Knowledge from Storms: Wheel Book October 2023 Entry

Training: Fuel Your Engine

Our bodies are metabolic engines running off of fuel like the truck carrying us to our hunts. Instead of gas or diesel, though, our bodies run off of food and water to create warmth and energy. Sitting in a frigid ground blind or tree stand puts extra demands on the body, and you certainly don’t want to run out of fuel prematurely. But that’s the mistake people make when heading into the woods for a cold vigil.

Our engine burns calories from the food we consume to generate heat and continues this process until it runs out and you get uncomfortably cold. A well-fueled body keeps the mind sharp to make quick decisions, calculate opportunities, and execute ethical and deadly shots. Your clothing system will help with fuel efficiency, increasing the interval between fill-ups, but you still need to eat and drink on stand to remain comfortable and focused.

Don’t fret about your diet when feeding yourself in cold weather. Bring foods you look forward to eating that provide a mix of simple sugars for quick heat and more substantial foods that burn longer to sustain the internal heat. Think about food like putting logs on the fire back in the cabin. You start the fire with a mix of easily combustible wood, then slowly add a few big, slow-burning logs. If you need to crank up the heat quickly, you throw on a quick-burning pine log (candy bar) that’s effective but doesn’t last long. To keep the temperature warm and consistent, use a slow-burning oak log (ham, bacon & cheese sandwich) that keeps a constant temperature over a longer period.

Hydration is easy to overlook, especially in cold temperatures, but it promotes good circulation, allowing hands and feet to continue to receive warm blood.

Pissing in the tree or blind can be controversial. To my knowledge, I’ve never had a deer spook from the smell of my urine, and have even had bucks sniff the ground and tree where I’d pissed all day with no alarm. If you’re cautious and don’t want to piss into the wind, bring a large container with a wide opening to urinate into.

Whatever your thoughts on this subject, understand that hydration is crucial for warmth, good circulation, and consistent cognitive function. You shouldn’t be urinating every thirty minutes in the stand, but it shouldn’t be sludge, either. Coffee and energy drinks count towards hydration but shouldn’t be your only source of fluids. Hot decaffeinated tea, soup, and warm flavored water all help with hydration on stand.

One aspect of a Whitetail hunt that’s easy to overlook is recovering at night. You want to ensure to catch up on your hydration and fueling at the end of each day. Even though you’re stationary most of the day, you’ve placed big demands on your body, focusing your mind in anticipation of a deer, visualizing success, engaging your core to keep your balance as the tree sways in the wind, and probably a bit of shivering to generate warmth. All of this takes its toll over the course of a trip or season, and if you’re like me, I don’t find success with Whitetail until deep into a hunt.

To be your best and capitalize on the time you’ve invested, you must be operating at your highest level up to the last evening’s sit. If you’ve been eating poorly, getting little sleep, are dehydrated, and mentally ground to a nub, you won’t be poised to make the difficult shot on the buck you’ve been after all year.

Western big game hunting is physically demanding and gets all the attention, but a serious Whitetail hunt over many days and weeks can wring you out just as much. Take the principles you apply in the mountains and the lessons learned from your crisis nutrition plan and apply them to the Whitetail woods for a warmer and more enjoyable season.

Gear Locker: Tree Stand Considerations

I pulled up and left, locking off that arm as I worked my feet up toward my waist. In the cold and darkness, I desperately searched for a solid purchase in my big, clumsy boots.

Committing, I rocked onto the foot and prayed it wouldn’t pop off, sending me backward into the abyss. Gaining the platform, I was hot, sweaty, out of breath, and thankful to be safe. I wasn’t on a difficult rock climb in a cold, remote mountain range but on a Whitetail hunt. I’d just ascended 25′ up a thin, swaying tree in an icy wind 400 meters from a deserted farmhouse. After settling in, all I could think about was how in the hell I would reverse my climb and get back to solid ground.

Climbing quietly up trees in the dark and cold, wearing bulky gear not intended for the job, footwear that doesn’t fit well, and often with little to no intel on the climb’s difficulty is as dangerous as anything I ever did in the mountains. But we, as Whitetail hunters, don’t often think about the risks of climbing trees the same way a mountaineer looks at a remote peak. I feel we need to reassess this situation and develop an evolved perspective.

Like most seasoned treestand hunters, I’ve had a few close calls. I blame myself for every epic, not because I was too weak or unprepared but because I knew better and realized I’d caved to peer pressure. I didn’t want to be questioned about my gear or techniques and felt it easier to fall in line, especially when hunting with an outfitter.

Once, I got dropped off on the side of a country road and was told how to get to the stand. I planned to meet the outfitter after dark at the same location and would have to be self-sufficient as there was no cell coverage. Climbing up the ladder stand, I settled in for a long, cold, windy day. Fifteen minutes into the morning and still in the pre-dawn, the lower part of the ladder stand fell off, leaving me still sitting in the top half, suspended 20 feet in the air with some tough decisions. I climbed to the bottom of the ladder, hung from the last step, and dropped 8’ to the ground. Not having many other options and still before sun-up, I fixed the stand and climbed back aboard for a nervous and unproductive day.

