Winter Hunting Essentials

By Tom Claycomb III

Essentials for the perfect winter hunt.

As kids, Richard Jaco and I would go camping nearly every weekend. While doing it we engaged in lots of diversions. We’d trap all night or ride around with the game warden hunting deer poachers – then we’d duck hunt at day break. It was great fun except that we didn’t have a tent and my lightweight sleeping bag had a broken zipper.


A 4-wheeler is not an essential, but a reliable one can get you to the top of the mountain with less stress and strain, so you can save your energy for hunting, and hunt longer in the evening
before returning to camp.

Those early camping trips probably didn’t teach me much that would help me years later when, on my first bear hunt in Colorado at about 9,500 feet, we had to clear out a foot and a half of snow to set up our tent. Jerome Lawler looked over and asked me where my sleeping pad was. I didn’t even know they made such a thing.

Since those days I’ve learned a lot and have added sleeping pads and more to my camping arsenal. If you’re camping in extreme winter conditions, certain items are must-haves. I don’t know if you can even rate them – they’re all equally important.

In extreme winter camping conditions such as you’ll encounter while elk hunting you have to get a good night sleep to be able to hunt hard. It is the most physical activity that I do all year.


A quality tent, pitched in the right place, can shelter you
from Mother Nature’s worst.

It means getting up well before daylight to eat, and then jumping on a horse, 4-wheeler or hiking to the top of a mountain. It means hiking in mountains all day and stumbling back into camp well after dark. It means slamming down dinner and trying to get some quick shuteye, only to wake up early and do it all again. It’s imperative to get a good night’s sleep. Below are four items that can help you do that:

  1. A good tent – Don’t buy one of the newer tents that has mesh all the way down the side. This was done to cut cost. You only want a little mesh at the top to allow for air flow. Also look for one with a rain cover that comes down to ground level. Otherwise snow flurries will whip under it and into your tent.
  2. A good sleeping bag – Get one rated for -20° F, like the Alps Mountaineering Crescent Lake model. Many manufacturers fib on the ratings, so always get one with a lower temp rating than you think you’ll need. Most people favor mummy bags to preserve body heat. A fleece liner will fill in the dead spots, prevent heat from escaping, and increase the heat rating.
  3. A good sleeping pad – A sleeping pad will protect you from the freezing ground. I love using cots but in cold weather they allow the cold to sweep in from the bottom. Another valuable function that pads provide is they soften the hard ground. I live in the Rocky Mountains. In case you wonder why they’re called “Rocky,” it’s because they’re made up of rocks. Without a good sleeping pad, that prevents a good night’s sleep.
  4. A tent heater – If you’re sleeping in a sheepherder’s tent (a type of wall tent) then you might be lucky enough to have a wood stove. If not, then there’s nothing like a tent heater. I bought a Coleman tent heater 23 years ago and love it. It puts out 5,000 BTUs. Don’t sleep with it burning or it will asphyxiate you, but I love to fire it up at bed time to heat up the tent so I can strip down, put on my long handles without freezing, and hit the bag warm. Then when I wake up in the morning I sleepily reach out and fire it up. By the time I stumble out of my bag the tent’s warm. If you’re the yuppie type who can’t get along without a bagel, you may try what my buddy Mike Trautner does – he puts his bagel on the heat guard the night before. When he crawls out the bagel’s warm and ready for him to spread on some cream cheese.

the-right-gear-text-314x180With the above items (the bagel’s not an essential) you should be able to sneak in a good night’s sleep even when the elements are trying to punish you. One last little trick that helps insure a good night’s sleep is to lay a tarp on the tent floor under your sleeping bag and clothes. Curl a ridge along one edge or in the corner, and place wet clothes and boots there to separate them from everything else. That way when the snow melts you will still have a dry tent.

