By Jordan Voigt
Spring bear, spring turkey, the whitetail or elk rut. These are all times of year that quicken the heartbeat of most hunters. They are also the most prone to severe weather changes at the drop of a hat. Two things are certain in life: the changing of the seasons and hunters being out there when it’s happening. We can anticipate, prepare, and come out on top or get turned back to the truck early, defeated. Use these 7 tips to stay one step ahead of Mother Nature and her varying moods this year:
- Scope Covers- Easily overlooked, these are one of if not the most important piece of foul weather gear for your rifle. Many animals have been given a free pass over the years due to a snow- or rain-filled scope at the moment of truth. Scope covers run the gamut of designs, from simple rubber tubing stretched over the scope to see-through scope caps. Coming in all shapes, sizes, makes and models, there is a set that will work for your hunting style and rifle. Fabricate your own or buy a set from a sporting goods store, just don’t leave home without them. Leaving them on until you’re ready to chamber a round will ensure a crystal clear view when it counts.
- Binocular/ Lens Cleaners- Keeping your optics clear and clean are a vital part of a hunter’s must-do list. Make sure your binocular is covered up with a harness system or lens caps until you are ready to use it. You never know when an animal will step out and having to take the time to clean up blurred lenses might cost you the opportunity at a trophy. When it’s snowing or raining, pause to wipe your lenses often during a glassing session to be ready to field judge or sex an animal at a moment’s notice. Keep several lens cleaning cloths close at hand, that way there’s always a dry one available.
- Dress for Success- Whole articles have been written on proper layering systems, but the basic truth is: A comfortable hunter is a more deadly hunter. If your basic needs are taken care of, you can spend more time glassing, paying attention to wind direction, and focusing on hunting. It might be sunny and warm when you leave the truck in the morning but anyone who has spent much time afield knows how fast that can change. In this day and age, you don’t have to look far for entire clothing lines made specifically for what we hunters have grown to expect: durability, warmth, and breathability, all put together in a single jacket or pant. A rain jacket is a good addition to the bottom of your pack and will keep the errant thunderstorm from ruining your day, or if there isn’t rain coming down it can be used as a windbreaker layer. Keep a lightweight jacket such as a packable down coat from Kuiu or Sitka in your pack. They have incredible loft and insulation and weigh next to nothing. Add it under a waterproof layer to block wind and moisture and you can sit a treestand or elk meadow until dark in comfort after the coldest storm fronts creep in. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
- Pack Must-Haves- Every hunter should have a basic survival kit but some small additions can be the difference between an enjoyable day afield or sheer misery. Make sure you have a form of firestarter in your pack; there are many different kinds on the market today from long-burning matches to flammable paste. A small can of Sterno will last for a long time, on those soggy days when even the tinder is damp, dip a little out of the can with a stick and light it. Add your tinder and you will be drying gear before you know it. Depending on the length of your hunt, you might have your entire camp with you in your backpack. If that’s the case, spend the money on a high-quality rain cover that slips over your entire pack. Nothing ruins hunts faster than a freak rain shower and a wet sleeping bag and pad. It’s a terrible feeling walking back to the trailhead with soaking wet sleeping gear. Another important piece of gear when the skies open up is electrical tape. Keep six to twelve inches handy, you can put a piece over the muzzle of your rifle to keep debris and moisture out and shoot right through it without affecting the bullet’s flight.
- Foot Care- Personal comfort pays dividends at the end of the day, allowing your body to begin the recuperation process that much faster when you hit the tent or house. If your feet are wet and cold all day, it’s hard to stay focused on the goal of a successful hunt let alone enjoy yourself. Wear socks of the merino wool variety, they come in different thicknesses to tailor to your hunting season and area as well as wick moisture away and keep most of their insulating abilities when wet. A spare pair in your pack to change into can do wonders for your morale midday. Even with today’s high tech footwear, it’s important to give your boots the attention they deserve. Oil and waterproofing compounds are a must to keep them operating at the level you expect. Taking the time to waterproof your boots every few days afield will ensure drier boots, warmer feet, and a more pleasant, productive day in the woods.
- Gun Care- Different types of firearms demand different types of maintenance when the weather turns for the worse. It is always a good idea to keep several individually wrapped gun cleaning wipes in your pack. Naturally, blued finishes and wood stocks are less forgiving to moisture than stainless steel and composite stocks. At the end of the day, wipe your rifle down to slow the spread of corrosion and rust. When you get home from the hunt, give your rifle a thorough cleaning and once over. Check for water spots on barrels and actions as well as swelling of wood stocks which can affect accuracy.
- Body Care- Napoleon said, “An army marches on it’s stomach”, meaning his soldiers performed better when well fed. This saying holds true for hunters as well. If the weather turns for the worse and you find yourself far from your planned destination, it’s vitally important to have enough calories with you to get back safely in inclement weather. If the temperature drops, your body must work harder to keep itself warm, this equates to burning more calories. Your legs will thank you if you get in the habit of carrying a small supply of emergency food with you for occasions such as this. Food filled with protein such as jerky or nuts are good choices to put fuel back in your tank. A candy bar or energy gel can help by giving a sugar or caffeine boost. These items should stay good all year so throw them in and forget about them until they’re needed.
As hunters, spring and fall are the times of the year we wait, plan, and prep for. We happily research new areas, apply for permits and licenses, and upgrade and go through gear in preparation for our couple of extra days or weeks off. We get to pursue our passions during these seasons but they are also the most prone to severe weather changes on any given day. With a few minor additions to your gear list, you can make the most out of your days in the field and be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at you this year.