The first time I went deer hunting, I nearly froze. Not to death, mind you, as the phrase is often used, but colder than a ditch digger's you-know-what.

That was in mid-Missouri and the sunrise temperature was below the freezing mark. Add a light breeze from due north plus spitting snow, and I can still shiver today just thinking about it.

In those days, a common deer hunting outfit consisted of cotton blue jeans, white cotton athletic socks, white cotton waffle iron "thermal" underwear, brown cotton work gloves, if you were lucky, and a woolen sock cap.

Topping that off, I bought a Vietnam Tiger Stripe BDU coat that was cotton with some kind of button-in insulated liner, which was probably cotton. The J.C. Penney construction-type boots were little help either. The best item of the whole lot was the wool cap. No wonder I was dangerously cold the entire weekend.


Don't fool with Mother Nature

Sure it is usually plenty warm most of the time during Mississippi's deer season, but January can sneak up on you. You bundle up like a mummy at first crack of dawn, trudge through hill, dale and mud to your stand as sweat streams down your back soaking your shirt.

Once in the stand, you shed the coat just for a while to "cool down."

"Yeah, I used to just sit there in my stand praying for the sun to break through the clouds to thaw me out," says Drew Dulaney of Jackson. "Some days even my insulated coveralls don't do the trick."

Then a slight breeze picks up. Grey clouds drip a whisper of fog-like moisture on you. Before long, your teeth chatter. Then your shoulders shake. Your feet are numb, and your knees knock together. You can no longer control the shivers. Say hello to hypothermia. It happens.

Even in Deep South Mississippi the chill factor can bear down on you when outside for extended periods of time, like when deer hunting. An outside air temperature of 40 degrees with a 15-m.p.h. wind will seem like 32 degrees. A 35-degree morning or evening with only a 5-m.p.h. breeze will create a chill factor of 31 degrees.

In other words, it's cold. It's not something to ignore, especially for young kids or seniors.


Strategies to deter the cold

Every article ever written about how to dress for hunting in cold weather talks about layering. Well, O.K., layer what? Certainly not all the worthless cotton I wore back in the 1970s.

Luckily, that's not even an issue today given all the options of high-tech fabrics, lightweight insulation materials and moisture/wind repelling liners. Even clothing types, shapes and fits have been developed specifically for hunters of both sexes and the outdoor conditions they encounter. The rapid evolution in hunting clothing development has been astonishing.

Kirstie Pike, owner of Prois Hunting Apparel, knows the clothing demands of deer hunters in cold weather. She may design and configure hunting apparel for women, but her knowledge is on the cutting edge of modern warming, wicking and insulating clothes for hunters.

"First, you have to be ready for anything that comes your way," she said. "My suggestion for gearing up includes a smart base layer system that wicks moisture away from the body. Otherwise, moisture will be retained and quickly chill the hunter. Next, add an insulation layer. I use a double-layered fleece vest with pockets for holding activated hand warmers in core warming areas. Then you need an outer shell that has wind-stopping properties that is also water resistant with a hood. If it is raining, then opt for a waterproof, breathable outer shell.

"The key here is known as thermoregulation, or resisting cold, humidity, wind and moisture. Hunting clothes must wick, stop wind, be waterproof and provide core-warming features."

If in doubt, read clothing labels.


Stoking the body

The running engine in your vehicle is hot because it is burning fuel. In a sense, the human body is similar. It has to be kept stoked with useful fuels in order to function properly and stay warm. And alcohol is not that fuel. Nutritionists talking about breakfast being the most important meal of the day must have been targeting hunters.

Jumping out of the rack at pre-dawn to throw down a honey-bun and a glass of chocolate milk is not the best way to stoke the boiler for a long morning hunt. Sure the carbs will blast you out the door and into your tree stand, but by mid-morning, you will begin to feel and hear that deep-down grumble. If it is really cold, those carbohydrates will burn off like a morning fog.

Conversely, you don't have to have a breakfast of bacon, eggs and biscuits either. When you grab something in deer camp to carry out the door to the stand, make it a boiled egg, a protein bar, a banana or some trail mix with lots of nuts, especially almonds.

Carry water along with a snack bar or package of cheese or peanut butter crackers in case the munchies hit you on the stand. These calories will help keep you warm until lunch.

Repeat the strategy going into the afternoon hunt. You need fuel in the system to keep the motor running, smoothly generating enough body heat to keep you warm for the long haul.

This is Mississippi, but it is January. Temps can easily dip below 40 degrees, sometimes below freezing. Add our usual high humidity, a little precipitation and a stiff wind, and it is darn cold. Spend hours exposed on a hunting stand, and things can happen fast.