Being outdoors in the winter can be tough duty but it doesn’t mean your only two choices are between dying and being miserable! Be prepared with these four essentials and it will be more fun – plus you’ll be able to hunt harder after a good night’s sleep.


tom claycomb image 288x300About Tom Claycomb III

Tom lives in Idaho writes outdoor articles for various newspapers, magazines & websites. If it’s something outdoors, he probably likes it. You can read some more of his writings at:,, and



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5 Reasons Not to Build Your Own Treestand

5 Reasons Not to Build Your Own Treestand
By Steve Sorensen


Have you ever built a treestand? Maybe you dream of a tree condo – 8′ by 8′ with a pitched roof, carpeted floor, sliding windows and a propane gas heater. Maybe even an easy chair to nap in and a hot plate where you can warm up your lunch. Ahh, the luxuries of hunting.

The treestand I built about 20 years ago – a folding ladder stand with wheels to make it easy (or so I thought) to move from one tree to another – was no luxury. It turned out much heavier than I expected and I struggled to set it up. I was younger and stronger then, and I doubt I could move it today.

Many of us have taken scraps of 2″ by 4″ boards, a piece of plywood and a few long screws and bolts, and fashioned our own death trap. Yes, that’s the main reason I don’t recommend building your own treestand. Here are five more reasons that support my view that homemade treestands aren’t safe.

1. You’re not a structural engineer.
Please forgive me, but you don’t have the design experience to create a truly safe treestand. With the exception of a few creative guys who’ve inherited a structural engineering gene, you don’t know what you’re doing. Even commercial treestand designs have changed for the better (and safer) over the past few decades to correct design flaws that have led to accidents.

2. Commercial treestands aren’t as expensive as you think.
While treestand designs have improved in recent years prices have dropped, for several reasons. One is low foreign wages. Good or bad, that’s a fact of life in today’s global market. Manufacturers can build treestands across the water, ship them to the United States in containers on boats, and the price is still much lower than treestands manufactured in America. You can now buy a ladder stand for well under $100. At that price they may not have the bells and whistles a top-shelf treestand has, but they are safe and serviceable.

3. Building your treestand is more expensive than you think.
Even if you’re an accomplished D-I-Y guy, a few runs to the local hardware store for hinges, braces and ratchet straps will add up. Then you’ll realize that bright new wood needs to be camo’ed up – there goes another $20 for paint. Before hunting from your homebrew treestand you’ll need to fork over some money for a good safety system, so your total cost will almost surely be somewhere north of the price of a commercial treestand. Most treestands sold today come with some sort of safety harness, so you get more in that big cardboard box than just a treestand.

4. The odds are, you are going to fall.
For various reasons some hunters will still suffer tragic falls from treestands, even from commercial models. That’s why treestand companies have insurance to cover their liability. And no matter how careful you are, or how strong, you’re not invincible. The odds are you will suffer some kind of fall, and it will be your fault. The truth is falling is far more likely from a homemade treestand. Don’t be that guy.

5. Treestand hunting is overrated.
I’ve had that lesson confirmed many times. On opening day in New York one season I was planning to hunt from a treestand, but couldn’t find it in the dark. Rather than bumble around looking for it, I headed up the hill above the bench where the treestand was. I figured I’d wait until after daylight, and then find it and climb into it. That turned out to be a smart move because I heard a lot of commotion right where the treestand was – a buck was chasing a doe. I tooted on my deer call and here they came. I got the shot just as daylight was breaking. That’s one example of many where I’ve had more luck from the ground than from treestands. The reasons should be obvious. A treestand is limiting. You can’t move without noise and effort. If you’re on the ground, you can move farther up or farther down the hill. You can move ten feet or a mile. You can adjust more easily for the wind currents and deer movements. I don’t feel the least bit disadvantaged if I’m hunting from the ground, especially in the firearms season. Plus if you fall down when your feet area already on the ground, you might break something but you’re not likely to die.

Several years ago my brother fell from a tree 22 feet to the ground. He wasn’t hunting; he was trimming a tree in his yard. The fall shattered both his heels and changed his life. Several surgeries, months lying in bed, physical therapy, and special shoes put him back on his feet. He walks again, but short distances and never without pain.

When that happened I did a little research. In rare cases it’s possible to survive falls from significant heights, but it’s also possible to die from falls of only 15 feet – the average height of a treestand. If you don’t die, you might break your back or spine. You might rip heavy internal organs such as your heart or liver and bleed to death internally in seconds. It’s no joke – it really is that sudden stop that kills you.

