Fall weather in the Northeast is a bit like Forrest Gump's infamous box of chocolates. You never know what you're going to get until you look inside.
There are years when summer heat lingers into late-November. Conversely, there are years when cold weather hits the Northeast in mid-October. There are years when it seems to rain every day, and there are years when weeks pass without a single drop hitting the ground. Snow can come before Halloween, and there are years when nary a flake is seen before Christmas.
Certainly, you can say fall weather varies in many parts of the country. But outside of the Northeast, big swings in fall weather seem to be anomalies. For example, you know you're going to have frost by mid-October in the Upper Midwest no matter what else happens.
In the Northeast, however, it seems especially difficult to pin down any kind of weather pattern. This is why deer hunters in the Northeast need to be particularly good at predicting the weather because of it directly affects where and when deer feed during the fall.
Use Hurricanes To Boost Success
Early fall is hurricane season on the East Coast. Those violent storms can affect weather in the Northeast whether you're on the coast or not. Warm weather, high winds and heavy rain are not ideal conditions for deer hunting, but the days before and after hurricanes are when hunters should focus their efforts.
The changes in barometric pressure that precede and follow such storms get deer on their feet to feed. You need to be out there hunting food sources the day before the leading edge of such a storm hits, and about two days after it blows through.
The first day after a hurricane-borne storm blows through usually isn't too good, but I've found the next day to be pretty active, especially if the hurricane sparks a substantial change in weather. If it was fairly hot and humid before the storm, and then afterward, it's turns cool and dry, get into your stand.
How To Work The Corn Harvest
Wet falls can be both tough or beneficial to those hunters who chase deer in farm country in the Northeast. When there's a lot of rain, farmers often delay harvesting their corn. Deer love to eat standing corn and they love to live in it.
During a wet fall, hunters on property with little forest cover would probably love to keep the corn around as long as possible, because the deer they're hunting are living in it. When it goes away, their hunting can turn sour as the resident deer disperse to find suitable cover.
On the flip side, hunters who have good forest cover might want the corn to come down as soon as possible to push the deer they're hunting back into the woods, where they've hung their stands. So whether standing corn is a good thing or a bad thing depends on how the weather is driving the corn harvest where you live in the Northeast.
Hunt The Mast Cycle
A popular wives' tale says that if there's a big acorn crop in the fall, we're in for a rough winter. Science has shown, however, that the two aren't related at all.
In fact, weather has very little impact on mast crops. Mast output is simply cyclical. There are years of boom, and there are years that are a bust.
Perhaps the worst-case scenario for Northeast deer hunters is having an extended period of mild fall weather during a boom year for acorns. The warm weather will suppress daytime deer movement, and the huge acorn crop will disperse deer over a wide area.
There literally will be food everywhere, so there's no need for the deer to either bunch up or travel far to eat, which makes pinpointing stand setups hard to judge. State deer-kill statistics have shown that hunter success rates and the number of deer tagged both usually take a dive in such years.
Hunters need deer on their feet and traveling during daylight hours to be successful,so that means the best-case scenario is a cold fall in a lean mast year. When only a few places are producing acorns, you can count on finding deer there. And the cold weather promotes normal daylight activity.
You won't necessarily know what the weather is going to be like until the season arrives, but you can get a sense of what the local mast crop is going to be like in late summer simply by taking a walk and studying the oak branches.
If you see lots of acorns, get ready for a rough hunt. If you don't, then find the trees that are producing and plan to hunt nearby.
Key On White Acorns
Even in heavy mast years, you can still key in on certain areas. In the Northeast, white oak acorns almost always drop before the acorns from red oaks do.
Deer seem to abandon all other food sources when the white oak acorns start falling in order to vacuum them up. Plan on being in the white oak groves when that happens.
Hit Those High-Pressure Days
If there is one weather pattern you can count on arriving at some point in the fall, it's a high-pressure system moving in following a prolonged period of Indian summer weather. It's going to happen at some point. We can't say when it will arrive or how long it will last, but it will happen.
The air will cool, the humidity will lift and the deer will feed. Whatever the preferred food source is when this high-pressure system settles in, you need to be hunting nearby. It's one of those don't-miss days.
How weather impacts the food and feeding habitats of white-tailed deer in the Northeast is fairly unique. Learn to deal with the varying conditions here and you'll start filling tags with increasing regularity.