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Author: Mike Schoby
Your guide for hunting in the wettest of conditions.
Spending my whole life hunting in Washington State, I thought I was prepared for hunting in any wet condition Mother Nature could dish out. So it was with absolute certainty that I packed my time-proven GORE-TEX and Dry Plus rainwear for my first trip to the wilderness of Southeast Alaska. I was packing according to the supplied list from Cabela's Outdoor Adventures, and it was nothing if not complete. When I ran across "Helly Hansen Rubber Rainwear" I thought it must have been a mistake. I mean, I had tons of waterproof/breathable rainwear, why would I want to wear a suit of non-breathable, stiff, noisy rubber? Rubber is archaic, I thought, and with all the new technology available this must be a mistake left over from sometime before electricity.
I called Jim Riley, Cabela's Outdoor Adventured Consultant and questioned him about the suggested rainwear. "No, it isn't a mistake. Trust me, you will be glad you packed it." Was his only response.
I am not the smartest fish in the pond, but I am smart enough to trust people who have "Been there and done that." I went out and bought Helly Hansen Commercial Bibs and Jacket in Dark Olive, the next day.
Stepping off the plane in Ketchikan, I was greeted by my guide, Brad Saalsaa. Gathering my bags and gun case we headed out of the airport for the marina. The skies were cloudy and the rain pelted down, but not much worse than the wet hunting conditions of Washington.
Looking up at the sky, Brad said "Luckily the weather broke or we would be getting soaked right now."
"This is clear?" I thought to myself while wiping rain from my eyes and forehead, maybe rubber rainwear was a good idea after all.
Rubber rainwear was the first of the many lessons I learned from Brad Saalsaa and the experts at Outdoor Adventures. In a place where over 160 inches of rain fall each year, Brad knows all the tricks of the trade and was happy to pass along his knowledge. If these techniques work in Southeast Alaska, they are bound to work anywhere in the world. Here is a sampling of what I learned.
Tips for Hunting in the Rain
* Bring two sets of breathable membrane clothes, such as Gore-Tex or Dry Plus. On days when it is not raining that hard ("that hard" is a subjective term. In Alaska it means more rain than you will probably experience anywhere in the lower 48) waterproof breathable clothing works fine. However, moisture will seep into the outer material making the garments feel clammy and heavy. For this reason two pairs are advisable; one to wear while the other is drying in the tent.
* For heavy rain days, (characterized by rain falling not only down, but sideways and sometimes even up), rubber rainwear is the only way to go. Rubber is not as comfortable, or as quiet a material as GORE-TEX and Dry Plus, but it is waterproof and it dries relatively quickly when hung up. In fact, when it really poured, I wore rubber over the top of MT050. By doing this, my skin remained dry as the underlayers and the breathable material wicked moisture away from my skin while the rubber kept most of the rain from soaking into the fleece outer material of the MT050.
* For footwear, I have always worn GORE-TEX and leather hunting boots, but if you are hunting in really wet weather, there is no substitute for rubber boots. Like rubber rainwear, it doesn't soak up any moisture and if the insides get a bit wet from condensation, they are easily dried at night by the stove or heater.
* I made the mistake of bringing my good down sleeping bag on this trip because it didn't weigh much and was compact enough to fit inside my luggage. This was a big mistake. Since it rained every day, my bag never got a chance to dry out and over the course of a week, the moisture in the air, combined with body perspiration led to a damp bag that was not nearly as warm as it should have been. A better solution would have been a synthetic bag with a fill that does not absorb moisture. Qualofil or Holofil are two examples of insulation that work well under wet conditions.
* Waterproof gloves will be much appreciated if the weather is wet and cold. I prefer glomitts, since they keep your fingers warm and instantly accessible by folding back the "mitt" portion covering the fingers.
