Want to kill more mature bucks? Pay close attention.
When it comes to hunting and killing mature bucks, there are few things more important than understanding wind. We must understand how to use it in our favor, and how deer use it as well. We must understand how wind travels in different kinds of areas and how deer will travel these areas to take advantage of that. And finally we need to understand how to minimize the effects that wind can have on our hunts. We’ll be covering all of that and more as we share seven advanced tips for using the wind to hunt mature bucks.
The Basics Of Playing The Wind Before we get into anything too advanced, we need to first cover deer hunting 101. A whitetail’s greatest defense mechanism is his nose and he will use it all day, every day to stay alive. If you ever want a chance of killing a deer, especially a mature buck, you’ve got to learn how to avoid letting a buck catch “your wind” aka your scent. I think most of you have this part pretty well nailed down, but if not, I’ll give you a super brief summary.
In short, on any given day you’re planning on hunting, check what the wind direction will be and then choose a stand site that will allow you to hunt without having your wind blow into an area deer will likely be present (bedding area, feeding area, etc). You want to be downwind of any main travel corridors as well, as you don’t want a deer to pass you and then hit your wind. In a perfect world I like my wind blowing back towards some type of typical deer free zone like an open field, a pond, over a cliff, a typically deer-free open hardwoods, towards a road, or something along those lines. This is the most basic element of hunting the wind, figure this out now or risk forever wondering why you can never kill a big buck.
Mapping The Wind You can get a basic idea of wind direction for any given day by checking out Weather.com or a similar site to get the hourly wind forecast, but these predictions can often be a little off depending on your exact location. That said, you need to also pay attention to the wind conditions present at any given time in the actual location you’re hunting. If you’re already in the woods, you can check the current wind by using a puffer bottle (little bottle full of talcum powder), or some kind of wind floater that will ride the wind and let you visibly see where your wind is blowing to. That said, while wind can be consistent in one stand, it can then be completely different in another. For that reason, some folks recommend you map the typical wind conditions on your property.
Craig & Neal Dougherty of North Country Whitetails are big proponents of this. In their book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun," they discuss how they map the wind.
“The first thing we do is check the weather. You need steady and consistent wind to map wind. We start mapping a well-known location; in our case, it’s our hunting cabin deck. We blow bubbles or set off smoke bombs or use wind floaters to see how the wind moves across a given stretch of property. We follow the wind markers as far as we can, then release another batch and follow them, marking an aerial photo as we go. We stop when we run out of property. Then we do it all over again from another starting place, making sure the wind has held steady. We can usually map an entire 500 acre property with a constant wind blowing from a given location in a single, half-day session. We then wait for another steady wind blowing from another common prevailing direction and repeat the process. We do this for every prevailing wind direction until we have all the prevailing wind directions covered.”
How Terrain Effects Wind Part of the reason it’s important to check wind in your stand location each time you hunt and/or to map wind direction prior to hunting, is because terrain features can uniquely impact wind direction. Despite a consistent westerly wind blowing across most of your property, your treestand down in the holler might have totally different conditions than the box blind up on the ridge. Wind can be impacted by hills, ridges, cliffs, trees, and most any other terrain or habitat feature you can think of.
The best analogy for wind I’ve heard is that it works like a stream. When you watch a stream as it goes around a large rock, you’ll see the water curve around it and then spin out behind, creating an eddy. The changes in wind direction caused by terrain or cover features can be similar to this. Once again, this is an important reason to check the wind direction each time you hunt, as you need to understand how the terrain features where you are might have changed the wind direction from what was predicted.
One of the more consistent terrain related changes in wind direction are thermals. In areas with significant hills or changes in elevation, wind direction can be impacted by the warming and cooling of air each day. In the mornings, when the sun warms the air in valleys, it will eventually begin to rise. On the other hand, in evenings when air cools, it will again fall. These temperature related wind direction changes are called thermals. If you are hunting in hill country, you must be aware of these thermals and how they’ll impact your stand locations at different times of day.
Remembering Wind On Your Entry/Exit To this point we’ve only talked about playing the wind when in your treestand, but you must also consider playing the wind when entering or exiting your stand. Being able to get in and out of your stands without spooking deer is incredibly important if you want to consistently kill mature bucks, but if your wind is blowing in towards deer when you head in or out of a stand, you’re dooming yourself from the get-go. Make sure you plan a route to your stand that avoids walking near these deer heavy areas, but also make sure your route is downwind of these areas to avoid your scent from giving your presence away.
Cheating the Wind With Scent Control Now as important as it is to play the wind, we all know that sometimes deer just don’t follow the script. You may think you’re downwind of where the deer will come from, but inevitably a deer will end up defying the odds and come from downwind of you. At this point you’re screwed, unless you take extra precautions to eliminate as much of your human odor as possible. The topic of scent control could fill a book all by itself, but let me just remind you again of how important this is. It’s really important.
I personally am of the mind that I can never do enough to eliminate odor, so I pretty much use every tool at my disposal to fight this battle. I wash my clothes in scent free detergent, keep it in a scent-free storage container outside, and now this year I’ll also be using a ScentMaster box to further eliminate odor and moisture from my gear before and after hunts. I then also take a scent-free shower, use scent-free toothpaste and deodorant and the whole nine yards. Finally before heading into the field, I spray everything down with scent eliminating spray and I use an Ozonics unit to eliminate additional human odor in the field. It may seem like a lot, but when it comes to scent control, I don’t think you can ever do enough.
Mature Bucks Want The Wind In Their Favor Alright, we’ve established how we can use the wind in our advantage to keep deer from smelling us. But we haven’t discussed how deer use wind to their advantage. As mentioned earlier, a whitetail’s nose and sense of smell is its number one defense mechanism, and with that being the case, they’ve learned to take advantage of that sense as much as possible. Given that, many deer and almost all mature bucks will try and use the wind when approaching new areas.
Typically this means bucks will approach feeding areas or bedding areas from the downwind side, or at least with the wind crossing their face. This poses a problem for hunters. If you want to be downwind of the deer, but they want to be downwind of where they’re going, you as a hunter will often times either end up in the wrong place or get winded by the deer. That said, the key here is to hunt where the buck wants to be, lets say the downwind edge of a bedding area, but then use careful stand placement to “cut the corner” and be just off of where the buck could wind you as he approached. This concept is explained much better by Todd Pringnitz in this video.
Wind Influences Where Bucks Will Bed Bucks don’t just use the wind when they travel, it also impacts where they bed. Typically a buck will want to bed in a place where he can watch one direction, and then have the wind to his back, allowing him to smell anything behind him. Keep this in mind when trying to predict a buck’s bedding location on any given day. If you’ve done some scouting and then apply this game-day information, you’ll be able to greatly narrow down his possible location. Also, as referenced above, mature bucks will also try to use the wind when coming into their beds in the morning as well. Often times taking a “j-hook” approach in and around their bed to wind-check it before bedding down.
As you can see, the topic of using wind direction when hunting mature bucks is an expansive subject. While we could talk for days, the important thing is this. Always, always be aware of the wind direction and the implications it can have on your hunt. There is nothing more important to a deer, and for that reason, the same should be said for you, the hunter.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.