Weather to Hunt or Not?

Many times, it’s the weather that helps hunters be successful rather than most of our other preparations for the hunt.  If you think about it, a sudden change in the weather, good or bad, particularly the bad, can render your equipment useless, scouting irrelevant, and your hopes shattered.  But understanding how game animals, deer for the purposes of this article, react to different weather conditions in your area will keep you on track and your freezer full.

September of 2013 was one of the toughest early season hunts that the DEER30 Outdoors team had ever encountered.  We were in Maryland for the early season opener on September 6th and were greeted by hot dry weather.  After a relatively wet summer that had the alfalfa green and the soy beans thick, the last few weeks leading up to the season had been baked and the oven-like temperatures continued during our trip.  The mercury rose to over 90° F. several days and stayed in the 80’s on the others.  Although we saw deer, the numbers, quality, and maturity were missing compared to years past.  This is because a deer has as much desire to move during hot days as you do to leave your AC to mow the yard.  Having run trail cameras every season since 2008, high temps equal an explosion of night time images as deer will wait until temps drop to feed under the cover and coolness of darkness.

So we found ourselves wondering what we could do to start seeing more deer and filling more tags.  Well, since the deer were moving in the very early morning and bedding down all day until the last hour before dark, there was no need to spend our time and energy hunting outside of these times.  We focused on getting to our stands well before daylight in the mornings to catch the deer who had been feeding overnight in the agricultural fields as they worked their way back to the bedding areas.  In the evenings we would sneak in quietly about 2 hours before dark to stands adjacent to bedding areas to increases the chances of seeing deer while there was still enough light to take a shot.  High temperatures also mean that your going to sweat more and thereby increasing the likelihood of leaving scent behind that could spook deer.  The shorter hunts during cooler times, helped minimize our scent, but extra time was spent spraying down before, during, and after hunts, along with additional washes of clothes in order to maintain scent control.

hot doeWater sources are also key during hot, dry spells.  Our Maryland farm has a small pond and creek that crosses the property, both of which had very little water at that time.  A half mile south is a larger creek that never dries up, and a half mile north were large corn fields that had not yet been cut.  The deer had definitely been pulled off our place to these areas in search of water and the highly desirable carbohydrates.  But the small pools, more like puddles, that remained in our little creek proved to be deer magnets along with the soy beans and alfalfa fields.

The last thing we prayed for was a break in temperature.  Not only to give us some relief from the sun and humidity, but because we know that sudden and large temperature drops will get the deer on their feet.  I am a Weather Channel nut, especially during hunting season, because I look at these temperature fluctuations as key times to be in the stand.  Just like us, deer will get up and move more and earlier on a cooler day after several days of higher temps.

After the better part of a week, we were finally presented with several shot opportunities bringing an exciting end to a tough hunt.

mid day buckThe weather plays an important role all season long not just during the hot early days.  As the fall approaches, does look to pack on the pounds to sustain themselves through the lean months of winter, and bucks are gaining weight to get them through the exhausting weeks of the pre-rut/rut.  Temperature fluctuations again will affect a deer’s behavior by urging them out of bed to get some groceries.  A “cold snap” or just a sudden drop of 10 degrees or more can get the does up and moving earlier in the afternoon.  Bucks during the pre-rut and rut are eager to check every doe they can find and often move more during daylight hours at these times when the air is cooler.  Cold November days from Halloween to Thanksgiving are all day sits as you never know when that biggun’ may walk right under you cruising for does.  Unusually warm weather in November or December can shut down buck activity and the hunting of them.  Late season and extreme cold will also force deer out of their beds in search of life sustaining calories and to generate body heat.  If you can brace yourself against Old Man Winter’s wrath, find a cut corn field or standing bean field and watch it fill up with deer.  Just remember that I have seen bucks drop their antlers before Christmas in Maryland so should you be successful, be careful not to pull off his rack when getting him home.

Everyone will tell you to “play the wind” when it comes to deer hunting.  Hell I have said it on here, other forums, and conversations countless times.  In most cases we are, of course, referring to wind direction in regards to human scent.  But in my opinion, wind is the worst weather condition in which to try to hunt.  Now I have seen videos from hunts on the western plains where wind is a standard option and the deer don’t seem to be as sensitive to it. But for the deer in the mid-Atlantic, wind, or specifically high winds, make hunting very tough.  A deer relies on its natural senses to detect danger and stay out of harm’s way.  High winds (15mph+) impair a deer’s ability to hear danger through the rustling leaves and clanging branches, see danger amongst the swaying grasses and lower tree limbs, and smell danger as scents are easily dispersed.  Therefore, the safe play for them is to stay in bed and wait it out.  Even then, they still move a little to get a drink of water or feed, but its usually very localized and in very dense cover.  On windy days, I like to set up in thickets and dense bedding areas.  I can usually slip in unnoticed as the wind disguises any sound that I may make to a groundblind or fallen log, usually in a creek bottom where access to food and water is close at hand or hoof.  While hunting in the mountains, you may find that while the wind is howling on one side, the other is still and calm.  You can bet that if a deer is moving in that area, the calm side will be his first choice.  Windy days are also great times to move stands or hang new ones as the wind will help disguise any noise being made.

Rain is tricky business when it comes to deer hunting as it reduces a deer’s senses and can make them nervous enough to stay in bed.  Not to mention that it can be down right miserable for the hunter to sit through and hard on our equipment.  However, that being said, the cloudy overcast days leading up to periods of intermittent light rain can be extremely productive when it comes to seeing deer.  I can even stick it out through a steady rain, especially inside a groundblind, but heavy rains and I don’t mix.  I tend to stay home waiting for it to pass.  If you do decide to hold off until its over to head out, be in your stand as soon as you can once the rain has quit for deer will usually get up and feed immediately following a rain event.

does in snowSnow is one of the most beautiful and breathtaking times to be in the deer woods.  The sight of a deer walking through timber with fresh flakes resting on every branch and blanketing the ground is something I look forward to every season.  Hunting in snow is a lot like hunting in rain without the whole getting soaked in the process thing.  The day or even hours leading up to it and the immediate time after its conclusion will almost always prove fruitful especially around late season food sources.

Finally, there is what I like to call the “wild card” in hunting weather, storms and fronts.  When a storm moves in, everything changes.  A deer does not need to tune in to The Weather Channel or check the weather app on its cell phone to know there is a storm approaching.  They have a natural ability to sense changes in barometric pressure and an instinctual urge to prepare for the coming hardship.  This usually means gorging themselves the day before or hours leading up to the storms arrival so that they may ride it out from the safety and security of their beds.  So the day or two before a storm front moves through is a very good time to be in the stand that overlooks a food sources or a travel route to and from a food source.  Also storms tend to bring a sudden and sometimes dramatic temperature drop.  A warm season thunderstorm or late season Nor-Easter can drop the temperature from the hours before by 20 degrees.   The high winds usually associated with storm fronts as they move through an area can also suppress the deer’s movements until the front or storm has passed, leaving the deer anxious to feed.  The best time, in my opinion and outside of the rut, to be in a stand is immediately after a storm event, particularly in September and October where typical movements may be nocturnal.

Whether your a professional hunter, someone who saves up their vacation days for deer season, or the person who hunts whenever they can, undoubtedly you will encounter issues with the weather during your season.  Not every morning will have the sun rising to a crisp frost laden ground and your breath rising like smoke into the blue sky overhead.  Just remember that you can’t kill them from the couch and every day spent in a deer stand is a good day, rain or shine.

– Randy


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