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Bad Weather Bucks

Randy Smith
The author harvested this Kansas buck during the end of a snow storm, which brought with it 40 mph winds and a windchill temperature south of zero.
By Randy D. Smith

-- I simply do not have the luxury of hunting on days when the weather is perfect. I'm certain most deer hunters are in the same boat. My home state of Kansas offers a total of 25 days for hunters to harvest a buck with a firearm. While that sounds like a fairly reasonable amount of time to most people, keep in mind that the number of so-called productive hunting days are much less.

Like many hunters, I have workplace obligations and the distance to my hunting area is great enough that I simply cannot hunt before and after work. Another point worthy of mentioning is that productive deer hunting falls faster than the unpredictable stock market once rifle hunters hit the woods.

Add wintry weather to the laundry list of adversity and it can be a daunting task to find yourself gripping a set of antlers before the season is over. However, the goal can be accomplished with a few scheduled vacation days and the know-how to hunt in rough weather.

Typically, I take time off from work to hunt the first seven days of our rifle season. The first five days are what I consider to the best opportunity to harvest a buck. Of those days, Wednesday through Friday have the least amount of pressure from other hunters. A non-scientific estimate reveals that I have seen and taken more than 90 percent of my truly nice bucks during those three days. It does not matter what the weather is like on that opening Wednesday, I am out there from dawn until the last moment of shooting light.

So what has the weather been like on those opening Wednesdays over the past 30 years of deer hunting? I can recall the number of ideal openers on the fingers of one hand. Oddly enough, I do not recall harvesting more than two bucks on nice opening days. But I can remember taking my best bucks in severe weather conditions. 

There was a season when the weather was literally blizzard conditions. I plowed through 4-foot deep snowdrifts in my Suzuki Samurai that year. There was not another soul out hunting that day, and I seriously wondered if I had lost my mind. 

I drove to a 240-acre sand hill pasture we leased with an 80-acre thick stand of red cedars, sand hill plum thickets and locus trees. I began still-hunting through the woods and quickly realized that in spite of the raging blizzard going on, fresh deer tracks were in plain view.

I found a large set of buck tracks and followed them to a cluster of cedars where the buck was waiting out the worst of the storm. I took that 140-class, 8-point buck at less than 40 yards away with a .45-70 Marlin. I had only been out in the elements just shy of 40 minutes.

A year later I took another buck less than 10 minutes after a driving thunderstorm blew through the area. I sat in my truck until the storm subsided then worked my way slowly against a thicket and began a series of periodic low grunts. Immediately, the swollen-necked buck appeared and was ready for a fight. This would have been my best buck ever if it hadn't broken off several tines.

Two bucks were taken on opening days when the winds were high and the wind chill index was well below zero. Another was taken as I stalked through knee-deep frozen snow just after a two-day blizzard, which ended the night before.

The best buck I've taken in Kansas was during early muzzleloader season. I waited in a tent-style ground blind during a driving rain storm from dawn until 11 a.m. and didn't so much as see a squirrel. I decided to give up and head to the farmhouse for a cup of coffee and some lunch.

As I trudged through the mud, soaking wet weeds and rain to get to my truck, I walked into three bucks following the same trail in the opposite direction. I stood against a large cottonwood tree and sized them up. The best was the last in line, and when the buck got into the open, I sent a .54 caliber round ball through its brisket at less than 40 yards away. 

So what's to be learned from these experiences? They all have the same weather conditions in common. In every case I went to the thickest, most isolated cover I had available. No one else was hunting, and I was in a place where I was out of the wind and could enjoy some measure of protection from the elements. 

For each opportunity, I was still-hunting, and remained quiet except when I was using a grunt call. On several occasions, I was following fresh tracks or a commonly used deer trail. Every buck was taken at less than 50 yards with a so-called brush buster style of firearm - big bore muzzleloader, lever-action .45-70 or bolt-action 8mm Mauser.
 
Sure, there have also been bad weather days when I headed home cold and miserable without a buck. But, the really good trophies have all been bad weather bucks, and that is why I will hunt those days as long as I'm able to do so.

--Randy D. Smith

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