It’s no secret deer do not like to move as much on windy days. The more wind; the less they move. But don’t let that make you stay home, in fact the wind opens a new set of opportunities if you know how to make the most of it.
An older fellow from my neighborhood named Jim helped me get started in bowhunting by toting me around to hunting spots. He knew I had a hard time sitting still so he admonished me with this unforgettable bit of advice, “When the deer are on their feet, you stay put and let them come to you; when the deer are bedded down tight, that’s when you go to them.”
That piece of sage advice has stayed with me all these years, and it fits so many situations in all kinds of hunting. I would go on to shoot several deer from the ground by spotting and stalking them both near my home in the flat farm country of northern Iowa and in other states. In each case, the secret was to see a bedded deer before he saw me.
I’ve learned that one of the best times to expect deer to be bedded down is during windy conditions. I’m not necessarily talking breezy days, but more like those days when you feel like you are about to be bucked out of your treestand. Days when you have sustained winds of 20 miles per hour or more are the days when the deer hole up and wait it out.
Whitetails rely heavily on three senses for survival from predators, including bowhunters: sight, sound, and smell. The more these senses are impacted negatively by environmental factors, the more likely they are to put a hold on their movements. High wind takes away all three. Everything is moving around with the wind, making it difficult for them to distinguish movement that may signal alarm. It’s very noisy with the wind rushing through the trees and bushes, and of course air currents are swirling all over the place, making it impossible to determine the source of a smell.
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In windy conditions, whitetails will be anchored to the ground in predictable locations. I have come up with three situations where you have a chance to increase your odds of bagging a buck when the winds are howling.
Open country spot and stalk
In that Iowan open farm country, I discovered that finding a buck to stalk was the easy part, particularly during the rut when they tend to push does out into open areas where they can control their movements. Getting within bow range wasn’t so easy, so I began to hope and pray for high winds at least a couple days during mid-November. Those were the days when I could significantly increase my odds of getting close enough for a shot. I have since used these techniques in Kansas, Missouri, and Montana.
The key to the system is to keep moving from spot to spot, glassing potential areas from a high vantage point. This is often accomplished by mounting a spotting scope to the window of a vehicle or sneaking to the top of a hill and looking over known rutting areas with binoculars.
The likely places you will find bucks bedded are the lee side of terraces, ditch banks, grass waterways in harvested crop fields, bushy fencerows, and even behind small farm buildings. Once you find the deer, plan your stalk carefully, marking features so you know exactly where you are going. Spotting scopes and binoculars compress the distance and things often look different when you get out there. Count fence posts or power poles, take a mental note of a specific bush, rock, or plant—you get the idea. Once you have a couple reference points, use the howling wind to your advantage and go get him. Take your time, he’s likely to be there all day.
Go in after them
Deer in more wooded areas tend to head for one of two locations when the winds blow. In these situations a stealthy, on-the-ground approach is more effective and you are not as likely to see the deer until seconds before the shot. Bucks often bed just over the crest of a steep hill on the lee side. This allows the deer to see the area in front of them and smell behind them, as the winds flow up over the hill and above them.
You can often get close to these bucks by carefully working along the lee side of the hill with bow in hand and covered in good camouflage from head to toe. This way you are quartering with the wind while the noisy wind is covering your sound and movement.
Hunt the low areas, such as thick creek bottoms, deep gullies, and swamps; this is where the big ones go to get out of the wind. Hunt the edges and trails leading between the bedding areas and their food and water sources. Move at a snail’s pace through these areas. Calculate every step you take. It might take two hours to go 80 yards. You can’t accelerate the process.
It helps to stay in the shadows and move from tree to tree or bush to bush, trying to use objects wider than yourself to break up your outline. Avoid the normal heel-to-toe sound of a human walking, instead walk on tip toes, analyzing each area where your foot will come down. When you see a deer you want to shoot, angle out of its vision while trying to cut the wind angle for the final approach.
Creatures of the corn
Back in the late 1980s, I saw the video “Bowhunting October Whitetails” in which there was a demonstration about walking across the rows of dry, brown corn to hunt the deer that were bedded in there. To say I was skeptical would be an understatement, but I had the perfect place to try it out.
A farmer friend had a five-acre corn food plot near a county park. I went over and asked him if I could go into the food plot and try to shoot a deer in there. He looked at me like my head was on upside down, but eventually granted permission.
Two hours later I came out of that cornfield not only with a deer, but with a wide-eyed appreciation for the potential of what I had just discovered. I have since spent countless hours hunting the cornfields and the stories I could tell of the things that happened in there makes for some pretty good campfire conversation.
Here are the basics of how it’s done. You start near the downwind corner of the field and hunt into the wind, or quartering into it. Hunt across the grain of the corn rows as you move. Stick your head in a row and look both ways. If you don’t see a deer, step into that row and poke your head into the next one. When you see a deer, there is a possibility that you can just step into the row with it and shoot. Deer just don’t seem to believe their eyes when they see a human out there, and since they can’t confirm what they are seeing with sight or smell, they often freeze up.
More likely, the deer is going to be out of range or there will be too many corn leaves in the way to shoot. In that case you will have to back off a couple rows and move down the row to get within shooting distance. And shooting distance is going to be close. Very close. Most shots are at less than five yards.
The best areas within the fields tend to be those with some weeds or grass growing between the rows. The deer like to bed down in a grassy area so I have found that perfectly clean, hard-bottomed rows of corn are not as good as those with some other vegetation in them.
For this tactic, the nastier the conditions, the better. Once during a blizzard I had half a dozen bedded deer on all sides of me within 10 yards. It is very noisy and chaotic with the wind rushing over the dry leaves and crashing them against each other. The first time you see a relaxed deer from just a few feet away you will understand why I look for every opportunity to use this method on windy days.
The next time you are hugging your tree to keep from getting knocked out of the treestand, think about these three tactics and where you might go give them a try. The deer aren’t very likely to be coming to you in those conditions anyway. Like Old Jim said, when the deer are bedded down tight, that’s when you go to them.
Follow Bernie’s bowhunting adventures on his blog, bowhuntingroad.com.
Images courtesy Bernie Barringer