Deer hunting and differing weather conditions

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, November 6, 2018

In order to survive, animals have instinctive reactions to the weather, migrating birds being just one example. By knowing how game animals react in differing weather conditions can up a hunter’s chances of a successful kill.

Deer depend heavily on scent to protect themselves from predators. They usually respond to a strange scent by bugging out before hunters get close. Deer move into the wind to better pick up scents. To take advantage of this, a hunter must move and stay downwind of his prey. This can be determined by the old wet finger trick.

Deer are also good listeners and will react to either too much or too little noise. Hunters who walk steadily through the woods will have no luck. The Indians had a saying, “walk a little, look a lot.” Deer certainly follow that plan, taking a few steps, looking around, and then continuing. The best hunting time is often when there is a gentle rain or a little show. The leaves don’t crunch, and snow subdues noise.

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Deer are used to bad weather, but dislike storms. In a high wind they can’t hear warning sounds nor locate disturbing scents. During storms, they choose a sheltered area such as cedar or pine woods, dense river brush, or the lee side of mountain ridges (the side opposite the direction the wind is coming from). As wind blows over the ridge top it skips over the area just below the ridge, so winds are calm here.

Deer can sense that a storm is coming and will go out to feed in advance of it, because they might have to lay low and not eat for a few days. After a storm passes, deer come out everywhere and feed. The best times for hunting are just before a severe storm and during the clearing conditions that follow. Deer lose some their normal caution at these times.

Knowing the weather habits of animals allowed Indians to hunt big game with a bow that rarely had more than 30 pounds of pull, requiring very close range. They knew that the winds shift during the day, flowing uphill as the sun heats the slope, but drifting downhill in the cool of the evening. They hunted into the wind. By knowing where deer hang out during storms, they were able to surprise them. Modern hunters can do the same, even those of us that hunt with a camera.

An excellent and entertaining weather reference book is The Weather Companion, by Gary Lockhart.

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.