* A waterproof hat is also a necessity. There are many manufacturers who make waterproof baseball and stocking caps, but for truly wet hunting conditions, in my opinion, only a wide brimmed hat such as the "Packer" by Filson should be considered. The large brim keeps rain from running down the back of your neck and keeps it out of your eyes. If you don't like this style of hat, another good option is to wear a wool cap for warmth under the protection of a secure fitting waterproof hood.
There is a trick that goes along with a hat that Brad showed me. It is so simple I wonder why I had not thought of it before. He keeps a couple of pieces of dry tissue paper under his hat (he changes them out every day). When you are glassing or preparing for a shot, more often then not, your optics are covered with rain and are hard to see through. Anyone who has hunted in the rain can attest that there is no good way to dry them off in the middle of a storm. Trying to wipe them off with a finger or a corner of a semi-dry jacket always seems to make matters worse. But, by keeping some dry, absorbent tissue under your hat, a clear image is only a second away.
Rifles in the Rain
I brought a beautiful, wood and blued .375 H&H Sako Safari Grade with me on this bear hunt because I like the caliber and have absolute confidence in the rifle. When I got to camp, the guides scorned my decision, but I was confident that by judicious oiling and drying at night the rifle would be fine. How wrong I was!
By the second day, the gun had earned the nickname "Ole' Rusty" and no amount of oil or wiping could keep it free from obtaining a reddish-brown patina. As much as I like walnut stocks and blued metal, in really wet conditions, there is no substitute for stainless and synthetic (for extended stays in really wet conditions, Teflon coated stainless may even be preferable). It should be noted that without proper care, even stainless will rust, so a small cleaning kit with a rust inhibiting oil should be used nightly. A pull-through cleaning cable for removing moisture and putting a light coat of oil in the barrel is also handy. Some clients and guides use black electrical tape over the muzzle to prevent water from entering the barrel. In all of the testing I have done, this does work and does not affect the flight of the bullet as the gas expelled in front of the bullet upon firing, pops the tape off before the bullet ever comes in contact with it.
I also found while hunting out of an open skiff that salt spray constantly washed over the bow drenching the firearms. For this type of hunting, a rifle dry bag helps keep a lot of corrosive moisture off the weapon while in transit.
Flip-up style scope caps should also be used. I keep mine closed all of the time, until right before I am ready to take a shot. By doing this, your optics will remain dry and ready no mater how hard it is raining.
I like to have a small emergency kit with me on every outing afield. For wet weather hunting it is all-important as a minor inconvenience can turn into a life-threatening situation in a hurry if you get soaked and chilled. Being able to start a fire when everything is soaking wet can mean the difference between life and death. I carry several types of fire building kits, should one fail at a critical moment. I like to have a couple of boxes of waterproof matches, a lighter and finally a magnesium starter. But just having a means of starting a blaze is often not enough. Dry kindling is also needed, especially when all the surrounding country is soaked. Fire lighting sticks, paraffin covered paper and regular candles all work well for starting damp tinder and should be carried.
In my daypack I carry a melange of survival gear from first aid kits to GPS units. If I am hunting in wet conditions, I pack all of the items in either zip lock bags or in the case of items seldom used (such as dry tinder) I seal them in a vacuum pouch for absolute protection.
I mentioned using a dry bag for firearms, but if the weather is really nasty the dry bags and dry packs designed by Cabela's can be lifesavers. While I was hunting with Brad I left a small duffel in the front of the boat that contained my extra camera equipment, ammo and some spare clothes. After a relatively short hike, we returned to the boat and found that the rain had filled the bow several inches deep and was soaking the extra clothes inside the bag. Luckily we got back before my camera and ammo got saturated. From then on, I stowed all of my gear in a sealable dry bag and never had to worry again. The bag could lay in the bottom of the boat or even fall over board while loading/unloading and the contents would never get wet.
Some people don't like hunting in the rain, but I have always found it to be a peaceful, as well as productive, time to be afield. The key to hunting under these conditions is going prepared. By following some of these tips, perfected from a guy who makes his living in the rain, you will find that hunting in a downpour is not a daunting task at all - in fact it can be quite pleasurable!