Just as hunters commonly wonder if, and how, deer move on windy days, they question whether or not if, and how, deer move in the rain, too. The science proved that deer — especially bucks — tend to move more on windy days than calm ones, dispelling the myth that deer don't move in high winds. Will it do the same for rainy days?
For the past couple of decades, I've held the belief that deer move more in the rain. Not heavy rain, mind you, but light to moderate precipitation. I can count the number of times I've sat in a treestand or ground blind, had little deer movement, and then they came out of the woodworks as the rain started falling from the sky.
I killed my biggest buck ever in the rain, which I self-filmed for Realtree's Monster Bucks.
I sat through a steady rain shower, and as it began to subside, deer poured out of the bedding area in front of me. First, a couple of nice 2-year-olds. Then a yearling buck. Then the giant velvet 8-pointer. Even more bucks, does, and fawns walked out afterward. They all fed out in the clover in front of me, all while it misted rain. Eventually, I got a shot opportunity and made it count.
That wasn't the only incident I've seen or shot deer during or just after a rain event. It's happened numerous times.
That said, I think rain is more likely to get deer on their feet on warmer days, especially during the early season. Generally, rain cools you down, which gives deer reprieve from the heat, effectively getting them up on their feet.
I think rain showers that occur mid- to late-afternoon have even more power to get deer up and moving. When conditions align with crepuscular (dawn and dusk) movement, I believe it increases deer activity, even more than crepuscular movements without additional triggers.
But I'm not a biologist, and my experiences aren't peer-reviewed research studies. So, let's look at some deer science.
Several colleges with teams dedicated to whitetail biology and behavior have attempted to address this question. While general whitetail behavior isn't the focus of most wildlife agencies and DNRs (they focus on resource management), even some of them have studied the impact of rain on whitetail movement.
"The one study I know of that looked at short-term weather effects on deer movement, occurred in Oklahoma, and found little effect on deer movement regarding rain,"
said Levi Jaster, a big game program coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
"Deer live outside all the time and are constantly needing to balance nutritional needs, predator avoidance, etc., for survival. Since there is little they can do about rain, it's not likely a deer is terribly affected by it."
Moriah Boggess, a deer biologist with the Indiana DNR, initially expressed similar input.
"Based off several collared deer movement projects, the answer is very complex and not consistent. Some researchers have found that deer movement is not affected by weather at all... Depending on where you are in the country, it can either be a welcomed change in weather patterns or an unwelcome cold snap in an already cold environment."
Interestingly, some biologists and experts have discovered data or had experiences that suggest deer do, in fact, move more, if only slightly, during light to moderate rainfall. Both Boggess and Jaster have mixed feelings on the subject.
Boggess says that other researchers have found light rain can increase deer movement, but heavy rain can decrease it. Still, he says there is no consistent effect of rain across all the whitetail's range. That's a reasonable conclusion, though, mainly since whitetails inhabit a very diverse range of climates and habitats.
"Deer in southern Texas see much less rain and generally higher temperatures than deer in coastal New England. Thus, it is not surprising that rain effects are inconsistent. With rain effects so inconsistent, little to be said about the time of day it may affect movement most. Deer are crepuscular, moving at sunrise and sunset most, so these are the best times to be in the woods regardless of the weather."
Despite the inconclusive research studies, Boggess' own experiences suggest deer do move more during light rain.
"Speaking from personal experience, hunting in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Indiana, I feel like my best hunts have been on dreary days with light rain or snow. This is purely anecdotal evidence, but from a hunter's standpoint, the nice cool weather associated with these types of days makes me want to be outdoors, too."
Even Jaster relays that there might be something to it.
"Temperature drives movement more than rain, so changes in temperature that can occur with rain or storms may cause deer to change their movement patterns based on whether they are trying to stay warmer or cooler. It does seem like deer may move more pre and post rainstorm... When we have long periods of rain, deer will have to move regardless. As a ruminant, deer rely greatly on their gut microbes to help digest their forage, and those microbes can only live so long without food, so deer will have to eat one way or another at some point. Thermal cost in lengthy rain showers (several hours or days of rain) may go up during some seasons too, so deer will need to eat to maintain energy to stay warm also, so they'll have to move."
The scientific results on record are still inconclusive. The conclusion on whether or not deer move in the rain is likely somewhere in-between. Fortunately, you can test this theory on your own.
Rain can impact other aspects of deer hunting, too. General deer movement isn't the only factor. Understanding how it limits hunters and how hunters can leverage it is important to know.
For example, most people believe that light rain and moisture increase the effectiveness of a deer's nose. Boggess says,
"Every dog handler I have ever worked with or listened to on the subject says that moisture helps hold scent in an area even better. Since rain is associated with low-pressure weather fronts, wind patterns are less predictable, and scent falls to the ground. This is bad for hunters, so a high-pressure bluebird day is better as wind is consistent and more likely to lift scent into the air column."
Other negatives apply, too. Jaster says,
"Deer may be more alert in these conditions thought since their ability to detect predators may be decreased," In addition, Enough rain might wash out old track. Scouting after rain may give a more recent picture of deer movements since it would make it easy to tell new tracks. I would point out that safety is paramount, and hunters should avoid hunting in unsafe conditions. Rain and mud can make things slick. Maneuvering in rough terrain or climbing into a stand can [be] dangerous. I don't know about you, but I can't think of many places I'd rather be less than a treestand during a thunderstorm."
Don't forget the positive aspects, though. It also helps to wash away scent, so there might be both positives and negatives.
"Rain likely washes away some scent molecules, so that can help, but humidity can help a deer's olfactory system work better. It might be a tradeoff," Jaster said.
The most significant advantage to rain might be quiet walking, though.
Boggess notes that rain softens twigs and leaves, which offers perfect stalking conditions. On rainy days, perhaps slowly still hunt and scout your way through deer habitat. Jaster says rain and wind likely make it more challenging to see hunters' movements, too. So, that's good.
Overall, it's still not completely understood whether or not deer move more in the rain.
But I think deer tend to move more during light rainfall, especially during the early season when temperatures are warmer and when the rain event occurs in the early morning or late afternoon. Perhaps only the deer I hunt like their salad with dressing, but I doubt that's true.
No matter what, the more deer data you can start accumulating, especially from the deer you hunt, the better. You might discover some exciting things about the specific deer you hunt.
Featured image by Matt Hansen. Supporting photos by Honeycutt Creative.
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