By Jason Herbert
Climate change? Cyclical weather patterns? Global warming? The natural progression of things? Call it what you want, but the reality is that any deer hunter knows the weather we’ve been gifted these last few seasons has presented some unique hunting situations. So, no matter what you blame it on, here are some tips for hunting our “new normal.”
Last time I checked, the 10 hottest years on record have happened in the last 20 years. Keep in mind that thousands of years of deer physiology have yet to catch up to the new weather trends. At some point in the fall, a deer’s winter coat has grown in. I’m an avid runner, and I equate this phenomenon to me running a marathon in my Carhartts. When it is hot and or humid, the deer are going to move as little as possible while the sun is up. Instead, they will wait until it is dark and cooler temps are present. As if low daytime deer movement isn’t enough, we hunters who try to hunt during these warm temps risk excess sweat stinking up the joint, more bugs and the possibility of meat spoilage.
In extreme, warm hunting situations, keep these basic concepts in mind: The animals will be thirsty! Hunt evening water sources. Also, anything green like alfalfa fields or green soybeans will have a high moisture content, feeding the animals while also satisfying their water intake needs. On a warm, fall hunt, one of my favorite places for a sit is on the west side of a standing bean or hay field. Along with the moist greens, the cooling shade that forms along the west side of the field as the sun sets will be the first place a hungry deer will want to feed.
In warmer temperatures, be sure to wear light, breathable clothing to minimize your body heat and sweat. Also, be a scent-control disciple because, as I mentioned earlier, your body will be cranking out stinky sweat. Consider using an insect control device such as a Thermacell. It’s no fun trying to sit still and swat biting mosquitoes. Pay close attention to the weather. After a few warm days, the animals will go nuts as soon as the temperatures drop 10 degrees or so. I love hunting that first October cold front.
The wind is a deer’s best friend, but too much of a good thing can be a problem. When the woods are too windy, the deer have a hard time hearing anything, and therefore, they do not feel very comfortable moving. Also, erratic winds coming from who knows where just stress the animals out and tend to persuade them to stay bedded down. Not only will the animals be reluctant to move, but erratic winds will spread your scent to all corners of the county. In heavy winds, deer will often elect to bed down in an open field where they can depend on their sense of vision and see any threat that they can’t smell. When the conditions are overly windy, I like to hunt low, in secluded river bottoms and wooded potholes where the winds aren’t too strong. I’ll also possibly stalk through a standing cornfield, hoping to catch a bedded animal.
The wind also has benefits. In a high-wind situation, a hunter can get away with a lot more movement in a treestand. That being said, make sure the tree you’re in can hold up to the wind, and be sure to look for any “widowmakers” (dead trees or limbs nearby). Falling trees are cool at a distance, but no fun when you’re in the woods with them. Also, if you are archery hunting in high winds, beware of the arrow getting carried away a bit by the gusts. In a game of inches, the wind can wreak havoc on an otherwise well-placed shot.
Believe it or not, rainy conditions are some of the best to hunt because the deer don’t like to lay down when it’s wet. In heavy rains, look for the animals to be bedded in shelter like heavy, thick woods or pine thickets. They will probably be extra hungry as well, burning additional precious calories staying as warm as possible.
In rainy conditions, it is also hard for the animals to hear in the woods so look for them to possibly be in an open field if they are moving. One of my favorite things to do is hunt a green bean field after a rain. The rain has a sort of salad dressing like effect on the leaves of the soybeans, and every deer in the county will be hammering those beans that evening if you get rain during the day. Another benefit to long-term levels of extra rain is the fact that it limits where the deer can walk in the woods. Deer don’t like to walk through muck and water any more than we do, and if your woods are starting to flood, look for them to be in the high areas that are dry.
Obviously, when hunting wet conditions wear rain gear. The problem with most rain gear is that it is hot and it makes a lot of noise when it gets rained on. When it is wet out or there is more moisture in the air, the deers’ noses are even more effective; so, don’t think for a minute that because it’s raining they can’t smell. Once again, keep your scent control in mind. Also, as much as deer do like to move in the rain, it’s tough to follow a blood trail in the rain. I don’t mind gun hunting in the rain, but I try not to ever bow hunt in it.
When hunting in the cold, bundle up because you’re going to be there awhile. Deer also move well in cold temperatures because, once again, they are burning so many calories trying to stay warm. I simply focus on evening food sources in the cold and try to arrive as early as possible, knowing that the animals more than likely are going to try to beat me to the punch.
When it is really cold, be careful as you are approaching your stand because the deer will not be bedded any further away than they have to be from the food. I have noticed that when it snows a lot, the deer like to go for the easy-picking foods such as standing corn or twigs and leaves. I believe they don’t like to stick their nose in the cold, wet snow looking for food, so they probably start to look above ground for their meal.
Regardless of how hungry they are, deer are still survival machines and if you scare them off a food plot or field when you’re walking out for an evening hunt in the cold weather, it’s going to take them a while to come back. Also, watch your scent control because they will smell you and still have no patience for human odors.
The bottom line
Generally speaking, I try to sit the bench during all of these hunting situations and not waste my time in the woods. There are so many different things you can be doing to be productive while it is not ideal to hunt. One thing I do is tackle that “honey-do” list. Another thing you could do is wash all your hunting clothes. Shoot your bow or gun and make sure it’s still on target and that you still have that muscle memory for shooting. I also like to drive around in poor conditions and simply check my trail cameras. Glassing the fields from the climate-controlled comfort of my truck is a great thing to do when it’s too warm to hunt.
To be quite honest, I only hunt a dozen or so days a year. I try to go into the woods with a purpose and a plan of killing a mature buck every time I leave the truck. If the conditions aren’t perfect for me, I don’t even bother to hunt. Most overzealous hunters who simply think they have to be in the woods every possible opportunity end up boogering up their spots and blowing their chances at otherwise killable deer.
I believe in scouting a lot more and hunting a lot less to maximize my efficiency. So though I discussed how to handle these various weather conditions, I would personally advise you to wait until the time is right to strike. If things are not perfect, get something else done instead.