Hot Weather Whitetails

Hot Weather Whitetails

If you can't take the heat, might as well take a stand

Early season can be extremely tough to hunt. The weather is often hot and muggy, meaning that archery hunters will inevitably run into annoying insects, frequent strong winds, and if they stick it out long enough--rain. These are not exactly the scenarios that come to mind when we visualize perfect conditions to kill big whitetails.


Water sources are an obvious choice to hunt during hot weather. How and where stands are set up at these sites is extremely important. Oftentimes, ponds like this will only have a few areas worth setting up in during prevailing winds. Take advantage of the available trees, hang stands high and brush them in.

Cutting my teeth bowhunting in Minnesota, a state where the gun season typically opens the first weekend of November, forced me to find ways to take advantage of early and mid-season. Knowing that I wouldn't be able to hunt during the bulk of the chasing phase or the peak of the rut caused me to focus harder on what deer do earlier. Granted not every early season is wrought with muggy, miserable weather, but one can pretty much plan on encountering a stretch or two every year, and if the early season offers plenty of cool weather, you can pretty much bet that October or early November will feature a weekend or two of balmy weather. A lot of archery hunters sit out those warm spells waiting for cooler days. They are making a mistake.

The Pressure Factor
Big buck experts often tout the early season for its predictability as far as mature bucks are concerned. In my experience I've found that I can almost always find a nice buck in a field in August if I look hard enough through good optics, but that is rarely the case when the middle of September rolls around. Mature bucks are naturally inclined to abandon their summer feeding patterns to begin with, and the influx of archery hunters hanging stands, scouting field edges and intruding more frequently only adds to that natural inclination. The pressure builds, the bucks disappear.


One factor that cuts down slightly on that pressure is unseasonably hot weather. One could argue that the warm weather does not promote significant deer movement (it doesn't), but the deer do move. Just like in heavy winds or nasty weather, they will move eventually to eat no matter what. These are not the nights where you are going to be surrounded by tons of deer two hours before dark, but a big one might just make a mistake right at last light offering a shot.


Most hunters, especially the weekend warriors, will find an excuse to not go sit in a stand when the temperatures push too high for comfort. The prospect of sweating profusely on the way in, fighting the bugs and not seeing a lot of deer is a huge deterrent to archery hunters. The plus side of sitting during these times is that the human factor may all but be erased for a few days, and that alone can be enough to foster more deer movement. The lack of not only archery hunters, but small game hunters, and just about anyone else inclined to wander into the woods is a plus for the archer willing to tough it out.

It's The Water, Stupid
The most obvious way to shoot a good buck during hot weather is to hunt near a water source. This seems easy enough but it's not. Granted, if water is very limited in an area then the deer's options are obviously limited, but in a lot of places especially in the Midwest and the eastern part of the United States there are a lot more water sources than we think.

The first nice buck that I ever harvested with archery equipment came through an oak flat off of a cornfield two hours before dark. It was an Indian summer weekend in mid-October and the temperature was 75 degrees. When he approached I watched through a cloud of insects as he got to 30 yards, made an abrupt right turn and stuck his head into the base of a tree. I assumed he was eating acorns or some other kind of browse. I was fortunate enough to shoot him as he posed there.

Certain places just beg a hunter to sit them during hot weather. A normal river or stream crossing will likely see some use just about every day, but the archer willing to sit them during the Indian summer days of fall just might be treated to multiple deer sightings and shot opportunities due to the deer's need to stay hydrated.

When I got down to retrieve my arrow and start blood trailing the deer I found what the buck was so interested in. There was a softball sized hole in the root system of a box elder clump that had standing water in it. He had been drinking when I shot him, which surprised me because not more than a third of a mile away ran a spring fed trout stream. He had opted to drink the stagnant water that was close to his bedding and feeding area instead of ranging out for the better quality water. After that encounter I've kept my mind open to more possibilities in the water category besides just ponds, lakes, rivers and streams.

This is not to say that obvious water holes should be ignored in search of the hidden Holy Grail but due to the nature of where rivers and streams are located they can be nightmares when it comes to playing the wind. Stream and river crossings deserve extra caution and extra attention to detail when deciding to hunt them. If the wind seems remotely wrong, sitting them might not be a good idea because of the possibility of swirling winds. On the plus side, rivers and streams are often surrounded by older growth trees thus providing plenty of options for hanging stands. These are the areas that may take a little tweaking to find the best way to sit when the wind is blowing (something the wind often does during warm weather), but the time and study will prove worth it.

Lakes and ponds can be easier, but often (especially in the case of ponds) they lack adequate trees to set up stands in. This can be remedied by taking advantage of the only available trees around (hang stands high, brush them in, do whatever to hide your silhouette), or by employing the ever-popular ground blind. Set either up way ahead of the season and allow them to blend into the environment over time. If you build it and it gets hot enough, the deer will come.

