Practical Bowhunting
with Dr. Mark Timney


Hunting Smart in Bad Weather

Deer don't like bad weather. Rain, wind and snow make it harder for them to hear, see, and/or smell danger. Deer typically move around less in inclement weather because their instincts tell them they're "at risk." That's bad news for bowhunters, as most of us are perched in trees waiting for deer to move by us. Is it worth then to hunt in the rain, wind or snow?

The answer is "maybe." It all depends upon how bad the weather is, and where you're hunting at the time.

Hunting Strategies for Inclement Weather
WEATHER Light Moderate Heavy

Normal treestand tactics. Still-hunt heavy cover if you must be in the woods. Stay home

Treestand or still-hunting. Treestand/still-hunt sheltered areas or in heavy cover. Still-hunt heavy cover or sheltered areas.

Treestand or still-hunting Still-hunt heavy cover. Stay Home

Most deer bed down and wait rain showers out. Heavy rains can send deer into thick cover, but it's not unusual to find deer bedding in areas with good visibility too. Deer will depend more upon their eyes to detect danger when their ability to hear and, to some extent, smell are limited. If it's raining lightly, many expert hunters suggest that the best thing to do is stick to your treestand. Deer will still move in a light rain, especially if the rut is on. If it starts to rain harder, you might just as well head home... or at least that's what I do. Deer don't move much at all in downpours. Rain does offer some opportunities for experienced still-hunters. It's certainly easy to sneak through the woods when it's pouring. But you still have to beat a deer's eyesight... and that's never easy.

Deer greatly dislike wind because it hampers all of their senses. They can't hear because of the wind. Detecting the movement of a stealthy predator is difficult because everything's swaying about. And, brisk winds greatly scatter scent molecules, making it difficult for deer to determine where smells are coming from, and how close the producer of a specific scent might be. As a result, deer often try to find shelter from the wind. The smart bowhunter will know where deer go to escape the wind and have stand sites ready in these locations. Look for thick, brushy areas or tracts of land with dense tree cover. I especially like to hunt where natural terrain features block the wind. While deer don't move around much when it's blowing, they will meander around small, sheltered areas while they wait for the weather to change.

A `topo' map can help you locate areas where deer might head to escape the wind. Search for places where the elevation lines are close together (denoting a steep grade) and perpendicular to the wind.

With winds under 15mph I stay in my treestand. But when it starts to blow harder I like to still-hunt. A 20mph+ day is about the only time that I feel it's worth the effort, for me at least, to try and sneak up on a deer. I've been able to get very close to deer on windy days because they seem to be "visually overloaded" from all the movement in the woods. Also, don't be surprised to find deer out in tiny patches of cover in the middle of big open places when it's howling. Some deer feel more comfortable in such places because they can danger coming from a long way off here.

Snow storms typically send deer into thick cover. Light snow, on the other hand, may not affect deer movement at all. Still-hunting on a snowy day isn't as easy as when the wind is blowing, but it can be easier than when rain is falling. Falling snow flakes can hide your movement in the woods. Of course, still-hunting at this time only works if the snow on the ground isn't the type that crunches or squeaks with every step you take. Heavy snowfalls are difficult to hunt in because visibility is greatly reduced. This may hide you from the deer, but it also hides the deer from you.

Limit Your Shooting in Bad Weather
Inclement weather places another burden on the bowhunter. Wind, rain and snow almost always mean that it's going to be more difficult to make a perfect shot or follow up on a shot. Rain can quickly wash away even the best of bloodtrails. It can also cause arrows to fly erratically. I've had feather-fletched arrows strike 6" low in 3-D targets at 20 yards while shooting in a downpour! Wind and snow aren't much better. It's not easy to shoot accurately with your bow being blown all over the place, especially if you're in a tree stand. Snow usually means colder weather and heavier clothing, both of which can make it harder to execute a good shot. In good weather I feel very comfortable shooting out to 35 yards, but when the weather is bad I rarely attempt a shot beyond 20 yards. I want to be as certain as possible of my shot placement when the weather is nasty.

Safety Considerations
Finally, be extra careful while hunting in bad weather. Hypothermia can occur in temperatures well above freezing when you're wet and/or sitting in the wind. Tree steps and ladders can become dangerously slick when wet or snow covered. Also, strong winds can make standing up in a treestand downright dangerous, especially if your stand is in a smaller know one that sways a few feet side to side with each gust. Be practical! Stay home if the weather's really bad. They'll be other, and definitely better, days to long as you don't kill yourself trying to tough-out mother nature.