One look at the title of this story, and many would assume I’m referring to the cold and snow that will hit Minnesota in late fall and early winter.
As hunters, we know better. Snow and temperature drops are what drive many of us into the woods. It’s those comfortable and pesky weather conditions – sun and 70 degrees – that get a bad rap in the whitetail deer hunting world.
If you listen to a podcast focused on deer hunting or consume whitetail deer hunting media, you’ve heard it. “A cold front is coming, and it’s going to make them money.” If the deer aren’t spotted, it’s those damn hot temperatures. Or maybe the wind is blowing too hard.
It is such a common belief that bucks move more in cold conditions and stay tight until dark in warm weather that some hunters will simply stay out of the woods until a cold front hits.
Science doesn’t support that much. Studies of GPS-equipped deer have found minimal evidence that weather influences deer movement. Regardless of the temperature, deer move the most at dusk and dawn because that is when they can see best.
Mark Kenyon works for outdoor lifestyle company, MeatEater, and hosts the Wired to Hunt podcast focused on whitetail deer hunting. Kenyon wrote a story in 2020 titled “Does Temperature Affect Deer Movement? This piece focused on the divisive nature of this topic in terms of what science says and what hunters think they see in the woods.
Those who study this will consistently say that if there is a link between increased male movement and temperature, it is minimal.
“We saw changes when we had temperature changes,” Bronson Strickland of Mississippi State University said in Kenyon’s story about one of their studies. “When a front came along, we might see changes. But again, it wasn’t that dramatic. It was still subtle.”
Maybe a little more movement during the day is all we hunters are looking for. It might be the difference between shooting a buck at last light and never seeing him. I’ve heard that argument, and it makes sense to me.
EXAMPLES OF BAD WEATHER BUCKS
For many years I lived by the mantra “must chase cold fronts”. This often led me to decide when and where to hunt, even during the rut. I was missing the potential for a lot of good hunts because of that.
My experience hunting cold fronts is like any other weather I’ve hunted. There are good seats and bad seats. My mindset on their importance has completely changed, basically to not worry about the weather anymore.
I love climbing a tree with temps in the mid 30’s. Seems fair to me, but I’ve had a lot of great encounters and some of my biggest dollar kills that have come in weather conditions while thinking popular is that it’s a waste of time to be in the woods.
I think back to my first mature buck shot with a bow in my early twenties. It was an almost 80 degree day in mid-October. Hot during the “October lull”. What’s worse?
Watched some deer move by the river on a sit down party, adjusted the next afternoon to that area and had a huge bodied Minnesota 9 pointer at 20 yards with an hour of daylight on the left.
The 2020 opening weekend in Minnesota featured terrible conditions. Temperatures in the 80s and winds blowing from the south at over 30 mph.
These winds allowed me to leisurely climb up a stream to set up over a low crossing and fire a 9 pointer that came out from a high point on the surrounding ridges.
Like warm temperatures, wind is another popular weather condition that some people say hunting is pointless. That mindset would have kept me on the couch the night I fired my biggest shot yet on September 4 of this year in North Dakota.
I saw this male with another 3.5 year old male during my first session of the season on the evening of September 3rd. Temperatures were in the 70s with light northeast winds. The wind shifted completely the next day to the southeast gusting to 25-30 mph.
Again, the wind allowed me to quietly settle even closer to where I suspected these males were lying. With half an hour of light remaining, the 12 point was 2 meters away from me.
The winds will almost always subside during the last hour of light. The deer will be up at this time and you will have had the opportunity to use the stronger winds of the day to get closer to where you suspect them to be.
THE RUT IS CONSISTENT
I don’t pay much attention to the weather conditions during the rut.
My 2020 North Dakota dollar arrived on the morning of November 3 when high temperatures were in the 70s that day. Set up between two sleeping areas a few hundred yards apart, a 10-pointer arrived right on a deer’s tail around 8:30 a.m.
Think of the rut this way – the timing is literally life or death sometimes for does and fawns in northern climates. White-tailed deer have a gestation period of around 200 days and they have evolved to achieve a perfectly timed reproductive peak that gives fawns the best chance of survival.
It takes a lot of energy to raise fawns and it takes that extra nutrition that comes with spring greening. If fawns are born too early in northern climates, the risk of mortality is high due to weather conditions. Born too late, fawns run the risk of not being healthy enough to survive their first winter.
It is important that most fawns fall during a similar period in the spring to overwhelm predators. Coyotes, wolves, bobcats, and bears can only eat a certain number of fawns in an area before the fawns are upright and can better escape.
LET HALLOWEEN BE THE SWITCH
I recently had a conversation with Kip Adams of the National Deer Association. Adams is the NDA’s director of conservation with a master’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of New Hampshire.
Rutting time, or the actual breeding that takes place, is very consistent each year in the northern two-thirds of the United States, Adams said.
It’s not triggered by the weather or the phases of the moon, two things that fluctuate. It is determined by the photoperiod, ie the daily duration during which an organism receives light.
“It’s extremely cut and dry,” Adams told me. “We can measure the fetuses of deer killed in late winter or spring, remount those deer, and we know exactly when those deer were bred. It’s not hearsay, “Hey, that’s when we think it’s the rut.” Biologists know exactly when this happens. In the northern United States, it depends a lot on the photoperiod. »
Adams arrives as both a wildlife biologist and an avid deer hunter. He enjoys chasing cold fronts as much as anyone, but he doesn’t let the weather dictate when he’s in the tree.
A popular peak breeding date in northern areas is November 15, with breeding occurring on a bell curve around this date. Adams said on Oct. 31 and through the first week of November, he’s in the woods to take advantage of that search stage where the bucks actively seek out the first receptive doe before that breeding peak.
I get the plot from hunting on a freezing morning with 5-10 mph northwesterly winds on November 5th. This will excite me as much as anyone. But if you wait for these conditions to hit the woods, you’re missing out on a lot of potential big hunts this fall.