When Spencer Neuharth asked me to write this article, I feared it might end up being the shortest piece in MeatEater history. It would read like this: If you want to kill a buck in high winds, you should just keep hunting like you would in calmer conditions.
Unfortunately, the problem with that is two-fold. First off, most folks wouldn’t follow that advice. Secondly, it would leave the article short by about 900 words.
To address the former and satisfy the latter, I’ll begin by instructing the readers to check out a three-year study conducted at Penn State regarding wind speed and whitetail movement. Not only did the researchers debunk the common belief that high winds halt deer traffic, they asked hunters to weigh in on what they thought the outcomes of the study would reveal. Over 1600 Keystone State hunters did just that, with nearly 90% of them indicating that they believed increased wind would tamp down deer movement.
The study showed the opposite, and it only makes sense.
Good Nose Work As a bird dog addict who enjoys public land roosters as much as public land whitetails, I’ve seen firsthand many times how calm conditions flummox the best of retrievers and pointers. Dead-still conditions force dogs to work almost like bloodhounds and other true tracking breeds, which is inefficient for bird hunting.
Anything from a light breeze to heavy, gusting wind changes the game. The dogs can pick up scent from farther away and use their noses more efficiently as they cover ground. Now, whitetails aren’t looking to put their teeth around game birds, but they are looking to avoid the teeth—and arrows—of any sneaky predators.
They live off of their noses and use them to avoid death. They do this every single day of their lives. While potentially reducing their ability to hear, the wind increases their ability to smell predators before they get too close. When you’re nature’s equivalent of a candy bar, that’s important.
Not My Deer You might be thinking, well, maybe in your woods, but not mine. To that, I’d respond by asking how much hunting you’ve done in high winds. Did you, like me, come into the hunting world believing (after being told hundreds of times) that high winds shut down deer movement? Or did you, also like me, eventually just hunt through every wind condition imaginable in a pile of different states and find out that the deer are still out there, still doing their thing no matter how hard the windmill blades are spinning?
Whether you hunt Kansas where calm conditions are rare or out east in the mountains where regionally high winds wouldn’t even rock the tumbleweeds in Dorothy’s yard, moving air gets deer moving. It also tends to keep people from hunting. That’s a good combination if you frequent public land or just spend your time on any type of pressured ground.
When people aren’t out and the conditions foster more deer travel, you can put yourself in a position to kill. In this way, wind is often the bowhunter’s friend. While this might seem like thin-gruel strategy-wise, it’s not. Hunting when others don’t will put deer on your wall. It’s the secret sauce that makes up a lot of the best public land killers in the business, and yes, it’s really that simple.
However, it’s not universally true that high winds will also make your hunting easier or better. Keep in mind that this is anecdotal, but I’ve hunted from North Dakota to Oklahoma in the band of the country where the land transitions from Midwest to West. I’ve never seen any evidence of high winds shutting down movement in any of those states. In fact, I’ve killed some of my biggest bucks in gusts that were blowing 35 miles per hour or more.
A few years ago, one buck walked past me after I’d climbed down from my stand because the wind was blowing 50 miles per hour, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stand up to shoot. I killed him from a natural ground blind and then watched three bigger bucks saunter past my stand. I’ve also killed bucks in ag-heavy, midwestern whitetail states in high wind and not witnessed much of a change in movement.
The big woods have been a different story.
Tight Cover Issues Where I hunt in northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, it seems like the four-legged predators outnumber the deer. It also seems like when the wind is really huckin’ in either state, the constant foliage movement and noise puts those deer in open cover and causes them to act over-caffeinated. This is just speculation on my part, but it seems like they get really nervous with all of those shaking branches and the nonstop movement of high winds. That seems to negate the benefit of being able to smell predators from a long way off.
Because of these tendencies, I tend to concentrate my high-wind hunting around more open woods, or if I can find them, meadows. High wind is not the time to dive into the morass of a five-year-old clear cut. This avoid-the-really-thick-stuff strategy might mirror your situation, or not. But the lesson here is just the same—hunt when the wind is blowing and observe your deer.
If you don’t want to sit in a tree, get in a natural ground blind or still-hunt. With a good wind to cover your movements, the latter can be the most fun you’ll have in the deer woods all season. Either way, get out there so that you can see first-hand how deer in your neighborhood react to windy weather.
That way, you don’t have to take my word for it or question the secret motives of the Penn State researchers. You can see deer doing what deer do every day: travel to feed, drink, lay down signs, and try to make little deer. They do these things in all conditions—even conditions that seem more conducive to flying kites than deer hunting.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.