We all know it. It has been beaten in our heads. "Play the wind" right? But what does that really mean? In the past, I have been guilty of hunting mature bucks on my terms. If my stand set up great for an East wind, thats how I'd hunt it. I learned something in 2016 that really changed how I "play" the wind.
A big cold front hit in mid December, pushing hard winds out of the North and sending temperatures way down. The perfect weather that many southern deer hunters dream of. Only one problem: My best stand for one of my target bucks was set perfectly wrong for such a front.
We went in that day with heavy stands on our back to attempt our first "run and gun" setup. (Our system has evolved quite a bit since. Look for a "hang and hunt" blog soon.) With brisk Northern winds at 25mph, we searched and searched for a decent ambush tree to set up in. Now I'm all about sketchy-tree hangs, but when the wind is kicking and all you've got to work with are spindly Cedar Elms, it gets pretty dicey. After about 20 minutes of deliberation and frustration, we decided to "punt." Defeated, we walked over, placed our extra stands at the base of a big oak, and climbed to the top. We gave up. We were sitting the South wind stand on a North wind.
What is a bad wind anyway?
There we were, freezing our butts off in a less than ideal setup. Not a great place to be mentally. It was hard to maintain focus when all I could think about were the negatives. Somehow, I sat there long enough to have a shift in thought. I asked myself "How do the deer actually use this area?" The answer: From East to West. So technically a deer cruising through wouldn't hit our scent until AFTER I have at least one shot opportunity! Spirits lifted.
We had another factor in our favor that day: Thermals. No, not your Pepaw's old long handle underwear, Air Thermals. Hot air rises. Hence the flight of Hot Air Balloons. Often times after a cold front, the ground temperature is still much warmer than the air. The air near the ground is warmed and you have convection. Just as the hot air balloon, the air rises, creates an updraft, and lifts your scent high over the so called "down wind" deer. This phenomenon can also happen on a cold clear morning. As the sun rises, the rays hit the ground, giving it warmth, and the same process occurs.
11 Yards Up
Once we are set, we always check our ranges. Even if its a stand we are very familiar with, it is still a good idea. It's sort of a Mantra. That day, Tyler decided to point his rangefinder directly down. 11 yds. 33ft?! Yes, we were wayyy up there. I like my stands high. Not always, but when it works. On this occasion, with the strong North wind, deer could pass by as far out as 50 yards downwind and never get a whiff of us. Our scent was blowing right over them.
You may get a slight edge by using one of these tricks, but it is when you can start compounding these little factor together that mature bucks start slipping up. Big bucks get on their feet when the temps drop and thats exactly what happened on that day. At 4:17 pm, Scar cruised into our lives. I grunt-stopped him at 31 yards, almost directly "downwind," and executed my shot. However my arrow did not find its mark. Those wary beasts have a few tricks up their sleeves as well.
(SIDE NOTE: The first deer has what is know as an Arterial Worm, causing his misshapen nose and uncontrollable tongue.)
Cutting It Close
Something else we've picked up on is the use of Milkweed fibers. Its sort of an underground movement by big buck hunters. We first learned of the stuff from Dan Infalt over on The Hunting Beast. (Great online gathering place of good knowledgeable hunters.) Milkweed fibers are little white wisps that seem lighter than air. You can release one from your stand and follow it with your eyes until it drifts out of view. This allows you to see exactly what the wind currents are doing and where your scent is actually going. The wind almost never goes in a straight line, but that is often how we imagine it. Just like a creek meanders through the woods, so does the wind. It bounces off of obstacles, plunges, rises, and sometimes even stalls.
Once you understand how your scent is traveling, then you can begin to really get tricky. We sit a stand on the edge of a creek ever so often. The creek runs North and South. It sets up best for an East wind, but I actually like it on a SSE or almost south. You'd think our wind would blow straight up the edge of the creek, winding any deer cruising down the parallel trail. In reality, the cool water and lowness of the creek draws the air out over the creek. In this situation, both the deer and the hunters (us) have the wind in our favor. That is the stuff dreams are made of.