Many traditional bowhunters go afield when the weather is very cold; it’s part of the challenge of hunting, but it can also be dangerous if you aren’t prepared. Frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes, and the body tries to keep your vital organs warm by cutting off circulation to your fingers and toes. This chart will give you an idea of how quickly frostbite can happen.

The following information was gathered from the National Weather Service website, and there is a lot more information there for cold weather preparedness. To avoid frostbite, cover all exposed areas including your ears and nose. Wearing mittens instead of gloves will keep your fingers warmer, but it could be a problem shooting your bow. Many bowhunters use chemical hand warmers. Additionally, you should keep your skin dry, try to stay out of the wind, drink plenty of water to increase your blood volume, and avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes.

The four degrees of frostbite are ice crystals forming on the skin; skin that feels warm even though it is not defrosted; skin that turns red, pale or white; and the most serious is pain that lasts more than a few hours and skin that may turn blue or black. At that point you should see a doctor immediately!

With any of these signs you should get indoors as quickly as possible, but until you do here are a few things that might help: put your hands into your armpits; hold onto another person or animal; drink warm liquids; put on extra layers of clothes, blankets, etc.; remove rings, watches or other tight jewelry. Don’t rub or massage cold body parts.

Once you get indoors, don’t walk on a frostbitten foot, you could cause more damage. Get into a warm (104-108°), NOT HOT, bath and wrap your face and ears in a moist, warm, NOT HOT, towel. Don’t get near a hot stove or heater, or use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or hair dryer. You may burn yourself before feeling returns to the frostbitten area.

Frostbitten skin will become red and swollen, and feel like it’s on fire. You may develop blisters. Don’t break the blisters as it could cause scarring and infection. If your skin turns blue or gray, is very swollen, blistered or feels hard and numb even under the surface, go to a hospital as soon as possible.

Cold weather hunts can be exciting and invigorating. Whether you are sitting in a stand or blind, field dressing an animal, or chasing a mountain lion, you should know the warning signs and treatment of frostbite. Stay safe out there!