How much wind is too much for deer hunting?
I was asking myself this very question on one November morning back in 1985. I was about to learn a lesson that has served me well ever since.
I had awoken early on a Saturday morning, and while I was having coffee, I could hear the wind howling outside.
But it was my only day of the week that I could hunt, so I showered and headed out in the darkness to climb into my tree stand.
Against my better judgement, I climbed up the tree as it was swaying, got buckled in to my safety harness, and sat down on the seat.
Once seated, I was able to see just how much the tree was swaying in the 30 mile per hour wind. I was actually starting to get a little motion sickness as it started to get light.
Just after legal shooting light had settled in, I decided that this was crazy!
I lowered my bow down and began climbing down, holding on for dear life.
I was about half way down the tree when a beautiful, mature 8 point buck came bounding over the ridge and onto the bench I had been watching, stopping a mere 15 yards away and staring at the blob hanging on the side of the tree.
We stared at each other for about 5 seconds and then he bounded off blowing loudly for a couple hundred yards, warning every deer in the area that there was an idiot hanging on the side of a tree.
I learned that day that deer do move in the wind, even heavy winds and if I had learned that lesson earlier, that buck would be hanging in my trophy room with the others.
There's seemingly no end to the factors you have to consider when hunting deer, but that's all just a part of the challenge. The more you learn, the more successful you get, and the more rewarding your hunt. As most expert hunters will tell you, one major factor to keep in mind is the wind, both its direction and speed.
To put it simply, no amount of wind is too much for deer hunting! Even light winds can affect deer behavior, and especially high winds of 20 mph or more can dramatically change their movements. However, just like the deer, you can adapt to these changes and even use the wind to your advantage.
How Do Deer Use The Wind?
As prey animals with many natural predators, deer have become adept at using their environment to their benefit. As a result, they use wind in a number of ways.
If you've observed deer much, you've noticed that they regularly lift their noses to the wind and sniff. In this way, they use the wind to warn them of potential danger and often position themselves downwind of areas they suspect predators—or hunters—will come from. While not always, deer then walk into the wind so that they move into areas they've been able to smell and aren't caught by surprise.
Deer use scent as one of their primary methods of communication. They produce many different pheromones from specialized glands that communicate dominance, readiness to mate and even emotional state. Just as they check the wind for the scent of predators, deer check it to learn about the deer around them.
Deer have poor vision relative to humans and are red-green colorblind. As a result, to detect predators and hunters visually, they rely heavily on movement. Their ability to detect movement is far superior to humans.
Wind can both help and hinder them in this way. By rustling leaves and brush, it can be harder for a deer to notice sudden movements through the woods. However, they often compensate for this by positioning themselves to view movements perpendicular to the wind.
Deer don't like sleeping in a biting wind anymore than you do. When conditions are windy, they like to bed down in areas with plenty of shelter from the wind. This usually means thick brush but can also include tree lines and ravines.
What Is Considered a Strong Wind?
A strong wind for deer hunting usually refers to speeds of 15-20 mph or higher. At these speeds, the wind can impact deer behavior. Strong winds also make it harder for the deer to smell potential threats.
However, the exact definition of "strong wind" will depend on your environment. For instance, if you live in the Midwest where high-speed winds are common, the deer will likely have adapted and may only change their behavior with stronger gusts over 30 mph.
At What Wind Speed Is Deer Movement Reduced?
Deer, especially does, reduce their movement at night at wind speeds as low as a mile an hour. However, a deer's reaction to wind is more complicated than most hunters realize.
Interestingly, even at night when deer reduce their movement with light wind, they actually increase it when the wind starts to reach about five miles an hour.
Finally, it's worth noting that does seem to change their behavior based on wind much more than bucks. However, both sexes follow the same pattern.
Things To Consider When Hunting In Strong Winds
Use the above information on deer movement when hunting. If you're hunting at dawn or dusk like many hunters, light to moderate wind means the deer won't move as much. They'll be more cautious and likely to seek shelter. That said, windy days can make for great hunting as the deer tend to be more active.
Deer’s Sense Of Smell
Your scent and your quarry's sense of the smell is the most important thing you have to keep in mind when hunting with wind. Storm-speed gales can potentially help you, but most light or moderate winds make it easier for deer to catch your scent. For this reason, you have to pay close attention to your position, setting yourself up downwind from the deer.
Deer’s Ability To Communicate
Since deer use pheromones to communicate with each other, they feel a bit "deaf" when the wind is strong and chaotic. They can't easily pick up the scents of the herd, so they'll pay much closer attention to their other senses like sight and sounds. In other words, you have to address these aspects of camouflage as well.
Deer’s Ability To Detect Movement
In general, moderate to strong winds are a boon for hunters. The rustling of leaves and branches distracts deer and masks the sound of your approach.
