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Early-Season Deer Hunting | Building the Ultimate Layering System

Your How-To Hunting Clothing Layering Guide for Early-Season Success

Few know just how difficult it can be to dress for the weather like an early-season hunter does.  

Since most archery seasons open between the tail-end of August and the first few weeks of September, the summertime heat has yet to fully subside and refreshing fall frosts haven’t quite arrived by the time hunters are hiking into their stands and stalking target animals. But the transition between seasons is also starting. It’s as if Mother Nature can’t make up her mind – giving you 80-degree days butted up against drizzly 45degree ones with enough fog and wind to drive you mad.    

bone collector early-season deer hunting building the ultimate layering system

Going in light

For starters, like the commonly heard hunting saying states, you’ll want to make sure you’re going in light (though not necessarily out heavy and no, we don’t mean in the same way the statement implies), regardless of how you choose to layer up. Weather depending, dressing in your bottom layers, give or take your jacket of choice, ensures you won’t be sweat soaked (and emitting all kinds of game-spooking odors) by the time you make it to your spot. Start out in minimal layers, get into the spot, stand or blind you plan to hunt and then add extra clothes as necessary. 

 The System

Each layer you add to your body is designed to work with every other layer you add after it. Once complete, your system should provide warmth and wicking capabilities, as well as breathability and some level of water repellency (and let’s be honest, a little bug protection never hurts either).  

Let’s start up top …

Base layers

Yesterday’s long johns are now today’s high-tech, wear-in-any-conditions underclothes – though by all means, wear your holey long underwear to your heart’s content! – and when we say any conditions, we really mean it. The technical fabrics that make up the base layers of modern day are designed to breathe and wick away moisture, keeping you cool in warm weather and warm in chilly conditions.  

Take the Performance Crew L/S and Performance 1/4 Zip L/S shirts in Drake Non-Typical, for example. Not only are they lightweight and 100% synthetic, both also feature Agion Active XL™, an antimicrobial treatment that neutralizes odors caused by bacteria and captures body odors – ensuring you stay free from heat-induced odors and therefore off your target deer’s radar.  

When dressing for your hunt, we recommend you choose base layers made of …  

  • Merino wool. Odor-resistant by nature, this material keeps your game-spooking human stink factor at a minimum, even after several hot, grueling days in the field. It’s also incredibly insulating, even when soaking wet – great for those among us who will chance getting caught in a midday downpour if it means getting to spend just a little more time in the stand.  
  • Synthetic materials, like polyester. These base layers are quick-drying and super durable, but struggle with suppressing odors after a single day of hunting. Looking for a first layer that’ll have your back for days on end? Unless your synthetic underlayer boasts an antimicrobial or odor-fighting treatment, we advise sticking with merino wool.  

These layers are also available in different weights, ranging from light, to mid, to heavy, and can be swapped out, one for another, throughout the early season. We suggest wearing at least one light- to mid-weight base layer top on these hunts, ideally one that could be worn on its own when considering the immediate forecast. 


Atop your base layer, whether you chose to go one or two garments deep, you’ll want to add a mid-layerNot only does this layer help retain body heat, it also works with your base layers, drying out the fabric as they pull sweat from your skin. Because this layer is focused on insulating, it might be one to avoid on those warmer days, especially early on in your hunt.  

However, likely made with down filling, mid-layers are more than just super warm, they’re lightweight and packable too – making them perfect for stashing in your pack until things cool down or the wind picks up.  

Jackets and Vests

Next, you’ll want to add some sort of jacket to your base layer/mid layer combo. From lightweight to winter weather approved and everything in between, your options are many – a good thing given the unpredictability of the weather this time of year. But, since you’re adding it to the system you’ve already got in place, we suggest going light. If you can get your hands on a lightweight camo jacket that also has some level of water proofing or repellency, even better.  

Drake’s Non-Typical jackets featuring HydroHush fleece are all 100% waterproof, in addition to being some of the quietest rainwear we bet you’ve ever worn. 

A great alternative to jackets, vests also do a great job of retaining heat around your core, while providing breathability and improved range of motion – two must-haves for archery hunters. Realtree’s Timber Camo Pro Performance Osprey Vest, for example, offers both water-resistance and a thermal-grid fleece construction for maximum climate control. 

Rain gear

Speaking of water … depending on where you live, there’s a good chance the early-season weather forecast includes a solid amount of rain (snow might not be outside the realm of possibility), and if you’ve ever been through it then you know few things are worse than a long sit in sopping wet gear. So, it’s likely that you’ll at least need to keep that HydroHush jacket in your pack whenever you’re out.  

Available in both mid- and heavyweight  jackets and bibs, Drake’s HydroHush gear boasts a micro denier fleece outer layer with a DWR (durable water repellent) treatment – combining the soft hand feel of cozy fleece with a water-tight yet breathable membrane layer and smooth brushed tricot lining layer into one incredible material. 


For starters, a pair of bottoms that can stand up to tough terrain, stick-tights and briars is essential. But your hunting pants also must be breathable yet warm and moisture-wicking yet silent if they’re going to be up to the work required by early-season hunts. 

Here, partly because the weather is so unpredictable, and partly because it’s no fun to have thorns poke through a single layer of fabric and into your skin, we suggest starting with a base layer. Again, sticking to underlayers made of merino wool or synthetic materials is your best bet. On top of that, you’ll want to pull on a pair that’s first and foremost rugged enough for the terrain you’re hunting, and secondly not going to give you away every time you take a step.  

Enter the Drake Dura-Lite™ Pant with Agion Active XL™ and Timber Camo Pro Performance Element Hunting Pants by Realtree – both rugged and water- and burr-resistant enough to make the top of any early-season hunters gear listSoft, breathable, quick-drying and covered in pockets, they’re ready to handle warm weather, unpredictable conditions and all the gear required to get the job done.


Hands down the most frustrating part of early-season hunting? The bugs. Any of the extras we wear in the field are primarily for the purpose of keeping ourselves covered and biting insects off our bare skin – even if it means we’ve got to sweat it out in the stand. The must-haves?  

  • Gaiters: Because mosquitos won’t hesitate to chew up your neck, cheeks and ears, trust us.  
  • Hats: When a little extra coverage on your ears and hairline wouldn’t hurt. 
  • Gloves: Yep, they love knuckles and fingers too. 


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