As we know from Section #3: Overview of Whitetail’s Keen Sense of Smell of Whitetail 101, deer rely heavily on their sense of smell to evade predators. Because of this, they have also learned to use the wind to strengthen their advantage. This needs to be kept in mind when setting up and using stands to hunt the wind. Scent control is a great start, but understanding the wind and thermals is the original scent blocker. Hunting the wind will ensure you have the greatest odds of success. In this section we’ll go over some of the ways you can hunt the wind. This knowledge will reduce the need for scent control and cover scents.
Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!
First, let’s go over the common types of “wind”:
These are the winds you see on your weather app – e.g. NE at 10m/h – and are the primary winds you’ll find in open fields and on top of ridges and plateaus. These are created by pressure systems or air masses and have a relatively consistent prevailing direction. Although they are fairly consistent in direction within an area. As the wind hits obstacles such as valleys, thick cover, or hills, the winds can swirl around. Causing your scent to carry in different directions. However, these winds can change dramatically in a very short time as well. These changes are usually caused by a sudden change in weather (such as an approaching storm or the sunrise or sunset).
Unlike prevailing winds, thermal winds are caused by the heat resulting from the sun. As the sun rises and heats the ground, it causes the air to rise. As the sun sets and the ground cools, the air sinks back down. In areas that don’t get sun or are in lows with cold or flowing water, the thermal winds (thermals) will continuously drop as the air around them is warmer.
Where warm and cool thermals meet, the wind mixes and swirls. This effect is also seen when thermals rise through chutes that meet, and especially when they meet prevailing winds on top of ridges or plateaus. This swirling effect can spread as far as a half mile, carrying the scent of whatever enters or blows in throughout the area.
This can also happen on a sunnier hill side that falls into thick cover or a creek bed. In these areas the wind is also likely to swirl as the cool and warm thermals meet.
Thermal wind is most prevalent in areas with greater changes in elevation like the Western US but can still be found in the prairies and lowlands of the Midwest. Essentially, the Midwest will see less intense thermals, but any area with changes in topography or differences in temperature due to sun exposure will see thermal effect winds. We’ll go over some of the common lowland areas that produce thermals later in this section.
Not unlike elk, whitetail deer will utilize the topography and thermals to keep themselves safe. Especially while moving between bedding and feeding areas. While most hunters understand prevailing wind and take it into consideration when planning a hunt. Many fail to realize that they can also utilize it to identify areas where animals will be at their most vulnerable. One of these areas are where the prevailing wind or thermal is moving consistently in one direction (i.e. not swirling). Typically, deer will travel into the wind so as to have the chance to smell any danger that may lie ahead of them. Because of this and what we know about thermals, we can assume that in higher elevation or hilly areas that, as the thermals will move upwards, the deer will move downwards and vice-versa.
These areas give the hunter the best chance at cover as you really only need to worry about the wind from one direction. If there are features of the landscape that funnel deer through these areas, all the better!
Where deer feed and bed can be very different than where they travel. They want the best protection and cover available. They tend to find areas where thermals mix or a thermal and the prevailing wind mixes. This way they can be aware of danger all around them, rather than just from one direction. In flatter areas, this mixing can still happen in places with cover, on the bottoms and tops of valleys, in coulees, ravines, and along creek beds; these are the places you’ll usually find deer bedded and utilizing the mixing wind. They may also do this while feeding, but are less likely to rely on this swirling effect in the prairies and lowlands.
Although this is usually how deer will act, it’s important to scout and try to determine if there is a reason they’ll deviate from this behavior. Whitetails in areas with less hunting pressure are more likely to feel comfortable travelling with the wind, bedding directly in thermals, etc. However, the more pressure they’re under, the more likely they are to use the wind as much as possible.
You’ve probably heard that stand locations should be set up for specific or ideal winds, but first, you need to know the travel of the deer.
This can be done by looking at the tracks in the area your stand looks over. Ideally you’ll want to set up your hunting stand or blind with the prevailing winds blowing your scent away from the trail completely. At the very least away from the direction the deer tend to come from.
For example, if the prevailing wind is typically from the South and the deer movement is typically from West to East on your desired hunting stand, you’ll want your stand to be set on the North side of the trail. It can then be hunted with S, SSE, and SSW winds fairly confidently, even with calmer winds (which will increase the swirl effect). However, if the winds are stronger, your scent is less likely to swirl in the trees and fall onto the trail and you can get away with a solid SE or SW wind.
Tip: Google Earth is a great tool to visualize stand locations and wind direction. Read more here…
The next thing you’ll want to consider is how you’ll enter and exit your stand. Avoid leaving scent that could tip deer off to your location. Ideally, stands should be placed ahead of time (weeks to months if possible. So the impact of your presence fades before the hunting season starts. When placing stands, you should also have an entry and exit strategy that avoids having your path cross your shooting lanes. Avoids blowing your scent into the bedding areas, and reduces the chance of deer knowing you’re in the area.
What most new hunters fail to realize, is that their exit can be just as impactful in deterring deer as their entry. Utilizing wind checkers (commercial or DIY) can help you determine if you’re planned exit strategy will be safe in terms of reducing the impact of your presence on the deer. Key things to keep in mind are:
You’ll want to apply the same ideas laid out in how whitetails use the wind to your own movement. The first thing you’ll need to do is establish where the deer are bedding and feeding. Although these would be ideal areas to shoot. They are likely areas where the wind swirls and thus are challenging to hunt. Once you establish either a bedding or feeding area. You’ll want to set yourself up at an ideal time where the prevailing wind or thermal draws the deer towards you.
Obviously the challenge with this is that the deer will technically be downwind. The means of compensating for this will differ depending on the situation. For the most part, you should be able to mitigate your own scent from being blown into the path of the deer with:
Another thing many hunters forget is that, if you move from a sunny area to a shady area, the thermal winds carrying your scent are likely to change direction. This is important to keep in mind while moving to and from hunting areas.
Hunting the wind is much more complicated than knowing the prevailing wind direction. To be consistently successful, you need to understand how thermals work. The effect topography features and other elements of the field can have on the direction of these winds. Along with how animals use these winds to their advantage. Although we covered most of the basic concepts and theories in this section. The only way to truly understand how these winds will affect your success is by getting out in the field and experiencing them for yourself.
The biggest thing to remember in terms of strategy is that, if you don’t have a chance that day. Figure out how you can set up for the next morning or evening as they travel. While taking into consideration the thermals you can expect throughout the day. This will ensure you don’t pressure the deer by making them aware of your presence before you ever have a chance to take a shot.