November 10, 2020
The weather doesn't always cooperate with us deer hunters. Seems like it's always either too hot or too cold. Or maybe it's too rainy or too windy. Rarely does everything fall into perfect sync while hunting. The best hunters in the world know that being flexible and adapting to the conditions is critical to being successful. Here's what to do the next time the odds seem to be stacked against you.
IT'S TOO HOT
Global warming or not, sometimes it's just mega hot during the time of year when deer are developing thick winter coats. At unseasonably warm times like these, deer tend to hunker down and not move much during the heat of the day.
That means unless you catch some rut-crazed psycho buck out cruising midday (a long shot, but always possible), most movement will occur on the cusp of daylight or after dark. Under these miserable conditions I hunt two places right up against bedding thickets or near water.
A couple seasons back I was hunting in the Texas panhandle just after Thanksgiving. The temperatures soared into the low 80s, and an hour after daylight there was zero movement in the usual places. So, I found a sagebrush-covered hill overlooking a winter wheat field a half mile to the east. There was a line of trees a half mile to the west that the deer used as a bedding area.
I set up on the hill and, when it was barely light enough to see, shot a very nice 10-point buck with my .257 Weatherby Magnum as he escorted his girlfriend back toward home. Had I been in the food source I never would have seen them.
Another time, I was bowhunting some cropland in western Tennessee under similar conditions. I set a tree stand over a small waterhole tucked back into a shady stand of oaks, and sat there all day for three sweltering days. Right at noon on day three, a 4 1/2-year old 8-pointer came in for a quick drink. Instead he got a ride in the truck.
- Lesson Learned: When it's excessively hot, hunt hard the first and last hours of daylight. During the rest of the day, concentrate on shaded water sources near bedding thickets.
IT'S TOO COLD
At the opposite end of the spectrum are temperatures well below norms. In the Deep South, being too cold might be hard to fathom, but I've hunted north Texas and southern Oklahoma when freak snowstorms from Canada blew through like a banshee, freezing small ponds and stock tanks and crusting everything with a skiff of snow.
What to do? Break out the heavy boots, thick jacket and hand warmers, and set up near high-energy food sources. The cold drives deer to seek out extra calories now, and that's where they'll be. They'll also need to drink. If everything is frozen over, where is the only open water? I've been known to hunt near a frozen cattle trough and get down out of my stand every couple of hours and break the skim ice with a hammer so the deer could have a place to drink.
Snow really deep? Try creating a beaten-down trail right past your stand so the deer can access the food using minimal energy. They like taking the path of least resistance, so why not build them one?
- Lesson Learned: In sub-freezing temps, concentrate on high-calorie foods and open water sources. Deer generally do not move in the morning until the sun has warmed up the world a bit. Concentrate on south- and east-facing slopes where deer can catch the sun's warming rays.
IT'S TOO WINDY
There's wind, and then there's wind. Deer hate strong winds, as they make it almost impossible to smell or hear approaching danger. So, they tend to hang out in protected areas where wind noise is diminished. Bedding thickets, shelter belts, down in deep draws, along the lee sides of timbered hills; these are the kinds of places to find them when it's blowing hard enough to snatch the hat off your head. So, when's the best time to hunt high winds? The millisecond they stop. That's when the deer are most likely to begin moving again.
However, windy days are an excellent time to try something different, like still hunting. I'll never forget the first time I saw somebody do this successfully.
My friend Larry Norton of Alabama is a former world turkey calling champion and a pure predator on both deer and gobblers. Decades ago, we were hunting some big Alabama hardwoods in a howling wind. Larry sat me in a tree stand near a trio of white oaks that were dropping a lot of acorns.
"You stay here, I'll be back in a bit," he said before slinking down a shallow creek channel. Back then nobody really still-hunted whitetails with a bow, and I thought the man was just plain nuts. Two hours later I heard a voice.
"Well, you just gonna sit there and see nothing, or come help me drag my buck to the truck?" He had crept up on a nice 8-point feeding in the creek bottom and shot him at 15 steps.
- Lesson Learned: When it blows, hunt protected areas. If deer aren't moving, get down and try a little still hunting. The wind will help disperse your scent and cover the sound of your footfalls. Once the wind stops, get back on stand immediately, as the deer will be moving and heading to food.
IT'S TOO WET
Light rain can be good for hunting. The deer don't seem to mind it, and the rain washes your scent into oblivion. But what about those gully washer days? I've never had good hunting in a torrential downpour. So, what I do instead is check the weather and get ready to be out there the moment it breaks. If the deer have been hunkered down for an extended period of time they will want to eat, so I head for a stand site near a preferred food source or in a funnel between a bedding thicket and food source, and plan on putting in some time.
- Lesson Learned: While misting rain or a light drizzle won't appreciably affect deer movement patterns, torrential downpours will soak you to the bone, with little chance for success. Stay dry but be ready: Once the rain stops, the deer will be up and moving again and you should be in the woods and ready to greet them.
In my experience -- and there's research to back this up -- no aspect of the weather has as big of an influence on deer movement as barometric pressure. Whitetails have an innate ability to sense changes in barometric pressure, which, in layman's terms, is the amount of pressure exerted by air molecules against the earth's surface. It's the increase, decrease or stabilization of this pressure that affects deer behavior, often significantly.
The thing is, if you use your home barometer to tell you when to go hunting, you'll be too late. Home weather stations tell you what is happening at that moment, not what will be happening hours or even days later. You have to anticipate these weather changes and be on stand the moment they occur. Use a weather app or your local television weather forecast to know when the barometric pressure will sharply rise or fall on an approaching or departing storm front, and be prepared to hit the woods. The best time to be on stand is as these weather fronts are either moving in or leaving.
Studies have also shown that a high, stable barometer is also a good time to be hunting. Studies have shown that whitetails seem to move best when the pressure is between 29.90 and 30.30 inches, with the best movement occurring at the higher end of that range, from 30.10 to 30.30 inches. Miserable though it may be, I try and be on stand while the storm is still raging, hoping that careful study of weather forecasts and experience will have me in position just an hour or two before the weather breaks.
So, the next time it's too "something" to hunt, remember that while you can't change the weather, you can adjust your strategy and still have a productive hunt.
Remaining comfortable in less-than-hospitable conditions is a key aspect of the deer hunting game. After all, if you're excessively cold, hot or wet on stand, it's almost impossible to remain focused on the task at hand. The Nomad Elevated Whitetail Scrape jacket and bib offer all-weather protection for all-day comfort throughout the season.
Both garments feature a 3-layer windproof grid fleece exterior to keep the biting cold at bay, a durable water repellent coating to keep out the wet stuff and a quiet exterior shell designed to keep noise to a minimum. The high-pile interior fabric features long-fiber fleece to trap warmth inside.
The bibs have sherpa-lined hand-warmer pockets and a full-length side zipper for easy on and off. The jacket is safety strap-compatible, and an offset zipper with chin guard ensures your hunting-season beard hairs don't get snagged and cause you to yelp at the worst possible time. -- Dr. Todd A. Kuhn