The thermometer reads 25 below zero outside the author’s kitchen window in February 2017. Extreme cold weather affects both deer behavior and hunter behavior, and can have a chilling effect on hunting deer during the muzzleloader season, which opened today.

Everyone in Vermont likes to talk about the cold weather. You know, how cold was it?

Although I have made it a daily habit to keep an eye on the thermometer just outside the kitchen window for more than 50 years — an old, round, reliable Sunbeam, made in the U.S.A. — I tend to really focus on it during hunting seasons.

But, the most attention paid is during the November firearms buck season and the December muzzleloader season. And, if memory serves me right, this past November was the coldest ever in the past 51 years.

Temperatures during these two hunts can make or break a day. This is strictly a personal observation because, as I have grown older, I find it harder and harder to make it through a prolonged cold spell in the woods.

This past buck season was a real test, at least for the first two days. The temperature on opening day registered at 13 degrees, the coldest I can remember in the five decades of November deer hunting in Vermont.

While I have never kept records, I do recall an opening day for rifle season more than 20 years ago that registered 63 degrees.

The coldest day I ever spent in the woods deer hunting? I set out during an early-December muzzleloader season in Vermont with the thermometer reading 7 below. I remember sitting beneath a huge bull pine near a series of deer runs. The one thing that stands out in my mind was the total lack of any observable wildlife. Not a bird or squirrel could be heard or seen. It was so cold I could hear the sap in nearby trees freezing and cracking.

I lasted less than two hours out there and shivered all the way back home. Once inside, I stood by the wood stove and vowed to never again attempt to hunt in weather that severe.

So when is too cold, too cold? That depends on the person out there. Since I am primarily a deer hunter who tries to figure out deer movement and habits, I almost always sit when I hunt deer. I believe it is a very effective way to fill your deer tag. It is a breeze during the October bow season and, usually, quite easy during most days of the November rifle season. But the early, nine-day December muzzleloader hunt, which opened this morning, is another thing altogether.

If you are a sitter, like me, you have to dress warm and be prepared to sit, in place, for hours on end. This is no easy task. It is a big challenge for the young and the old, alike.

One of my favorite cold-weather stories took place way back in 1968. My two-year stint in the Army ended in late October. When I returned home, one of my brothers had a gift waiting for me, a weeklong deer hunt in Pennsylvania. I have to say I wasn’t all that eager to pick up a gun and look for something to kill, at least not at that point in my life.

I had left the un-Godly heat of Vietnam, with temperatures above 100 degrees, only a few weeks earlier. When we arrived at camp, the forecast was for a very cold opening day. I was dressed in old boots and hand-me-down wool pants and coat.

I climbed above camp and sat against a big tree. About an hour into the day, I was struck by the number of hunters moving about. I think I was seeing a hunter every 10 minutes or so. It was a very strange set of circumstances and I was freezing. But I kept thinking all of this human activity has got to get deer moving, and sometime around 9 a.m., I heard the leaves crunching behind me. I slowly turned and could clearly see antlers. I carried a British 303 with open sights, shouldered the rifle and fired.

The deer ran downhill and collapsed maybe 50 yards away. My brother came along and, after we cleaned out the 5-point buck, we dragged it back to camp. My brother headed right back after helping me and, 10 minutes up a trail, he shot a nice 7-pointer.

We had about 30 guys in camp and when night fell, the two Jensen brothers had the only two bucks hanging from the buck pole. We felt pretty good about that.

We received a fresh, 3 inches of snow the other night. The temperature is now hovering around 25 degrees. It is 30 minutes before daylight. Time to shoulder the backpack and muzzleloader and head out. And do my best to keep warm.

Contact Dennis Jensen at

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