How To Choose Bowhunting Clothing

My wife often asks me why I coordinate my deer hunting clothing with attention to every detail, but I can’t dress myself for a night out on the town. My answer; deer don’t stand around and stare when they spot, smell, or hear a less than perfectly dressed human.
When I’m preparing for a bowhunt, clothing choices weigh heavy on my mind. Surprisingly, camouflage patterns aren’t one of my major concerns. Outside of matching up the general colors and shades of my clothing with the hunting terrain, camo patterns aren’t the kind of details that make or break a bowhunt.

Obviously some patterns perform better in certain situations. When hunting with snow on the ground, the various “late season” patterns that feature lots of white have a definite edge over patterns designed to blend with the browns or grays of autumn. If I’m planning to be up a pine tree, I’ll be wearing camo with predominantly green and brown colors. Making these and other relatively obvious decisions on camo shades and patterns is as easy as matching up plaids and solids.


Hunters must tip toe around marketing claims and admit that no single camo pattern can perform in every hunting situation. These days there are so many excellent camouflage patterns to choose from it’s hard to say one is better than the others, but it’s safe to say you’ll need several color options/pattern styles if you hunt in a wide variety of habitat types.

More important than camo pattern, hunters should be concerned with how quiet a garment is when moving to draw my bow. There is no substitute for being absolutely silent when bowhunting. Wool, cotton chamois, cotton/polyester blends, fleece, Microtex, and Saddle Cloth are among a few of the fabrics that meet these critical requirements. Of these choices, old-fashioned wool is difficult to beat. In addition to being quiet, wool has a natural insulating value that works wet or dry.

While I can’t prove it, I’m also convinced that wool has a natural texture that absorbs ambient light rays helping these garments blend better in a wide variety of cover and light situations. Many hunting fabrics are hard and smooth. Light reflects off these surfaces and causes the garment to stand out against the natural and more subtle shades of nature.

If wool has a serious drawback, it is that it is user unfriendly. Cleaning wool garments usually means inconvenience and a hefty dry cleaning bill. Very few wool garments can be machine washed without suffering shrinkage or shape problems. Those than can be washed are either very expensive or not available in camo patterns.

Woolrich’s Camwoolflage is an outstanding product for bowhunting, as is Columbia’s Gallatin Range jacket and pants. Cabela’s Outfitters Wool Series also ranks high on the list of wool hunting garments. King of the Mountain has the most extensive selection of wool hunting garments. Made from Omnitherm Wool a tightly woven wool that’s washable, these products are impeccably designed for serious big game hunting.

Besides being quiet, I’m also concerned with the insulating value of my clothing. You simply can’t sit still for hours on end if you’re cold. Fabrics that are loose knit, such as wool or fleece, allow the wind to pass right through them. These garments function best when supported with a layer of insulation such as Thinsulate or Hollofill. Windproof and waterproof fabrics and barriers such as Gore-Tex or Dry Plus can also improve the insulating ability of these garments, but at the cost of a little extra noise and considerable expense.

For moderately cold weather, the freedom of movement offered by a waist-length jacket and pants is tops. However, once cold weather sets in the extra warmth of insulated bibs and a full-length insulated parka is welcome for long sits.

What you wear under your hunting clothing is as important as the outside layer. Anytime it’s cold enough to justify long underwear, I match up a turtle neck top and drawers made from polyester that wicks body moisture to outside clothing layers. Cotton underwear is an evil thing that almost guarantees if you sweat, you’ll get cold.

Early in the season, mid-weight polyester underwear is adequate, but once the snow flies heavy expedition or polarweight underwear is required. Over top of this first layer, add a wool shirt or wool sweater, insulated pants, and an insulated jacket or parka.

For head gear a balaclava made of fleece functions flawlessly in cold weather. This style of head gear gives protection to the head, face, and neck. In milder weather a wool ball cap or stocking cap works.

Keeping my hands warm always posed a problem until I came upon a simple solution. Knit wool gloves with the rubber dots on the fingers and palms give me excellent feel of the bow grip and release trigger. In mild weather these gloves are plenty warm, but in cooler conditions I use a handwarmer muff secured to my waist. Inside the muff I add a chemical heat pack to keep my hands ready for action. Stretch knit gloves slide in and out of the handwarmer easily and make for a perfect combination.

For your feet, knee-high rubber boots are the best possible choice for bowhunters. Ankle-fit models are available with Thinsulate insulation up to 1,200 grams. For early bow season, a boot with 400 or 500 grams of insulation is adequate. Once the temperatures drop to the freezing level, you can’t get too much insulation in a rubber boot. The 1,000 and 1,200 gram models perform best.

Rubber boots with felt liners are another option. Felt-lined boots are a little less comfortable to walk in, but they are handy when hunting several days in a row because the felt can be removed for drying or replaced with a fresh pair as needed. Tall fleece-lined socks are the best choice for wearing with rubber footwear. Try wearing a wicking sock of polyester under the heaviest boot sock you can find.

In anything short of rain or wet snow, the above garments meet the need. When it rains you’ll need an outside layer that’s reasonably quiet and 100 percent waterproof. Any number of windproof and waterproof fabrics or coatings can be selected for hunting rain gear (see the All Outdoors New Gear Review of October 26 for more details), but all have at least some rustle or noise associated with them.

Despite the noise these garments create, they are an important investment for the serious hunter, especially those who plan on extended trips in remote areas where you don’t have the luxury of a clothes dryer or unlimited dry clothing. Waterproof clothing is a poor choice when hunting in crisp and still conditions, but these garments work fine when a little wind, rain, or snow muffle the subtle sounds this clothing makes.

Waterproof gear should be uninsulated and oversize so layers of warm clothes can be added as needed. Just about every fabric out there is available with a Gore-Tex or other waterproof treating. Certain fabrics such as fleece absorb moisture quickly, leaving the hunter with the burden of heavy clothing. Saddle Cloth and the many other forms of this low-nap fleece are naturally water repellent and they soak up next to nothing even when exposed to a driving rain. In addition to shedding water, low-nap fleece dries quickly and holds its color and pattern.

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