Another time, I got into a stand-in Eastern Kansas overlooking the edge of a cut soybean field. A few hours into the morning, I noticed that one of the two chains holding the lock-on stand to the tree was broken. Again, not having many options, I checked my harness and nervously sat the remainder of the day. Confronting the outfitter that night, he brushed it off and said that the stand was safe, had been up for years and that one chain was strong enough.

Hunting tactics and techniques are always evolving. Don’t get shamed by ignorant people of the status quo. Be sure and make the best decisions for yourself when it comes to risk. Eventually, I pulled my head from my ass and realized it was my safety and that I had decades of experience both hunting and climbing to make the best choices for myself.

Here are a few things I’ve updated to help me be more safe and productive while hunting from tree stands.

  • A safety harness has become a standard piece of gear in the Whitetail hunter’s arsenal, and there’s no excuse for not wearing one. But I don’t care for most full-body, 4-point treestand harnesses. They can be difficult to put on in the dark, don’t layer within a clothing system well, and are often too padded for their intent.
  • I’ve defaulted to a lightweight, unpadded, rock-climbing sit-harness. I have many decades of rock, ice, and mountain climbing experience and feel comfortable and safe utilizing these minimalist set-ups. I’ve never flipped backward while climbing, but know if it happens from a tree, I can right myself. I’m not saying this is the best choice for everyone, and each person needs to assess their own risks and limitations, but for me, this harness has been liberating for treestand hunting.
  • Whatever you choose to wear, ensure you never climb a tree without a harness and always be tethered. If you’re hanging a stand, utilize a line-mans belt. Once set, I girth hitch a 9-11 mm rope around the tree and above the stand that reaches the ground. This technique allows you to connect to the rope with a 5 or 6-mm prusik hitch that slides up the rope as you climb, ensuring you’re always connected if a slip or fall occurs.
  • I’m done with wearing rubber boots as my default footwear for Whitetail hunting. As far as I know, I’ve never spoked a deer or been detected wearing leather boots to my deer stand. I’ve definitely had damp feet from non-breathable rubber boots, causing cold feet. I’ve had difficulty climbing thin screw-in tree steps and lightweight ladder sections, especially in icy conditions, and developed blisters from hiking long distances to stand locations.
  • I’ve defaulted to leather boots with at least 400 grams of insulation and a breathable Gore-Tex liner. This footwear provides me with warm, dry feet, delivers comfort while hiking and biking to stands, provides security while climbing sketchy ladders and steps, and always fits great.
  • Building a clothing system that seamlessly transitions from being active to passive has taken me years to perfect, but it’s offered me the capability to sit long days during frigid, blustery weather in relative comfort. Dressing comfortably cool while commuting to your ambush location limits sweating and dehydration. This technique also ensures you don’t overheat from the exertion of climbing and allows you the best mobility to climb the tree in the dark. Once at the tree, I can layer over the clothing as appropriate to climb and sit for the remainder of the hunt.
  • Tree steps and ladder sections often lack aggressive traction. I like apply skateboard deck tape as required to ensure a positive grip in all weather conditions.

We’re all responsible for our safety in the woods and must take actions that make us feel safe and comfortable. It’s a personal choice. Never use different gear or techniques until you’ve trained and become comfortable and competent.

The Closet: Sitka Gear Stratus System

Whitetail hunting demands versatility from a clothing system to get you comfortably through a long season that begins as the leaves change color, fall to the ground, and eventually get covered with snow. The most dynamic weather often occurs during the November rut, challenging the archery hunter with a mixed bag of weather conditions. It can be well below freezing in the morning, climb into the mid-30s in the middle of the day, and then plummet at prime time before last shooting light.

I demand the same versatility in my Whitetail clothing system as I do for my backcountry hunting, allowing me to adapt to ever-changing weather throughout the season. While I have a Sitka Fanatic suit ready for the worst Mother Nature can dish out, my default for archery Whitetail hunting is consistently the Sitka Stratus system.

The Stratus pieces showcase a quiet fleece exterior for close encounters and a lofted grid interior with a Gore Windstopper laminate sandwiched in between. The Windstopper is critical to limit convective cooling, which is usually the culprit driving folks out of the woods. Protecting yourself from the heat-robbing wind is often enough to stay warm and focused, and Windstopper delivers this performance with little to no bulk.

The Stratus jacket and bib are built for unencumbered layering to meet the uncertain conditions of late fall. I can commute to my stand comfortably wearing an active insulated top like the Ambient or Fanatic hoody, climb the tree, and then layer the Stratus jacket over the top when settled, insulating my furnace. The innovative Constant Connect harness port allows for layering the jacket without disconnecting from your safety tether, which is a nice added feature.

A few years ago in Iowa, the temps were warm and windy during the day but cold in the morning and evenings. I rode an E-bike to the woodlots I was hunting, then hiked to my stand or blind. I needed a versatile system to meet a very broad range of temperatures and weather conditions and defaulted to the Stratus system. I shot my Iowa Whitetail on a calm, quiet evening as the sun settled over a corm field, wearing a pair of Stratus bibs and a prototype Ambient hoody. It was the perfect combo to help me stay comfortable and focused.

