Contrary to what most of us are told and believe, hunting deer in bad weather can be productive. Yes, there are times to stay in bed when the weather turns sour. But, generally, deer hunting in the rain, storm or snow can put a buck on the wall and meat in your freezer.
I became enlightened to the benefit of foul weather hunting early on in my deer hunting career. Let me share with you, some experiences that should help those who, for whatever reasons, have convinced themselves to stay home when the weather gets bad.
Probably the most important factor in successful foul weather hunting is protecting your body and equipment from the elements. If you don’t dress right – you’ll never be able to stay on stand long.
If you neglect your equipment by not protecting it properly, I can almost guarantee the result. And the result will be equipment failure and a bad experience as far as foul weather hunting goes.
Foul weather deer hunting requires some special preparation and planning for both your tactics and equipment. By thinking ahead and employing some unusual strategies, you can brave all but the most hostile of weather conditions and come out successful.
The first step in foul weather preparedness must start long before you leave for your favorite hunting ground. If you’re prepared for the worst weather, you can remain comfortable and stay in the woods long after other hunters have given up and headed back to camp.
Dressing in layers, wearing quiet rain gear, bringing a dry change of clothes, and using hand warmers are some important points to remember. Over the years, I have found that wool clothing offers great protection from the elements as well as being quiet.
It is what I use over a layer of long underwear. On top of the wool, I wear a quality set of rainproof jacket and pants. Wearing the right hat (one that diverts rain away from your eyes and the back of your neck), gloves and socks are also important to successful foul weather hunting.
Outfitted with quality clothing, you can put your first strategy into play. Staying warm and dry assures that you will remain on stand During snowstorms, you can quietly track deer into their bedding and feeding locations. You can also patiently position yourself on known trails.
During a snowstorm, deer traditionally move a few times along trails to feed and bed down again — even if they’re not traveling far from their bedding areas. Waiting along these trails during a continuing snowstorm can pay off handsomely.
In addition, there will be a flurry of activity after the storm ends. At first, the movement is concentrated close to the bedding areas and it eventually disperses (within 24 hours) to normal feeding areas. Knowing what the deer were feeding on prior to the storm and waiting there after the storm, will result in a successful buck hunt.
Next, and probably the most important factor in successful foul weather hunting, is protecting your body and equipment from the elements. If you don’t dress right – you’ll never be able to stay on stand long. If you neglect your equipment by not protecting it properly, I can almost guarantee the result will be equipment failure and a bad experience as far as foul weather hunting goes.
The next strategy is to keep your feet DRY AND WARM. Waiting for or stalking a buck in a cold rain can play havoc on your feet, especially when they are wet and cold.
There is no compromising on this matter. A quality pair of warm, comfortable, waterproof boots is an absolute necessity. If you don’t heed this advice about using quality footwear, your hunting will be over before it starts!
Besides protecting yourself against the elements, it is equally important to protect your equipment.
If you’re using optics, make sure it is a quality waterproof optic that has either flip-up or another style of lens covers to keep the lenses dry and clear.
I always carry a soft, absorbent cloth to occasionally wipe water or snow off my optics, if need be. It’s a good idea to carry several packets of lens cleaning paper to repeatedly clean optic lenses, too.
A camera lens cleaning brush is included in my pack to wipe off debris and a small gun cleaning rod in the event I fall accidentally and my muzzle clogs with mud or snow. In other words, when hunting in rain and stormy weather, I am totally prepared to stay out as long as possible to hunt.
If you’re using a rifle in sub-freezing weather be sure you’ve disassembled the bolt and de-greased it. Bolts can and do freeze in weather as warm as twenty degrees. Reassemble the bolt and lubricate it sparingly with a lightweight gun oil.
Heavy grease may cause the bolt to freeze solid or, just as bad, the primer may strike so lightly it won’t ignite the round.
It’s also a good idea to put a light coating of car wax on your gun’s barrel. It makes rain and snow slip off the barrel just like it does from the hood of your car or truck. This will help protect it from dampness and allow you to keep your mind on the activity at hand — hunting –, not rust!
Use an odorless wax. Once you’ve learned how successful you can be when hunting during foul weather, you may eventually want to purchase an all-weather rifle with a synthetic stock.
Lastly, in this category, a strategy that pays for itself over and over again is to never go afield in foul weather without a thermos of hot liquid (soup or broth) and some food items. Nothing helps to persuade you out of the woods faster than a hungry stomach or a chill that cuts to the bone.
It’s amazing how a thermos of hot soup and some food can turn a miserable day into one that’s at least tolerable.
