, and it is a good one!
As I was preparing for my archery muskox hunt in 2016, it was suggested to me to leave my bow in my chest freezer overnight and see how it shoots when it is frozen solid.
At first, I thought this was ridiculous. Couldn’t that damage my bow? Well, the fact is that when you are hunting in minus 30 or colder conditions, your bow and all your other gear may as well be in a chest freezer.
So, I tried it.
I froze my bow overnight and took it out to shoot the next day. To my satisfaction, it shot perfectly fine! This great bowhunter had told me that he had a bow once that shot differently after it was frozen, and it was crucial to him that he assessed whether the cold would impact his bow before he travelled north.
Now, this is something I do usually once a year when the end of November rolls around. I have never had an issue, but I have heard a number of stories about the freezing of a bow causing issues. So, you will want to test this out before your bow freezes naturally on your hunt!
To add to this tip, I learnt from a great rifle hunter that it is not good to let your gear freeze and thaw rapidly or frequently.
He told me that when he has hunted deep in Northern Canada, he leaves his rifle, his ammo, and his binoculars outside all night to prevent the freeze and thaw.
This made a lot of sense to me, and I applied the same methods to my archery gear. When I hunted Nunavut, I left my gear outside for nearly a week straight and shot a Pope & Young muskox! It got to -55 C (-67 F) the day that I shot my bull, and I am sure thankful that I tested my gear in my freezer before attempting a shot in that ridiculously cold weather!
My 2016 archery muskox, taken out of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on the coldest day I have ever experienced.
3. Practice in the cold
Much like I have suggested in past blogs to go out and shoot in windy and rainy days, you should do the same on those frigid cold and snowy days!
You won’t have any control over Mother Nature and her mood on your hunt, so you should prepare for everything.
I normally go out a few times on those brutally cold Alberta days, but admittedly my shooting sessions are usually under a dozen shots. Once I know my bow is shooting well in the cold, and that my jacket is not in the way, I will pack it up.
4. Take off your gloves - Seriously! Even if you are hunting in 30 degree weather
It is extremely tempting to want to leave your gloves on when shooting in the extreme cold, especially if you shoot an aluminum bow like myself. As uncomfortable as it is, I highly suggest removing your gloves for any shot in any weather.
Even on that muskox hunt, where frostbite was a serious concern, I removed my gloves to shoot. You practice all year with no gloves, and you need to play as you practice when the moment counts.
It can be extremely uncomfortable but having a glove changes so much in your shooting that it is absolutely not worth it.
Hand positioning is an incredibly important and under-respected part of shooting form and accuracy (stay tuned for a blog on this!) Wearing a glove makes your hand thicker on the bow’s grip, it changes your grip, and you will not be able to feel the trigger of your release.
It is one of the necessary evils of cold weather hunting, but a crucial tip to your frozen successes.
5. Select the right gear – What is the best hunting gear for cold weather?
Choosing the right gear can go a long way in making you both more comfortable and more successful in those sub-zero hunts.
I wear only fleece and wool when I am hunting in these conditions.
I will wear a puffy when glassing or trekking, but when it comes down to shooting, I need my jacket to be made of a silent material.
When you are wearing a thick coat and drawing your bow, the rubbing of the material can make a lot of noise that will absolutely notify an animal of your whereabouts at 20-30 yards.
It has happened to me more than once, and is one of the most frustrating ways to blow a hunt. Choosing fleece or a wool coat will make you silent and keep you extremely warm.
This knit-wool sweater is a staple of my winter gear. Warm, silent, and the perfect camo for sneaking around fields.
Beyond my selection in jacket material, I am a big fan of heated insoles in my boots for those long tree stand or blind sits.
Therma Cell makes a great pair that are remote controlled and last a long time.
Just be careful not to let your feet get warm to the point of sweating, as the freezing of sweat will send you back to the warmth of your truck very quickly and can be quite painful.
Lastly, the harsh conditions that I tend to hunt in late season in Alberta are part of what led me to shooting fixed blade broadheads, long before I was ever working in the industry.
Having a broadhead with moving parts also means that there is a change of those broadheads freezing up.
Let’s say you are out hunting in the snow, your quiver gets some snow in it, you go back to the truck where it melts and then you head out again. This opens the possibility of there being ice between the mechanical blades and can seriously impact their performance.
Using a broadhead with zero moving parts or screws holding the head together eliminates the chance of failure due to ice. This is a huge part of why I began to shoot Tooth of the Arrow Broadheads, years before I ever wrote blogs for them!
Hunting in the frozen north has an endless list of challenges associated with it, but it can be extremely rewarding to bear through the conditions and follow a frozen blood trail to success.
Late November and beyond is my favorite time of year to hunt, and largely because I have learnt how to prepare for it!
I have certainly had some miserable cold days, where I wished I was at home on the couch watching hockey instead of out in the miserable cold. But I have learnt and continue to learn every time I go out into the woods about how to adapt to the conditions that Mother Nature presents, and be grateful for every moment in the field no matter what!
If you have any questions or would like to discuss the topic further, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are always more than happy to talk arrows and broadheads with fellow bowhunters!