Emergency responders, hunting managers, and forecasters are all warning people heading outdoors this weekend to take the blunt arrival of winter weather seriously, to keep from being injured, or needing rescue.

Not only are Montana temperatures dropping by 30-to-40 degrees heading into the weekend, but the forecast is still warning of some sudden winter weather, especially in the high country. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued Winter Storm Watches for the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains and the Butte/Blackfoot region.

Forecaster Alex Lukinbeal says anyone with outdoor plans needs to be ready for the worst.

"You're gonna be heading into the backcountry doing some hunting, be prepared for cold and raw backcountry conditions. If you're going to be traveling over the mountain passes, now is the time to get your winter travel kits in place. Get your blankets, and get your extra food and water, into your vehicles. Just anything that you need driving out on the roads in the winter now is the time."

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Vivaca Crowser with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks says hunters need to have ALL their winter gear.

"It's extra important to make sure you've got all that gear packed along. So in terms of, you want to have layers. You want to make sure you have things that are waterproof or water-resistant and then layers of warmth. Take along extra things. I think that's always a big piece of advice. I think we always are trying to pack light and that's good and important if you got to be out there, you know, walking a lot of miles but making sure you're prepared for the unexpected. 

With several inches of snow possible above 5000 feet, and at least mixed rain and snow in the valleys, hypothermia becomes a very real threat.

"So you've got that extra layer of warmth. You've got something that could keep you warm if you get stuck out longer than expected. So something to start a fire, something to signal in case of an emergency. All those emergency things that we think will never have to use, and hopefully, we don't. But boy, if you get in a situation where you need it, you are going to be glad you took that extra time to be prepared."

And with the changing conditions, Crowser says it's also important to make sure all your mapping systems are ready, to keep from getting disoriented in the bad weather.

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