Gearing Up For Late Season Bowhunting

By Justin ZarrNovember 27, 2012

LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015

As November gives way to December and the days become both shorter and colder, so too fades the enthusiasm of many bowhunters.  What begin as a burning desire simply to get out in the woods has now faded into a dull ache at the thought of getting up for the 30th time at 4 am to go sit in the cold.  I will admit that I’m no fan of late season hunting by any stretch of the imagination.  But for those with the determination to stick out these frigid winter sits there is still some great hunting to be had.  So if you don’t want to eat tag soup come January, it’s time to start gearing up for some late season bowhunting action.

Of course the first thing that comes to mind when hunting December and January is one thing; COLD!  As temperatures dip into the teens and below those three and four our trips to the stand become harder and harder to withstand without the proper gear.  So let’s start by talking about the stuff that’s going to keep you warm, and more importantly keep you in the stand when the time is right.

Merino Wool ShirtLayering is a must for late season warmth, and my go-to favorite is anything made out of Merino wool.  Now this isn’t your traditional itchy wool that most of us are familiar with.  Wool from the Merino Sheep is actually extremely soft, wicks moisture away from your body and helps regulate your body temp when worn next to the skin.  In addition to all of that great stuff, it’s warm.  My typical late season hunting outfit consists of two layers of Merino wool on both top and bottom.  One light or mid weight layer next to my skin, covered by a heavy or expedition weight layer on top for maximum warmth.  In my opinion, Merino Wool garments are warmer and more comfortable for cold weather bowhunting than any of the fancy “high performance” synthetic fabrics on the market today.

Merino wool garments are gaining in popularity and are available from a variety of companies including ScentBlocker, First Lite, Minus33 and SmartWool.

When it comes to outerwear to protect you from the elements, what I wear depends on the current weather conditions.  If it’s windy some sort of wind blocking material is a must.  Nothing will get you colder faster than a late December wind.  However, if it’s cold and calm you’ll find me in fleece.  Not only does it add some warmth to my overall system, but it’s quiet.  As I’m sure many of you know, when it gets cold and there’s no wind to mask any noise you might make it seems like the deer can hear you from a mile away.  Silent outwear is a must.

Another great item for late season bowhunting is the snow camo cover-up.  These oversized garments are cheap, will fit over your primary hunting clothing, and help to keep you concealed once the snow starts to fall.  They are great for both hunting off the ground as well as from a treestand once the leaves have come down and the sky is gray.

Hot Hands HandwarmersOf course keeping our core warm is a relatively easy task compared to our extremities.  Our head, face, hands and feet don’t take well to cold temperatures so keeping them warm, and you comfortable, can be a bit of a chore.  My first line of defense, outside of knit stocking cap and some gloves, are disposable chemical hand warmers.  I buy them by the case and as soon as temps drop into the low 30’s you’ll find a set of them in my pockets at all time.  This is partially due to the fact that I prefer wearing a lighter glove so I can maintain feel on my bow grip and release should I need to shoot. 

If you plan on bowhunting the late season, you may want to consider buying in bulk.

Without question, my feet are the most difficult to keep warm during late season hunts.  I’m a bit of a sissy and my feet get real cold, real quick.  To combat the cold I have a 4 part system that starts with my socks.  Much like my core, I like to start with Merino Wool.  One light weight pair of liner socks followed by a pair of heavyweight wool socks are then covered by a set of boots with at least 800 grams of Thinsulate insulation (1200 is better if you ask me).  To top it all off is my secret weapon – the Hot Mocs boot covers.

Hot Mocs boot coversWhile they don’t look like much, if your feet get cold like mine do, they are a lifesaver.  Once you get into your stand you simply slide these covers on over your boots, load them up with a pair of the large size chemical hand warmers and you’ll be toasty warm for hours.  If you’re looking for a great Christmas gift for a sissy like me (or even for yourself) you can’t go wrong with these.  Trust me on this.

I’ve been using Hot Mocs boot covers for several years now, and have yet to find a product that’s easier to use or more effective at keeping my toes from feeling like they are frostbitten after every hunt.

Okay so now you’re all toasty warm, cuddled up in your treestand but what about the rest of your gear?  As I mentioned earlier, staying quiet is a must.  This is where spending the extra cash on a high quality stand like a Lone Wolf really comes in handy.  Not having to worry about any stray creaks, squeaks or pops is worth it’s weight in gold when you’ve got a big buck approaching your stand in late December.

Lone Wolf treestand platform

You can’t put a value on the price of silence during a late season bowhunt.

Also, make sure to check your bow over as well.  After two or more months of abuse you may have some screws that have rattled loose and can cause excess noise when you do get a shot.  Grabbing a set of allen keys and making sure all of your nuts and bolts are tightened down is a great way to help prevent a deer ducking your arrow.

Hunter working on bow
Making sure your bow is still in good working order after getting banged around for a few months is some great late season insurance.

Speaking of your bow, make sure you shoot a few arrows with your full late season arsenal of clothing on.  That includes your gloves, facemask, and all of the layers upon layers of clothing you will have on.  This can help you identify and fix any potential problems such as not gripping your bow properly, or catching your bow string on your new added bulk.  When it comes to bowhunting, being prepared is the name of the game.

One last item that I feel can be of great use during the late season is a time lapse trail camera.  Most bowhunters realize that the key to late season hunting is food.  Hunting over hot food sources in the evenings can often by your best chance for success.  Using a trail camera with a time lapse feature can help you not only identify which food sources are being visited most frequently, but also what time the deer are visiting them and what trails they’re using to access the fields.  The time lapse function can provide more coverage than a standard trail camera to provide you with invaluable information to be successful.

The time is now to start getting your gear in order for some late season bowhunting action.  If you take the time to prepare yourself both mentally and physically, you may just rack up another taxidermy bill before the fat lady sings in January.

Justin Zarr
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Justin has been bowhunting for more than 25 years, harvesting a number of P&Y whitetails in his home state of Illinois during that time.  He co-hosts the popular bowhunting show 'Bowhunt or Die' and is a frequent guest on numerous hunting podcast.  Justin lives in the NW suburbs of Chicago with his wife and 3 children.
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