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February 26, 2008

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In November 1812, the tattered remains of Napoleon’s Grande Armee staggered out of Russia, a ghostly, frozen shell of itself. By some estimates, the retreat from Moscow cost the French the lives of nearly half a million soldiers and some 30,000 horses. It was one of the epic disasters of military history.

The debacle came to mind as I sat on a deer stand, 12 feet off the ground in subzero weather in November 2005--at the exact time of year of the French retreat and at nearly the same latitude as the Russian capital. Moscow sits at 55 degrees N; my stand was situated at Christopher Lake, north of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, at 53 degrees N. Saskdeer

But rather than facing saber-wielding Cossacks, I was after the legendary whitetails of this province. Chances are you’ll see more big deer in one week than you’ve seen in a lifetime hunting in the States.

There’s just one catch—and it’s a big one.

Can you handle cold weather?

The kind of cold that numbs your toes and gnaws at your soul; the kind of Arctic cold that Jack London wrote about in “To Build a Fire”; the kind of cold with a capital “C” that presses relentlessly down upon you like a ponderous weight.

When I asked the outfitter about what to wear he said, “It probably won’t get much below zero, but be prepared for 30 below.” 
That got me thinking. Would I be able to deal with that kind of cold, especially since I’d be sitting in a tree stand for 11 hours a day? Here are some notes from the trip:

Monday, 5 a.m. 0 degrees F. I can’t believe I’m going to spend 11 hours sitting in a deep freezer.
Tuesday, 5 a.m. –14 F. Wind chill, somewhere around –27. I dress with seven layers. I will need every one. At breakfast one hunter says, “This isn’t a hunt; it’s an endurance contest.”

Tuesday, 4 p.m. The cold is brutal. It actually feels like a menacing, living presence. I’m hunched up trying to conserve every bit of warmth. I think of Robert Falcon Scott, the gallant British explorer who froze to death in Antarctica. At the end of the day, I’m so stiff from the cold that I can barely climb down the ladder.

Was it worth the wait? You bet. I finally took a nice whitetail. And I learned a valuable lesson about footwear: I don’t care what the cold-weather rating is, the boot won’t keep your feet warm when you sit in a tree stand in below-zero weather. What was your coldest hunt?

–Slaton White


J. Orlando

So what is the answer to keeping your feet warm???? I've tried just about everything and my feet are freezing...even tried electric foot warmers..no help..how about Korean "Micky Mouse" boots..no way..
I know I have bad circulation. but there has to be an answer to all this .....HELP


Try overboots, those big boot shaped blankets that you slip on once you're in the stand. They work great and only cost around $50. I've seen them at Gander Mountain and Cabelas.

Dale Pape

I also freeze and have Mickey Mouse boots unused now for 12 years. I have gone back to Lacrosse leather boots rubber bottom with felt liners. I use chemical toe warmers bottom of foot. Tip: try the chemical pocket warmers the kind that are air activated. Place he pocket warmers over the top or second layer pair of sox. Fasten with Gaffer tape {from photo stores} it doesn't leave a residue. loop a piece of Gagger tape sticky side out, attach to sock, place pocket warmer on top of tape. Good for 12 hours. NICE Warmth!

Jeff B.

Forget bunny boots what ya'll are calling "mickey Mouse boots" they don't breath at all and cause your feet to sweat excessively, which then cools them. Try getting surplus mukluks, then when you wear them, put the felt liner on then put a kitchen trash bag over that, put the outer canvas and rubber boot on, and your good to go. I've kept my feet warm and dry this way ever since I was stationed at Loring AFB Maine, where it regulary gets to -45 F. PS -The purpose for the trash bag is that, no matter how wet or ice covered the outer boot gets, your feet stay dry and warm.