Early season deer hunting is nearly upon us and this means some of your first cracks at those big bucks that have been on your trail cameras all summer. Depending on where you live, hunting in warm weather may be more or less common. In areas of the south, it is almost a necessity for early archery and youth seasons.
Some deer hunters simply do not bother until temperatures drop and start spurring more deer movement during the daylight hours. However, you have been planning a hunt a year or more in advance, in some instances you may have no choice. You might have to work with what mother nature gives you.
Today we will talk about deer hunting in hot weather. We will talk about when you are most likely to see deer movement, where to set up and how to take care of your venison to prevent spoilage. Most of these hunting tips pertain mostly to whitetail deer, but you could use them for others like the mule deer or blacktail too. Keep an open mind, warm temperatures do not always mean terrible hunting conditions!
Whitetail behavior in the heat.
Unfortunately, hot weather is usually quite the detriment during deer season, especially if you are after a mature buck. Deer are just like most other animals and even humans. When they get overheated, they do not want to expend a lot of energy and more apt to spend hours lounging on their bellies than walking past your tree stand. For further proof of this, simply look at your summer trail camera photos and note how many were taken at high noon vs how many were taken in the early morning or evening. Hunting warm weather is a whole different animal from hunting the cold weather of the rut or late season. While this means less movement, the positive is that it means more predictable movement.
During warm spells, look for deer to do as little travelling as possible. The only movement from them all day may be a simple walk from their bedding areas to their feeding area and back again. The rest of the time? Those deer are probably going to be resting in the shade and trying to stay as cool. Look at the times on your trail cameras very carefully to determine exactly what the deer are doing as temperatures spike. Everyone may be miserable on warm days, but this also makes deer behavior easier to pin down.
Consider your water sources too, especially if one just happens to be on the path between a bedding and feeding area. Odds are good that big buck is going to stop off there. Hunters can turn the odds in their favor slightly by creating their own watering hole with a strategically placed water tank. Check your local regulations before doing this to ensure it is legal first.
Another factor is the types of food sources in your area. Usually, foods that hold moisture well are going to attract and hold more deer in hot weather than those that do not. For instance, an apple orchard is probably going to draw more deer than a dusty, dried-out beanfield. If you are planning a food plot, consider big leafy plants. Winter greens, brassicas and large clovers that will hold that morning dew longer. Sometimes, it is the subtle things like plant choice that will make all the difference in your hunt.
For the most part, you should expect deer movement either at dawn or right before dusk. While we are certain that someone out there has killed a buck during the heat of midday, you do not hear success stories like that in hot conditions too often. Even some of the best whitetail hunters in the world seem to agree, when it comes to hot weather hunting, less is more. Focus your on-stand times for when it makes the most sense. For this reason, be extremely careful when entering and exiting your stand in those times. It can be very easy to bump deer out of the area if you are not careful.
One last tip on deer behavior, watch the weather conditions. Just like during the colder months, a sudden weather shift can suddenly spur activity. Watch for light, rainy days or a dip in temperatures to get big game up on their feet and moving when they are otherwise glued to their beds.
Taking care of venison in hot weather.
The elephant in the room we need to talk about with hot weather is spoilage. Normally, this is not something most hunters worry about because it is adequately cold during October, November and December to preserve your venison. However, when temperatures hit 70, 80, 90 or above, speed is of the essence. Follow up on your shot as fast as feels comfortable depending on the type of hit you think you made. This can make for some difficult decisions if you have a bad hit. It is a risk that comes with hunting warmer conditions. Try to make your shot count!
Once your recover the animal, field dress it as quickly as possible. It's not a bad idea to prop the body cavity open to allow a little additional air circulation while transporting it. Unless you have a large walk-in freezer to store your harvest, it is best to cut the deer up immediately. Or if you do not have time to do it yourself, take it to a processor the same night.
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has a great document on their website all about hot weather carcass care. They note that temperatures as low as 40 degrees F may cause bacteria to start growing in the venison. Scary stuff. Whatever you do, do not wait!
One good idea is to get a couple bags of ice and pack them in the body cavity to help keep things cool until you can get the animal cut up. Try to have everything ready for an early season harvest ahead of time so you are not wasting precious time scrambling for materials.
How to prep gear for hot weather hunting.
Warm-weather hunting can be completely miserable if you do not pick the proper hunting gear, this is especially true for bowhunting. You simply cannot wear the same gear you use during the rut. Look for camo clothing that is light and airy. In most instances, you are only going to want a single layer. Fortunately for us, hunting clothing technology is continually advancing, and many companies are making some great light gear that is targeted specifically for the hot weather hunter. It is usually comparatively cheap when compared with die-hard winter gear too. Too many hunters do not consider their comfort before going afield in warm conditions and it leads to a miserable experience that many never repeat.
Do not forget to hydrate! Bring water or other drinks with you and do not be shy about using them. This is simply common sense, hot weather safety as much as it is a comfort thing. Heat stroke is very real and can be devastating if you are not careful.
Consider insects when selecting your gear. You will probably have to deal with them, and they can take a simple hot sit and make it a thousand times more miserable. I recommend Thermacell's products. They make some nice, scent-free mosquito repelling devices that will keep you from getting eaten alive. However, some scent control companies have recently started hopping into the bug repellent market too with specialty sprays that are also designed to be scent-free.
Speaking of scents, we do need to mention scent control. Let's face it. When it is hot out, we sweat. A lot in some cases. This leads to odor and human odors are a huge red flag for any big game animal. Quality scent controlling clothing is great, but you should also consider deodorant, and a cover scent spray. Also, do not rush out to your blind or treestand if you can avoid it. We recommend not making your hunts too physically demanding in hot weather, both for scent control purposes and for an easier recovery of the animal.
A few final tips and thoughts.
Remember that early season, hot weather bucks are likely still holding onto their summer patterns just a bit. Use that to your advantage if you can. Some states offer seasons that start ridiculously early in late August. Many of these deer are not even thinking about the dangers of hunting season. Use that to your advantage to try new spots you may not use at other times of the year.
Hot weather deer are primarily looking to keep cool. That's it. There is not big mystery to how these animals are acting in these conditions. If you can figure out the best ways for them to do that, you already have a huge advantage over other hunters. Study your topo maps and satellite images. Find where they are bedding, find where they are eating, and it should be simple from there. Rather than hunting simply the bedding, feeding or water source, I recommend finding a funnel and meeting the deer halfway. You will likely have more encounters and more chances doing it this way.
Many hunters simply do not even try when the weather is hot, that means that warm weather deer hunting is a great time to go if you hate competition, especially on public land. It is a totally different style of hunting, but for the hunter dedicated enough to master it, it is a highly effective one too. Consider giving it a try this year, you may be surprised at the results!