If you want to hunt from a tree, get a good treestand built by a member of the Treestand Manufacturers Association, and use it properly. These folks care about your safety. In fact, go to the website at and educate yourself about treestand safety.

And remember, as important as it is to enjoy the hunt, it’s far more important to enjoy the day after the hunt.

Steve Sorensen is known as “The Everyday Hunter.” When he isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He speaks are sportsman’s events, writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.



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5 Reasons We Need Women Hunters

Get out of that he-man-woman-hater’s club

5 Reasons We Need Women Hunters
By Steve Sorensen

If you and your hunting buddies frown upon female hunters, maybe you’re living in the 1900s. Hunting camps are no longer he-man-woman-haters-clubs, if they ever were. In most of America today women have gained equality with men. Yes, even in the traditionally male world of hunters. Women are now the fastest growing segment of the hunting population.

This isn’t a man’s world
In the coyote den, it’s not just the male that leaves to hunt while the female nurtures their young. In the eagle’s nest, it’s not just the male that brings food back for the eaglets. Even your pampered cat, though she may be spayed and spend most of her time indoors, will lay that songbird on your doorstep expecting praise for her hunting prowess.

If that’s not enough to help you realize the mistake of thinking hunting is a man’s world, here are four more reasons why we need women in the world of hunting.


1. To Connect to the Romance
Romance is not just flowers and chocolate. Romance is “a quality or feeling of mystery, excitement, and remoteness from everyday life.” That goes a long way to describe hunting. That’s one of the outdoorsman’s biggest thrills. Why not give a woman that same connection with wildlife? Like my friend Dick, who took Audrey hunting. After an hour on an archery stand Audrey called to tell Dick, “I shot a deer.” He replied, “Great! I’ll be right over to help you field dress it.” She answered, “No need. I already did that.” Dick said, “Good! I’ll help you drag it.” Audrey said, “I already dragged it up to the four-wheeler.” Dick found a soulmate.

A woman who spends time in the woods with you will not only understand you better, she will also see what draws you to special places where you interact with the natural world. She, like you, will gravitate to those places of mystery, excitement, and remoteness. That’s romance.

2. To Kill the Stereotypes
Back in junior high school teachers held assemblies to teach us we shouldn’t stereotype other people. We learned to erase the distinction between “male” and “female” careers. Now we’re comfortable with men as nurses and social workers. We accept female physicians and attorneys.

It’s time we kill the stereotypes in hunting, too. There was a time when advertisers began using women as eye-candy for a male-dominated arena. Then companies saw a market and started making camo with pink trim. Now women defy stereotypes. Like Sister John Paul Bauer, a retired Navy veteran who became a Roman Catholic nun and started hunting. Last deer season she was in the midst of a Facebook firefight when critics around the world harassed her for shooting a nice 10-point buck. Many of them considered themselves liberal, but there’s nothing liberal about condemning a woman who breaks a stereotype.


3. To Listen to Their Voices
Advertising messages are repeated over and over. We often ignore them, but we begin to pay attention when we’re in the market for a new car, or a new insurance policy. Have you noticed who the voices of wisdom are in those little household vignettes advertisers use? Often they are the voices of strong, intelligent women. Like Vikki Trout, an outdoor writer and photographer, who continues to speak out for hunting even after tragically losing her husband John to cancer.

Vikki writes for the outdoor magazines, sells photos of wildlife, and introduces new people to hunting. She’s an effective ambassador for hunting with a consistent, life-changing, pro-hunting voice. So if more and more positive voices representing hunting come from strong, intelligent women, people won’t see hunting as the blood sport of Neanderthal men.


4. To Win the Public Relations War
Today’s colleges have more female than male students, and more women are finding their places as corporate executives. We even see more women at construction sites. Women are finding out it’s OK to be hunters, too. In my home state of Pennsylvania, the ranks of licensed female hunters grew by more than 40% over the last seven years.

