Five keys to happy hunting

By Katie Alvin Explore Big Sky Contributor

If you hunt in Montana, chances are high you’ll be in rugged and remote backcountry facing inclement weather. The good news is that modern technology and generations of hunter knowledge makes staying safe easier than ever. The key is to remember Louis Pasteur’s adage that, along with the body, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Here are five ways to be prepared during hunting season.

Layer up

Hunting in Montana often requires strenuous effort followed by slow stalking. It’s critical to maintain your core body temperature while managing moisture during exertion. A base layer worn next to the skin holds and distributes heat while also moving cooling moisture away from the body. The choice between natural fibers – like wool – and synthetics – like polypropylene – is a matter of personal experience and preference.

A mid layer insulates by creating air pockets to store warmth. Garments made of heavier wool, synthetic fleece, goose down, or polyester fill work well. Again, breathability is a must, as moisture from the wicking base layer needs to escape through mid layers.

Rounding out a solid clothing system is a waterproof, breathable outer layer. When choosing gear, be mindful that hunting in the backcountry demands durability. Look for high abrasion resistance in addition to protection against wind and rain.

For extremities, pick warm, waterproof gloves, boots and a hat. Reducing blood flow reduces warmth so thinner, well-fitting socks are better than thicker, restricting ones. Battery operated boot warmers can help you stay toasty, but if they don’t fit your budget, tuck inexpensive hand and toe warmers into boots, pockets or between your layers.

Be visible to other hunters, but not to game

In Montana, anyone hunting with, or accompanying someone who is hunting with a firearm must wear at least 400 square inches of blaze orange to increase visibility to other hunters. It may seem strange wearing bright orange while sneaking up on game, but the color looks brownish-gray to deer and elk. In fact, the one color to avoid is blue, which appears very bright to their UV-sensitive eyes. Be selective with the detergent you use to wash camouflage clothes, as many products use whitening agents that can make them glow.

Fuel up to stoke your inner furnace

Being properly fueled is as important as being properly dressed. According to Princeton University’s Outdoor Action Program, winter backpacking burns up to 1,500 more calories per day than regular backpacking. Complex carbohydrates will sustain energy longer so before you head out, fill up on whole-grained, high-fiber foods with protein. While in the woods, eat frequently and plentifully. Not only will you replace lost calories, but eating and digesting food – especially long-lasting carbs and protein – generates heat and warms your body.

Staying hydrated is critical too. Bring plenty of fluids to replenish sweat lost from hiking and to combat the added stress of warming and humidifying the cold air you’re breathing.

Tree hugging isn’t just for hippies

In an emergency, take advice from the National Association for Search and Rescue and hug a tree. Though its Hug-a-Tree survival program is for kids, the principle is the same for all: stay put. A moving target is exponentially more difficult to find, so commit to a location and focus on survival. In most Montana hunting settings warmth is the number one goal. Your first effort should be to make a fire, and the second to build a shelter.

For very little money, backpack space, or weight, you can compile a set of emergency gear that can keep you alive for several days in the backcountry. Refer to Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ booklet “Outsmart Outback” for gear lists and key survival and first aid guidelines. If you pack an emergency kit, you should have the tools to survive until help arrives.

Share the tradition

Though hunting isn’t for everyone, it can provide the opportunity to deepen both connections with wilderness and relationships with friends and family. For many youth, it’s a rite of passage and a way to participate in a heritage that extends across generations. Whether or not you actually pull a trigger, experiencing the tradition is a way to engage in both our past and present. If you haven’t tried hunting already, find a friend who can share the tradition with you and get outside!

Katie Alvin, who has successfully hunted birds but cannot summon the courage to pull the trigger on big game, has lived in Big Sky for more than 20 years and owns East Slope Outdoors with her husband Dave. With degrees in Environmental Studies and Soil Science, she has been involved with environmental and outdoor education for 25 years.