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Enjoy the winter and stay warm

The winter blue sky was cloudless. The bright sun reflecting off the ice-crusted snow of the forest caused me to squint. With my hat pulled low over my eyes, I scanned the leafless tree tops for activity. The tree tops stood perfectly still in the windless afternoon. The limb jumping of a squirrel should be easy to spot, even thru squinting eyes.

Last week I enjoyed a mid-day walk in the woods carrying my .22 rifle in quest of a few squirrels for potpie. The ground was covered in snow. The air was a tranquil 19 degrees with no wind and bright sun. I enjoy winter days like this; perfect for a little hunting.

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Cold and snowy weather should not keep one inside. Instead, I believe the best days afield can be found when the temperature hovers below the freezing mark. But to venture out, one needs to be properly prepared and appropriately dressed.

While I am often accused of performing careless acts of craziness, I do so prepared for the worst-case scenario, making such feats far less dangerous than they may first appear.

For example, whenever I canoe in the fall or winter, I latch a waterproof bag filled with a complete change of clothes to the canoe. In the event of a spill, the dry clothes are a life saver. Having dry clothes in the vehicle back at the launch may seem like a good idea. However, I have learned from experience that three miles of paddling in wet clothes with temperatures in the single digits is no fun; and they are the longest three miles of canoeing you will ever experience.

Those aluminum foil looking emergency blankets do work. I've tested them and carry at least one with me at all times. As well as my Zippo lighter and a second means of fire starting.

On the squirrel hunt last week, I was safely hunting a small wood lot close to home and I was never all that far from the truck. I did not need to worry about getting wet. I just needed to dress warm.

There is an old saying I first heard from a Montana friend. He said, "The most important thing to remember about dressing warm is that, Cotton Kills." Cotton is the worst type of material someone can wear when heading out into the cold. Once wet from sweat, and yes you will perspire even if it is five degrees out, cotton stays wet, chilling you to the bone. Cotton socks worn inside the best boots will always give you cold feet. Rubber boots paired with cotton socks is a sure bet for sweaty and cold feet. A cotton T-shirt as a first layer will have you shivering in a few minutes and running for the warm car. No matter how warm or high-tech your coat or boots may be, leave the cotton at home.

Keeping your feet dry and warm is key to enjoying a winter day outside. I believe most people wear boots with too much insulation, which causes their feet too sweat and in turn wet and cold. For all but the most extreme weather, I wear un-insulated 16-inch leather Schnee Pack Boots. I regulate the warmth with the socks. For temperatures above freezing, I wear a pair of thin wool socks. Below freezing I switch to a thick pair of woolies, and when the temps get down to around twenty or below, I add silk or polypropylene sock liners. On this past squirrel hunt, the thermometer read nineteen degrees. I wore this system of silk sock liners, thick wool socks and un-insulated rubber bottom with tall leather top boots. My feet were comfortable and never got cold while walking in the snow.

The next important layer to staying warm is the base layer, the layer against your skin. This is the most important layer of clothes. The moisture wicking ability of the cloth is what will keep you warm. I have spent many winter days out and about wearing the old military style wool long johns. They worked fine, but today's modern base layers are even better. When purchasing a base layer set, pay attention to the amount of wicking fibers in the material. Some of the more popular super tight "make my muscles big" brands contain much less wicking fibers than other brands. To name brands, I prefer either Polartec or Bass Pro Shops, Red Head base layers. Since most of the time, I am wearing a heavy shirt and coat; I go with a lighter top base and a one step heavier bottom layer.

Over top the base layer, I tend to go old school with a heavy wool shirt and pants, or a pair of Carhart duck cloth pants. Another good option is to wear water-proof rain suit bibs and jacket. Even if it is not raining, rain suits made of materials like Bone-Dry from Redhead make a good top layer when the temperatures are around freezing or even lower.

On the squirrel hunt I was wearing my Red Head expedition weight bottom base layer, a mid-weight top base layer, a heavy wool shirt, Carhart duck cloth pants, and a thin water and wind proof jacket. I was toasty comfortable and never got cold.

When it comes to gloves and hats, I'm a little relaxed in that compartment. Only in extreme cold do I remove the ball cap for a knit cap. I feel that a knit cap traps too much heat and cause me to sweat. I like to allow the extra body heat generated from activity to escape. I like to think of it as a chimney. When Deer hunting, one trick is to wear a ball cap on the walk to your tree stand and after your body cools down from the hike in, change over to a knit cap.

For gloves I wear fur lined elk leather gloves when it gets below freezing, but most of the time, I wear some kind of light tight fitting work glove. I have found that the waterproof neoprene gloves are cold on the finger tips and only wear them when working in the water setting or picking up decoys.

Don't let the cold weather keep you from enjoying the out-of-doors. Go enjoy and experience the quiet stillness of a snow covered winter forest. The keys are not to over dress, keep the cotton at home and your feet dry.

Andrew Aughenbaugh is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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