By John J. Woods
Smart deer hunters stay home on bad weather days. Yeah right, we’ve been hearing that one for years. However some deer hunters seem bound and determined to learn things the hard way. I’m one of them. So there I sat atop a 16-foot tripod in a blinding rain. What a way to ring in the first day of a new year.
The saving grace for my situation was a canopy roof on the hunting stand covered with waterproof ripstop nylon. Despite a few minor leaks around the seams of the sidewalls, I was feeling pretty cozy, and for the most part I was dry. I was also comforted by the thought that my hunting buddy Andy Dulaney was a half mile away in another hunting stand. You shouldn’t hunt alone on such days.
As most deer hunters’ minds do during lulls in the action, my thoughts roamed from solving the world’s problems, to anticipating a nice bowl of hot homemade chili back in camp, and wondering what self-respecting whitetail buck would be caught alive (much less in a position to be dead) on a terrible day like this. My answer came quicker than I could have imagined.
Peaking out of the side window of the tripod cover, it was easy to tell the downpour outside was gaining ground on the turf below. The visibility down the shooting lane was under 50 yards thanks to the sheets of rain and a low fog forming across the ground. I was hoping for a short hiatus in the deluge so I could hop on my ATV and boogie back to camp.
Just at that moment, I could hear the approaching stomps of something running in the waterlogged sod. Each slogging step grew louder. I could hear the sequence of steps sucking out of the mud with each stride. By habit, I readied my deer rifle by poking the barrel out the wall seam crack in case it might be a deer. Then I sort of laughed to myself. What deer?
Had that tripod hunting stand not been situated over three small pine trees in the center of a shooting lane, I think that animal would have run right between the legs supporting my seat. I jerked back the side cover, and to my amazement a nice little 3-point buck ran beside the tripod, slowed for a second, then quartered off into the thick cover just past the shooting stand. I was dumbfounded.
I still wonder exactly what mission that buck was on that day—running full out, slinging mud with every step, and seemingly headed somewhere with a purpose. Why he ventured forth under such adverse weather conditions I have no idea. What I do know is that he did, which dispels yet another old deer hunter’s tall tale. Deer move and can be hunted during bad weather conditions.
The bigger question, however, might be what effective deer hunting strategies to use when weather conditions turn fowl. Are there times when sticking close to the fire is time better spent? What extra planning steps or precautions should hunters take into account when contemplating a bad weather deer hunting scenario?
When bad weather is mentioned in relation to hunting, most hunters seem to immediately think of the traditional rainstorm as in cloud burst, thunder, lightning, and a downpour. Remember though, bad weather encompasses a lot more than mere rain showers. In the upper Midwest it might mean ice, sleet, or snow, while in the south it might indicate unseasonably hot temperatures with high humidity, or that occasional January blow. Bad weather is bad weather, but it isn’t always defined as thunder and rain.
In order to get a number of bad weather hunting insights with different perspectives I contacted several noted whitetail hunters with successful experiences hunting deer in bad weather. The suggestions these experts offer can help us all apply more effective strategies and tactics when Mother Nature goes awry.
The southeastern United States is poised in a rather unique weather corridor. From Arkansas east to the Carolinas, deer season weather can run the entire gamut from hot and dry, to near flash floods, to freezing cold with spits of sleet and snow. Bad weather fronts can come and go in under 48 hours, often times quicker. Such conditions can play havoc with any deer hunting plan, as George Mayfield of Aliceville, Alabama, knows well.
Does weather influence George’s deer hunting? “I operate a commercial hunting lodge called The Roost (205-373-8645), so I can’t fret about incoming weather, since I can’t change it anyway. I always have hunting clients booked so we’re going to hunt regardless,” George commented. “My job is to try to assess the weather that will hit our hunting areas so I can prepare the hunters for it by altering our strategies accordingly.
“Every hunt can’t be a bluebird sky experience. Some bad weather conditions can actually make deer hunting better. A slow drizzle rain without much wind softens woods noise. It lets stalking hunters walk quiet and work closer to game. On days like this I post hunters near clear-cut edges where I’ve actually watched bucks stand up, shake off like a dog, and lay right back down. When bucks move in a drizzle they seem to go slower, more deliberate, making them easier to see, scope, and shoot. Bucks have to move eventually so being alert is critical,” Mayfield advises.
Another type of weather scenario that is prevalent across the south is the major cold front that moves in slowly, then blows by overnight or maybe even stalls for a day or two. “For the first or second day after a big cold front rolls through, the best strategy is to hunt open fields in the afternoons,” says Mayfield.