By Nick Simonson
Every autumn has a week where the winds of change blow through the upper Midwest, and this one is it for the current season. With gusts in some places touching 50 miles per hour at the start of the week, the shift toward cooler weather was obvious, as hat-removing gales were a steady state after the previous week’s brush with summerlike temperatures and relatively calm conditions. No doubt, winds make things more challenging in the field, not only in terms of adding a layer or two of clothes, but also in the pursuit of game species which are attuned to the weather and are harder to hunt when things are blustery. There are ways to overcome the edginess of wildlife in the winds, and better hunting can be had by playing the breezy conditions as best as possible.
Silence Is Golden
For upland and big game alike, windy conditions provide an almost late-season quality to the hunt in that birds, deer and other species are even more edgy than the calendar might suggest. That slamming truck door or carside conversation tends to carry with the breeze, spooking creatures located downwind. Just like it’s not unusual to see pheasants break cover 150 yards away when they hear a few steps in the crunching roadside snowdrift in December, autumn wind tends to make them jumpy as well. Keep field conversations to a minimum on windy days and make a quiet exit from the vehicle when entering the field for a hunt.
For deer, there’s no greater trigger for the natural flight instinct than being downwind of a smelly human. On those windy firearm season days, or on spot-and-stalk efforts with the bow, being certain the wind isn’t distributing scent in an unwanted manner is key to getting close enough for a shot. Use cattail fluff, milkweed seeds or a powder-based wind checker to determine which way the wind is moving scent lines. Calculate rises and funnels into the equation to be sure that errant currents aren’t drifting right to a waiting buck’s nose. While deer don’t move as much on gusty days, they still can be around, and staying downwind of likely holding spots, or picking a stand that carries scent out and away from a shooting area is important in making the most of each day in the field, no matter how breezy.
Up and Away
Many times, especially with upland game such as pheasants and grouse, birds can be found on the upwind side of a piece of habitat in which they are holding. With scent and sound being carried away behind a line of hunters and dogs, it is not uncommon to find a good number of birds stacked up on the windward side of the grasses or cattail sloughs, especially if they are approached quietly and cautiously. Work the last 50 to 100 yards of cover into the wind slowly and methodically, and keep dogs close by as they do their thing. Odds are, flushes will come fast and furious at the end, so be ready to catch them on the rise.
A strong gale adds anywhere from five to 10 miles per hour to the flight speed of flushing birds, and catching them while they’re getting up or getting caught in the grip of a headwind can work to a hunter’s advantage. Once they find those breezes under their wings, however, they’re as good as gone. A long lead may be required depending on the gusts, and putting a shot out in front might be needed to add birds to the day’s bag, so get a bead on them before they turn and burn.
Open a Window
The wind can’t blow forever, and often subsides overnight, making dawn and dusk ideal times to get in the field for many species in the windy stretches of autumn. Follow the shifts not only in the wind but also the weather by using a variety of weather apps and websites which show hour-by-hour forecasts for the day’s gusts and picking the best time to be on stand or in a favorite field. Animals will use these calmer times to get in motion and feed after staying put for the past day or longer, moving around with the better conditions that have been allotted to them. Hunters would be wise to do the same and intercept them, even if it means making the oh-so-tough sacrifice of an hour or two at work on a slow afternoon when it looks like things are settling down outside the office as well.
Apparently unceasing winds are a fact of fall in the upper Midwest, but that doesn’t mean they have to keep hunters out of the field. Knowing how the gales affect wildlife will provide for a more successful hunt despite the challenges the conditions might bring, because staying home and watching TV isn’t an option with all of the great opportunities to be had during this breezy time of year…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Working the updwind edge of thicker habitat can pay off big on breezy days. Simonson Photo)