Yes, they do.
Actually managing the wind is probably the piece of advice we are told most as hunters, but the terrain and weather rarely turn out to be what we hope it to be.
This breakdown will help you to understand how to best utilize various wind conditions and understand deer behavior to better increase your odds of success in the field.
Wind directions, wind speeds and thermals all play a part in how your hunt strategy comes together, the way and frequency in which deer move, along with the likelihood of being detected.
In this article, you will know:
How The Wind Affects Deer Behavior?
Deer’s primary defence is their nose, their sense of smell. Wind direction and strength is a large determinant as to whether a deer will catch yours or a predator’s scent.
The daily existence of a whitetail deer, as with most other animals, is to survive. Daily routines, habits and behaviors are built around food, water, and safety.
Let’s look at how deer are affected by wind conditions.
Light Wind (0 to 15mph)
During periods of light or moderate wind, deer do not change their behaviour too much.
It is common, especially in wilderness areas that have fluctuations in elevation for there to be constant windy or breezy periods.
As a whole, a gentle wind gives deer the opportunity to keep their eyes one direction, and smell the breeze from the other.
They have their daily routines of feeding, drinking, bedding, and in November, rutting. Light weather cycles do not generally impede them.
Strong Winds (15mph and greater)
Surprisingly, deer do continue to move during periods of stronger wind (16 and 27 mph), according to a study by Penn State University.
Not only does it show that deer continue to move, but actually may be moving more during these periods.
Whilst deer usually bed down during the day under normal conditions, and will still do so at times during stronger winds, it appears they may be less comfortable resting during these times where their senses are compromised.
Strong, and potentially circling winds make it more difficult for deer to determine where different scents are coming from.
High winds cause loud rustling sounds in the woods, which makes it difficult for deer to hear incoming predators, whilst at the same time their eyes and ability to sense motion is also vulnerable as trees, branches and grasses can be on a continual sway.
Even though deer will continue to be active, they are less likely to venture out to feed in open areas.
Want to know the best part?
During these times, there is a good opportunity to carefully still-hunt through the brush or set up deeper in the timbers, where not only the deer are keeping out of the higher winds, but you also get to spend time where it is a little calmer.
If there are strong winds during the night, deer are even less likely to go out into the open to feed during the evening due to risk of predation.
On these occasions, you may find deer moving and feeding during the day to catch up on the meals they have missed.
Now for the other part of the story...
Wind Direction For Hunting:
Downwind is the best wind direction for deer hunting.
This means that the scent of deer would be blowing towards you, rather than the other way.
As a hunter you should always be trying to get yourself downwind wherever possible.
Wind blowing sidewards between yourself and the deer is still okay.
It is a little more susceptible to shifts in breeze direction, however you still have a reasonable chance of going unnoticed.
Being upwind from deer, meaning the breeze is blowing from you towards the deer is going to make hunting difficult.
Although not impossible to find success this way, it is much more unlikely, and deer will often spook off, often before you get a chance to see them.
Wind angling towards the deer gives a very thin window of opportunity, as any slight shift in the breeze, or movement of the deer can turn into you being upwind.
Wind angling towards your direction is almost as good as a straight upwind breeze.
This is where it gets tricky. Wind can swirl, meaning the direction is continually changing. In these situations it is difficult to create a clear hunting strategy.
That said, if a deer can smell you they may not know where it is coming from. They are likely to be on some form of alert, but may be unsure where to go.
How To Hunt The Wind For Deer:
Check the Weather Forecast
Keeping an eye on the radar and up-to-date forecast will help you pick when to get into your hunting spot and how long to stay.
Sometimes we can venture into the field, just looking as to whether it will be cold, warm, rainy or dry.
It is also worth taking note of the overall wind, the predicted direction and wind speed changes throughout the day.
This will help you to plan your hunt:
Wind During the Day
The best time during the day to hunt deer will depend on whether you plan to try to utilize the cover of stronger wind, or whether you prefer hunting when conditions are a little more still.
As a general rule, throughout the cycle of a day wind tends to become the strongest late in the morning and continue into the afternoon.
Wind is also known to pick up at night, however this is generally outside of hunting hours.
The periods of comparatively lower wind speed tend to be the early morning, and early evening, around those twilight hunting hours.
Understanding Thermals For Deer Hunting
Separate to general weather and wind conditions, thermals are something to be wary of if hunting hilly or mountainous areas.
