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When it comes to deer hunting in the rain, the first and most important question to answer is whether should you even bother. You’ve asked yourself this before, I’m sure. You looked at the forecast for your one free day to hunt on a given week, and it called for rain. Or you were already planning to hunt but woke up to the sound of rain drops drumming the rooftop—and the crux of the matter moved to the forefront of you brain: Should you go deer hunting in the rain? Well, the answer, generally speaking, is a definite maybe—and it depends.
Deer hunting in the rain can me magical or miserable. It depends on the time of year, the temperature, how hard it’s raining, whether you’re hunting from a ground blind or an open tree stand, and more. If you do decide to go, there are also number of special considerations to take into account while hunting. So let’s break it all down. Here is your complete guide to deer hunting in the rain.
When Deer Hunting in the Rain is Magical
Many serious whitetail hunters hope for light rain in the forecast, because under the right conditions, it can really put deer on their feet. The last time I signed up for a good soaking in an open tree stand is a good example. What started out as a light mist slowly grew into a steady drizzle and, as I did my best to shield my binocular and rifle scope, the drizzle became a light but steady rain. I was completely exposed it all, sitting in a tripod stand on the edge of a north Missouri food plot. But since it was the peak of the Show Me State rut and my last day to hunt for a while, I hunkered into my rain gear and vowed to ride things out.
As the afternoon wore on, a pair of fawns and then nice does moved in, diving into the beans like they hadn’t eaten in days. Daylight was fading when I swiveled my head to look behind me. Standing 20 yards off was a huge doe, and right behind her was one of the biggest 8-points I’d ever seen. The buck, which had seen at least five hunting seasons, looked up and stared at the strange, rain-soaked blob atop a 12-foot tripod and seemed to ponder if following his girlfriend was a good idea.
But the rut is a wonderful thing. He flicked his tail and walked into the plot just 25 steps away. Then he turned his head just long enough for me to sneak the gun up, rest it on the shooting rail, and lean into the scope. My heart raced at the thought this rain-soaked hunt was actually going to work out—and then sank when I looked into the eyepiece, which was so badly fogged I couldn’t see anything, much less a B&C 8-point feeding within bow range. And just as I grabbed a semi-dry handkerchief and wiped the rear lens clean, the doe trotted across the plot with the buck following in pursuit and out of my life.
Deer Movement in the Rain
In more than 40 years of deer hunting, and almost as many decades interviewing experts, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding how rain affects deer movement. But I also did some snooping around for hard data on the topic— and was surprised to find that there’s actually very little research germane to rain-related whitetail movement. Other weather factors—wind, temperature, and barometric pressure—have received some attention, and since rain is typically related to those factors, we can extrapolate a few generalities.
Temperature is one of the sharpest sticks to goad a buck into moving (or staying on his belly). Generally speaking, once fall comes, the warmer it gets, the less likely a buck is to move well, and since rain typically follows a cool front, it can definitely spur a lazy buck to his feet for that reason. The same can be said of wind, which is another harbinger of a front bearing rain. Too much wind can put deer down, of course, but a nice l little breeze helps cover the sound of their movements from predators and helps deer smell better as well. So the wind that brings in a rain event can certainly get deer up and moving. But what about the rain itself? In my experience, a lot depends on severity and duration. Here’s a breakdown.
Mist and Drizzle
When it comes to deer hunting in the rain, about the best you can hope for as a hunter is misting rain or a drizzle. Odds are it will come with the cooler temperatures that usually get deer moving, and even if you’re hunting from an open stand, it’s not too bad to sit through. Grab your rain gear and go. During the early season, especially, when you can have long stretches of summer-like weather, even a minor front with just a bit of mist in the air can be enough to get overheated bucks that have been on their bellies all day for days on end back up and about during shooting light. Personally, these conditions are a definite green light for me, and I’ll hit the woods with high expectations for seeing deer.
Light Rain or Showers
Light rain does not bother whitetails in the least, and like mist and drizzle, it likely means a dip in temperature and solid deer movement. In fact, I think these conditions can put mature bucks, in particular, on their feet; suddenly an old buck can sneak around without making a sound, and the diminished light seems to make them feel safer, as if they’re moving at the last crack of daylight instead of two hours before. And as above, if it’s been unusually hot and dry, the break in the weather seems to get them going. From the hunter’s standpoint, of course, you might want to crawl into a ground blind or shooting house in these conditions.
