Training: Maintain The Standard We’re fully immersed in the fall hunting season, and balancing our time to hunt with work and family is difficult. The excitement of summer scouting trips, 3-D events, shooting with buddies, and tuning our bows is a distant memory. But it’s vital we keep our edge and maintain the standard we set for ourselves during pre-season training. Like a knife, the edge we’ve honed over the last 10 months can become quickly dulled. Our goal during the season when we’re not hunting should be to stay healthy, mentally strong, and lethal. I’ve found that mid-season maintenance can be much harder to achieve than the training endured in the months leading up to the hunting season. To help keep my edge, I try and shoot at least one arrow a day if I’m in camp or at home. This cold bore shot is the one that matters most. We often only get one fleeting opportunity when archery hunting, and this one arrow maintains confidence and muscle memory. I pick a distance, preferably on a 3-D target, that is challenging but realistic for the hunt to help me judge my current proficiency. When I return from a Western hunt, I need to recover mentally and physically. We’re often sleep-deprived, so catching up on our rest, hydration, and nutrition is crucial. After a few days of recovery, I get in some maintenance workouts. The older I get, the more challenging these workouts become and I certainly don’t want to injure myself. For me, it’s usually not my cardio that is lacking but my core strength. I also take the time to stretch every day. Finally, I work on keeping a positive attitude and continuing with my mental rehearsals. Just like an athlete, hunters need to visualize their success. I relive successful hunts and mentally rehearse set-ups and anticipated shots with a positive outcome. The more realistic, the better. This mental prep, combined with daily shots at 3-D targets, sets us up to react on instinct when our opportunity arrives. Mid-season maintenance can feel like work, and it’s easy to dismiss, but don’t let all your effort over the last year go to waste. The fall hunting season is fleeting, and now is the time to double down on your efforts. The Closet Sitka Incinerator Hand Muff $139.00 Hand muffs are an insulated accessory for cold weather hunts providing your hands a warm garage. Hand muffs are great for hunting because they allow you to wear light gloves for working a phone, archery release, or rifle trigger quickly and precisely. I’ve used the Sitka Incinerator hand muff since its debut many years ago. Everything from long, brutally cold sits in the mid-west waiting on elusive Whitetails to bowhunting Mountain goats during the winter in Alaska. The combination of hand muff, thin gloves, and even chemical heat packs has worked well in frigid temperatures. The Sitka Incinerator hand muff is plenty warm to wear thin shooting gloves or liners to take advantage of quick shot opportunities. I once sat on a Mule deer during late October in Alberta for several hours, waiting for him to stand with my back braced to the biting wind. I just set the bow in front of me as I continued to range the deer and size him up, shoving my hands back into the warm hand muff to keep dexterity and feeling in my fingers, anticipating the shot. The brushed fleece exterior is quiet for close encounters and sheds light precipitation. The two internal pockets are meant to house chemical heat packs for additional warmth on the coldest days, and a zippered front pocket provides storage for additional heat packs or a food bar. The Sitka Incinerator hand muff is an extension of my glove system and one of the main accessories I’ve relied upon to help me find success when bowhunting in unforgiving cold weather. www.sitkagear.com Gear Locker: A White Tail Layering System A technical clothing system is just as crucial when Whitetail hunting as when you’re roaming the mountains chasing elk and Mule deer. The significant difference between these two hunting disciplines is that when Whitetail hunting, there are two unique phases of the hunt; the Commute and the Sit, each requiring different clothing applications. The key is to build your system to integrate seamlessly between these two phases providing you with both performance and efficiency in the field. The Commute Dressing for the Commute is all about not sweating. You don’t want to wear too many clothes and get sweaty while hiking to the stand. If you arrive at your stand sweaty, you’ll quickly become chilled and eventually cold while sitting. During the Commute, you must dress to manage the body heat and sweat you’ll generate hiking or biking to the stand. During this phase, your clothing system should breathe well, manage body heat created with movement, and provide just enough warmth so you won’t overheat. One of the best ways to avoid this scenario is to dress Comfortably Cool when leaving the truck, just as you would when heading into the backcountry. The idea is to wear enough clothing to stay warm but not so much that you overheat. If you’re standing around the truck waiting on your buddy and you’re cold and ready to start walking, you’re probably dressed comfortably cool