November 14, 2011
Slipping into my hunting clothes, I checked the wind one last time. To be safe, I headed to the stand extra early. Even with the day producing high winds and the breeding phase still being a long way off, I knew being so close to the bedding area could lead to early movement.
It all started coming together a full hour before dark. Catching movement out of the corner of my eye, I saw the mature 10-point trotting down his rub line.
Already positioned, I was ready when the buck stepped out from under the oak's branch. Settling the pin high behind the front shoulder, I sent the Rage-tipped Easton through the buck's vitals. I heard him crash away through the brush, and I knew he wouldn't go far.
As hunters, the wind should play a huge role in almost every decision we make. Though most of us are capable of using the wind to keep us undetected, too few factor in how mature bucks use the wind to their advantage. Doing so can pay big dividends.
DAILY LIFE WIND FACTORS
Perhaps no buck I've taken sums up how bucks use the wind in their daily lives better than the Wisconsin 10-point that began this article. Unraveling his patterns really began during my observations of the farm.
With a wooded ridge separating the two crop fields, I could watch one valley until just about dark and then flip to the other side for a quick viewing. I first saw the 10-point buck feeding in the north valley, but subsequent observations revealed that he fed in the other valley as well.
Over the course of repeated observations, I saw two bucks that would score higher than the 10 and another that was slightly below. To be honest, the reason I targeted the 10 was because of his regular appearances and my belief I could take him with little effort.
It was really keeping detailed logs that made this buck simple. They showed that he used the wind direction to select which valley he used for feeding on any given day. When winds came from northerly directions, he selected the north valley. Conversely, he fed in the south valley when winds had southern origins. Putting that together, I believed I had a good chance at arrowing him.
Because of that, I decided to conduct one hard scouting and stand-hanging trip. With two stands strapped to my back, I followed a rub line all the way up the point to his bed. Further scouting revealed a second bedding site.
The buck was bedding on knobs jutting from opposite sides of the ridge. With a wind from the south, he would bed on the north side. That enabled him to use his nose to detect danger approaching from on top of the ridge and use his eyes to scan for danger lurking on the ridge side below. Then, late afternoon, he could rise, crest the ridge and drop into the south valley. That way, he could scent the food source for danger. When the wind had a northern angle, he could bed on the south side and mirror this action in the other direction. In either case, he was using the wind to keep himself safe to the fullest extent.
Furthermore, on both sides, he'd follow his trail from his bed down most of the ridge side. As he neared the field, he'd break off to use one of several trails to enter the food source. I believe these various routes were selected to fully utilize his sense of smell. In other words, he'd finish his entry to the field by taking the splinter trail that allowed him to best scent-check the field under the current wind direction.
I'll be the first to admit that every mature buck isn't confined to this neat of a wind-use package. This was the perfect situation. Still, some constants are shared by most mature bucks.
The first is that they almost always bed with the wind to their backs. It simply increases their odds of survival to be able to smell what's behind them, while using their eyes to see in front.
When possible, that same thing applies to when they are moving. As much as we've been taught that bucks travel into the wind, I don't believe it's the case.
Many years ago, I believe it was bowhunting pioneers Gene & Barry Wensel who first exploded this myth. The logic behind their assertion is very sound. Why use both sight and smell to cover their front and leave their backside uncovered, particularly when many predators, such as members of the canine family, most often follow their tracks when stalking them. To provide the most protection, the mature bucks that have learned how to most effectively harness the wind prefer to travel using a side wind coming from behind.
Of course, that changes when they near food and water sources. When possible, they like coming in from downwind to scent check for danger.
However, one must keep in mind that many times the situations just don't fit. If the cover is all south of the prime food, the bucks are still most often heading north, regardless of the wind direction.
THE WINDS OF LOVE
Mature bucks use of the wind isn't exclusive to survival. They also harness its powers for maximizing their breeding opportunities.
Mature bucks differ from all other deer the most in two areas. They are both survival and breeding machines. Unlike younger bucks, which seemingly run around like the relatively clueless children that they are, mature bucks don't waste a lot of needless energy.
This applies well to bedding areas with defined edges, such as CRP fields, thickets or small swamps. These family group bedding areas are where the does spend most of their daylight hours. Because of that, bucks cruising for does check them for any nearing or in estrus.
The younger bucks most often go crashing into these bedrooms, running around at random, chasing any tail they find. Conversely, Mr. Big seems to realize that the rut is a finite time period and that he needs to work smart to take the fullest advantage of it.
With one cruise of the downwind side of that bedding area, he can effectively check it for hot does. If he picks up her scent, he can follow it directly to the source. If not, it's most often on to the next family group bedding area for another quick check.
To an extent, you often see this same thing play out on food sources. When they lay out right for that day's wind, the buck can either parallel it inside the wood line or just out into the open, checking the entire field at once. Often, if none are ready, they just keep moving to the next food source.
CASHING IN ON THE WIND
Understanding all of this allows us to gain advantages on mature bucks in more ways than most consider.
To begin with, the wind direction can help in determining where Mr. Big may be bedded on a given day. For simplicity's sake, let's say a food source is in a sunken bowl, with high ground completely surrounding it. We know that one preferred bedding area for bucks is high on points and knobs, enabling them to look down at the slope below them.
So, if the wind is out of the north, chances are Mr. Big will be bedded on the north side of the food source. That enables him to cover his back with the wind and front with his eyes. All else being equal, we should hunt the trails on the north side that day.
When it comes to deciding which ridge-side trail to sit, go for the one on the downwind side of the ridge. That way Mr. Big can cover the ridge top and opposite side with his nose, while scanning the valley below with his eyes.
Placing stands on the prevailing downwind side of a pond only makes sense. Not only is it safer for not getting winded, but it's the most likely direction from which Mr. Big will be making his final approach to water.
Finally, let the wind decide which family group bedding area stand you'll hunt on any given day. Since most of the mature bucks will be cruising the downwind side, it only makes sense to sit there.
Wind plays an important role in mature buck survival and breeding. Therefore, it only makes sense that we factor that into selecting which stands we'll hunt on a given day. Always ask yourself what the wind direction is, how the mature bucks will use it and how you can take advantage of that. Doing so can be a big difference maker.