Do deer move in the wind? For me, someone who hunts Pacific Northwest blacktails, this is a no-brainer. But us blacktail deer hunters are used to foul-weather hunting. It is inherent in the deer species. We know that windy, rainy, crappy days offer some of the best opportunities for harvesting a deer. As it turns out, whitetail deer may share some of the same climatic preferences.
When it comes to deer hunting myths, nothing beats time out in the woods to make your own observations. Like rain and moon cycles, not hunting during windy conditions is one of those things that hunters often just accept as truth.
Usually, it's what they've always been told. Maybe they've observed a lack of movement on a couple of occasions, which may or may not have been due to wind. Perhaps it's a tip they picked up in a sporting goods store.
Conventional wisdom says to stay home on really windy days. But through current deer research, a picture is starting to emerge that maybe that's not the most sage advice. One thing's for sure, you 100% are not going to kill a whitetail from your couch or camp. But you might if you are out in 25- to 30-mile-per-hour winds.
Do Whitetail Deer Move In The Wind?
The simple answer is yes. But the question is, how much wind is too much? What is the wind speed threshold that shuts down deer movement? Turns out, it may depend on the area of the country you are hunting.
Dan Perez of Whitetail Properties says that in states like Oklahoma and Kansas, where high winds are common, deer aren't affected by high winds too much.
Animals get conditioned to climactic conditions as they do anything else. So, in areas where high winds are normal, it's just business as usual.
New deer research seems to show that bucks move more in higher winds than on calm days. So, if anything, it seems that it is hunters that are affected by the wind!
How Do Deer Use The Wind?
Deer live and die by their noses. They are masters of using the wind to both stay alive and breed. Deer may not always move with their noses in the wind and will often use crosswinds caused by a mix of thermals, prevailing winds, and other factors to their advantage. Using crosswinds gives deer whiffs of potential danger and does during the rut while being able to stay on the move.
Lone deer will bed with the wind at their back. This gives them the advantage of scent coming to them from behind while they watch from the front. Groups of deer bedded together will position themselves in multiple directions to get better visual coverage while also using wind direction to their benefit. They will also circle downwind if they are unsure about an area.
Deer have it figured out pretty well, and it only makes sense why. As a prey species, their survival depends on it.
Do Deer Move In The Rain And Wind?
Strong winds and lighter rains seem to have a positive impact on deer movement. According to a whitetail deer study by Penn State, strong winds mixed with lighter rains may improve deer movement. In fact, the two combined seem to improve movement better than rainy or windy conditions on their own.
There have been other studies as well that seem to support the same conclusions.
Most of what we have is anecdotal evidence that doesn't conclude definitively if rain and wind together are reliable estimators of deer movement.
However, if you're a hunter who has spent enough time hunting and observing whitetail movements, no doubt you've experienced better deer movement in rainy conditions as long as the weather wasn't too severe.
Do Deer Move In The Snow And Wind?
Deer have an internal sense that alerts them to barometric changes in the atmosphere. They seem to know exactly when to move at the head of an impending storm front in order to feed and replenish their energy stores.
You'll see good deer movement in light to moderate snow and wind. But during heavy snowstorms or blizzards, you can count on deer activity slowing. Deer will hunker down in dense conifers or other thickets to conserve energy and chew their cud.
Once those storms lift, whitetails will be back on their feet, ready to feed after a day or so of downtime.
Do Deer Move In The Wind During The Rut?
Ain't nothing gonna stop nature from doing what it does, especially when it comes to reproducing. Mature bucks still scent-check and chase does in windy weather, even during the day.
In fact, it is more likely that deer in certain regions will be out in high winds because of the rut. As with general visibility during the rut, mature bucks tend to throw caution to the wind (no pun intended), and do things they wouldn't normally. Even though the wind makes it more difficult for deer to hear and can throw off their sense of smell, they'll still be out looking for the ladies.
Deer will use crosswinds while they're on the move to help catch the scent of does. Even though crosswinds can help with bucks finding does, it works to their disadvantage when trying to avoid predators, including human ones. Crosswinds can make it difficult for deer to pinpoint a hunter's location, and it also makes it more difficult for deer to communicate with each other.
Let’s Take A Look At The Research On Deer Moving In The Wind
Wildlife experiments are notoriously difficult to control for the parameter being tested because the "lab" is the surrounding landscape. Factors impacting deer movement could surely be the result of multiple elements working together.
Trying to tease out and isolate one factor's impact on deer movement from other interactive effects (rain, snow, barometric pressure drop, hunting pressure) can be extremely difficult. The potential to erroneously attribute causation to the parameter being tested (in this case, the wind), when it is actually the influence of an interactive effect is always present. This is where science becomes art - it's in the interpreting of the results.
Nonetheless, researchers at Penn State University showed some surprising results with regard to deer movement and wind.
By studying the movements of radio-collared deer in relation to different categories of wind speeds over multiple years (2013, 2014, and 2015), researchers showed a strong correlation between high winds and daytime deer movement.
Both male's and female's movement was improved by higher winds during the day, but the nighttime deer movement was slowed.
Tips For Hunting Whitetail Deer In The Wind
The great thing for hunters is that we have the ability to use the wind to our advantage when hunting whitetails. We just have to change up our tactics to match the weather conditions and be adaptable enough to change it up when the wind isn't in our favor.
The Wind Is Your Friend
The wind can be frustrating when it's swirling and constantly changing direction. But once we get an area figured out, we can also get it to work in our favor. Not only by attempting to stay "invisible" to deer noses but also by taking advantage of higher rates of deer movement while other hunters are taking a day off due to weather.
Using the wind won't always work perfectly. But getting to know what is possible will help you maneuver and think on your feet better during the hunt.
