August 19, 2022
Early deer seasons are characterized by hot, humid weather and the occasional front that arrives with a strong, sustained wind. For years, many deer hunters have believed that hunting on windy days is an exercise in futility. But is it?
On days when the winds blow 20 mph or more, do the deer stay huddled together? If so, at what wind speed will they start moving again? If not, how fast does the wind have to blow to lock them up and make early hunting a waste of time?
Over the years, I have found that most sportsmen who think hunting is horrible on windy days never hunt when a strong wind is blowing. So how do they know for sure if the field experience is equal to or close to zero? Trail camera footage? They only tell you so much. Whitetails may move, though mostly in sheltered areas and not as far as they do on calm days.
I’ve had success on days when the wind was really blowing, but usually only after adjusting my placement and technique. I find it difficult (and not particularly safe) to sit 20 feet up in a tree that sways like the mast of a tall ship on a rough ocean. But I am so I. So what does the research say about deer movement on windy days?
THE SOUTH TEXAS STUDY
In 1984, two researchers, Texas Tech University professor Steve Demarais and wildlife manager Bob Zaiglin, placed radio telemetry collars on 25 trophy males in south Texas. They collected data over four years, then analyzed how different wind speeds affected fallow deer movement. In their study, they divided wind speed into different categories: 0 to 4 mph, 5 to 9 mph, 10 to 14 mph, 15 to 19 mph, and over 20 mph. They found that the deer moved more in light winds and then dramatically decreased their movement when wind speeds reached 15 to 19 mph. However, when the wind was blowing at 20 mph or higher, deer activity spiked to the same level as when the winds were calm. Go figure. In this study, both calm and very windy days would have produced good hunting.
THE OKLAHOMA STUDY
Dr. Stephen Webb of Mississippi State University and colleagues conducted a multiyear study of white tail movement and published their findings in 2010. In this study, they placed GPS-tracking collars on 17 female and 15 female deer. males at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Wildlife Unit, a 2,999-acre tract in southern Oklahoma. The researchers found that there were no discernible trends in the effects of weather, including wind speed, on the movement of deer of either sex.
However, this study is inconclusive because male movement was only monitored from November to February, and doe movement was tracked during the spring and summer months, not during the fall hunting seasons.
THE CHESAPEAKE FARM STUDY
One of the most cited deer movement studies in recent decades is research by James Weatherman Tomberlin titled,
“Movement, Activity, and Habitat Use of Adult Male White-tailed Deer at Chesapeake Farms, Maryland”. The study was submitted for his master’s thesis at North Carolina State University in 2007.
Tomberlin studied the effects of climatic factors such as wind speed and direction on male behavior from August to December. While he found that time of day and temperature were the most consistent predictors of adult male movement and activity across all seasons, he found no consistent effects of wind on the distance males traveled, which led him to and his colleagues to conclude that the wind is not noticeable. role in deer behavior.
THE PENNSYLVANIA STUDY
Penn State University student Leah Giralico completed an independent study that compared hunters’ beliefs about how wind influences deer movements with data she and her colleagues collected on deer activity in 2015.
To do so, Giralico surveyed more than 1,600 Pennsylvania hunters about their beliefs about how wind speed affects whitetail movement. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they believe deer move less on windy days. Next, Giralico and his colleagues analyzed data they collected on deer movement in October 2013.
GPS units monitored the distance traveled by 25 adults and eight adult males both day and night. The researchers were primarily looking at whether environmental factors such as rainfall and wind speed influenced the distance traveled by both sexes. What they found was interesting.
“It took a little bit of wind to get the deer moving,” says Dr. Duane Diefenbach, lead and adjunct professor of wildlife ecology at the Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit at Pennsylvania State University. Pennsylvania. “But it was usually warmer on calm days, so we can’t say for sure that it was wind speed that had the biggest effect on the distances deer walked.”
Peak wind speeds during the study month were only about 12 mph, meaning the researchers were unable to determine how the high winds influenced these deer. Interestingly, both male and female deer moved more during windy days, but less on windy nights.
The study also found that the males increased their movements when a light wind was blowing, but only if it was not raining. A strong wind caused male activity to increase significantly, rain or not, but had no effect on females.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Obviously, these studies are limited in scope. So while we can draw certain conclusions, nothing is really definitive. There is nothing to say that deer studied in Pennsylvania or Oklahoma will react identically to those living in the Deep South. Furthermore, these studies did not take into account hunting pressure and its relationship to the connection between wind and deer movement. Statistical modeling is just that: a mathematical model that can never get into the head of an individual deer.
Also, these studies focused on how far whitetails traveled and not why they traveled from one place to another. Just because some deer don’t move as much on windy days as they do on calm days doesn’t mean they aren’t moving.
Closer examination, along with my own field experiences and those of other serious deer hunters I respect, might show that windy days can be excellent days to hunt whitetails, if you know how and where.
Here’s something to think about: A study showing that there has to be at least a little breeze for deer to feel comfortable getting up and moving around makes sense when you think about how important their sense of smell is to them.
Windless days hinder scent movement, making it more difficult for a deer to detect danger with its nose than on windy days. As a hunter always aware of the direction of the wind, breezy days make it easy to set up downwind of your intended travel routes. The wind also removes thermal currents that can carry my scent up a deer’s nose from my tree.
Make the most of a windy hunt with these tips.
On howling days, I always hunt in areas sheltered from the wind. These include the lee side of a ridge, the inner edge of a coniferous bog, the back of tall wood, and on trails leading from bedding thickets to preferred food sources.
Any dense area that slows down the wind is a potentially good place to hunt. Interestingly, these same protected routes are also often the same ones used by mature males, regardless of environmental conditions, simply because they are places where it is difficult to see deer.
Winds that rock even the sturdiest of trees mean hunting from the ground for two reasons. The first is safety, of course, but the strong winds that sway the tree make it difficult, if not impossible, to shoot accurately with the bow or pistol. Groves are fine in a protected area, but I go to a ground hideout, often a brush hideout that I build on the spot during run-and-gun hunts.
Even better, windy days are the perfect days to keep hunting. With branches and leaves swirling, it’s much harder for a deer to see you than on a calm day. Move one step at a time and use your binoculars to look at bits of bedridden deer. Use topographic maps and hunting apps to locate protected travel routes between bedding thickets and preferred food sources, then get as close to the bedding area as possible. The wind will help muffle any sounds you make while dispersing your scent, making this the perfect time to hunt in an area you might otherwise shy away from.