I’ve been frozen out on a deer stand before, but never like this. It was the final seven days of the 2017 bow calendar and I had looked forward to some late season action. But with daytime highs at -15 to -10 degrees, and evening temps plunging down to -30 degrees below zero, I began to question the logic of my stubborn perseverance.
During the late October hunt with my buddy Bill, I decided not to draw on a beautiful Fork-Horn that meandered ten yards in front of me while I sat motionless on an old log. I can still remember the elegant animal as it moved with grace and disappeared silently over a hill. In that moment, something on the inside of me registered that I would put in some cold weather hunting.
I navigated my old Jeep down the quiet cabin road in the minus twenty-degree blackness. The engine turned off with reluctance. This was it, I had arrived, and prepared to enter the bitter cold world of my wilderness landscape. I carried in every piece of warm clothing I could possibly wear, along with an old comforter, and trudged to my stand through the dark forest, situated a mile back on a small ridge surrounded by slough structure. Spring scouting had revealed a fair amount of deer traffic in this corridor. My hopes were high. I decided to approach my spot over the iced-up swamp instead of busting through the wooded cover. The gray twilight of morning illuminated the surroundings as I slipped into my outer shell. I pulled myself up into the desolate stand and settled in for the morning hunt.
I sat in silence. The ritual of the waking woodland captured my boy-like wonder. Winter snowbirds began their daily routine, flirting from branch to branch, with the occasional pop of a tree limb exploding under the intense cold. Over the next several hours my body heat dissipated. I held on for as long as I could before my layers gave way to the extreme temperatures and I climbed down from my look-out. The beginning stages of Hypothermia gripped me and I forced heat into my body with a steamy cup of coffee.
With stiff limbs and feet like rocks, I fought off the shivers, and surveyed the surrounding area as my Pack Boots kicked up fine clouds of snow. I noticed the deer had changed their winter routes to the swamp edge and well out of bow range. My heart sunk. The stand proved useless for a late-season chance. It was time for an executive decision. After pouring another cup, I started to feel somewhat normal again, and decided to pull my stand down. Careful not to over exert myself and burn my lungs with the raw air, I tied my gear together, flung the load over my back, and headed out.
As I began my trek, loaded down like a mountain man packing out his winter pelts, I noticed fresh tracks leading to a watering hole by the beaver dam. I thought this would make a good ambush along the far bank tucked up against a pine and hoped to return later that week. Heat came back into my body as I plodded around the brush and downfalls which eventually lead back up to the navigable section of the forest.
The morning Sun seemed powerless over the grip of winter in this magical icy wonderland. An eerie haze hung over the Spruce thickets. Frosted lonesome branches, encrusted in thin atmosphere, watched my solitude… studied my labored efforts.
The cold was my companion.