If it is a cold wind, consider wearing clothing with a windproof feature. Many of the best hunting pants and jackets are designed to keep you warm and comfortable when the wind is blowing.
As a general rule, staying out of lower lying areas like bowls and creek bottoms is good advice when air currents get testy. Getting higher up, like hunting from a tree stand, is usually a good practice - especially if you get 25 feet high or more. Thermals can bring your scent down to the ground, so the higher up you are, the better.
When wind speeds get over 12 mph or otherwise feel unsafe for you to sit in, ditch the stand and use the terrain for hunting high. Ridgetops can be a good place to hunt, specifically leeward (sheltered side). A good rule of thumb is to stay away from low-lying areas where winds swirl.
However, there is an exception. If an area is experiencing heavy winds and the wind is moving consistently in one direction, you can consider areas that are problematic during a fickle light breeze. Areas like dense timber, creek bottoms, and bowls are predictable deer stand locations you should consider.
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Reduce Your Scent As Much As Possible
There are definitely strong opinions on both sides of the commercial scent debate. Field and Stream even went as far as testing out different scent control products with a drug-sniffing dog. Out of all the products they tested (from rubber boots to carbon suits), they found that only a cover scent (acorn or pine) and Ozonics actually threw the dogs off. Since deer have more olfactory receptors in their nose than dogs - well, you get the picture.
The best scent control out there is simply "playing the wind," as it is often said. However, it is anything but simple! Maybe you're hunting from a treestand, still-hunting, or spot-and-stalking.
Whatever technique you are using, your strategy of staying downwind of a deer's nose is going to vary with the wind direction, time of day, region, and terrain. Hunting the wind is a very fluid thing, and you need to be checking the wind constantly to stay on top of it. The better you get at using the wind to your advantage, the more successful you're going to become.
To simply spray yourself down with a scent-control product and dive headfirst into midday, swirling thermals is foolhardy. You may get lucky from time to time, but it won't be very consistent, especially if you are bow hunting. And if you like grilling deer steaks, this is not the strategy you want to use. Once you've seen the immediate reaction of your scent hitting a deer's nose, you'll agree.
If anything, use these products or product kits as added assurance. If I'm on a hunting trip where I'm camping in the backcountry, I'll wash my hair and get the funk off by wiping down with a 2-in-1 scent control body/hair wash and hit the pits with a deodorant stick - all of which simply smell like dirt.
I do this to reduce the stink down as much as possible. At camp, I also change out of my camo and into "camp clothes" while hanging my camo over tree limbs to air out overnight. After the "sponge bath" bathing ritual in the morning, I put my less smelly camo back on and head out. This is only added extras, though.
My primary scent control is keeping the wind in my face. I pay close attention to the wind direction, constantly puffing on a wind indicator all throughout the day. I let that determine how I move or what time of day to hunt a certain stand.
Plan Your Route Carefully
Getting to your stand, ground blind, or hunting area undetected is just as important as while you're hunting. You don't want it to be "game-over man" before you even get started.
You'll need to spend some time collecting intel about wind direction, thermals, and how these things change over the day in your area - preferably before you get in there to hunt. If this is an area you normally hunt, you'll probably already have some idea. History with a spot is good because you can get a better sense of how the wind changes over the course of a day or even over different seasons.
However, if you haven't used anything that gives you a visual cue, like talc powder, now is the time to start. It is entirely possible that what you think the wind is doing; is not actually what it's doing.
I once spent three years hunting a spot and thought I had the morning and evening shifts in wind direction down to a science. It wasn't until I started using a wind indicator while scouting that I realized how fickle and inconsistent the winds became. That was an epic eye-opener and caused me to totally change my approach.
Alright, now you have the necessary information. Make sure you've marked potential feeding and bedding areas. Plan your route according to the wind direction for the particular time of day you're traveling to that spot. You can even go as far as plotting it out on a regular map or hunting app. Keep your route downwind of any areas you expect deer to be. Take the long way around if needed. It's better than getting busted without you even knowing it and sitting for days with no activity.
Don’t Forget About Thermals
Thermals can work to your advantage or completely ruin your day. Thermals are formed by the heating and cooling of the earth's surface. This warming and cooling create drafts that move up hillsides in the morning and down in the evening. Thermals are, in effect, winds, and they will take your scent right to deer every bit as much as a prevailing wind.
Of course, this is an oversimplification. When it comes to actual terrain in deer country, the process is more complex. The slope aspect, the contour, and the openness of the terrain all make a difference. Areas of a hillside that are more exposed to the sun will warm up faster, while shaded areas of the same hillside are slower to catch up.
You end with mixing of currents because the thermals on warmer, sunnier aspects are moving up, but the cooler, shaded ones are moving down. Maybe there's a drainage that runs through the middle, which is going to complicate things further. The sunny and shady sides of the drainage are a microcosm of the larger hillside and will act exactly the same way.
Soon you will have air currents from the thermals blowing in several different directions until they settle later in the day. Every situation is different. So, you have to be able to read the situation while checking the wind and acting accordingly.
Here is a great video showing how deer move in the wind and how you can take advantage of that on your hunting property.
I think we can say with a respectable level of confidence that whitetail deer move in the wind. The degree to which they do so is up for debate, however. Like most wildlife behaviors, deer movement with respect to wind is a complex subject.
As one might expect, results are not consistent across all whitetail habitat and it is likely that you'll find behaviors vary by region or state. However, it is encouraging to see some of the results from various studies that are out there. They help us to unlock some of the mysteries of how deer move with regards to various climatic conditions.
Getting out into the field and making your own behavioral observations will help you understand what the deer are doing in your area. Instead of relying solely on information from others, experiencing it for yourself is the best teacher of all. Synthesizing information from these different sources only helps us become better, more successful hunters.