However, deer, mature bucks in particular, know that hunters and predators use the wind to their advantage and will therefore be on high alert. They may also position themselves perpendicular to the wind to notice movement that doesn't match the direction of the wind.
Deer Bedding Habits
Deer seek sheltered areas to bed down in when the wind starts to pick up. These include thick brush, tall grass or tree lines. While these areas protect the deer from the elements as well as their natural predators like wolves and large cats, it makes them easy picking for human hunters.
You just need to keep in mind that when the wind gets strong, 15-20 mph, deer may start moving even at night. This can be good for hunting if you take the right approach, but you may not be able to surprise them in their beds.
Winds Effect On Arrow Or Bullet
Naturally, wind can affect your accuracy while hunting. This is much more dramatic for bowhunters, especially those using traditional bows like recurves or longbows, but even bullets can drift if the wind is strong enough.
You should practice your aim a bit before hunting in windy conditions. Additionally, if you hunt somewhere where strong winds are common, consider heavier arrows.
Tips For Hunting In Strong Winds
Avoid Tree Stands
Tree stands are much less effective in strong winds. For one thing, the tree it's in will start swaying in the wind, so you'll have more trouble balancing and aiming your shot. Plus, the metal could creak or rustle leaves and branches, scaring away game.
Another problem is that if you have a fixed tree stand, you can't control whether it's upwind or downwind from the deer on a given day. While you may set it up in a place that's normally downwind from the herd, this could change. In this regard, climbing tree stands provide you with a bit more versatility.
Not to mention that it can be downright dangerous to hunt in a tree stand in very high winds.
Don't become a statistic.
Stay safe and keep your boots on the ground in high winds.
Ground Blinds Are A Good Alternative
Ground blinds are the ideal alternative to tree stands in strong winds. They provide a stable platform for aiming and shooting. Plus, they help mask your scent and any movement you make behind the blind.
Set up your blind in a sheltered area, such as near a tree line or in a brushy area. This will keep you protected from the wind while allowing you to take advantage of deer movement.
Control Human Scent
Strong winds can help or hinder a deer's sense of smell, but one thing is certain. A deer's sense of smell is far beyond yours, so don't try to outmatch it. Regardless of the wind, you should do all you can to minimize your own scent, which could get caught in the wind.
Use scent control products like sprays and scent-eliminating soaps and detergent. Dress in gear that controls sweat and odor.
Most important of all, even if you think you've eliminated all your scent, be sure to keep downwind from where you expect the deer to move. This will minimize the chance of the wind carrying your scent to a potential quarry and giving away your position.
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Seek Out Less Windy Areas
One of the reasons deer start moving more with wind, both during the day and at night with strong winds, is because they're trying to find somewhere to shelter from the wind. Therefore, focus on seeking out these less windy areas to catch deer on the move. They include valleys, ravines, benches and areas with dense vegetation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can deer smell in high winds?
Deer can still smell in high winds, but their ability to pinpoint the location of scents may be reduced. If winds are especially strong, over 20 mph, the wind may disperse the scent quickly, making it confusing for the deer. This can work to your advantage if you're a hunter, but you still have to control your scent and stay downwind.
Is 20 mph wind bad for deer hunting?
Winds 20 mph or higher can make hunting more challenging because deer behavior becomes more chaotic and unpredictable. However, if you adapt your strategies and hunting practices to the wind, it can actually help you. Seek out sheltered areas, control your scent and try using a ground blind to increase your chances when hunting in windy conditions.
Why windy days are great for deer hunting?
Windy days are great for deer hunting because, while they present some challenges to the hunter, they also present challenges to the deer. It can be harder for them to pinpoint smells and detect noises. Plus, deer tend to move more on windy days, so with the right strategy, you have more chances of success.
To take full advantage of a windy day, make sure you've checked the wind direction and positioned yourself downwind from the herd's movements. Mask your scent considerably, and then hunt sheltered areas like valleys and ravines or the travel routes between these places and the deer bedding areas.
Do deer always walk into the wind?
Deer don't always walk into the wind, but they do often. Specifically, they usually position themselves downwind of potential predators and hunters so they can catch unknown scents.
This can often manifest as the deer walking into the wind simply because they like to have their noses to the wind and are cautious of moving in a direction they can't smell. In other words, if they walk with the wind, they know there could be a hunter waiting there for them that they hadn't smelled.
Hunting deer in strong winds can be challenging, but it can also be helpful if you go in with the right knowledge and strategy. If you understand how deer change their behavior with the wind as well as how they use the wind for detecting danger and communication, you can increase your chances of success. Pay close attention to wind speed and direction, eliminate as much of your scent as possible, and hunt areas where deer go to seek shelter, and you can make the most of your hunt regardless of how fast the wind starts blowing.
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