Most whitetail hunters understand the importance of playing the wind. Deer live and die by their noses so it only makes sense.
Mature bucks are constantly using the wind in order to detect danger and find food (even love). Knowing how they do it during certain times of the year could really make a difference in getting that once in a lifetime shot….or no shot at all.
However, in order to do so you first need to understand how the wind works. No, I’m not trying to insult your intelligence. Of course we all know how the wind works when it’s moving through our hunting area without interference. But what happens when it bumps into topography (mountains, small hills, valleys and ridges)? How does it act in the morning as opposed to evening? And, how can you actually use that info to your advantage?
Wind Direction Models: Think Air & Water
Air blowing across an open food plot is pretty easy to figure out in order to determine stand sites. The goal is to place yourself “downwind” of approaching deer. In other words, the wind should be blowing from the dee - to you. Not the other way around. But what happens when there is an obstacle between you and the deer? Specifically a change in the terrain.
Well, it doesn’t take a great deal of topography to change the direction of the wind. And when it does it is important to understand what happens. The best learning example, at least for me, is watching water in a creek. More specifically the way it ebbs and flows around rocks and pockets of land jutting out into it.
It is a good idea to constantly monitor the wind along with the deer behavior in your particular area. Doing so only increases knowledge which in turn increases your chances of success. Knowledge is power.
The first thing you will see is that when the water meets a rock it will either go over it or around it. Pretty simple. However, when there is nowhere for the flowing water to go it will start to swirl and roll back onto itself.
You’ve probably witnessed this where a large piece of land or rock juts out into the stream of water. The water will swirl behind it over and over again. Eventually it moves on but not until it has flowed back onto itself for several minutes. Wind reacts much the same way. However, each scenario is different because of the variables involved in speed and size/shape of obstruction.
Air Flow and Terrain
The next time you are contemplating the behavior of air in your hunting area think back to the water example. The least amount of obstacles the wind has to collide with the better. Naturally, the more mountainous the region the more complicated things can get.
However, even in the predominately flat Mid-West you will still find subtle valleys, ridges and steep draws and/or hollows to contend with. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the wind has no influence over the outcome of your hunt just because it is blowing in your face and you aren’t in a typical “mountain” setting.
Depending on the severity of drop in terrain, you can actually hang a stand for deer approaching on the “downwind” side of you. Topo maps are a great tool for locating such areas where the wind will actually be carried out over them.
I have hunted in my home state of Southern West Virginia where the wind hit me in the face, collided with the steep mountain face behind me and then rolled back onto itself; hitting the ground somewhere out in front of me. Much like the swirling water that rolls back on itself.
I’ve tested this occurrence with milkweed pods, pieces of cotton balls and powdered wind detectors and found it to be true on hunts in my home state as well as the mid-west where one would believe the wind to be constant most of the time.
The Ups and Downs Of Thermals
There is another sort of predicament the wind will cause you. However, it is much less obvious (or talked about) but just as powerful at making or breaking your hunt. It’s called thermals and they work their magic in a mostly unannounced manner.
In simplest terms thermals work like this. In the mornings as the heat form the sun warms the air it begins to rise. Therefore, any scent or odor that is floating around in the air will rise uphill. On the other hand, in the evening as the sun goes down the air begins to cool and fall. When that happens it will pull any odor that is present to the ground with it.
Savvy hunters will spend the off-season hanging multiple stands to adapt to not only prevailing winds but the effects of morning and evening thermals.
Smart treestand strategies would have you perched above game animals and trails in the morning and below game animals and trails in the evening. That way the thermals (and any odor) will be rising or falling from them to you. It is the same principle as staying “down wind” but in a much more subtle manner.
Deer & Wind Direction
For the most part a mature buck is going to use the wind to the utmost level in order to not only stay alive, but to check out areas without actually having to step hoof near them. This is especially true during the rut when cruising bucks can scent-check doe hangouts from afar.
Big bucks are also notorious for circling on the “downwind” side of a hunter who is using rattling antlers, buck grunts or doe bleats in order to confirm what his ears have heard. When that happens, and he gets a whiff of the real source (you), the game is over and the buck walks away all the wiser.
What if hunters knew what the wind direction was on any given day that an image was capture? It could open up a world of possibilities when deciding when and where to hunt a particular buck on a particular day.
One way to fix this problem is to locate an area that will provide an obstacle on the downwind side of your treestand site. This can be an open CRP field, a rock cliff, a large creek crossing, etc. Anything that would deter a buck from going where you don’t want him too…downwind of you.
The point is, if you’re using an attractant to bring a particular buck into your setup the odds are good he could circle downwind in an effort to confirm his hunch while checking for danger. If that happens at least make sure you have a shooting lane cut to kill him before he gets there. Such obstacles can also prevent a buck from approaching on the downwind side all together which is a big plus.
Your Stench Can Blow It
All of the technology, tips or tactics in the world aren’t going to help you locate and monitor trophy bucks if you stink. So, before you start delving into the wind and how it can hurt or help your chances of tagging a mature buck, first consider your own scent control system. In all honesty if it isn’t spot-on you can forget about any sort of consistent success. But that’s a different article for another time.
When it comes to mature bucks nothing is set in stone. However, they will have tendencies when it comes to the wind. Understanding those tendencies and, more importantly, knowing which way the wind is blowing can be very advantageous information to have.
Up until now the only way to acquire that information was through firsthand observations or going back and checking the wind direction for particular days of the season. However, DeerLab is set to introduce wind data within their trail camera software. In my opinion this could prove to be a game changer.
I mean, if I had to choose between having the wind direction or moon phase stamped on an image, or, provided for each image in my catalogue, then I’m sorry but the wind info will triumph every time. The bottom line is programing like that could give hunters another weapon in their arsenal to locate, monitor and tag mature bucks. And isn’t that the goal of a trail camera?
Stay tuned. Wind direction and speed reports are the next items to be released for DeerLab. If you haven't tried the hunting application out yet, sign up for a free DeerLab trial here.