December 16, 2016 would have been my father’s 100th birthday and perhaps it was the many fond memories that we shared together that motivated me to go the extra mile in some of the worst weather I’ve ever experienced. The Great Plains blizzard was in full force with temperatures below zero and 30 mile per hour blowing snow. I had remained in camp to help make deer sausage and still had about two hours of daylight left to hunt. More so, I was about a half mile’s walk from one of my favorite whitetail spots. I suited up in my Pnuma gear and asked a friend to drive me half way and headed across the bleak frozen prairie with the wind howling at my back. I knew in a few hours, I have to retrace my steps INTO that gale force, but hoped the quest would be worth it.
Stay Dry, Stay Warm-
One of the challenges of cold weather hunting is staying dry while moving so that you can sit comfortably and wait when that’s the best strategy and I had both in mind. I planned to sneak through a dense patch of cedars with the wind at my back, hoping that a swirling wind might make a buck stand up from its bed and give me a close shot. Once through, I’d circle into the wind and sneak back in a large circle planning to spend the last hour of daylight wherever I saw the most tracks.
I had anticipated that tracks would be sparse and that deer would be bedded in the blizzard conditions, yet I found the normal amount of sign in the snow. Despite the wind and cold, they were up feeding and moving to feeding areas.
The Pnuma Waypoint Challenge- I had hunted elk in the Pnuma Waypoint jacket and pants in the mountains of Wyoming and was very pleased with its insulation and wind breaking ability. Plus, Pnuma is truly gear and way more than clothing. The question remained, “Could I use the same gear to walk, stalk, and sit?
Before arriving in the Dakota’s I received the Pnuma Insulator jacket and hat, the additional protection I’d need in such brutal conditions. I wore a pair of Icebreaker Moreno wool top and bottom as a base layer, a flannel shirt and flannel lined pair of cargo pants as a mid-layer and the Pnuma pant, insulator top and the Waypoint jacket. Additionally, I used a ScentBlocker Versa Multi Purpose head net, that proved to be worth its weight in gold.
The Hunt Begins
From my drop-off point I walked half a mile with the wind, dropped into the creek bottom where the cedars radically dropped the wind chill- the reason deer were there. On my hunt, I jumped seven does, one of which acted exactly as I hoped, seemed to get confused and stood broadside at 75 yards. My tag was valid for a buck or doe, but with the big bucks in the area, I chose to roll the dice.
Forty five minutes before dark, I sat against a large tree, using my backpack as an insulator against the snow. As I waited and hoped, I could barely believe that I hadn’t gotten sweaty during the difficult walk. Moving slowly helped keep perspiration down, yet this was a testament to the Merino wool base and the breathability of Pnuma, even while insulating.
Suddenly, I saw movement, yet not what I had hoped. A heard of cattle lumbered down a hill and filled my area with crunching and crackling. With just a few minutes of shooting light remaining, I grimaced and began the track back to the pick-up point. The first few hundred yards weren’t too bad in the creek bottom, but then I crested the ridge and had to take the blizzard head on. My first approach lasted 25 yards until I had to turn my back to the wind, pull down my frozen face mask and breath.
For one stretch I tried walking backwards which was slower, yet fully protected my face from the wind. Eventually, I put things in forward again and tackled the blowing snow, keeping the brim of my cap as low as possible. After 20 minutes, I could see headlights in the distance and knew my ride was there. I tried to signal him with my cell phone, yet the temperatures were so cold, it wouldn’t come on. Keeping the faith, I continued the trudge through a foot of snow, stopping often to catch my breath and thinking my dad would be shaking his head at this ordeal, yet no doubt a little proud that he had raised such a passionate hunter. Happy birthday dad!