Bucks By Barometer

Why bad weather can mean great hunting.

Field & Stream Online Editors

The snow fell without sound, as softly as sifted flour. Deer trails radiated like the spokes of a wheel from where I sat on the fallen log. A doe walked along one of them, a mantle of snow across her back. In the brush beyond, a buck grunted rhythmically. For the next two hours, scarcely a minute passed in which deer were not within either eyesight or earshot.

Then the storm announced itself with a wind that bowed the cottonwoods, and in minutes the temperature plummeted. The dozen or so whitetails disappeared, and though I would hunt the area three times in the next week, not once did I see another deer.

We've all had days like this. Whether it happens over a blanket of snow or beneath a canopy of still-green leaves, the effect is the same. Deer appear as if by a wave of a sorcerer's wand, then vanish just as mysteriously.

Deer biologists, however, know that it has nothing to do with magic. Atmospheric density triggers deer movement. Specifically, it's the rapidly falling barometric pressure that precedes a storm and, less predictably, the rising barometer that follows it. In one North Carolina study, deer biologists captured 68 whitetails in four nights of trapping on a falling barometer, compared to only 65 deer in 10 weeks when the weather was fair.

In other studies, deer sightings increased dramatically at barometric pressures between 29.80 and 30.28, and the greatest activity was noted when rapid barometric pressure drops of 4 to 5 tenths of an inch coincided with temperatures in the whitetail's comfort range, between 20 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, at the 40th to 50th latitudes (roughly the northern half of the United States into Canada).

Anecdotal evidence suggests that deer anticipate an approaching storm and are spurred to feed because they know bad weather may put off their next meal for a while. After waiting out the storm on their beds, they feed actively again simply because they are hungry.

Does this mean you have to carry a barometer to successfully hunt deer? No, although some models of Suunto wrist-top computers (800-891-8490; www.suuntowatches.com) incorporate barometers and are little bulkier than a watch. What it does mean is that a good deer hunter keeps track of the weather forecast.

Make a point of hitting the woods before and after a storm-whether it's rain, sleet, or snow. You'll see more deer, and one of them may well be the buck you are after.