When the Wind Blows
Sometimes silent, always invisible, the wind can
be your worst enemy or your best friend.
By Bob Grewell


Each year there are bowhunters who figure out the travel habits of a big buck lurking in their hunting area and eventually get a shot at him.  There are other bowhuwhunters who accomplish the same, but for some reason never catch a glimpse of the big trophy.  Why is this?  Well, of course, it could be due to a number of things.  Maybe the unlucky bowhunters made too much noise while sitting on stand, and deer could hear them before venturing within sight.  Or maybe they put their stand in the wrong place.  But if I was to bet on it, I would probably say the luckless hunters forgot to monitor the wind currents surrounding their stand, giving deer a “heads up” to their whereabouts.

Deer Rely On It
 It’s a fact.  Our preparations and stand locations are principally affected by wind direction.  It’s probably the number one element that sends hundreds of patient bowhunters home empty-handed each fall.  Recently, while bowhunting eastern Ohio, I was reminded of how important wind can be to every hunting setup.

 Where I was hunting, a dense tangle of greenbriers and saplings wrapped around the side of a steep hill.  Halfway up this slope, my carefully positioned tree stand was erected close to a trail that wound through this horseshoe-shaped bedding area.  The time-worn path provided deer easier access from a low-level stream bed that connected to an alfalfa field on the hilltop.  Water at the base, bedding cover in the middle, food on the peak—you couldn’t ask for better deer habitat.  On days the wind was to my advantage, I was in a tree downwind from an obvious fence crossing.

 On that particular day, however my hopes were extremely high, mostly because the rut was escalating and extremely high, mostly because the rut was escalating and deer activity was increasing.  The late afternoon sun was unusually warm, so I took my time moving to my stand.  I reached the edge of the briar tangle just as another bullying wind gust blew off my hat.  Disgusted, I began to wonder if I would in fact see deer because unruly wind makes deer skittish.

 Pulsating wind had me constantly searching the landscape.  At one point, I was slowly rotating my head when I spotted a six-point casually making his way up the hillside.  As he scaled the steep incline, he stopped frequently to nose the air.  I felt safe because I had pre-planned the stand placement so that a wast wind was blowing across the trail, toward me.  He stood for several minutes, scanning the area and smelling air currents.  When he finally committed to crossing the fence, he made on leap.  After his feet hit the ground, he nosed the wind then investigated a natural scrape 12 yards from my stand.  I wasn’t interested in shooting the buck, but I was curious of his peculiar behavior.

 The deer’s nostrils flared constantly.  He smelled the ground, surrounding foliage, and methodically tested wind currents.  His reliance on the wind impressed me, as his damp, black nose purposefully searched out odors carried by the wind.  It was as if he were wired to an internal timing mechanism that induced him to sample the wind every 30 seconds.

 The buck eventually bedded down alongside a tangle of briars not 30 yards from my stand.  I was hoping his appearance would provide a “comfort zone” that would attract other deer.  The hillside shelf appeared to be a staging location where he waited for darkness before traveling uphill to the open alfalfa pasture.  As he laid down, his back faced the wind.  This posture enabled him to scent potential danger behind him (upwind).  Then, he could watch and listen for intrusions in front of him (downwind).  He frequently rotated his head to inhale the wind.  With my binocular I could see his face clearly.  He intermittently closed his eyes.  It was amazing how he moved his head to smell wind gusts while his eyes were closed it was obvious his nose never stopped working, even as he cat-napped.

 Long before darkness, a doe entered the scene.  She was approaching at a reluctant pace, walking into the wind.  The buck hadn’t been able to smell me because my stand position was perfect.  But, from where the doe stood, she scented me with the help of a prolonged gust of wind.  Her alarming snorts indicated she didn’t like my presence.  She scrambled and jumped the fence, racing across a weedy opening.  The startled buck exited a different direction.

 As you can see from my experience in the woods that day, deer rely heavily on wind currents to detect danger.  So, as hunters, we must learn as much as we can about the wind, where it comes from and how it blows.

Where Does It Come From
 As the earth warms and cools a turbulent of air currents and generated that produces the byproduct of wind.  Wind thermals typically move upward during the morning as air is heated by the sun.  During the evening, when the earth begins to cool, air currents fall.  Thus, vertical-moving air masses rise during the morning and descend in the evening.  This is important information to know when determining placement of morning or evening stands.

