Strong winds seem to send deer underground, but you can find them.
It was the right time to be there. It just seemed like the wrong day.
It was a couple of days before Halloween in 2010, and the pre-rut chase activity was in full bloom in central Illinois. The days had been a bit warm, but the deer were moving early and late. It seemed like every day one of our crew would come back to camp with reports of fresh rubs and new scrapes, as well as deer out cruising on the cusp of daylight.
And then the winds came. I am not talking about breezy conditions, but serious winds, the kind that can shake a midsized tree so badly you get scared and climb out of it. They blew for days, making hunting about as difficult as it can get.
On the third morning of the hunt, I got out of bed at 3:15 a.m. and poked my nose out the window. The wind was blowing at least 30 mph, and it was raining sideways. Soon everyone was up and we made a quick check on somebody’s Crackberry: Tornado warning in effect. Back to bed!
By lunchtime, everybody was antsy. The rain had stopped, but not the wind. No matter. At 2:30, we loaded the trucks and headed afield. Brady, Jason and I had a plan.
Brady Arview is the marketing director for New Archery Products, while Jason McKee handles lots of the company’s web duties and runs a video camera when Brady is the shooter. Both are serious archers and whitetail hunters. In fact, we were hunting land Brady had leased for some time. It is located right in the heart of some of the state’s best big-buck country, the kind of place where every time you sit a stand, you have that tingly feeling that this could be the day the buck of your dreams strolls within range.
On windy days like that, I’ve found the best chances for success can be had in sheltered areas that offer at least one additional deer attractant. It could be a bedding thicket, water source, funnel between bedding grounds and food or a primary food source. A combination of two or more of these, plus shelter from the wind, makes such a spot almost a must-hunt location.
A few weeks earlier, Jason had set a stand in a deep hollow. Situated near the bottom of the lee side of a deep draw, the ridges were loaded with oaks dropping huge acorns. That afternoon, I climbed into the stand and took stock of the situation. Behind me, a small creek burbled peacefully. Up the other side of the draw was a thick tangle of brush — a perfect bedding area. Naturally, the wind was squirrely, but Jason told me the deer usually feed across the hillside, which would be good for the strong wind. As I climbed into the stand and settled in, I got a little tingle on the back of my neck. Too warm, too windy, too whatever, the deer have to eat. That protected ridge was the kind of place they like in bad weather.
After a while, I heard some turkeys yelping behind me while a couple of fat squirrels scampered through the leaves. Then, at about 5:30, a full hour before dark, movement in the trees up and to my left caught my eye. A buck!
I eased the Nikon 8x42s up and gave him a look. At first glance, I could see it was a 9-pointer, probably a 3 1/2-year-old — not a giant, but a solid buck. I eased my bow off the hook and got ready.
I have done this literally hundreds of times, yet my knees began to quiver. The chills and shakes quickly worked their way up my torso all the way to the top of my head. I had to focus on my breathing and, as the buck fed from left to right along the contour of the hill, I went through my pre-shot checklist.
Because my stand was set down in the hollow, the buck was actually feeding slightly above me. The cover through the leafless trees was nonexistent. I was scared to even blink. The buck looked right at me twice from no more than 75 yards but showed no sign of alarm.
The trail he was using would take him just 20 yards to my left and below me in perfect position for a shot. Instead, he chose to stay on the contour line, feeding on a trail I had ranged to be 28 yards away. My challenge, of course, was the buck was so close and at eye level with my platform. I had to wait for his head to pass behind a tree before I could draw. As he slowly emerged, I settled my 30-yard pin low on his ribs, let out a small breath, and released.
The broadhead sliced through his vitals as if there was nothing there. In fact, the buck showed little reaction. He skipped forward, startled more by the sound of the arrow burying itself in the soft earth behind him. He then slowly walked off down into the big cut 30 yards to my right and disappeared over the edge.
I waited 20 minutes, then quietly got down and went to the point of impact. There was good red blood everywhere, but I decided to back off. Jason and his cameraman, Mike Kunz, were hunting close by, so I silently walked out and waited for them at the buggy.
Jason had to go pick up some of the other guys, so Mike and I grabbed some lights and got on the blood. I told him my shot was pretty much right where I had wanted it to be.
We followed the blood down into the creek bottom, then up the slight hill behind into the tangles. The buck then leveled off and followed the contour, making a big arc that would have taken him back to the bedding thicket he came from. It took us 30 minutes before we found him.
There was no ground shrinkage as we walked up to my buck. Back at the house, the tape told us he grossed 147 2/8 inches. To say I was thrilled is like saying Aaron Rodgers can throw a football, Bill Gates is rich or Stephen Hawking is a smart guy — a classic understatement.
Best of all, we had taken a fine buck on a day when common whitetail hunting dogma says stay home and watch TV.
On days when the wind howls, do you stay home or do you go hunting? This is not the first mature buck I have taken on a windy day.
In December of 2009, for example, I was hunting in southwest Kansas on a day when the temperature never got above zero. The wind blew so hard I was frightened and got down from my tree until the hail stopped and the wind dropped below 20 mph. At 4 p.m., eight does and a nice 8-pointer passed by on their way to a tank to drink. He met Mr. Thunderhead and scored 154 2/8.
Then there was the day I missed the biggest buck I have ever shot at. It was during a rut hunt in Illinois on a day when the wind was howling and the rain was coming down hard. Just after daylight, I spotted a huge buck and doe standing in a cut cornfield near the edge of a timber. When they walked into the timber, I drove a quarter-mile downwind and then got out of the truck and snuck into the woods. The plan was to still-hunt up the draw and see if I could find them.
Problem was, they were 80 yards away and I had no way of getting closer. Then the doe came right at me, slowly walking with a look on her face that said, “I have had enough of this rut stuff!”
I had no place to go, so I hunkered down near some chest-high pines. At 15 steps, she turned and walked up out of the woods, and the buck followed. It was so dark in the stormy weather, I didn’t see the little string of berry vines that deflected my arrow over the buck’s back. Someone shot him two weeks later with a muzzleloader. He scored 193 2/8.
Admittedly, days with strong winds are not the best hunting days of the year. However, if you can find areas that are sheltered from the worst of the wind and offer extra enticement to the deer, you will have a fighting chance at seeing animals on the move.
Like the saying goes, the worst day of hunting is better than just about anything else. And you certainly will not get a shot from the La-Z-Boy. Read Recent Articles:
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• Incredible Antlers: What is it about these remarkable works of natural art that so fascinates us? This article was published in the September 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.