The Rain Connection
When Mother Nature delivers hot and humid weather, rain is often not far behind. In the eyes of many hunters, rain is another deterrent. The prospect of getting drenched on a tree stand is just as appealing to most as fighting off bugs and sweating. Often, archery hunters can experience both in the same night, but if they are willing to stick it out, the possibility of being rewarded is very real.

I don't know why deer move during the rain, but I know

they do. Some of the best nights I've ever hunted have featured weather in the 70s with light rain falling. One such night recently resulted in me arrowing my largest buck to date.

The whole day was miserably humid, the skies cloudy with the prospect of rain coming at any second. Due to work obligations I couldn't get out to a stand I had been saving on the edge of a small bean field until fairly late. It was the second to the last weekend of September and the temperature was in the 70s. As I hustled my way to the stand a light rain started falling and I knew the night was going to be fun. There is something about early season, beans and rain that bring the deer out.

One half-hour before dark I had a beautiful non-typical come out and cruise straight down the field focusing all of his attention on eating and watching the end of the field closest to the road (presumable where most of the danger would come from). At 10 yards he offered me the gift of a broadside shot that I connected on.

The field that I shot that buck off of was no secret to the other archery hunters that my father and I share that farm with. I'm convinced that the reason that buck came out during daylight hours is because it had been so hot and the other hunters hadn't wanted to walk the distance to get back there and hunt (especially when it started to rain). Their unwillingness to exert themselves allowed me the opportunity to hunt that buck as if he were still on his normal summer feeding pattern.

Certain places just beg a hunter to sit them during hot weather. A normal river or stream crossing will likely see some use just about every day, but the archer willing to sit them during the Indian summer days of fall just might be treated to multiple deer sightings and shot opportunities due to the deer's need to stay hydrated.

Hot Weather Gear
When the dog days of summer stick around through the fall, archery hunters need to pay special attention to their gear. Scent control becomes a huge issue when the mercury climbs to uncomfortable levels. Light, breathable scent controlling duds are an absolute must. Wear the bare minimum on the way in to your setup, carry a pack with your clothes in it if you have to, do whatever it takes to cut down on the sweat factor.

Avoid trying to set up stands during hot weather if at all possible. The exertion, even from using climbing stands is enough to cause some serious perspiration. Instead, plan ahead and have several tree stands and ground blinds set up before the season starts.

Another piece of equipment that can prove invaluable to the archer is a lightweight, breathable rain suit. They often weigh next to nothing and can not only be used to stay dry during bouts of rainy weather, but they often do a good job of keeping biting insects away from your skin. The only downside to a lot of rain gear is that they (especially less expensive suits) can prove to be too warm.

Game Recovery
Hunting hot weather whitetails deserves special attention. Allowing a harvested animal to spoil in the heat is not an option, so special considerations must be made.

Although archery hunters should always strive to take ethical shots, the prospect of making a poor shot during extremely warm weather should not be taken lightly. Don't push it under any circumstances. A gut shot deer in November is a different story than one shot in September. Shots must be taken with the confidence that they will connect cleanly and precisely.

If a poor shot is made, the recovery efforts must be well thought out. The fine line that early season hunters tread is pushing the deer too early or not recovering them fast enough. If the shot appeared to be lethal, or if the after shot sign indicates that it was, round up the right people and the right lights to help with the tracking job. If the hit is marginal, or the outcome unsure, give the deer at least four hours. If that means driving back out to the woods at 2 a.m., do it. The option to just "wait until morning" might not be there if it's too hot and is going to stay that way.

When the deer is recovered get it gutted out immediately and propped open. After that, get the hide off. If for some reason the skinning job needs to be postponed hang it up and stuff the body cavity with ice (this is not a bad idea even if the hide is removed). Pay special attention to the shoulders and the haunches. Because they are thicker they take longer to cool off, pack enough ice on them to get their temperature down as quickly as possible. Saving the meat at all costs is the goal.

Fighting the insect element can seem like a losing battle when on a tree stand in muggy conditions. Even if the bugs aren't able to bite you, listening to them buzz around your ears is enough to drive a hunter crazy. Several companies are making insect repellent that is scent free now, which is a good option. Another option is to try out the battery powered portable units that synthesize certain natural scents to drive bugs away. Either way, if an archery hunter is going to sit during unseasonably warm weather, he is going to fight the bug battle. Mess around with a few options to find what works best for you.

The main goal of gearing up for a hunt in hot weather is comfort. Being uncomfortable while hunting promotes movement and distraction. Go to extra measures to stay as cool as possible, dry and free from biting insects.

Conclusion
Although sweating while sitting still on a tree stand may not be appealing, the chance to score on a mature buck should be. Preparation and a dedication to things like comfort and stand placement will pay dividends when hunting sweltering Indian summer days.

While other hunters are sitting at home in air conditioned houses waiting for cooler fall weather, a few nuts will be on stand or in a ground blind watching a cattle pond or a river crossing. I'll bet you can guess which group stands a chance at filling a tag!

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