Throughout different periods of the day (and evening) the earth cools and warms, and therefore the warmed air rises, and the cool air falls.
This can result in a light wind or breeze, moving up and down the slopes.
Let me tell you
Around the time of sunrise, you are likely to find the air moving down-valley, and once the sun starts hitting the surface and the temperature warms up, the air will begin to move up-valley.
This warming is likely to continue throughout the day until later in the afternoon where the air begins to again cool, moving back down the valley.
The best part?
Although larger winds and conditions may affect the consistency of thermals, it is mainly worth considering:
Practice In All Types of Weather
As hunters we cannot always foresee all of the variables we will be approached with when the shooting opportunity presents itself.
Bowhunting takes a decent amount more practice than rifle shooting given that the flight path is more susceptible to deviation based on form, equipment and conditions.
Based on that, it is important to be comfortable with a variety of different shooting situations, such as distances, angles, positions and weather factors.
This is especially relevant when wind conditions are likely to affect the trajectory and flight of our arrow, and even more-so if taking lots from a further distance.
Although it may be difficult to perfectly predict how the wind may affect the flight path, the more practice you have from different wind angles, in different conditions, the more it will become second nature to make these minor adjustments in the field.
As mentioned above, understanding how different wind speed and directions affect your shot may be the difference between a quick kill, a wounded deer or a clear miss.
For these reasons it is preferred to shoot a deer that is facing broadside, behind the front shoulder, in the zone where the heart and lungs are located.
This is the largest target area and therefore has the greatest margin for potential error, whilst still hopefully being a vital hit.
On the other hand
Wind can also play a part in the challenge of tracking the blood trail, meaning that a good vital hit can save you hours of tracking time, or potentially a lost deer.
Depending on the conditions, wind can affect your ability to effectively follow a blood trail.
Although it may not be as challenging as doing-so in the rain, higher winds in different seasons sometimes have the tendency to hide clues as to which way the deer went.
During fall seasons higher winds not only promote the fall of leaves from trees, but also can scatter the debris that is already on the ground; potentially covering or messing up the blood trail.
As the season wears on and the floor becomes layered by snow, deer tracks and blood spots have the potential to become filled in or covered up as wind blows snow across the ground surface.
Wind can be uncomfortable to weather when hunting, especially when braving it for lengthy periods of time.
To minimize any negative impact it may have on your joy in the field, especially when the temperatures get cooler, it would be wise to have the following:
One of the pieces of gear I have in my pocket, on hand, every time I go big game hunting.
Some form of wind checking spray or powder. This allows you to clearly see which way the wind is blowing, if it is swirling, rising or falling.
A jacket or outer layer designed to minimize the impact of wind and flow of air will go a long way to improving your comfort in windy conditions.
It is also possible to find nice pants and gloves that are designed to reduce wind reaching the body.
Beyond a windproof outer, it is also pivotal to wear layers and stay warm. As you may know, wind impacts your body’s ability to retain heat.
That is why the term “wind chill” exists, and why fans are effective to cool down in the summer.
As the wind blows, the layer of heat radiating from and surrounding our body gets blown away.
Underrated, sometimes overlooked, but essential in the field, water plays a large part in sustaining yourself during a windy hunt.
Wind contributes to dehydration, so it is important to keep your fluid intake up.
Here’s My Story:
In the middle of the fall season, in my first season of hunting I was still-hunting through a reasonably wooded area.
Most of the leaves had fallen, and with every slow and attempted stealthy step was a large crunching of leaves and debris below my feet.
There was no way I was going to sneak up on any deer…
The next day I went back for another look, but the wind was howling, hard.
As I walked through the area, I took my time and waited for large gusts before taking my steps, as the rattling of the trees hid the sound of my steps.
To my surprise a doe walked out in front of me, about 50 yards away, completely oblivious to my presence, to the point that she bedded down right in front of me.
Unfortunately it was only buck season. I managed to creep in, using the wind as cover, to within 15 yards before I was visually spotted.
Deer will continue to move during windy periods, however the frequency and predictability changes.
During relatively light winds, deer movement goes largely unaffected, however when the winds pick up they’re more likely to stay deeper in cover.
Adjusting your hunt strategy to utilize the wind will give you a better chance of not only finding the deer, but taking one home.
Have you hunted deer on windy days? What have been your experiences when it is windy out? Tell us in the comments below!