Regardless of whether or not we like to admit it, we humans are creatures of comfort. After all, we build nice, cozy, houses to keep us warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and dry when it rains.
We like to sleep on nice, comfortable mattresses or sleeping bags. We also have pantries, refrigerators, ranges, and microwaves in our kitchens so that our favorite foods are readily available any time we want them.
Whitetail deer have no such luxuries. Instead, they live outdoors where it’s hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and wet when it rains. Also, unlike we humans, deer have neither pantries nor refrigerators, so they have to eat what is available in their area at any given time of year. Deer are quite accustomed to a level of hardship that most humans avoid like a stranger that wants to borrow money!
Whitetail deer are also far better adapted to a life outdoors than humans are. They not only have metabolisms that enable them to withstand cold temperatures that would freeze most humans to death, they also have their own fur coats whereas, we humans have to appropriate ours from other animals or make them from synthetic fibers.
Because we humans tend to studiously avoid hunting in bad weather, we are amazingly adept at convincing ourselves that whitetail deer feel the same way that we do about it! But because deer live outdoors twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and have warm, waterproof, fur coats, as well as a need to feed daily – the fact is that they have far less aversion to traveling and feeding in bad than we humans do.
Many an experienced hunter has also observed that deer seem to have some innate sixth sense that warns them when a storm is approaching about as far ahead as our modern weather forecasters can predict and thus, they do tend to feed more actively during the couple of days prior to the storm’s arrival just in case the weather does turn out to be severe enough that it prevents them from moving beyond their bedding areas.
This can make for an exciting crossbow hunting trip in the most daunting conditions. When hunting deer, you have to keep in mind that adverse weather will impact your hunting tactics more if you are compound bow hunting versus if you are hunting with a 308 or a 30-06. Hunting Binoculars will come in handy as will rangefinders to ensure that you are measuring the most accurate distances while taking wind into calculation of your shooting trajectories.
Let’s look at how deer move around during adverse weather conditions.
Deer Movement During Windy Conditions:
Deer seldom seem to mind a light breeze that simply rustles the tips of ground level foliage a bit, they do tend to avoid moving during periods of high winds because this type of wind makes it very difficult to detect and identify predators since it shreds their scent and makes it difficult for them to determine which direction it’s coming from.
This makes it very difficult for them to hear a predator approaching over the rustling of the brush. This makes spotting predators difficult because of all of the moving foliage also hides the predator’s movement. On days when the wind is light and, especially when it’s steady from a single direction rather than swirling first from one direction and then another, they tend to move and feed very actively.
They are not only able to use the steady breeze to approach their favored food sources from downwind while detecting any predators waiting in ambush, but the slight rustling of the bushes helps to cover the sound of their steps as they travel; thus increasing their level of stealth.
Keep in mind that if you are bowhunting, you absolutely must make the right judgment call on accounting for the wind in your aiming trajectories. Not doing so will likely cost you a clean kill.
Deer Movement During Rainy Conditions:
The same can be said for light rains versus torrential downpours. In fact, during periods of heavy rain, deer also have difficulty smelling, seeing, or hearing predators approach and thus, they also avoid moving during these periods until the rain either slackens or quits. The same can be said for light rains since a light rains tends to soften the leaf litter under hoof. This silences their footsteps and it helps to prevent their scent from traveling and alerting predators to their movements as well.
Rather than pass away the hours dreaming about deer hunting while remaining warm by the fire during periods of inclement weather, experienced hunters have instead learned to use bad weather to their advantage. In fact, simply by watching your local weather report, you can actually predict when the best time to go hunting for whitetail & red deer is!
Deer have an incredible, innate, ability to sense approaching storms (probably by noting the smell of the air combined with subtle differences in barometric pressure) and thus, they are forewarned that the weather will soon turn. While deer don’t seem to be bothered much by light winds and/or light rains, they do tend to bed down in both heavy winds and heavy rains. A good altimeter watch can help you notice differences in air pressure as well, so you can pickup on incoming storms in the same fashion as the deer you hunt.
Because deer are forewarned of approaching storms, they tend to feed lightly both prior to and after minor storms and to feed heavily prior to and after major storms. Deer are fully aware that minor storms are little hindrance to them but, major storms may very well force them into their beds for an undetermined period of time.
Below is a great video HamBrosOutdoors put together of hunting out in the rain:
Deer Movement During Snowy Conditions:
Similar to heavy rain and other hard weather conditions, deer act similarly in both light and heavy snowfall and most especially for blizzards. This behavior has been seen and documented well on different trail and game cameras. Deer will often feed lightly prior to and after the first few snows of early winter.
Just as soon as they sense a major snowstorm arriving, they will drastically increase their feeding activities. Deer can often be seen feeding throughout the day prior to a storm so that they can consume and store as much food as possible before the storm arrives and drives them to their deep woods havens.
Deer have a high metabolic rate and use up energy at a much faster rate than humans. They have no way to gather and store for food for convenient consumption at will like humans do. So when deer are forced to stay in their beds for extended periods of time by extremely harsh weather, they are often ravenously hungry when the weather finally passes. As a result, they also tend to feed heavily after the passing of a major storm.
Both prior to and after the arrival of a major storm are both excellent times to go deer hunting because the deer will be not only be feeding actively, they will also be single-mindedly focused on their task making them less wary than usual.
Deer Movement During Periods of Severe Cold:
While we have so far discussed how whitetail deer react to wind, rain, and snow, we have not yet discussed their reaction to extreme cold. The fact is that human hunters use excessively cold temperatures as an excuse not to go hunting just as often as wind, rain, and snow!
Deer live outdoors twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and, because they have a thick fur coat made from course, hollow, hairs combined with relatively thick skin and a thick layer of subcutaneous fat. They are not bothered by the extremes in weather that so discomfit humans with our thin skins and lack of fur. But, that is not to say that deer are altogether unaffected by cold weather.
In fact, their reaction to cold is very similar to their reaction to both wind and rain in that as long the cold is relatively mild, they tend to be significantly more active. They are more active in feeding than earlier in the year because their bodies require more calories to generate heat in cold weather. Just like days when the wind is howling at gale force and/or the monsoon rains have arrived and the whole forest sounds like the Amazon Jungle in a downpour, during periods when the overnight lows dip down to single digits and below due to an arctic blast from the north, deer then tend to stay in their beds until mid or late morning.
They do this in order to conserve valuable body heat and then rise and move out to feed once the Sun has been up for a while and the ambient air temperature has risen a bit. They also tend to feed most heavily just prior to the arrival of such air masses so that they can store enough energy to allow them to be able to lounge in their beds until the air warms a bit.
As you can see, while many whitetail & red deer hunters find inclement weather to be both inconvenient and uncomfortable with good reason, the fact of the matter is that the couple days just prior to the arrival of a major storm or cold air mass as well as the first couple of days after its passing can actually provide hunters with the best possible opportunity to fill their tags for the season.
Rather than disparage bad weather, deer hunters should instead learn to embrace it since both its coming and going herald some of the best days of the year to go hunting!