The Whitetail Addict's Guide to Hunting Extreme Weather
February 09, 2014
Most times when we whitetail addicts dream of hunting season, we picture a crisp cool morning and a sparkling autumn sunrise. Shortly thereafter, a mammoth, tall-tined buck approaches with the sun reflecting off his ivory rack, with a light breeze at his back.
Unfortunately, these perfect days aren't all that common in the whitetail woods. A more realistic dream might look like this instead: You frantically try to stop your hands from shaking as you wipe away the rain from your eyes with your half frozen fingers, and then struggle to draw back on the buck that has miraculously appeared from the near horizontal sheets of sleet that hammer around you.
When chasing mature whitetails for weeks on end, you're bound to encounter some extreme weather such as this. But don't let that keep you inside. Although tough to endure, it can sometimes be the most extreme weather that gets the biggest bucks on their feet.
Whether you're facing extreme heat, cold, wind, rain or snow, these are the strategies you need to stay in the tree and get your big buck on the ground.
Extreme heat can be one of the toughest weather conditions to hunt in, but success can still be had. I like to think every situation has a silver lining, and the benefit of extreme heat is that it affects whitetails in a very consistent way: It makes them thirsty. In my opinion, the key to hot weather hunting is focusing your attention on this crucial factor.
When hunting in extreme heat, one of the best tactics can be to set up on a water source close to bedding cover. If you can access an area like this — with wind blowing away from the bedding — there is a great chance that you'll catch deer visiting this water source at any time of day.
While water is an important ingredient, proximity to bedding is almost as crucial. During hot weather spells, deer will travel as little as possible because of the discomfort they feel during above average temperatures. Given that fact, it's the close to home water that deer will visit the most.
As important as it is to be in the right spot during hot weather, it's also important just to endure a sit in that heat at all. To do that, you need to be dressed properly, and use a few helpful pieces of equipment to make the most of your time.
Lightweight, highly breathable clothing is a must because you want to minimize the amount of sweat your body produces as much as possible. That said, you're still bound to sweat some, and this increased odor can put you in a tough spot.
To help overcome this issue, I'd recommend keeping a bottle of scent eliminating spray handy for frequent use. On top of that, an Ozonics unit can be used to emit scent eliminating ozone, destroying most of the problem all-together.
Another common issue while hunting in hot weather is the presence of mosquitos...and lots of them! There's no better trick up my sleeve for mosquitos than a Thermacell unit. This small device burns a nearly scentless repellant that keeps mosquitos far away. Trust me, it's worth its weight in gold.
Hunting on the most blustery of days can test the fortitude of any hunter, and many times it's a test of patience and perseverance. High wind hunting can be some of the slowest hunting to be found, but sometimes it is worth braving.
High wind often subdue deer movement because it impairs a whitetail's senses. Swaying branches and grass make it difficult for deer to spot danger with their eyes, and gusting wind makes it difficult for them to hear approaching threats as well. Because of this, deer will often stay bedded during the heaviest of winds, or only travel in areas that are somewhat sheltered from the gale.
This is where a smart hunter can still find success hunting in high winds. Seek out areas that are out of the wind — such as secluded draws or valleys — and you may just find your windy day sweet spot. Also, keep in mind that right after a heavy wind dies down, deer will really start to move. So make sure you're out there to catch that increased activity when it happens.
When hunting on the windiest of days, it's important to make sure you take proper precautions. Make sure that any tree you're hunting from is plenty sturdy and unlikely to be affected by high winds. Secondly, by all means, please make sure you are strapped in with a safety harness. These should be used at all times, but the need is even greater during extreme winds.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people ask the question, "Should I hunt in the rain?" While it may not be the answer many people want to hear, my answer is almost always "yes."
While hunting in the rain can be a wet and miserable endeavor, it can also result in some of the best hunting all year. Extreme rain conditions may temper deer movement in the short term, but as soon as it lightens up or ends, deer will likely be on the move.
In light to medium rain, you can enjoy some of the most activity by mature bucks that you'll see all year. For some reason, it many mature whitetails feel more comfortable moving during rainy days. Some hypothesize it's due to the fact that there's less hunting pressure at these times, while others suggest the rain heightens whitetail senses. Either way, if you can manage to endure the elements, you can put yourself in a great position for a kill.
