Snowshoes: Walking in moderate snow can sap your strength rapidly. Heavy, deep snow can be a killer. Check into technologically-advanced, lightweight, easy on and easy off snowshoes for cold weather hunting.
Crampons and ice walkers come in professional ice climber to sidewalk safety models. Research the offerings in stores and on the web before purchase.
Firearms, Ammunition, Scopes, and Optics
Cold weather is hard on all types of gear. Firearms operate differently—more stiffly, in severe conditions. You may want to take along a backup rifle. Oil in the action or around the firing pin may cause problems. Be aware of these possibilities and prepare for them.
Most optics today have built in condensation prevention and lens protection to keep from fogging. However, moving your firearms and other gear into freezing temperatures from a warm tent or cabin (or even a heated truck cab) can cause condensation inside and outside your firearms and on lens covers and outer surfaces of gear.
Be sure you have extra ammunition, a complete gun cleaning kit, and check slings, barrels, swivels, scopes, and moving parts regularly.
Map, compasses (two per hunter), and a GPS if you have one and know how to use it, top the list here. Each hunter should have a good topo map of the hunt area and everyone should be oriented to the terrain, safety considerations, and limitations of the hunt area.
Two-way radios can help save lives during winter hunts. Develop a communications plan and make sure all in your party understand it. Check radios regularly for proper operation.
For base camp you may also want a solar/battery powered, emergency radio that has the National Weather Service bands. Satellite phones and emergency communications transmitters are now available either for sale or for rent. One model attaches to a smart phone and allows texting and tracking communications with the folks at home, without cell service.
Take plenty of extra batteries for your GPS, your radio, range-finder, flashlights, and any other battery-operated gear.
Field Dressing Gear
Good knives are a necessity for field dressing big game and a multitude of other uses. Carry more than one, and with your knives, carry knife-sharpeners. A pen sized, diamond sharpener is adequate in the field but you may want a larger sharpening kit at camp. A small, pocket saw or hand-operated “chain saw,” is a must for field dressing and survival. You may also want a hand axe.
A plastic sled can reduce the number of trips and improve transportation speed when hauling Elk quarters over snowy or icy terrain. Some hunters also use these inexpensive sleds to transport gear and backpacks into remote hunting areas.
And, when it comes to backpacks, you may want an external frame backpack available for packing out Elk quarters or boned out meat. Pay attention to weight distribution, however. On snow and ice you want to have a lower center of gravity for stability and safety.
Tents, Shelters, & Accessories
Tent selection will depend on your needs, camp location, and the size of your hunting party. Outfitter tents can give you stand up room, wood stove capabilities, an entry area for gear and wet outer gear, and extra storage. Four-season tents make cold weather camping more tolerable. Remember, even the plains tribes lived in insulated teepees during the winter.
For cold weather hunting you will probably want a tent that can be vented for fresh air and heater safety as well. Carbon monoxide dangers are greatly reduced with today’s heating and cooking stoves but great caution is still required.
Snow and cold, wet weather can make your tent and your sleeping area miserable if your tent seams leak. Waterproof all seams and check your tent for leaks before you leave home. Nothing takes the thrill out of a good hunt like returning to camp near dark and finding your cot and your sleeping bag are soaking wet because of a leaking tent seam.Cots, Sleeping Bags, Sleeping Comfort, and Sleepwear
If you plan to sleep on the ground, you will need a double layer of waterproof ground cloth to stop condensation and keep your sleeping bag dry. Preferably your tent floor should offer this protection in cold weather.
Remember, too, if you don’t want to freeze from the ground up, you need as much or more insulation underneath your body as you have covering you. Cots require much the same protections. A good-quality, instant setup cot can also save a lot of time, energy, and grief over stretching and setting up the old wood or metal-frame styles.
Survival Gear & Tips
When you step into the wilderness, away from your truck or your camp; carry at least minimal survival gear. At a minimum, include a way to start a fire, an emergency shelter, and a way to signal or make contact with others. In winter weather—especially with snow and ice—include a strong dose of extra awareness, communications, and preparation with less risk-taking, and a good, positive attitude. Travel in pairs and take the time to plan where all members of your party plan to be during the day, each day.
Make a list of the things you need and want to take and make sure to check it off, carefully…Oh,………and don’t forget your license!!