After 20+ years of collecting data as a scientist and as an avid deer hunter, it’s obvious that hunters see more deer when the weather is changing. The trends show that the more abrupt the changes in weather, the more likely hunters are to see deer.
My most memorable observation related to deer and changing weather occurred during September 1989. I was studying deer behavior associated with rubs near Charleston, South Carolina. Hurricane Hugo was predicted to come on shore and the storm’s eye was to pass within miles of my study site. While I was making one last round to check the cameras used to monitor the rubs before the storm, I saw mature bucks, does, and fawns literally everywhere during the day. I saw them in fields, in food plots, in yards – everywhere. I had permission to hunt the property where I was doing research, but thought the power might go out for a day or two and opted not to harvest a deer. The eye of the storm almost center-punched the property where I was working and electricity wasn’t restored for six weeks.
Unquestionably the deer sensed the magnitude of the coming change in weather better than me. Rather than thinking about hunting, I should have been driving out of the storm’s path! No one knows how deer sense a pending change in weather. Several researchers, including myself, have attempted to understand how deer detect pending changes in weather. No researcher has published a definitive reason why deer increase activity substantially before or after some substantial changes in the weather.
Weather can’t accurately be predicted more than a few days (or hours) in advance. I know this all too well as I prepare today to return from a hunting trip in Kansas. I planned this trip months ago. I’ve spent the better part of this week thinking about this as the weather has been hotter than normal (setting some records), very low humidity, and extremely dry. I’ve seen a few does and fawns daily, but no mature bucks. The owner of the property where I’m hunting told me yesterday that he didn’t have a single trail camera image of a mature buck moving during the daytime this past week. He did say “You should have been here last week.” Dang, I really dislike hearing that phrase in relation to hunting!
I enjoy hunting and visiting with friends. However, my mission was to pattern and harvest a mature buck. I think I patterned the activity of mature bucks in this part of Kansas – moving almost exclusively at night. I could have predicted this activity pattern based on the weather. I simply couldn’t predict the weather months in advance. Often, when planning hunting trips, the biggest limiting factor in the equation is that the weather at a specific location can’t be predicted with any degree of accuracy.
I enjoy hunting new areas, learning the lay of the land, etc. I enjoy taking off from the truck with nothing except my bow, a stand and a map. However, I’d probably enjoy it more if the weather was changing to conditions favorable for mature bucks to be active during daylight hours. I’ll hunt again this morning, and then pull my stands and head home. The weather is clear, dry, and warm – perfect for driving. I couldn’t have planned that part better!