for movement. As you commute to your stand site, you also want to manage your walking pace to limit sweating and stay hydrated. Baselayers & Active Insulation The base layer is the foundation of any technical clothing system, and the layer relied upon most for the Commute. It should be thin and form-fitting with the primary purpose of moving moisture off of the skin to help regulate body temperature. Depending on the conditions, you’ll need to add just enough insulation over the base layer to stay warm while moving, but not so much you’ll overheat. This is where active insulation plays its part being very breathable while at the same time providing warmth. On those bitterly cold or windy mornings, when you know you’ll need the insulation for both the hike and the sit, layer the Windstopper vest and shorts over the base layer, then apply the active insulation top over that. This is where the new hybrid active insulations shine because they layer much better than heavyweight fleece. For an in-depth review of hybrid-active insulation, reference the August ‘22 KFS Newsletter. A clothing system built for the commute should allow you to layer the insulating layers directly over the top, providing a range of motion to climb and shoot. You may look funny hiking to the stand dressed, but you’ll arrive ready to layer up and begin the next phase of the hunt. When you arrive at the tree or blind, take a minute to catch your breath, possibly removing your beanie to vent any excess heat you’ve created, then begin dressing for the Sit. The Sit The Sit is all about insulation and trapping your body’s heat as it radiates away, keeping you warm while remaining motionless. This aspect of a Whitetail hunt is the most significant difference between a tree-stand hunt and a Western hunt. On a Western hunt, you can move around to generate body heat if you become chilled while stopped, say, glassing or in camp. The Whitetail hunter does not have the luxury of movement, as it may compromise their hunt, so they must sit motionless in the stand and rely on their clothing system to keep warm and focused. Remember, your body is an internal combustion engine that’s fueled by food and water, and your only reliable heat source to stay warm. You want to be incredibly stingy with your body heat so your internal engine doesn’t have to burn more calories than necessary to stay warm. When your body does begin running low on fuel, it’s imperative to add more in the form of food and water. This act will stoke your metabolism, keeping you warmer than if you let the tank run dry. Further, the better hydrated you are, the better your body can heat and cool itself. Windstopper Windstopper and static insulation are the big hitters for the Sit, helping achieve warmth and comfort. Clothing layers that block wind significantly contribute to you staying warm while stationary by limiting convective heat loss. I feel Windstopper is so important I’ll sometimes wear two layers of wind stopper garments in the later seasons. Wearing a thin wind shirt and pants as a mid-layer underneath a windproof fleece outer layer doubles the thermal protection when the winds are cold and biting. I’ve found that Windstopper shorts and vests from the road biking and alpine climbing communities work best for this application. These closer-fitting garments with slick faces allow for good layering and range of motion. I rely heavily on Windstopper fleece jackets and bibs for the outerwear layer. Windstopper fleece is a force multiplier, taking up little room in your pack and providing great system versatility. I prefer a pair of bibs vise pants in this layer as they better cover the lower back and kidneys. Static Insulation Static or puffy insulations capture body heat by trapping it in the dead air spaces within the garment’s loft. Be aware that you must balance how much loft you wear and still be able to shoot your weapon. A thin puffy insulation layer combined with a wind stopper layer often strikes the perfect balance, and these two layers work incredibly well in effectively regulating your heat loss. Head & Hands After dressing your body, the next thing to consider is your head, hands and feet. It’s imperative to insulate your head just like your body. I default to Windstopper beanies to help cap my chimney and trap heat, and when things get super cold, I switch to a static insulated beanie similar to the puffy jacket and bibs that I wear. Neck gaiters keep the wind off your neck and stop it from blowing down your jacket. Even with a jacket hood up, wind can blow down your neck, quickly chilling you. Balaclavas are another option and may be more multi-functional than a neck gator, offering full-face protection and concealment but also having to ability to serve as a neck gator. Hands are tough to get right because we need to keep both warmth and dexterity. I’ve found that a pair of thin liner gloves are a good choice, providing dexterity to manipulate a phone, release, or optics. But thin gloves are not enough to keep hands warm in frigid temps and long days in a tree. For those hunts, I rely on a hand muff to serve as a warm garage where I can stow my hands until I need to use