The violent geological push of the North American Plate that slowly moved the continental margin westward in a succession of island arcs and ocean-floor upheavals resulted in a strangely ordered geography. In the Northwest, almost without exception, topography runs precisely north and south.
This creates a situation where deer habitat — Eastern Cascade mule deer, Inland Northwest whitetails, coastal Columbia blacktails — becomes fairly static. Cover is directly dictated by solar angle, and solar angle directly influences the thermals indicating how you should hunt this cover.
Unlike the jumbled slopes of many mountain ranges, Northwest deer habitat reveals reoccurring topography allowing you to create a game plan and count on it sticking.
Just as the topography is predictable in the Northwest, so is with weather. Northwest winds originate from the Pacific, almost without variation, rushing toward the high-pressure areas of the region's inland highlands.
It is true, on rare occasions when a wind does not stir, thermals take over, the Pacific (west), and inland highlands (east) cool the night air so thermals run according to the time of day — downhill when cool; uphill as daytime temperatures rise.
For the most part, though, Northwest winds originate from the west more days than not.
These factors — fixed points of the compass relating to deer cover topography and reliable wind headings — prescribe not only how to approach a particular patch of habitat (to ensure deer do not receive your scent) but also where to seek that game.
This is especially important during hot-weather seasons when staying cool is foremost on a buck's mind.
Go High In The Morning
Early-season deer can be counted on to occupy the highest open bowls, points, ridgelines and clear-cuts each morning.
These places provide feed, visual security and cooling breezes. The smart hunter installs himself on commanding vantages well before daybreak in preparation for that short window of opportunity when deer are found in the open and easily observed.
The best vantages are typically found on slopes facing south to southwest, as these dry, open areas provide unrestricted views of opposing crests, or openings immediately adjacent to thicker north-facing cover.
Get After It
Once a promising buck is spotted and the planning phase of a stalk begins, you can count on a couple things happening during the next couple of hours. These help you anticipate a buck's or bachelor group's next move for more effective ambushes.
First, as warming sun arrives deer will continue to feed, but as shadows shorten they will head toward bedding cover and become largely inaccessible. There is little time to dawdle. You have an hour, maybe slightly more, before deer begin their daily retreat.
Indecisiveness means failure, so move with purpose.
Err To The North
One thing is certain: as temperatures rise, deer will escape mounting heat by dropping into a north-facing slope. So your approach should always include a northward swing to shortstop this obvious contingency.
But beware of the potential scent trap awaiting the sudden transition from sun-soaked, southern-facing slopes, to cooler northern-facing slopes. You may find the faithful easterly wind or uphill thermal from the sunny slope suddenly plummeting into cooler bedding cover, alerting any buck(s) below.
This makes it important to cut bucks off before they make shady north-face cover, hence the previous, "hurry-up" advice. This thermal 180 can occur as early as 8:00 a.m. on the warmest July (Northern California) or August (Oregon and Washington) seasons, or as late as 10:00 a.m., but it must be heeded carefully.
A few days into a hunt typically provides a better feel for timing on when thermals may switch.
Stand In A Breeze
Warm early seasons are always a good time to take a stand, no matter what Northwestern deer species or habitat you're hunting. Stand placement normally revolves around breezy ridges on a macro level, while that transition zone between sunny open areas and cooler northern faces is on a micro level.
Early-season stand hunting is normally an evening affair, as there is too much risk of bumping feeding deer while entering a stand in the dark of morning and altering predictable patterns.
Long-distance, late-evening glassing or strategically-placed trail cameras reveal the best tree-stand sites. Early seasons make these sites easier to discover, as velvet bucks gravitate to open ground early, making them highly visible, and especially in the case of bachelor buck groups, deer tend to maintain fairly predictable schedules.
In other words, where you spy a bachelor group today, there is a good chance they will emerge again tomorrow. Quietly place a stand during the heat of midday, when bucks are bedded tightly in deep cover, then return for evening hunts when deer emerge on ridge tops or points to catch a cooling breeze.
The Water Connection
During the warmest weather, never overlook springs and ponds for hot-weather deer-hunting action. I once ignored this possibility, as water seemed so overly abundant in the Northwest, springs and seeps in seemingly every declivity.
The use of trail cameras dispelled that myth for me. Yes, water is super-abundant in the Northwest, but so are deer.
Isolated springs and seeps, or ponds created during logging operations high on mountain slopes or ridge sides, in particular, seem to generate the most reliable deer traffic during warm hunting seasons, saving deer the need to give up altitude to visit low-laying water sources.
These are prime opportunities to find tree-stand or pop-up blind success, and are especially productive for evening hunts, after deer have remained in beds all day then rise to a sharpened thirst.
Hot-weather hunting comes with inherent challenges, such as abbreviated hours of activity and sweaty hikes. But choosing where to hunt and anticipating predominant winds and shifting thermals during stalks shouldn't be part of that challenge.
Heed the uniform lay of the land and predictable winds, be willing to take a stand when necessary, and you'll eliminate several large pieces of the puzzle.
Now if you can just do something about the heat!