Bleech: The Weather Factor

Northeast Rut Reporter Mike Bleech has been hunting whitetails in his native Pennsylvania and throughout the Northeast for more than four decades. A Vietnam veteran and full-time freelance outdoor writer, Bleech has had more than 5000 of his articles published. States covered: ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA OH, MD, DE.

Which is more important, ambient conditions or seasonal patterns? More specifically, can weather override the rut factor?

Tuesday in western Pennsylvania, western New York and eastern Ohio, at the least, hunters had to put up with wind and rain. Deer generally are not bothered much by rain. Wind, though, usually affects them strongly by making them skittish. This is probably because it reduces use of their senses of smell and hearing.

Field & Stream executive editor Mike Toth hunted Monday in New Jersey with a muzzleloader. He did not see any deer.

“Dead calm and not a deer moving,” he wrote. “Very few shots. Lockdown? Bad luck? Both?”

The highlight of his day was just after sunset when a great horned owl landed on a branch within 30 feet. “It stared me down. That’s happened to me only once before. Cool way to end an unproductive day.”

I must question the unproductive description. He obviously had a good time, and that is why his life revolves around the outdoors. The ultimate purpose of modern sport hunting is to have fun.

But of course the objective here is to help you, in the long run maybe as much as just this season, get a deer. Fun may be the purpose, however the immediate objective is bagging that deer. With that thought, Toth’s experience brings up the question of whether the weather affected his hunt. (It would be fun to listen to Elmer Fudd say that.)

Toth’s hunt began with the temperature in the teens, then rose through the day into the 40s. Clear sky in the morning changed to hazy clouds by mid-afternoon. Perhaps just as important was the forecast for heavy rain the next day.

“If I had my choice I would have hunted this morning (Tuesday, the next day), with the impending rainstorm,” Toth concluded.

Most sportsmen, perhaps anglers more so than deer hunters, seem to agree that weather changes affect the way animals behave. That cold, crisp morning might have gotten deer moving earlier in the season, but by the end of November maybe not so. An approaching storm should have a strong effect, if we may assume that deer somehow have some sense of what the weather is doing. The line of logic is that the storm will greatly reduce movements so they want to get things done before the storm.

Thinking back over many years I recall several days when the rut peaked and big bucks could be seen in the open. Unless memory is overly tangled, weather during most of those peak rutting days was gray sky, high humidity, seasonably temperatures, maybe fog and/or very low clouds.

Predicting deer behavior long in advance is difficult since ambient conditions can affect annual patterns in the short term.