We’ll win a public relations triumph when the multiplying ranks of women hunters help convince the public that hunters play an important role in wildlife management, even that hunters – both male and female – are the key to abundant wildlife in North America. A lot is riding on this because the public is made up of many non-hunters who need to be convinced of the value of hunting. In fact, if we don’t win this public relations war, and the public mistakenly decides hunters are bad for wildlife, then hunting will see its last days.

5. To Reverse the Decline
It’s no secret that hunters’ numbers are declining. Enlisting more boys in hunting won’t produce the numbers it once did because smaller families mean the pool of boys is smaller. Many families are no longer headed by men, so Dad isn’t around to take Junior hunting. And we’ve shifted to a more urban society, so fewer families live in rural settings where hunting is an everyday part of the culture.

Introducing more women to hunting and the outdoors is the best way to reverse the decline. Every time a woman hunts, the world gets a new role model for young boys and young girls too.

Want More?
There you have it – five reasons we need women hunters. Want more? In the ongoing struggle to continue financing wildlife management, we need women. To continue as a political force for the right to bear arms, we need women. Women will help us overcome the tendency of the public to see wildlife management through an emotional lens, and to see hunting for what it is – food acquisition, camaraderie in the field, teaching others about the natural world, providing room in the habitat for the coming generations of wildlife, and changing the public perception of hunting from a consumer mentality to a caring-for-nature mentality. If those messages come from women and not just men, the public will listen and women will no longer be seen as exceptions in a world of male hunters.

In a nation that strives for equal pay for equal work and female participation in the armed forces, should anyone be surprised that more women are finding their places in blinds and treestands? Let’s welcome them, for the sake of hunting and for the sake of wildlife.


Steve Sorensen is the author of Growing Up With Guns, and The Everyday Hunter Handbook Series. He also writes an award-winning newspaper column called The Everyday Hunter®, and edits content for the Havalon Nation. He has published articles in top magazines across the USA, and won the 2015 “Pinnacle” Award for magazine writing. Invite Steve to speak at your next sportsman’s event, and follow him at

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Finding the Spots Most Hunters Overlook

By Bernie Barringer

A public land hunter tells you how to find
the spots most hunters overlook.

buck shot in 2010 in Iowa 336x411

I shot this old buck in 2010 on public land in Iowa. I moved several times until I landed on the exact right location where a river swept up close to a steep hill.

All serious whitetail hunters live for that magical time of the year; those three weeks in November when the most amazing things can happen at any moment. Bucks are on their feet at all hours of the day or night. Core areas and home ranges become meaningless as the mature males of the species pant and sweat and grind out the hours, searching for receptive females in a frantic effort to procreate during this short period of frenzied rutting activity.

You wait for this window of opportunity all year. Don’t spend it in the wrong spot.

Some spots are obvious and hunters gravitate to these well-known locations. But some spots aren’t so easy to see. Consider hunting one of these three great stand sites that most hunters overlook.

google earth view of bend in river against bluff 448x277

Google Earth screen capture—an outside bend in a river
up against a bluff.

1. River Bends
In Iowa a couple of years ago, I killed a 6-year-old buck on public land on the 12th day of what was intended to be a seven-day hunt. On the fifth day of the hunt I found sign from a lot of deer activity on the outside of a large, sweeping river bend. Once in a stand, I began to see deer movement including one nice shooter buck. However, most of the movement was out of range, so I had to adjust a couple times. Twice over the next few days I moved my stand about 100 yards before I settled on the exact spot where I killed him. The outside bend of a river swept up against a steep bluff, which funneled the deer movement into a narrow corridor where I scored.

Deer, like all animals take the path of least resistance when travelling. They are looking for places that it is easy to walk and that’s where the trails develop. This was a perfect place to intercept a cruising buck because it very naturally channeled the deer movement into a narrow area, an area I could easily cover with a treestand in the right spot.

google earth shows jumpers 448x277

Google Earth screen capture—lots of jumpers in this picture.