Steady Rain and Downpours
Full-blow rain, downpours, and especially extended washouts are another story. These conditions seem to have the opposite effect, putting deer on their bellies to ride out the storm, usually in some kind of protective cover that offers a bit of relief from a soaking, such as conifers or dense brush. And if the deluge is accompanied by heavy winds, whitetails will hole up on the lee side of hills or dense, wind-blocking cover. Now, those are no conditions for stand hunting, but if your a hardy sort and don’t mind getting wet, a hard rain and steady wind give the still-hunter some huge advantages. If you know where deer on your property are most likely to hunker down, you have ideal conditions for sneaking close without being heard or winded. Approach likely buck haunts from a crosswind and peak over slight rolls in the terrain to glass for antler tines poking up above the ground cover. It’s not an easy hunt, but if you can pull it off, you’ll have a story to tell.
Since I live in and hunt country that experiences significant snow, I find a lot of comparisons between rain and the white stuff when it comes to deer movement. While anything from a light dusting to a few inches of snow seems to get every whitetail up and moving, a bonafide storm will have them seeking a safe place to lay up until conditions moderate. In fact, extremes of most any kind of weather—temperatures, wind, snow, and rain—are typically not conducive to solid deer movement. But moderate amounts of any or all of those things are either a non-issue, or can put a buck on his feet during daylight.
Hunters and the Rain
Of course, deer are only half of the equation in the Should I hunt in the rain? question. There is also the matter of whether you want to go and even whether you think it’s ethically OK to do so. And once again, the answer is a decided “it depends”
I’ve endured enough rain-soaked vigils to know that in anything more than a light rain, I want to be in a box or ground blind—and that even in a mist or drizzle, good rain gear is worth its weight in gold if you’re still-hunting or sitting for hours in an open treestand. Good scope covers and a bino harness that covers your glass are also important. Modern muzzleloaders are all-but impervious to the weather these days, but a wrap of cellophane around the action never hurts; some hunters will slip a balloon or put a piece of tape over the muzzle as well. Bowhunters who prefer “real” fletchings should either have a quiver that covers their feathers or at least spray them a water repellent.
Some folk get excited about deer hunting in the rain because they feel it will wash away human scent. While rain might eventually eliminate the scent trail you leave as you walk in to your stand or blind, it will have to be a good dousing to do so. In addition to being an upland bird dog guy, I’ve done extensive scent-testing with search K-9s, and I can tell you without hesitation that a dog—a critter with a very sharp nose, but not as good as a deer’s—will smell you far better on a wet day than any dry one. If anything, I’m more anal about my approach and scent-mitigation efforts on a rainy day.
When it comes to actually shooting deer in the rain, it’s best to take only high-percentage shots that are well within your effective range. Rain can wipe out a blood trail in a hurry, so the shorter yours is, the better. (Personally, I shy away from bowhunting in any steady rain for this very reason.) If things do go awry and your shot is not immediately lethal, it’s generally best to actually be more conservative with your wait. If you accidentally gut-shoot your buck and he runs off through the drizzle and into the dusk, I don’t care how tempted you are to immediately follow up because you think the rain is going to wash out your blood trail, my advice is to back off. That deer needs time, and if you bump him out of his bed, you’re not only going to be looking for a carcass without a blood trail (which you were probably going to do anyway), but one that’s a mile away instead of 250 yards. If possible, get in touch with someone with a tracking dog, which will find your buck not by following blood, but the glandular scent carried between the deer’s hooves.
Finally there’s this: Deer movement following a storm front is typically very good, so if you’re waffling about whether to endure a soaking in your pursuit of a buck, maybe waiting is the best option. I’ve sat in some nasty weather in my day, and it takes a toll, not only on your gear (drying stuff out is a pain, and might be impossible if you’re in a deer camp lacking luxuries, like a dryer), but your psyche. After a long, tough, sit that’s mostly miserable, my motivation to hunt the next day can be compromised. Hunting, at its core, is supposed to be fun. And if getting pelted by rain and waiting for deer that may or may not show up, does not fit your definition of fun, then don’t go—and don’t feel a bit bad about it. On the other hand, if you don’t mind sitting in a mist, a drizzle, or a light rain—especially one that provides a break from unseasonably warm weather—and waiting for deer that probably will show up, then pull on your rain gear and get after it.