Although most of my foul weather hunting is done on a daily basis and most likely, yours will be too, accidents can and do happen — especially in inclement weather when the ground is slippery.
Therefore, I always carry a small survival pack in my backpack that includes a space blanket, waterproof matches, flashlight, batteries, and other survival essentials.
By carrying this equipment, I hunt without worry about getting hurt or lost and having to stay out in inclement weather.
Now let’s examine some unusual traits white-tailed deer may exhibit in foul weather and then discuss the tactics to successfully take them under such adverse conditions.
At the start of most types of extremely bad weather, deer usually “hold up” in the heavy brush. Or they dense stands of evergreen trees like cedar. Deer become nervous in strong winds.
However, it takes gale force-type conditions to put deer down and keep them there. This is often evidenced when winds reach conditions referred to by meteorologists as Fresh or Strong Gale force speeds.
This is primarily attributed to the fact that two of their most relied upon senses. The hearing and smell are significantly reduced during these conditions. Deer try to make up for this deficiency by relying on their other prime sense of sight. To do so, they must stay on the move and always scan their surroundings for activity and danger.
Even this becomes difficult when everything in the deer’s environment is moving from the blowing wind. Contrary to popular belief, even when high winds are blowing up to 40 m.p.h., deer will continue to move and feed. Taking a stand on the fringe of heavy cover often proves to be a very productive method.
Another unusual behavioral trait brought on by bad weather is deer activity at odd times of the day. Generally nocturnal, especially in heavily hunted areas, the whitetail may spend a large part of the day. They spend it by moving just before or after a storm.
This activity often intensifies as the storm begins or ends. Dramatic drops or increases in temperature or barometric pressure will also increase deer activity before, during and after a storm. This is especially true if extreme bad weather conditions have held them stationary for a long time.
Stand and still hunting remain the best tactics for foul weather deer hunting — but with one serious twist. Instead of a little moment here or there, it will be a feast or famine situation. If the deer are moving, they will move continually.
Unfortunately, if they’re not traveling, it will take additional effort. Especially, of a hunting strategy like stalking, to sneak up on them. Learning how to recognize the varying conditions that govern these different patterns is the key to deciding which hunting technique you will employ.
If the wind is above 38 m.p.h., and the storm has been in the area more than a few hours, chances are the deer will bed down and stay that way until the storm breaks or their hunger becomes such that they are forced to look for food. Under conditions such as these still hunting can be deadly.
Hunt any place that affords more secure cover to deer than they normally require. In these type of weather conditions, bucks won’t be bedded where they normally bed. Instead, they will seek out the thickest and, what they feel, is the most impenetrable cover they can find.
This type of cover is usually found in a very thick stand of evergreen trees or in large shoulder-high patches of inaccessible laurels that are void of the snapping branches of hardwood trees in open woods.
When using these tactics, I can’t stress enough how important it is to take your time and move slowly. Still hunting in standing corn during conditions like this can also be a “good thing.”
During heavy winds and rain, deer, especially mature bucks, often head for standing corn swales and other timber-free hiding places. I have found that bucks frequent standing corn on misty, foggy mornings. But, I don’t know exactly why, either.
Primary variables besides wind, precipitation, and temperature include food availability, time of year, and stage of the rut. The closer it is to the full rut, the more the chances are that bucks will be moving despite the severity of all but the foulest of weather conditions.
Taking this into consideration means you can employ a rut-hunting strategy during foul weather, too. Use an estrus scent in a drip dispenser (like a Cover Trak) or on the bottom of a boot pad. Because you are walking to your stand.
Often, a buck on the move will pick the scent up and move into your area. During heavy rain, I often hang a boot pad saturated with estrus scent in a couple of different locations. It is to help attract a buck moving in the rain. It is the only time I hang more than one boot pad and use excess scent.
Rain holds odor down substantially, and, therefore, using more scent and pads is necessary for the strategy to work. However, although I’m using a few pads with more scent than normal on them, I do not soak them to excess.
Two other key factors to consider during bad weather hunting are the distance you’ll be shooting at and your shot placement. Chances are your vision will be slightly impaired at best. At worst, it can be cut by half or more.
Think about this and shorten up your self-imposed maximum shooting distance. Also, be even more careful than usual about shot placement.
In the rain or during a continually heavy snowfall that obliterates any sign in minutes. And all sign left by a wounded animal will be more difficult to read mere minutes after it’s made. Therefore, you’re looking to place one clean shot that will kill the animal if possible — in its tracks.