That said, you do need to keep a few unique things in mind when hunting during heavy rain conditions.
First and foremost, you have to consider the implications of rain on a potential blood trail. Rain will many times wash away your blood trail to some extent. That's why I always try to adjust my shot selection when hunting in the rain.
In rainy conditions, only close-range, near-perfect shots should be attempted, as you can't risk sub-par shot placement. If a buck travels far after being shot, you're going to have a very hard time recovering him.
Secondly, given the fact that heavy rain will quickly wash away a blood trail, I like to give deer extra time before tracking. I'd rather let that deer lie — hopefully nearby — than bump it and have it run a country mile with no blood trail at all.
Blood trailing aside, when hunting in heavy rain you also need to be properly prepared with the right gear. Of course waterproof clothing is a must, and I highly recommend spending the extra money to get a quality set of rain gear.
When choosing a rain suit, look for something that is quiet, easy to pack and well constructed. Many cheap rain suits are easily punctured, and a rain jacket with a hole in it doesn't do any good.
In addition to rain gear, if you plan on hunting in the rain often, you may want to consider a tree umbrella. These can be screwed into the tree above you and they'll greatly improve your day.
Hunting in the extreme cold can be an exercise in misery, a test of fortitude and just plain painful. But it can also be the ticket to killing a trophy buck. While sometimes difficult to endure, super cold weather consistently makes for good whitetail action.
When the temperatures dip well below average, whitetails are driven to move and feed in an effort to pack on carbohydrates and maintain some body temperature. Even mature bucks can be found on their feet during daylight on these frigid days.
The key to hunting on these ice cold days is often to find the food source of choice. Typically deer will flock to high carb foods at this time because carbs provide the energy deer need to beat the cold.
Corn or soybean fields will be hot spots anytime the temperatures reach down into the "bone-chilling" range. When hunting these food sources, keep in mind that evening hunts will be your best bet, as you'll be able to access your stand with less chance of spooking feeding deer.
On top of that, later in the season when most arctic weather hits, deer are more active in the slightly warmer afternoons. Getting into your stand is only half the battle, though. Make sure to plan for a safe exit, to ensure you don't bump all the deer off the food source on your way out in the evening.
In order to endure these Siberian evenings on stand, you of course need to properly layer and insulate yourself with high-quality clothing. But on top of that, there are three tricks I like to use that help me stick it out on the coldest days.
First, I always like to have a hand muff of some kind with a couple hand warmers tucked inside. Your hands will typically be the first body part to get painfully cold, and having a cozy warm retreat for them can make your hunt dramatically less miserable.
Secondly, on the coldest of days I will actually duct tape disposable hand warmers to my inner layer. Typically I'll tape one to my neck, my chest and my stomach. It's amazing how much this extra heat can improve your mood.
Last, I always keep a steady flow of snacks hitting my mouth. Just like deer need energy during the cold, so do you. Eating high calorie items will give your body more energy to burn, resulting in a warmer you. Think of your body like an old furnace and the snickers bar as the coal.
Chasing whitetails in extremely snowy conditions can be very similar to that of hunting during the extreme cold. Heavy snow will definitely get deer on their feet, but typically this is after the snow has fallen, not during. In the midst of a blizzard deer will most often stay bedded down. But during light to medium snow showers, or just after a blizzard passes, whitetails can be very active.
If deer have been hunkered down during a storm for an extended amount of time, the flurry of movement after the weather passes can be terrific. On top of that, if the amount of accumulated snow is significant, deer will begin moving with even more urgency.
In heavy snow, deer will most often seek out food with vigor because it becomes much more difficult for them to find vittles now that snow is covering most he ground. At these times, similar to extremely cold situations, you'll want to key in on the highest quality food sources you can find. Corn, beans and food plots with rape, kale or turnips can be absolutely dynamite.
Whether it be frozen tundra temperatures or rainstorms of biblical proportions, don't let extreme weather keep you out of the whitetail game. While at first glance it may not seem like it, sometimes it's these extreme days that make for monster buck dreams come true.
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.