2. Jumpers
I lucked onto the type of location I call “jumpers.” I happened to see a buck come out of the tip of a draw 100 yards away when I was sitting in a treestand in a bushy fencerow. I rattled at him, but after a short look, he crossed the top of the hill and entered the point of a draw on the other side. After that morning’s hunt, I walked over there and was surprised to see a series of rubs and a small trail with several sets of big tracks in it. I realized that it was a perfect place for a buck to jump from one drainage to another with minimal exposure. This ideal shortcut left him exposed for only a few seconds.

google earth shows field corner 448x277

Google Earth screen captures show good examples of the overlooked stand site. This one is obviously a field corner.

Frankly, not many people hunt these places I came to identify as “jumpers,” but they can be absolutely dynamite if you find one in the right spot. These drainages are referred to as hollows, ditches, draws or ravines—depending on the local jargon—where an arm of one ravine reaches out into a field near where an arm of an adjacent ravine comes out. These are crossing points for deer moving from one to the other, and bucks check them when cruising for receptive does.

Looking at an aerial photo will give you plenty of these to check out, but you must get a personal up-close look to find the good ones. Most will have little to no sign, but when you find the one the bucks really like to use, you will know it. Rubs, tracks and often a scrape or two will be the tip-off that you are in the right spot.

field corners great place for decoy 448x299

Field corners often have a tractor trail through them, which give you more visibility. Field corners are also great locations to place a decoy where bucks can see them from a distance.

3. Field Corners
In keeping with the theme that bucks do not like to expose themselves in the open any more than is absolutely necessary, field corners are another overlooked stand site. These are basic and simple locations, easy to identify on an aerial photo or a topographical map. Heck, you can even see them from the road many times.

We are talking about the square corner of an open field that has woods on at least two sides of it. Because they do not like to expose themselves, bucks will stay just inside the woods as they travel around the corner. This creates a pinch point that concentrates the travel, upping your odds of being within range of a buck by funneling their activity into a small area.

chris dunkin shot this buck coming from ravine 442x336

My friend Chris Dunkin shot this tremendous buck as it exited the arm of a ravine. Finding the perfect set in a “jumper” put him within range of a buck of a lifetime.

Interestingly, these places can have lots of sign or little to no sign and it doesn’t seem to make much difference during the rut. For some reason, I have seen these areas all torn up with rubs and scrapes or, on the other end of the spectrum, maybe just a very faint trail. The amount of sign in these areas seems to have no relation to the amount of travel they get when the bucks get on their feet and begin cruising. Some of these are really good and don’t have the sign to prove it.

Because I hunt mostly public lands which receive a lot of pressure from other hunters, I have found that the most obvious funnels, pinch points and areas with rutting sign get so much attention that the bucks soon learn to avoid them. If you learn to look for those less obvious points that concentrate the travel of cruising bucks, you can take advantage of not only the rut movement, but the tendencies of bucks to avoid the other hunters. This will help you put yourself in a much better position to bag a big one.

To read more great articles by Bernie Barringer, click here.

About Bernie Barringer

Bernie BaringerBernie Barringer hunts a variety of species in several states and Canadian provinces. He has published more than 400 articles in two dozen outdoor magazines and authored ten books on hunting, fishing and trapping. The latest is Bear Baiter’s Manual. He is the managing editor of Bear Hunting Magazine, and blogs his hunts on his website[hs_action id=”7476″]


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Get Ahead of The Pack – How to Prep Your “Go-Bag” for Big Game Season

By Mike Marsh

The easiest way to handle your hunting checklist is to have the right pack!

In my business as a full-time hunting and fishing communicator, I occasionally need to grab a firearm and head out for a hunt within hours, even minutes, of a telephone call or hot tip. The backseat of my pickup truck has several hunting packs, each full of all the items I might need to participate in a certain type of hunt.

Ambidextrous hunting pack with a single shoulder strap for deer hunting preparation

Having one shoulder strap that can be adjusted for either shoulder makes this MPI Outdoors backpack ambidextrous. With all the packs out there, it’s surprising that a good pack is hard to find. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

All too frequently, when riding in someone else’s vehicle, I used to arrive at a hunting spot and discover that I had forgotten something important like insect repellent. This would happen again after switching back to my own vehicle and arriving home to find I’d left a map or GPS unit in the other hunter’s truck.