The versatility of the Sitka Stratus system is unmatched and is now offered in two Optifade camo patterns, providing even more versatility. The incumbent EV2 pattern is suited for the mid-west and when leaves are off the trees. The new Subalpine pattern is suited for the Southeast and when hunting in and around vegetative terrain.

Last season in Montana, it was damn cold before Thanksgiving with temps around -20 Fahrenheit, but the Whitetail rut was cranking, so all-day sits were the best tactic. Here’s the clothing system I wore to get me through that extreme weather.


Base System – for commuting to the stand:

1. Sitka Merino 120 bottoms

2. Gore Wear R5 Infinium pants

3. Sitka Merino 330 hoody

4. Sitka Mountain Windstopper vest

5. Sitka Ambient jacket

Static System – for sitting all day:

1. Sitka Stratus jacket & bibs

Foot, Head & Hands:

1. Crispi Wild Rock GTX boots – 400 grams of insulation

2. Darn Tough Edge Mid-Weight socks

3. Sitka Incinerator hand muff – w/ chem packs

4. Sitka Stratus beanie

5. Sitka Merino 330 gloves

Sitka Gear Stratus System consists of 6 pieces allowing you to customize your kit.

Jacket – $359.00

Bib – $359.00

Pant – $309.00

Vest – $239.00

Glove – $139.00

Beanie – $59.00

Courses: Backcountry Mission Planning

Backcountry Mission Planning is 16 chapters, drawing on my 30+ years of mountain experience. It focuses on preparing you for the upcoming big game seasons and all backcountry travel, making you a more knowledgeable Student of the Game. Use code BARKLOW to get 20% off an annual Outdoor Class membership and unlock all the knowledge on the platform.


Oregon First Hunting & Fishing Podcast – Ep 5

I go deep with Bryant and Eric on the clothing and gear required to hunt and thrive in the damp, often chilly climate of the Pacific Northwest.
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The Mindful Hunter Podcast – EP 133

Jay and I discuss how elk hunters should take a versatile approach and employ a quiver of tactics to adapt to ever-changing conditions in the elk mountains.
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The Word: Sleep In

My anger kept me warm as I walked to the tree stand late in the morning. An obscenely long conference call had ruined my early hunt. My two hunting buddies were already back in camp, making breakfast and planning naps for the afternoon. Their intel from their sit was that deer movement was slow on the 700-acre Northern Missouri farm. It was the first week of November, so it was disappointing, but the rut would certainly crank up at any moment. Knowing I couldn’t kill a buck from camp and that I’d just sit around and pout on the couch waiting for late afternoon, I headed into the woods.

The daylight on my walk to the tree allowed me to quietly slip in and observe the fresh sign that I would have otherwise missed in the pre-dawn darkness. The fall colors and musty smell of rotting leaves brought back great hunting memories from my childhood in Northern Ohio. While not a perfect situation, the walk gave me a different perspective, and I began feeling positive and relaxed.

My watch read 11:45 a.m. as I climbed up to my roost. After getting the bow arm secured to the tree and my pack situated, I slowly pulled my bow up, making sure not to let the aluminum riser clank the metal climbing pegs.

Facing the tree, digging in my pack for the grunt tube, I heard the familiar rustling of leaves. Looking around, I expected to see a Gray squirrel giving me the middle finger and giggling as he made his best impression of a mature Whitetail buck. But to my surprise, not 30 yards away, oblivious to my presence and walking directly towards my ambush, was a rutted-up 10-point.

The foggy-brained buck quickly approached as I scrambled in my jacket pocket for the thumb release I had yet to connect to my D-loop. Thankfully, I’d already loaded an arrow as I slowly grabbed my bow. I had to let the deer walk directly under my stand and off to my left so I could twist aggressively at the waist and slowly come to full draw. The buck stopped to scent-check the air, giving me a hard quartering away angle at around 20ish yards. He ran 50 yards straight away after the commotion of the shot and tipped over on the forest floor in mere seconds.

The golden sunlight filtering down through the fall foliage reflected off his main beam like a beacon of my success.

Taking naps in the middle of the day is a hunting tradition, but we’re missing out on some great Whitetail hunting while we rest. In three consecutive years, I killed mid-western bucks between noon and 2 p.m.

It goes against logic, but it’s a relevant tactic to occasionally sleep in and rest up. A week or more of grinding, sun up to sun down in a stand, wears you out.. If you’re worn down and can only sit for a few hours before falling asleep, what’s the point of being in the woods? This off-schedule approach may be especially effective on public grounds where the deer have patterned predictable human movements. Most hunters sit for a few hours in the morning and evening and vacate the woods in the middle of the day. Whitetails aren’t used to running into intruders at this time as they get up to scent check their surroundings and are vulnerable to unconventional tactics.

Now, I’m not suggesting this be the default tactic. I enjoy and even look forward to all-day sits in November. But it’s good to switch it up occasionally for both you and your success. Anytime in the woods is time well spent, and if you only have a few hours to hunt in the middle of the day, it might be worth trying. I guarantee you it’s got far higher odds than trying to kill one from the couch.