April 07, 2023
By Clint McCoy, DVM
As a whitetail hunter or land manager, you come across little tips or tricks that make a tremendous difference in your experiences afield. When I was a young, aspiring trophy-buck hunter in my 20s, I met an out-of-state archer that hunted the rut in my home area of Illinois. The man was 20 years my senior, and you could just tell he was a killer. He wore wool camouflage and hunted with a stick bow. He hunted with a mobile stand and sticks combo before they were popular. Whenever he offered up hunting advice, I listened.
He stopped by my house one afternoon, and before he left, he reached into his pocket and handed me a little brown bottle with a black screw-on lid. It was a bottle of bubbles. The kind given out as party favors at little kids' birthday parties, used outside as a play toy when the weather is nice and warm. I initially scoffed at the notion of using these in the woods as a wind indicator tool. “Just try it,” my friend said. “They can help you see the wind.”
The following spring, I attended an outdoor wedding where the bride and groom gave out the bubbles at their reception. Instead of throwing rice or birdseed, we all blew bubbles as the couple made their way into the reception hall from the yard of the church. In unison, about 100 people began making bubbles as the couple strolled by, and what I saw next was a true “ah-ha” moment for me as a bowhunter.
I watched as hundreds of bubbles drifted in unison with the wind. They all wrapped around the corner of the church and hit a thermal updraft and sailed straight over a big Sycamore tree nearby. My friend had been right all along; bubbles can help you see the wind.
The Case For Wind Sampling
Whether you’re a die-hard trophy buck hunter or a first time property owner looking to turn your land into a mecca of whitetail habitat, the importance of knowing how prevailing winds fl ow through your property can’t be overstated. For the land manager, wind sampling is a tremendous tool to use. Before one begins creating bedding areas in the timber with a chainsaw or laying out food plots with a tractor and disc, knowing how prevailing winds can work with your land management goals should be considered.
It would do little good to create a massive food plot where the wind swirls in all directions. Likewise, it would be foolish to spend money and time creating bedding cover in a location where the whitetail has all the wind advantage over your entry or exit to the area. With any decision, be it tactical hunting or the strategic lay out of your hunting property, prevailing wind flow should always be considered in decision making processes before the work begins.
It’s oft en theorized that one can map the wind on a selected property by digital scouting with topographical maps and knowing the prevailing winds that occur there. While this is a good starting point, I feel this method relies too much on assumptions and speculation. At face value, wind sampling may seem to be a tedious and time-consuming affair; especially since it is physically impossible to wind map a piece of property with 100 percent accuracy. In contrast, with enough forethought and frequent trips to the timber with the wind in mind, one can eventually log wind behavior data points in real time no matter the forecasted wind direction or property’s features.
In short, the practice of wind mapping whitetail habitat can be an invaluable tool if enough time is spent studying in the field.
Variables Affecting Wind Travel
Defining how prevailing winds travel through your hunting property is a multifactorial problem to solve. Wind needs to be thought of as a fluid entity. Wind currents are a product of many factors, and the process of wind study needs to be rooted in common sense.
For starters, I view wind flow just like I do water flowing in a river. Water takes the shape and form of the structure it travels through, and wind is no different. Wind always seems to take the path of least resistance, much like flowing water. Therefore, terrain relief and topography certainly influence how the wind traverses a property.
The structure and shape of timber stands can bend and hook the wind as well, especially in locations where a hard transition of habitat occurs, such as the inside corner of a field edge. Similarly, wind current pathways are a product of the velocity, volume and variability of the prevailing wind. And can change on any given day.
For example, I have a tree stand in the northwest, inside corner of a field edge where the timber ends. If I get a strong southwest wind, the air currents here collide with the timber line, causing the air flow to hook sharply in the direction of the stand location, creating a swirl effect and preventing my setup from being wind safe.
To simplify, wind flow is a product of the simple physics found in resistance and drag. When wind hooks, it typically swirls on its x-axis. When wind tumbles, it does so on its y-axis.
Ambient temperature of both atmospheric air and surface temperature of the landscape or water can also influence how air currents behave in relation to thermal influences. On calm, sunny days, warm air generally rises in the morning as the ground warms and falls in the evening as temperatures reduce. This is not absolute, however.
For example, in the summer when I am scouting on calm days, a standing field of soybeans that have been baking in the July heat will retain heat at sunset. And I’ve seen thermals continue to rise in the evening despite air temperature reducing. Thermals also behave similarly over a water source and can be dependent on the surface temperature of said water.
Finally, bucks tend to use thermal hub locations in the deep timber to their advantage, and they often bed above these thermal locations. When the thermals rise toward the buck’s bed, he can smell anything below him. Given the above variables, one can clearly see how studying the wind on a piece of hunting property can be an important and invaluable practice.
