How to Beat Wet-Weather Whitetails
September 24, 2010
Don't let foul weather ruin your long-awaited deer hunt. These proven tips and tactics will help you fill your freezer while everyone else is sitting it out in camp.
Photo by Michael Skinner
"Of all the days for the weatherman to be right . . . " I thought as I hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. The next sound I heard was the torrential downpour on the rooftop and rattling down through the leaf-clogged downspout. Were it any other day I might have turned the clock off and returned to pleasant dreams of monster bucks sauntering across sunny hardwood ridges. But it was opening day!
After a quick breakfast I put on several layers of waterproof clothing and headed for a stand I had been saving for just such an occasion. I had barely settled in when I glanced over my right shoulder in time to see a buck approaching my shooting lane.
Despite the weather, it turned out to be my shortest deer season ever. When I arrived at the local cafe at 7 a.m., the parking lot was already full of discouraged fair-weather hunters. Just to rub it in, I backed in with the tailgate down.
Without question the single most important factor affecting deer movement on a daily basis is weather. The two most important variables are wind and rain. Some hunters claim that a light rain enhances their chances. However, few would disagree that torrential rains significantly reduce deer activity and thus the odds for success. We don't always have the luxury of choosing our days, especially when traveling. Therefore, it's important to be able to adapt to and take advantage of the existing conditions. Knowing how to react to various wet weather conditions could help you this season.
My friend Mark and I had just pulled into a public hunting area for an afternoon hunt and were crossing an open field when we noticed the sky growing ominously dark in the west. The farther we got from the truck the worse things got. Then, a bolt of lightning flashed across the sky, followed by a rumble of thunder that echoed down the valley. It was decision time. We could head for the woods and ride out the storm, or sit it out back in the truck. Mark chose the latter, while I opted for the former. I had a hunch the tempest wouldn't last.
I was right. Within 15 minutes the rain tapered off and the wind died down. I was soaked to the bone, but twilight was fast approaching. I quickly raced to my tree stand and had barely finished pulling up my bow and untying the cord when a small buck wandered into the abandoned orchard. As I dragged that buck back across the field, I met Mark, who was just returning from the truck after changing into a set of dry clothes.
Quick-passing fronts can produce some spectacular weather events, usually involving lots of wind and rain. They can also produce some outstanding hunting opportunities. The key is in the timing. When you see a storm coming, plan your hunt to bracket it.
Deer know, long before we do, when the weather is about to change. What they don't know is how long it will last. When they feel the barometric pressure dropping, they feed in earnest, regardless of the time of day. They may also let their guard down a bit. By hunting just ahead of an approaching front, you can take advantage of this. Target feeding areas, or trails leading to them, as these are most likely to hold deer.
Fast-moving fronts usually depart as quickly as they come. This is especially true early in the season. Thunderclouds grow in the heat of the day and then dump their loads in the mid- to late afternoon. Deer often sit them out in dense bedding cover. By the time the storm has passed, it's feeding time.
Deer follow certain daily movement patterns, and when these patterns are interrupted by weather, deer seem to move more to make up for lost time. They'll sometimes throw caution to the recently passed wind and head straight for the best feeding area they can find. If you've scouted well and timed it right, you'll be there waiting for them.
Another advantage stormy days offer is that winds often come from atypical directions. This is when you can use stand sites that would have been ideal were it not for the prevailing wind direction. Atypical winds sometimes also induce deer to alter their routine movement patterns. Traveling in unfamiliar directions or areas takes away some of their instinctive advantages.
I was on a weeklong trip, camped in the mountains with nothing to do but hunt. Unfortunately, things had just gone from bad to worse. After four days of hunting I hadn't connected, and on the last day of the season, a storm rolled in. As I sat in the wall tent staring out at the steady downpour, I contemplated calling it quits. My hunting partner had already thrown in the towel, which he was now using to sop up leaks along the tent seams, but I had to go out.
I meandered the last hundred yards to my stand, pouring what was left of my doe-in-heat lure in a wide arc, climbed in, and buried myself as deeply into my rain gear as possible. After two hours of steady rain my spirits were as wet as my clothes, but I wasn't about to give in. No sooner had I mustered up what was left of my soggy resolve when a buck entered my narrow, hooded field of view. My partner wasn't surprised when I returned to the tent early, until I asked him for help in retrieving the downed deer!
A prolonged, steady rain presents a different set of obstacles, but also provides different opportunities. For example, deer activity varies with the intensity of the rain. A light rain or drizzle seems to have little depressing effect on deer movement. In fact, deer will often move later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon under the low-light conditions of heavy cloud cover. These are the days to be in the woods.
Furthermore, rattling seems to work better on drizzly days.
Heavy rains are a different story. Deer will hole up in dense bedding cover until the storm passes, sometimes for a day or more.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I've taken deer from a fixed stand on days when it rained so hard I might as well have been standing in the shower.
However, when they won't come to you, go to them. This is a great time to do a little still-hunting. Heavy rains will help drown out any noise you make as you travel, and winds that often accompany such storms will also help conceal movement. You'll most likely encounter deer in the densest bedding cover you can find. Move slowly and be constantly on the alert. That big buck could be bedded just beyond the next bush!
Comfort is often the key to success, but I have
yet to find rainwear that's totally waterproof. The more comfortable you are the longer and better you'll hunt.
Rainy weather means you'll need specialized clothing. First, dress in layers. Your first layer should consist of some sort of synthetic underwear (and socks) designed to wick moisture away from the body. Even with temperatures in the 60s, you will feel colder in the rain. Your next layer will vary depending on temperature and hunting conditions. It should be waterproof, even if you plan on adding an outer layer. A wool or fleece shirt offers added insulation, even when wet.
In warmer temperatures, opt for synthetics. Conditions again will dictate your outer layer. In warmer temperatures, light rain, or for a short hunt, light synthetics may suffice. Otherwise you should go with something specifically designed to be waterproof.
The most important areas to keep warm are your head and feet. You can lose up to 90 percent of your body heat through your head, so a warm, waterproof hat is essential. Also, cold feet can drive you out of the woods.
Perhaps the most overlooked body part when it comes to rain is your hands. Fingerless wool or fleece gloves work under most conditions.
Your equipment is going to get wet no matter how dry you keep yourself. Scopes become fogged or obliterated with raindrops. Thus, shotguns or rifles with open sights are preferable.
Flip-open scope covers are an option, at least for a stand hunter. When still-hunting, most shots will be quick and at close range. Finding a target at very close range is difficult with optics even under dry conditions.
Some archers won't hunt in the rain for fear of losing a deer due to a poor or obliterated blood trail. That's certainly a valid concern. However, a string-tracker can be a valuable aid to the recovery of a wounded deer under rainy conditions.
The main thing to remember is that rain or shine, the deer are out there. Be prepared and put your time in for high-odds deer hunting no matter how bad the weather is.