This summer has been stormier than usual. By all indications, we may well be in for a stormy fall as well.
While rotten weather certainly affects fishing, it can have an even greater impact on how and where we deer hunt.
My first lesson in hunting deer in Kodiak’s stormy weather came over 40 years ago.
As a matter of fact, it was on a perfectly sunny day rather than in pouring rain.
The morning started calm, but the wind rapidly increased to something over 20 mph with much higher gusts.
I was sitting on a ridge just below the tundra and glassing for deer across on the next ridge. The valley between featured a mixture of open grasslands and alders in full leaf.
As the wind built, I saw more and more deer making their purposeful way from the lowlands up the valley toward me. They avoided the exposed ridges and stayed in the sheltered valley on their march uphill through the grass and alders.
The watching was so good, I literally forgot that I was hunting.
The deer moved casually while the wind was steady, pausing now and then to nip at the vegetation.
But from my vantage point, I could see the tall grass lay flat as heavy gusts poured down the canyon and raced over them.
With each gust the deer would panic, turning and running ahead of it then stopping once it passed to graze a little more and resume their climb through the valley. It happened again and again as I watched.
In no time at all, the valley was barren of deer, even as I glimpsed them now and then passing between alders on the far hillside.
They didn’t stop climbing until they reached the top end of that ridge where it intersected my own ridge. The junction created a calm pocket protected from wind in the band of alders just below the high tundra.
By the time I transitioned from deer watcher back into deer hunter, there were well over 20 deer bedded among the alders in no more than an acre of shelter from the wind.
Yet another experience taught me important lessons. We were on a boat hunt to timber country where the boat owner always had great deer hunting on the open ridges and mountaintops above the timber.
A howling wind came up overnight, yet well before daylight he and two mutual friends started their hike through the open timber to reach the high country at first light. I’m an old time timber hunter, so I elected to wait for first light before setting out to concentrate my hunt in the relative shelter of the timber.
This was back in the good old days of seven-deer limits. By the end of the second day, my companions got the message. I had 6 deer hanging on the boat, while they were yet to see a single deer between them.
The next morning they stayed out of the wind and joined me in the timber, where they too began filling their tags.
You need one more bit of info before planning your own stormy weather strategies. Call it lesson No. 3, repeated again and again over my decades of hunting Kodiak.
Many are the days I’ve hunted in rain without wind. It’s clear that the deer can’t care less about getting wet. They’re out and about in all the usual places despite the rain. That is, unless or until the wind comes up.
As long as I’ve tallied three important points, I’m going to add a fourth.
All bets are off once the rut approaches in November, at least when it comes to the bucks.
You’ll spot them out in the open and on the exposed ridges in the wind, but always on the move toward the next sheltered area where does might be hiding and resting.
I’ll be the first to admit that hunting stormy weather is uncomfortable. But it can also be the best time to hunt deer when you play your cards right.
Stay at home to wait for a better day if you’re so inclined, but on remote hunts your time in the field is limited by the promised return of your plane or boat. If you stay in your tent or cabin too long, you’re likely to go home empty handed.
If you choose to venture out, turn a new eye to the terrain around you.
Learning to see the sheltered spots is an important skill on Kodiak. Even small bits of cover can hold a surprising number of deer when the conditions turn rotten.
I happen to love close range hunting in tight cover, and I’ve had a lot of practice over the course of many decades doing it.
If you’re not experienced hunting in cover or there are bears about, you’re likely better off to find a comfortable spot overlooking the cover and watch for the deer appearing and disappearing as they move about within it. They still need to get up to move and feed, even if they’re staying out of the wind blasts. Along the way, they’re often visible from outside the cover.
We’ve learned the hard way though that it’s important to have a partner when watching cover. One partner and I both spent over three hours coursing back and forth through an acre of alders in which I’d dropped a deer.
The terrain looks so different once you leave your shooting spot, it’s easy to lose track of a downed deer.
In our experience, the shooter knows best exactly where the deer is lying, and he should stay behind to direct his partner to the deer, then join him for the dressing.
Hunting open timber on stormy days is a special treat. The air is still moving through the forest, and you have to hunt directly into it to conceal your scent from the deer. But the visibility is usually so good for 100 yards or so that a slow and quiet hunter can often see deer before they have a clue he’s in the vicinity.
Though the wind tearing through the branches overhead will help conceal your own noises, it’s not enough to cover that of a branch broken under your foot. Feel for branches hidden under the moss before putting your weight on a foot, and you can ghost along in virtual silence.
Just be aware that even though deer can’t see color, their eyes are specially adapted to spot even small movements. Go very slowly with long stops, and watch all around you for deer as they also move around.
Just remember that you’re unlikely to see whole deer. Instead you’ll see parts of deer or even their movements, so stay alert and carefully examine anything that looks out of place.
If you like hunting in closer quarters and are willing to take every precaution against bear encounters, my beloved dense alders might be for you.
Hunt into the wind at a snail’s pace and be ever alert for the first bear sign or even the smell of a bear.
If you think bears are near, don’t go into the alders in any case.
But if you’re relatively certain they’re not on hand and you immediately leave when you spot their sign, alder hunting can be wildly productive.
My hunting partners aren’t as inclined as I am to dive into dense cover, which has led us to a great strategy. They move to a safe vantage point outside the alders where they can watch for deer I spook depsite my best efforts to be quiet and move slowly.
If you can’t convince yourself to hunt in the teeth of a windstorm, there’s still hope for you.
Have your hunting gear ready and carefully watch the weather forecasts.
The moment the wind starts to abate, get out into the hills as quick as you can.
The deer hate confinement about as much as you do, and at the first sign of clearing they’ll come popping out of cover for a little exercise and a big meal.
It’s downright amazing to watch terrain with “no” deer, then see them start popping into sight out of every bit of cover as the wind drops.