Play the wind. Play the wind. Play the wind.
You can’t get five minutes of deer hunting advice from anyone without hearing that phrase. And for good reason. If you want to kill deer, you do need to play the wind. But, as is the case with most things in deer hunting, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. Especially if you’re hunting mature bucks.
For those who consistently achieve that particular task, playing the wind involves not just keeping their wind from blowing to deer but also hunting in places where a buck can use the wind in its favor too. The trick to successfully hunting in situations where both of these things are true is to use corner-cutting winds.
First, understand that bucks play the wind just as much as hunters do. If you want to catch up with one of these old guys, you need to understand how and why they’re doing this. Grasp how a buck uses the wind and you’ll be better able to predict when and where he’ll travel. And if you can do that, you can better position yourself to be there waiting for him and keep your wind out of his face. That said, there are two ways that bucks typically use the wind; to check for danger or to check for does-in-heat.
Regarding the first example, bucks will often approach a destination—like a bedding or feeding area—with the wind in their face or quartering to, so they can smell what’s ahead of them and confirm whether or not it’s safe to continue in that direction. This isn’t a rule but it’s definitely a tendency that you’ll see in certain areas or with certain bucks. If you pay attention, you might end up finding that certain food sources are best with only one or two particular wind directions that allow bucks to scent-check the field. You’ll sometimes see the same thing with a certain wind direction impacting the use of bedding areas too.
The second example of how bucks use the wind is when checking for ready-to-breed does. They’ll do this by traveling downwind of doe bedding or feeding areas, allowing them to check an area more efficiently than walking through or viewing every piece of possible real estate.
When choosing a location to hunt, you need to consider how a buck will be using the wind on any given day just as much as how you want to use it. But if a buck wants to have the wind in his favor, how can you have it in your favor as well? This is where corner-cutting winds come into play.
The trick to letting a deer have the wind in his favor and getting it in your favor is to find “corner-cutting” opportunities. Knowing what we know about how a buck will want to use the wind, we can predict a deer’s path of travel, or at least where we hope he’ll travel, and then find spots where that expected route will be just off where the wind is blowing on a particular day. Your scent is “cutting the corner” so that the buck has the wind in or crossing his face, and your scent is just off to the side.
This can be achieved in spots where buck travel is well defined and you can clearly predict where a deer will travel and position yourself just off to the edge of it, or in places where some kind of obstacle or dead space actually keeps traveling deer just outside the wind zone. This might come in the form of downed trees, a ditch, a pond, a cliff face, or a creek.
Let’s examine a simple example to illustrate this. Imagine two squares sitting side by side. We’ll call the square on your left a bedding area and the square on your right a food source. The best wind for a hunter approaching from the food source for an evening hunt would be westerly, blowing their scent away from where deer are bedded. But this would also be a wind that would prevent a buck from scent-checking that field, so if he has other food sources available to him with a better wind, he might choose to head there instead. On the other hand, with an easterly wind of some kind, it would work well for the deer. This can often be the best time for a hunter to try and hunt this spot, as there is a somewhat higher likelihood of a buck showing.
To make this work for the hunter, you’d maybe want to wait for a southeast or northeast wind where you could hunt just south or north of the expected travel and blow your wind just off the expected travel route. Even better, let's say there’s a ditch that parallels the edge of the field, running north and south, with just one easy crossing for deer. This obstacle will funnel deer movement into a narrow and easily predictable area at this ditch crossing, making a corner-cutting wind particularly viable here, as you’ll be able to guess with strong certainty exactly where you need your wind to avoid and where it can still blow back in without trouble. With a southeast wind, for example, you could set up just north of the crossing so that the wind is crossing the buck’s face, but your scent is cutting up just north of him as he approaches the ditch.
It’s important to remember that you don’t always have to hunt these kinds of winds. There certainly are bucks that will approach with a tailwind, and there are certainly spots that you can hunt successfully with a perfect wind for the hunter and not at all for the deer.
But when the specific deer or habitat dictates you hunt with tough winds, you don’t need to throw in the towel. Look for those places where you can cut the corner and then give it a shot. This can be a risky play, especially when those winds gust or swirl, but when it works out, it can almost seem like magic.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.