Almy: Windy weather hunting

It was frustrating. Every bow season I wait for the perfect wind for my favorite stand to arrive, then drop everything and head out. It has to be west or north.

But with the warm weather typical of October, south, southwest and even east winds are far more prevalent in the Shenandoah Valley.

So when I saw the predictions and then felt the crisp air blowing in from the north one cool October day recently, I headed quickly for my number one bow stand.

Guess what happened next? I settled in, ready for a productive afternoon hunt and almost immediately the wind changed direction.

I stayed until the first few deer, several does and fawns, came close. But they soon smelled me and bolted away. After that I climbed down and called it quits, knowing I would only harm that location and spook more deer by staying longer.

If ever there was a component of weather that exasperates hunters more than any other, it’s wind. It can change and blow your human scent to the quarry in a heartbeat.

It might look perfect as you get set up on a stand or begin a still hunt. But don’t count on it lasting. It can swirl, sending your scent wafting in the wrong direction and sending deer stomping away with an alarmed snort.

Because of this I’ve taken to tying a piece of sewing thread to my tree stand and my bow or gun when still hunting so I can always be aware of changes quickly before they ruin my chances.

When you’re aware of changes, you can adapt by moving to a new spot, or even calling off the hunt if that’s the only solution. That’s a lot better that than spooking the quarry, although it’s frustrating and hard to do.

But wind isn’t just a problem when it channels your scent to the quarry. It also has a more general effect of making bucks spooky when it blows hard. When leaves are still on trees and wind whips the branches wildly, bucks become particularly wary and seem to move less.

Wind can occasionally be beneficial. If it’s extremely hot, sometimes a windy spot is appealing to bucks. They might rest on a wind-swept bench high on a ridge to allow the wind to cool their bodies and keep insects at bay, sort of like us sitting in front of a fan.
I’ve used that bit of information to help me pinpoint good locations to try in brutally hot weather. But the wind should be low to moderate in speed for this tip to be productive.

If it is blowing steadily in one direction and not swirling, wind can also be beneficial in allowing us to hunt a specific stand. We can sit at that location and know that our scent will blow away from the direction deer will be coming from.

But the negatives of wind on balance seem to outweigh the positives. They swirl and betray our location and when blustery, they make deer skittish.

When you throw cold weather and a late season time frame into the equation, wind presents even more challenges. For starters, it makes it hard for us to stay warm and still on stand. And on top of that, bucks don’t like its heat-robbing effect, either.

They seem to be particularly skittish and hard to find. At least that’s what I thought early on in my hunting career.

Then I finally realized that the bucks couldn’t just disappear when strong, cold winds blew. As I analyzed the situation, a light bulb went off and I realized what was going on. They were moving to places where they could find food, cover and a chance to hook up with a late-cycling doe, but be out of the heat-robbing winds.

When I made that discovery, it became clear that a strong, cold breeze could actually be a help in the late season by eliminating large swaths of territory where bucks wouldn’t be and pinning them down in a smaller portion of the habitat.

High, exposed ridges with a lack of brushy protective cover could immediately be eliminated. The whole wind-swept side of a mountain, or at least the top half to two-thirds of it, could be written off as well.

Instead, I needed to focus my hunting efforts on the lower portions of ridges and hills, the protected sides of them, as well as stream bottoms, hollows, valleys, gullies and washes. All are areas protected from the strongest breezes.

Now when north winds blow, keeping many late season hunters home, I don cold weather clothing and forge out. You should do the same.

Your face won’t be numbed by the tree-rattling breezes that sweep over high elevation spots, because you won’t be there. That buck bedded high on a north-facing bench a few days ago or cruising ridge tops for a late-cycling doe will slip down into a protected draw or small, stream-creased valley where there’s cover but escape from heat-robbing breezes.

With bucks concentrated, the odds of connecting on a careful still hunt or watch from a tree stand in these areas increase dramatically. So later in the season, don’t be upset if you get a steady wind.

But during early bow season, do several things to improve your chances. Use scent-removing sprays. Do your best to stay downwind of where you hope deer will come from. And keep a wind checker or piece of thread handy in case you have to change locations or quit for the day.

I’ve learned the hard way that the best solution for dealing with wind is to be flexible.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.