It makes sense to have a “go-bag” with commonly used gear, and that’s why every dedicated shooter I know has a bag like this, full of cleaning tools, hearing protection, shooting glasses, targets and other gear. I carried the concept a step further, applying it to specific hunts. With all the different kinds of equipment out there, practicing good hunting preparation is crucial for those times when opportunity suddenly strikes.

1. Pack Selection – “Poppa’s Got a Brand New Bag”

If “the hardest workin’ man in show business” needed a brand new bag, I need a good one too. My big game hunting pack is a backpack designed specifically for gun hunters. It’s an MPI Outdoor Products backpack with a single shoulder strap. I’m a right-handed shooter, so I adjust the strap to go over my left shoulder, leaving my right shoulder free to mount a firearm. The best example I can give of perfect pack selection happened while I was hunting black bears in extremely thick cover in eastern North Carolina. I had been sitting on a stool when, with just five minutes of legal shooting time left, I slung my pack and headed out of the swamp along a bear trail. A bear materialized 20 feet away. I simply shouldered my rifle and took the shot. When you select your pack, not only should you think about what you’ll put in it, but also what you’ll do when a shooting opportunity arises.

Single-shoulder hunting pack is essential in deer hunting preparation

A pack with a single-shoulder strap lets you shoulder your rifle quickly and the strap won’t get in the way. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

2. Many Convenient Compartments

Make sure your pack has plenty of variously-sized compartments, inside and out. I hunt deer, bear and hogs with my big game pack, and its side pockets are perfect for calls, flashlights and other long, slender objects. The mesh rear pocket holds a ThermaCELL® insect repellent device to keep the vapors out of enclosed pockets when it’s cooling down after a hunt. The mesh exterior pocket also carries bottles of scents. I use a plastic peanut butter jar to hold scent bottles, swabs, scent bombs or anything else that would stink up my pack and the items inside. That idea will pay off, I guarantee.

3. Safety First, Always

My backpack has a camouflaged exterior, so I carry a hunter orange poncho, vest or MPI Outdoors “See Me” backpack cover that fits over the pack because the pack can obscure hunter orange clothing. Other safety items to keep in a dedicated hunting pack include a Space Blanket, fire-making materials, water container, flashlight, spare batteries and a whistle or other signaling device.

4. You’re Gonna Need Spares

Useful items in a well-stocked deer hunting preparation pack

A backpack dedicated to deer hunting preparation carries everything a hunter needs so nothing is forgotten. You’d be surprised how much Mike Marsh’s one-shouldered pack holds: a folding stool, two pairs of gloves, plastic gloves, scent, ThermaCELL®, matches, safety vest, watch cap, poncho, compass, cleaning tools, hand and foot warmers, ammo, calls and other items. (Photo: Mike Marsh)

If you’re anything like me, you lose gloves. A lot. Therefore, I always carry an extra pair. If one glove is lost, one from the spare set replaces it. An orange sock cap provides cushioning for other objects, takes little space and is a quick replacement for a lost cap. If you’ve never run out of ammunition or forgotten it completely, you are a rare hunter indeed! Carrying spare ammo in a rattle-proof carrier prevents the problem – but remember to swap it out if you change caliber.

5. Necessities and Nice-To-Haves

In my big game backpack, I also carry toilet tissue, a compass and/or GPS unit, maps, a roll-up jacket, face net or warming mask, dehydrated snacks such as homemade jerky, Sterno canned heat for warming a blind and heating food, and plastic zipper bags and gloves for using hunting scents and cleaning game. A ball Bungee on the pack handle carries a folding stool or seat cushion.

If you hunt a variety of game, invest in enough packs to keep your essentials organized and ready to go. If you properly prepare for your hunt, it will pay off not only in the time you’ll save, but also in having everything you need right at hand.

mike marshAbout Mike Marsh:

Mike Marsh’s articles, columns and photos have appeared in more than 100 magazines and newspapers. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina and has written four books about the state’s hunting, fresh-water and salt-water fishing. His latest is Fishing North Carolina. To contact Mike, view his award-winning articles and photos, or order his books, visit

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