Every early-season hunter who has walked away from his stand sweaty and empty-handed knows that high fall temperatures can turn whitetails into slugs. Already clad in their winter coats, most warm-weather bucks move sparingly and almost exclusively at night. But successful whitetail hunting isn’t about finding most bucks. It’s about finding one buck you can kill.
To make hot hunts pay off, you have to continually remind yourself that somewhere out there, a buck is moving during shooting hours. Your job is to figure out where and when, and how to tag him. Here’s a breakdown that’ll help you do just that.
When to Hunt Deer in Hot Weather
In terms of temperature, dawn and dusk are the best times of day, of course. But because bucks often head back to bed before dawn this time of year, evening hunts are generally more productive and less risky. If temps are consistently hot, there’s a good chance deer won’t show until the last hour or even half-hour of shooting light. But remember, that may be all you need to put your tag on a monster.
Most important, pay close attention to subtle changes in the weather. A breezy day, a slight drop in temperature, or an overcast sky can make a big difference. And if the forecast calls for a light rain or drizzle, grab your rain gear and hit the woods. Nothing gets sluggish bucks moving like light precipitation that breaks up a dry spell-even if the mercury remains high.
Where to Find Hot-Weather Bucks
When fall weather is consistently warm, finding an area where temperatures are just a few degrees cooler be all that’s needed to get on an active buck. If you hunt hilly or mountainous terrain, focus your efforts on shaded north slopes, which offer deer both lower temperatures and cooling breezes that keep insects at bay. Moreover, in the wake of dry summer conditions, mast trees on north slopes tend to bear more and better fruit.
If your hunting grounds are chalkboard-flat, on the other hand, concentrate on areas where a dense canopy of mature trees provides plenty of shade.
In either case, water is a big advantage. Wooded creek and spring corridors, for example, are significantly cooler than surrounding uplands. What’s more, they provide whitetails with the extra drinking water they typically need in hot weather. The same is true of lake, pond, and swamp edges, which often feature dense, shaded bedding cover nearby, as well as convenient foods such as grasses and sedges.
Hot-Weather Deer Hunting Tactics
In general, the early season is no time to push far into the woods to set up on a buck, as they tend to bed fairly close to primary food sources now. Ideally, you want set up along the edge of an ag field, food pot, or cut-over, especially where water is nearby. Picture a hidden beanfield near a north-facing slope with a cool creek running just inside the woods, and you get the picture. Find a good creek crossing and set up on the field side where you can shoot both to the food and to the water.
That said, overheated bucks may well hang back a little farther into the woods until dark. In that case, you need to push in a bit and set up in staging area off the food source. In many cases, this means setting up fairly tight to a buck’s bedding area (without invading it or spooking the buck), which makes an unobtrusive approach critical. If you’re hunting near a water source, as you should be, use a stream bed as your entry and exit trail or paddle a canoe across a lake or pond instead of bungling in to your stand from the uplands. If that creek or pond is tucked back in the woods, consider setting up right on the water source, as bucks will often grab a drink before heading out to feed in hot weather. When hunting north-slope timber, use the ridges to hide your approach.
Once you’re in a promising location, don’t give up on it just because your buck doesn’t show up on the first day. The following day’s forecast, even if only slightly different, could put that deer in your sights. Besides, the whitetail season is too short to waste time waiting for long-john weather, and you may miss a chance at a trophy buck if you do.
5 Must-Have Items for Hot-Weather Deer Hunting
1. Plenty of Drinking Water
Don’t forget to hydrate on hot days. Amazon
It’s true that if you’re bowhunting, you’re most likely just sitting in a treestand. But you still need to hydrate on hot days. If it’s really hot, I’ll put a few plastic bottles of water in the freezer until they are solid. When it’s time to hunt, I toss them in my pack and then sip ice-cold water as it melts.
2. Insect Repellent
A Thermacell unit keeps mosquitoes at bay without the strong odor of bug spray. Amazon
This time of year, you can hunt, or you can chase deer away while slapping at mosquitoes. Don’t forget your Thermacell.
3. Ultralight Clothing
Cool, lightweight clothing with keep you in your stand longer. Sitka Gear
It ain’t cheap, but I’ve not found anything lighter or cooler (and yet still quite durable) than Sitka’s ESW Shirt and Pant . It is also water-repellent and has Polygiene Odor Control Technology, (which I doubt will keep you from sweating or keep your sweat from smelling, but it is the sort of thing that makes a lot of bowhunters feel better.)
4. Face Paint
Hide your mug with paint instead of another layer of clothing. Amazon
It can be a bit of pain to get off after the hunt, but paint sure beats wearing a face covering in sweltering weather.
5. Cooling Towel
A wet towel around the neck provides evaporative cooling. Amazon
Hunting the opening week of the Kentucky bow season some years back, I endured one 95-plus-degree afternoon sit after another. I’m not sure I’d have lasted if the guide hadn’t given me a cooling towel for my neck, which he told me to wet regularly with cold water from my pack. Now I always bring one on afternoon scorchers. —Dave Hurteau