8 Tips for Staying Warm During Frigid Duck Hunts

By author of The Duck Blog

Learn How to Tackle Arctic Conditions

For several years, Duck Hunting Nation has begged for cold weather. This season, we got it.

That’s great for duck and goose hunting, of course, but it creates real challenges in the apparel department. After all, dressing for an ice-breaking boat ride in minus 5 temps and a howling north wind is nothing like throwing on a camo shirt and ball cap for a casual opening-day hunt.

Here are some tips for staying warm when the mercury plunges.

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Layer IntelligentlyLayer IntelligentlyLayer IntelligentlyLayer IntelligentlyLayer Intelligently

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1 | Layer Intelligently

We’ve heard this so often it’s a cliché, yet it remains important. Layering with the right types of clothing keeps you warmer than merely throwing on a heavy coat. Here’s how I do it.

Start with a moisture-wicking layer of synthetic long underwear and liner socks. The undies can be insulated, but they must pull moisture away from your skin. Avoid starting with cotton or other fabrics that hold moisture. Add one or two pairs of wool socks to your feet, and cover your torso in another layer or two of insulated long underwear and a fleece or other synthetic top. Complete the ensemble with a wind- and waterproof insulated camo outer shell on your legs and torso. The outer layer doesn’t need to be thick and heavy, as technology has given us wonderfully insulated stuff that’s far lighter and less bulky than the Michelin Man coats we wore as children.

Photo © Bill Konway

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2 | Get Out of the Wind

Some days, you don’t think it’s that cold until you leave the blind to rearrange decoys and the wind smacks you in the face. Stay out of the breeze as much as possible. Hunt in a boat, blind, pit or other setup that blocks the wind or at least keeps it mostly at your back. Wear sweaters or jackets with built-in wind protection. These at least cut down the biting sensation of wind ripping across your torso.

Photo © Bill Konway

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3 | Get Out of the Water

Yeah, I know, you timber guys pretty much have to stand in frigid water. Layer up and stay warm, brothers and sisters. But hunters who don’t have to be in the water should stay out of it, as that 30-some-degree slush will sap the heat from your bones. Hunt from a boat or along a shoreline. Only wade as much as you have to. Oh, and get a pair of the warmest waders possible, complete with heavy boots and insulated legs and uppers. They might be bulkier than your warm-weather breathables, but they will keep you toasty.

Photo © Bill Konway

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Wear the Right HatWear the Right HatWear the Right HatWear the Right HatWear the Right Hat

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4 | Wear the Right Hat

I constantly roll my eyes when I see the host of a TV hunting show talk about how cold it is … while wearing a baseball cap. I don’t know how you’re built, but my bald head and Opie Taylor ears need to be fully covered during cold-weather hunts. I wear heavy fleece-lined or wind-breaking stocking caps that protect my entire head and ear region from biting cold and wind. Adding a hood or neck gaiter helps, too, as you never realize how much the cold and wind freeze that area.

Photo © Bill Konway

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Extra GlovesExtra GlovesExtra GlovesExtra GlovesExtra Gloves

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5 | Extra Gloves

Find hunting gloves that keep your hands warm and dry. And then bring two pairs afield.

I’m always amazed how much moisture creeps into my gloves during a duck hunt, whether from perspiration, condensation or just casually handling wet gear. Before I know it, my heavy gloves are moist, and my fingers are cold. Enter the spare dry pair. Oh, also consider getting a pair or two of those insulated PVC-coated decoy gloves. They spare your fingers from the biting cold of grabbing blocks and winding cords, and they keep your hands dry so you can easily slip them back into your regular gloves after picking up.

Photo © Bill Konway

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Use a HeaterUse a HeaterUse a HeaterUse a HeaterUse a Heater

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6 | Use a Heater

Here’s one for the “duh” category. When possible, bring a portable heater. These work great in pits, blinds and boat blinds. Sure, they take up a bit more room and require some work, but even circulating a little warm air through a cold blind helps break the chill. Just make sure to keep the heating surface away from gas cans, gas lines, other potentially flammable materials and anything that could melt.

Photo © Bill Konway

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Pack in the CaloriesPack in the CaloriesPack in the CaloriesPack in the CaloriesPack in the Calories

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7 | Pack in the Calories

Eat. A hot blind breakfast or even a few snack items — think granola bar or venison hot sticks — keep your metabolism humming and make you feel warmer. Don’t worry about the extra calories too much. Your body will burn plenty by getting up early, enduring the rigors of a hunt and fighting off the frigid temperatures.

Photo © Bill Konway

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8 | Don’t Forget Your Dog

We sometimes assume that because our retrievers are tough and built for bad weather that they don’t get cold. They do. In fact, dogs can get frostbite fairly easily on their noses and ears. Above all, make sure your pup can get out of the water, shake off and sit in a dry place. Consider outfitting it with an insulating neoprene vest. Just make sure it fits properly, as an ill-fitting vest can trap moisture between the fabric and your dog’s skin. And always be in control. If you worry that it’s too cold to send your pup into the water, leave the dog at home. Or, if a bird sails hundreds of yards into frothing whitecaps during a 15-degree day, keep your dog at heel. No duck or goose is worth the risk of exposing your buddy to hypothermia. (Better idea: Avoid shots that result in such situations.)

Photo © Bill Konway

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And One More ThingAnd One More ThingAnd One More ThingAnd One More ThingAnd One More Thing

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9 | And One More Thing

Enjoy these bitterly cold days in pursuit of ducks and geese. Yeah, it's a pain adding extra gear and clothing. Sure, your toes and fingers might ache, and your face will burn.

But look at it this way. It could be sunny and 60, and all the ducks could be stacked up north. Take advantage of the arctic push while you can.

Photo © Bill Konway

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