them. Feet When Whitetail hunting, especially in cold weather, you must keep your feet from sweating while commuting to the stand, or they’ll get cold much quicker than if they were dry. Rubber boots, however, don’t breathe, so it’s easy for this to happen. One way around this problem is to treat your feet with an anti-perspiration before the hunt. This treatment, just like you’d apply to your armpits, will limit the amount your feet sweat during your commute. Another way I’ve found to keep feet warm is to insulate the tree stand platform. You can use a piece of carpet or a closed-cell foam ground pad. This method helps insulate your feet from the cold metal grate, limiting conductive heat loss, and can go a long way in keeping your feet warm and comfortable. Hunting from treestands and ground blinds poses unique challenges to the hunter for staying warm and focused. In frigid temperatures, it takes a thought-out and integrated Whitetail clothing system built for the two distinct phases of the hunt, along with some accessories and a sound meal plan. The 8-Piece Whitetail Clothing System The Commute 1 & 2: Sitka lightweight Merino baselayer top and bottom 3: Sitka Ambient jacket 4: Sitka Jetstream Vest ( windy conditions) 5: Gore Wear Storm shorts (windy conditions) 6: Sitka Traverse pants (early season) The Sit 7 & 8: Sitka Stratus bib & jacket (above 20F) Accessories Sitka Stratus Beanie (above 20F) Sitka Fanatic Beanie (below 20F) Sitka Fanatic gloves Sitka Incinerator Hand Muff www.sitkagear.com Media Hunt Talk Radio Ep.194 Intensive Product Testing & Dark Secrets Randy Newberg, Tyler Johnserson, and I sit down and discuss what it takes to develop and test technical clothing and the years of commitment required to bring it to market. Listen Now The Word: Mental Welfare My two buddies were tagged out, leaving the farm to me. This situation was not unusual as I’m often the last one in Whitetail camp to find success. Tomorrow was going to be day nine of my Western Kansas hunt, and the pressure was mounting to get it done. I’d been logging all-day sits for a week, and it was starting to take its toll on my lower back and mind. I’d played all the head games to stay positive and alert, anticipating the one fleeting opportunity I was hoping to get, but slowly I was wearing down. While sitting in the comfort of my buddy’s family farmhouse having a drink that evening, it sounded like a good idea to carry an old climber into a pinch point and set up shop the next day. The weather was forecast to be brutally cold and windy, and I hoped to catch a mature buck working his territory through the thick Cedars. My dedication to this plan was challenged almost immediately when my buddy’s Grandma said she was making us boys a Thanksgiving dinner the following evening and to hurry home. The following day I shouldered the stand and hiked a half mile towards solitary confinement. Racketing up the narrow tree into the jetstream was not reassuring, and I felt like I was in a small dinghy riding the swells back and forth on the ocean. This wind rodeo continued unabated hour after hour as I suffered silently in my perch, and time slowly ticked by. The lights in the farmhouse looked warm and inviting as darkness approached, and I imagined the tantalizing smells of roasted turkey, pumpkin pie, and the drinks my buddies were having without me. I try and be very disciplined in the tree stand, especially when doing all-day sits. I like to stick to a strict eating schedule, so I have something to look forward to constantly. It’s incredible what a candy bar can do for your morale when animal sightings are few and far between. I also try to sit and stand, doing isometrics, to keep circulation and warmth, and I try not to get too comfortable because it’s easy to doze off. I also try not to look at my watch often, as it’s demoralizing when battling the weather and the local Whitetail population. My limbs were stiff, and the movement felt good, circulating blood back into my limbs as I reversed course down the tree at the end of my 12-hour vigil. The biggest insult was not seeing a single deer for my efforts. With snot frozen on my face and trying to stay positive, I returned to the warm oasis and the thought of a home-cooked meal. The food was everything I’d dreamed about and the camaraderie and encouragement to go back the following day were heartfelt. However, getting out of bed in the morning was difficult as I again negotiated with myself to embrace the suck. My efforts and discomfort were finally rewarded an hour after sunrise when a beautiful 5-year-old buck wandered through a shooting lane at 40 yards. Sitting down in the treestand, I embraced the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, reflecting on the odyssey I’d just endured. Whitetail seasons can be a marathon-like endeavor that takes mental strength to survive and find success. When spot and stalk hunting, I can move around, keeping my mind occupied and feeling like I’m controlling my destiny. Whitetail hunting from a stand or blind demands a different level of mental commitment, and it’s a challenge that teaches me more about myself than any other hunting pursuit.