Utter the words “cold front” around any group of whitetail hunters and you’re sure to get some combination of toothy grins, racing pulses, and nervous hands. Few things incite more optimism and excitement in a whitetail addict.
While studies on the impact of dropping temperatures on deer movement have been inconclusive, hordes of hunters attest to the cold front’s power. So, why exactly is that and how can you take advantage as a hunter?
How Cold Fronts Affect Deer
Most of the experts I’ve interviewed on the Wired to Hunt Podcast point to a temperature drop of 10 degrees or more from one day’s high to the next as being a consistent trigger for increased deer movement. The degree of impact from a cold front can be influenced by many factors, such as the severity of the temperature drop, how long temperatures were stable preceding the drop, and what kind of wind or precipitation follows. But, in short, it’s safe to assume you’ll see changes in deer behavior that are advantageous for hunting.
The influence of a cold front on deer movement can be experienced in a number of ways. A cold front can impact the timing of deer movement, with deer heading to open food sources earlier in the evening and heading back to bedding areas later in the morning. A cold front can often increase the distance deer will travel from their bedding areas during daylight. And a cold front can trigger a change in which deer will move at all (it can get a nocturnal buck to show himself in daylight).
When to Hunt Cold Fronts
Cold fronts are considered good for deer movement at all times of year, but there are certain periods when they’re a little more or less beneficial. If you have a cold front hitting on an opener, during pre-rut in late October, or in the middle of winter, you can expect the impact to matter just a little bit more. These are periods of the year when there are strong bed-to-food patterns that can be exaggerated and focused more toward daylight.
On the flip side, a cold front in November during peak rut is nice, but not nearly as crucial as one during the aforementioned periods of time. This is because deer activity is already so high and somewhat random during the rut, making a cold front less impactful relative to other factors.
As far as when to hunt this kind of system, it’s not uncommon to see an uptick in deer movement the night just prior to a cold front and then the greatest positive impact occurring over the next couple days. But take note—if there’s significant precipitation or wind along with the front, the increased movement might be delayed until those factors ease.
How to Hunt Cold Fronts
The real key to taking advantage of a cold front is knowing how to change your hunting strategy to account for them. This mostly comes down to the importance of timing.
Properly timing your hunts—especially for those hunting mature bucks—is one of the most critical skills a deer hunter can have. This has been reiterated to me countless times on the Wired to Hunt Podcast by skilled hunters such as Mark Drury, Jeff Sturgis, and Bill Winke. But maybe none have articulated it better than Neil and Craig Dougherty did in their book, “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun.”
“When it comes to hunting big deer, highly effective hunters are patient,” the Doughertys wrote. “They know they may only get once chance at Mr. Big, and they aren’t afraid to wait for the wind to be just right, or the snow to fly, or the rut to peak. They know the value of having things right, and the cost of a mistake. They hunt hard, but strike harder, and always when the time is right.”
When a cold front hits, the time is right.
Every time you hunt, you have to balance the potential reward of an encounter versus the risk of educating deer and making future hunts less productive. A deer hunter who is smart about timing his or her hunts will not hunt his best property or spots when the conditions aren’t right; they’ll instead keep the pressure low and the deer uneducated in those areas until there’s a better chance for movement. There are many factors that can make the timing right—time of year, changing food sources, observations, trail camera pictures—but cold fronts should always be right near the top of the list.
This is the Time
The way to kill a buck during a cold front is knowing that this is the time to strike. This is the time to call in sick or cash in those vacation days. This is the time to hunt your best property or best spots. This is the time to hunt that tough-to-reach tree stand that’s close to a buck’s bedroom. This is the time to swing for the fences.
This is the time to kill a buck.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.