Wind Mapping Tips
It may seem like a daunting task, but with enough planning and time spent in the field sampling wind currents, you can get a tremendous advantage in setting up an area to hunt for trophy whitetails. Although it is virtually impossible to determine how all the different wind directions and velocities influence your hunting grounds with absolute certainty, I find the successful practice of wind mapping to be a product of repeated selfstudy and time.
I rarely go afield for any reason without a bottle of bubbles riding in my binocular harness. So much so, I feel naked without them! As a general practice, packing a wind checker tool with you at all times is the first step in learning how to “see the wind.” Whether it’s while summer scouting, working on winter habitat projects, turkey hunting in the spring or running trail cameras, the practice of sampling the wind is a year-round activity.
There are many tools at your disposal to help you gain this knowledge. I like to start by looking at forecasted wind direction and speeds on a weather app on my phone. My absolute favorite app to use is a wind forecasting program called, WINDY. And I find the tool’s level of detail to be excellent for predicting wind direction, temperature and velocity. I also always look outside my home at my flagpole and have toyed around with using a dedicated windsock for better real-time accuracy. Once this is done, it’s time to hit the timber with my wind checkers. I find bubbles superior to milkweed or common wind checking powders for many reasons. First, bubbles trump any other method in terms of uniformity and sample size. Every bubble is roughly the same size, shape and weight. When wind checking with bubbles, I can create several columns of unique bubbles and each individual bubble is an independent indicator of wind current.
This is not always the case when tossing some milkweed or using powdered wind checkers. However, one area I find milkweed superior to bubbles is distance of wind observation. Milkweed can travel much greater distances than bubbles that only fly 50 to 75 yards before bursting. Finally, I find bubbles and milkweed to both be very responsive to low velocity thermals, and I consider the two equals in this department.
If you really want to deep dive into wind mapping methods, large volume smoke bombs can be used to achieve large scale wind flow patterns on your hunting property. When used safely, they can be a great asset as a “finishing tool” to confirm what one’s bubbles or milkweed have demonstrated.
Regardless of the wind checker you choose, the next step is wind sampling the areas of interest in your hunting location or on your management property.
Prevailing winds in my area are usually southwest, west or northwest. Naturally, I will check these areas’ wind directions most frequently. As said before, I always keep my wind indicator with me no matter the time of year or activity I’m doing. Over an extended time period, I’ve cataloged how certain winds flow through areas of interest. And I note these observations in my onX Hunt mapping app where appropriate. Finally, I sometimes use a voice recorder on my phone to dictate small notes in real time to review later. With enough trips to the woods and some forethought, you can have a nice, concise “wind library” for your property that you can visualize on a map.
Why Wind Map?
Yes, the practice of studying wind and its relationship with your hunting property is tedious and time consuming. I get it. But you don’t have to shoot for an A+ here. From a bowhunter’s perspective, wind mapping an area is all about strategy. Knowing how a certain wind direction flows through a doe bedding area or in a field edge corner is handy information to have for the trophy hunter looking for a stand site. Likewise, having a conceptual grasp on thermal behaviors in and around buck bedding is priceless information to have when targeting mature bucks.
Wind mapping also helps the hunter by demonstrating scenarios that are a total bust. It can be so frustrating to commit to a certain tree stand location, hang the stand and trim the shooting lanes, only to have the static, forecasted winds be completely wrong for the planned ambush. Wind mapping also helps a hunter avoid swirl zones where the timber structure or terrain make for unpredictable and inconsistent scent control. In the same token, any die-hard bowhunter knows to be mindful of entry and exit routes to tree stand locations. And wind mapping can help to reaffirm and give confidence to the approach.
Most land managers have a lot of decisions to make when they purchase a piece of habitat intended for producing trophy deer. Wind mapping probably isn’t on the top of this list, but I would argue it should be. For example, it would do little to no good to create a section of bedding cover in the timber on the up-wind side of local prevailing winds. A food plot does little good as a hunting attraction if you cannot sneak in and out of the plot without exposing your wind to deer feeding in it or bedded nearby.
I’ll say it again: no one can predict how wind moves through a property with 100 percent accuracy. But before land managers take a saw to the first tree, dig the first water hole or plant the first food plot, a basic understanding of air current flow should be considered.
It would be a great luxury to know how every wind direction, velocity and thermal scenario interacts with your hunting property, but this is impossible on such a scale. However, with enough practice in wind checking and noting how air flows about the landscape, one can develop a “sight” for the wind.
I know a few tree stand locations I’ve had over the years that I’ve had to abandon because the only wind that works for them is no wind. Conversely, I know of one setup that my family and I have killed several trophy-class animals from, and you’d swear it would never work with forecasted prevailing winds.
With enough practice and time, using wind checking tools like milkweed or bubbles can pay huge dividends for whitetail hunters and land managers alike. Combine this use with real time field scouting notes, persistence and a dialed hunting strategy, and one can notch tags on target bucks with robust and repeatable consistency.