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Wind Speed Effects on Whitetail Deer Movement

by Darrin Bradley

Some topics of conversation in the world of whitetail deer hunting,will remain forever controversial. Throughout my hunting career,I have listened to a number of hunters argue about gun calibers, deer decoys, the quality of one companyís product versus another, lunar effects on whitetail behavior, etc. The list of controversial whitetail topics seems neverending. Frankly,some of these controversial issues have been thoroughly exhausted with opinions and editorials. The crafty behavior of the whitetail deer may keep hunters and biologists arguing for quite some time. Fortunately,todayís whitetail hunter has made some discoveries which are accepted by almost everyone. Over the past couple decades, most of us have agreed wind plays an important role in regard to whitetail behavior. From wind speeds to wind directions, I donít know a single hunter in the field who believes the wind is not significant to a days hunt. It is my belief wind is the most significant factor in determining whitetail movement.

Whitetail deer movement is primarily determined by the animalís ability to detect predators while preventing predators from detecting them. The mature whitetail buck is specifically motivated to movement based upon this premise. Professional big game hunters throughout North America have claimed a mature whitetail buck may be the most elusive big game animal on the North American Continent. Some even go as far as to say, if you can consistently harvest mature whitetail bucks you can be successful at hunting any big game animal in the world. Although those opinions may be up for debate one thing is for certain. The mature whitetail buck is an elusive animal which presents a challenge to any hunter.

The whitetail has a variety of tools by which it can detect danger. It has been estimated this elegant creature possesses a sense of smell which exceeds a humanís sense of smell by more than 10,000 times. Detection of danger is also accomplished by its keen sense of hearing. The animalís large ears enable it to pick up sounds at great distances. Any seasoned hunter can testify to watching the animal rotate its pear shaped ears as if they are antennas in an attempt to detect danger from different directions. Although whitetails possess relatively poor vision, they have evolved into masters at detecting movement or motion in the timber. One fool proof strategy a hunter can implement to guard against the detection abilities, is by hanging stand locations at heights exceeding twenty feet. I never hunt out of stand locations under twenty feet if I can keep from doing so. When all these detection abilities are packaged into one animal it can make attempts at harvesting them a difficult task.

Based upon the premise that whitetail movement is significantely enhanced or decreased by the animalís detection abilities, the wind will always play a vital role in whitetail behavior. In low wind speeds, the timber is a calm place in which the deer can maximize its abilities to detect danger. In other words, low wind speeds are to the deerís advantage. (Detection of sound and movement is easy as things in the timber arenít in motion as much.) In low wind speeds, the animal can determine more accurately which direction specific odors are originating from. In high wind speeds the whitetail finds its self at a great disadvantage. High wind speeds set branches, bushes, leaves, debris, etc. in motion. When the wooded enviornment is in motion, excessive noise exists, keeping deer from detecting noises which accompany the movement of predators. As high wind speeds set the wooded environment in motion, it also camoflauges the movement of predators. High wind speeds handicapp a whitetails sense of smell, as odors dissipate more rapidly which may keep deer from determining which direction an odor originates.

I have compiled statistics from over 400 whitetail hunts since 1994, in regard to the subject of wind. These statistics were collected from hunts occuring in Northeastern Missouri and Western Illinois. In measuring the results I define a ďsuccessful huntĒ as a hunt on which I view whitetails from a stand location. These results are as follows in regard to all deer.

ALL DEER MOVEMENT (Inclusive of bucks and does.)
Wind Speed Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
0-5 miles per hour 138 41 77%
6-10 miles per hour 50 17 75%
11-15 miles per hour 71 39 65%
16-20 miles per hour 21 16 57%
21-50 miles per hour 9 9 50%

My studies show deer movement is decreased as the wind speed increases. Personally, I begin to worry about the quality of my hunts when wind speeds exceeding 15 miles per hour are prevalent. On days when wind speeds exceed twenty miles per hour, I usually wonít hunt. Believe me, Iíve learned things the hard way throughout my hunting career.

I have also compiled statistics surrounding wind speeds and its effect on whitetail bucks specifically. The results are as follows:

Wind Speed Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
0-5 miles per hour 83 101 45%
6-10 miles per hour 46 64 42%
11-15 miles per hour 31 38 44%
16-20 miles per hour 10 24 29%
21-50 miles per hour 3 17 15%

As depicted by the results shown, whitetail buck movement is severely reduced at wind speeds above 15 miles per hour. (A 15% reduction in movement to be exact.)

In an effort to assist the trophy whitetail buck hunter, a collection of data surrounding Pope and Young buck movement was performed. This data encompasses the relationship between wind speeds and Pope and Young movement. Over the past five years I have viewed fifty six seperate Pope and Young animals. The wind results are as follows:

Wind Speed Number of Pope and Young Bucks Seen
0-5 miles per hour 29 Pope and Young Bucks
6-10 miles per hour 16 Pope and Young Bucks
11-15 miles per hour 7 Pope and Young Bucks
16-20 miles per hour 3 Pope and Young Bucks
21-50 miles per hour 1 Pope and Young Buck

As one might have guessed, not only do high wind speeds significantely decrease all deer movement and buck movement, but they also decrease Pope and Young buck movement. Mature whitetail bucks appear to significantly reduce their movement at wind speeds exceeding eleven miles per hour. (A reduction of movement of over 50% to be exact.) All other deer movement seems to be negatively effected by high wind speeds exceeding fifteen miles per hour, while Pope and Young animals are significantely reduced at wind speeds above eleven miles per hour. This data would suggest Pope and Young bucks are a little more wary than the average deer. Interestingly enough, only 7% of all Pope and Young bucks viewed in the past five years occured in wind speeds exceeding 15 miles per hour. This data is of paramount importance to hunters who hunt in the high wind speeds. I have harvested seven mature bucks over the past five years. I took none of the seven animals during wind speeds that exceeded fifteen miles per hour. I took only two of the animals during wind speeds ranging from ten to fifteen miles per hour. I simply donít have success when I pursue big whitetail bucks during the higher wind speeds.

Being a devote whitetail buck hunter I still continue to climb into treestands during high wind speeds. I keep dreaming that someday those big horns will make their way down through the timber to me, within bowrange, despite the stiff wind. Although I know that high wind speeds reduce deer movement, I still hunt during those times on occassion. I justify my stupidity by thinking, ďIíll never harvest one if Iím at home, on the couch, eating potato chips, and watching television.Ē The reality is whitetail movement significantly decreases during wind speeds that exceed 15 miles per hour. The higher the wind speed the lower your odds of success will be.

Darrin Bradley

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