 But, you don’t have to be a magician to understand and use wind to your advantage.  Bowhunters do need to realize, however, where wind is coming from in relation to deer activities, and where it’s going so deer don’t pick up your scent after you’ve put up a stand.  Timing the wind is based on logic.  But, we often become so wrapped up with every aspect of bowhunting, we overlook the importance of wind direction and how this invisible atmospheric condition affects us.

 Three seasons ago, while hunting an oval-shaped creek bottom during early-November, I was able to use the wind to my advantage to arrow a nice buck.  At the time, the rut appeared to be in full swing.  I wasn’t in my morning stand more than 15 minutes when a doe materialized from a corn field on the opposite side of the lengthy weed field.  Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the buck pursuing her.

 I could hear faint grunting, so I played my grunt tube and slapped my rattling racks, attempting to draw him away from fleeing doe.  After my third overture he stopped and looked toward me.  I hit the racks again and he shunned the doe, trotting toward me.  Fortunately, a steady west wind blew in such a manner that my scent wasn’t transported toward their activities.  More importantly, a deep, wide creek was directly behind me.  If this buck tried to circle and walk into the wind, it would be difficult for him to smell me without crossing the creek.

 As he came closer, he moved along the water barrier, but didn’t cross.  Nosing the wind, the buck took a course beside a narrow band of trees and foliage at the edge of the field.  Ears laid back, grunting seriously, he walked within 10 steps of my tree stand.  I had previously dribbled doe urine on the ground as a scent post in anticipation of distracting a buck long enough to draw and release an arrow.  And it worked!

 He stopped, lowered his head to decipher the odor, and I made my move.  He flinched as the arrow blew completely through both lungs.  When he started to bolt, I immediately grunted twice with my call.  He abruptly stopped and looked back toward me.  I remained motionless as he stumbled across the open field before laying down only 80 yards away.  I was thankful the wind didn’t change directions.  Only a week before I couldn’t use the stand because a different wind direction would have carried my scent across the field.

Monitor It Daily
 Using the wind as an ally begins before we enter deer habitat.  Become a student of weather by monitoring daily conditions so you’re completely aware of current wind directions.  Weather radios will help you retrieve this vital information.  A radio’s portability also allows you to carry one afield and monitor weather at your convenience.  Television and radio weather reports should always be checked before going afield, but don’t solely rely on these weather reports.  Once you’re afield, you need to double-check wind conditions.

 Reviewing wind direction is a continuous process.  Watch the movement of leaves and small tree branches, as well as tall grasses.  If it’s a blustery day, check the direction of your steamy breath as you exhale.  I use one stand close to a rural home where I can view the drift of chimney smoke as it rises from their fireplace.  Cat whisker string silencers move freely in the direction wind pushes them.  If you tie a short piece of dark-colored thread to your bow, it will move with the wind, even a slight breeze.  A small butane lighter will show the direction of wind currents precisely, too.  Some hunters carry a squeeze bottle with a scent-free powder and occasionally puff small amounts into the air, watching the direction the powder floats.  This method works very well.

 But, any time the wind is in your favor before climbing into a tree stand, basic bowhunting rules still apply.  Make certain all your clothing has been de-scented.  Equally, cleanse your body with a de-scenting soap to avoid contact with human related odors before going to your stand.  Even when you’re downwind and deer aren’t as likely to smell you, hunters need to stay as clean and as scent-free as possible.

Wind Is Ever-Changing
 Location, location, location—it’s instrumental in allowing you to hunt undetected.  When selecting a tree to ambush deer, there’s no strategic spot that’s fool-proof.  No one stand site produces every time because wind isn’t constant.  It’s imperative to have more than one location available.  This enables you to switch whenever wind direction changes.  This tactical change is beneficial, especially when ever  you’re hunting different types of landscape.  Flat, open farm ground is typically subjected to one-directional wind currents for several hours at a time.  If there are no landscape contours creating obstacles and the day is exposed to a specific wind, breezes will flow in the same constant direction.  That is, unless there’s a weather change.

 Conversely, hilly and mountainous terrain will fool you.  Valleys, rock structures and heavy woods might alter wind direction.  The wind can blow from a westerly direction on a hilltop, but as it sweeps down into  snaking valley, wind currents will follow these twisting and turning landscape features.  Wind will weave its way along and around uneven landscape features, too.

 There’s not much that compares to going one-on-one with a mature whitetail buck.  Whitetail are elusive, cautious, and seem to have an invisible sensory ability that alerts them of our presence.  They create a superb challenge because this ally makes them capable of avoiding the best hunters.  One often wonders if they don’t have magical abilities.  That is, until we understand their unseen partner: wind.  It can be your friend or your enemy, it just depends on how you exploit it.