Whitetail Deer Hunting in the Rain
By: Darrin Bradley, IMB Outfitters

I sat in my truck and watched sheets of rain quenching the thirst of the soybean field in front of me. Like all other hunters, my backpack was ready, my weapon in the case, but my heart was in my stomach as I really wanted to hunt whitetail deer that day, but the rain held me a prisoner to the confines of my truck. Hunting deer in the rain is always a "catch-22" situation. One might say: "To hunt or not to hunt in the rain... That is the question." On this particular afternoon, it was raining hard; however, west of the storm system, I could see clear skies. I sat in my truck and simply hoped the hard rain would pass by so I could hunt that afternoon. When the rain slacked off, I quickly made my way to my tree stand. I did not want to begin my hunt for whitetail deer in the rain.

I hoisted my weapon, fastened my safety harness, loaded my weapon, and reached into my backpack. I grasped the small Bible I always take to the woods with me when I hunt whitetail deer. After reading two verses from the book of Luke, I looked up to scan the area and saw a big-bodied whitetail deer cruising by. Moments later, I was standing over a 162-inch whitetail deer, and calling everyone I knew that could share the story with me.

So what is the truth about hunting deer in the rain? Since this wasn't the only whitetail buck that would make the Pope and Young record books I have killed in the rain, one has to wonder whether it is worth getting wet. I have found in some situations that when you hunt in the rain, it can be both prosperous and defeating. There are so many scenarios surrounding different types of rainfall in different regions that many answers lurk beneath the surface.

Many outdoor writers might take advantage of this subject to promote clothing companies rather than really address strategies of hunting in the rain, so we will not even discuss gear. While I consider myself to be a veteran whitetail deer hunter, I can only lend whitetail hunting strategies as they apply specifically to Midwestern whitetail deer hunts. Off we go to explore how to hunt whitetail deer when it's raining.

I have found that prior to any rain storm, a "front" comes into the area. Take advantage of hunting on these fronts or before the rain comes. Whitetail deer instinctively sense a front and will go to feed early and hard on feeding sources as they know its time to gorge themselves in the event they may need to bed for longer than usual. Deer know, long before we do, when the weather is about to change. What they don't know is how long it will last. When they feel the barometric pressure dropping, they feed in earnest, regardless of the time of day. They may also let their guard down a bit. By hunting just ahead of an approaching front, you can take advantage of this. Target feeding areas, or trails leading to them, as these are most likely to hold deer.

Experienced hunters know that a light drizzle or light rainfall maximizes whitetail deer activity. I believe several reasons promote whitetail success rates during a light drizzle or light rainfall.

  1. The whitetail deer hunter can make his or her way to and from a tree stand on wet leaves and foliage, which makes the approach a quiet one, rather than a noisy crunching approach through the woods. Wet foliage and leaves give you a the ability to negotiate terrain with minimal noise made, thereby getting you to the stand undetected.
  2. I believe that while whitetail deer may not have the ability to problem solve, that they certainly have "associated" rain with safety from hunters. Most deer hunters won’t hunt in the rain; thus big whitetail deer have associated the ability to move about freely during the rain as these times mark a lack of human beings.
  3. I believe rain also decreases the whitetails' ability to smell the hunter. In the rain, human scent molecules are quickly grabbed by rain drops and taken to the ground, rather than blown hundreds of yards for whitetail detection.
  4. I simply don't think whitetail deer like laying around in light rain and getting wet, so they also are more prone to get up and move. These are my personal beliefs.

Other whitetail experts believe hunting whitetail deer during a light rain or drizzle suggest the following: Light drizzle usually doesn't hurt your hunt – often it helps by muffling sounds. Heavy rain usually results in big time inactivity in deer. Watch the forecasts – the deer know when a storm is coming and tend to feed like crazy before & after the storm. Focus your hunting near food sources before & after a heavy rain. During the rain is a good time to do some extra scouting as your scent should be washed away fairly quickly. What you may want to do during a rain storm is some "still hunting" near the bedding areas of bucks (which you've found during your year 'round scouting). Bucks will usually bed down during a storm, so you'll find them waiting for you in those great buck HQ areas you've found. That is my favorite type of weather to hunt in. Keep in mind that animals like deer and hogs don't live in houses. They don't care if it is misting rain. They still need to eat just like we do. Since they can walk around making less noise, they feel safe, and you will find that most hunters stay home so the animals are not pressured during these times. The deer seem to stand around more in these conditions rather than bedding up. Hunting whitetail bucks can be exciting, and just because a little rain is coming, don't give up on the idea of getting the monster buck you have dreamed about. Many hunters simply give up once they see the rain coming, but if you're prepared, you don't have to go home without trying.

When it rains, it is going to be considerably darker than on a sunny day, especially in the early and latter parts of the day. Because of this, you will need to accept that will have some limitations. You will need to wait for a closer shot, especially if you are bow hunting whitetail bucks in the rain.

Don't wait too long to follow blood trail. The rain will wash away the trial some and the darkness will make it harder to see. If you're bow hunting, use lighted arrows to help you find the bucks. It is a well known fact that deer activity seems to intensify before or after a big storm. Just like people deer seek out shelter when heavy rain and snow are coming down, in this hunter's opinion, light rain doesn't seem to affect deer movements as long as the wind isn’t wiping. In fact, light rain can have some big advantages for the hunter.

§ When the ground is wet in the woods, it is much easier for the hunter to move quietly. After a good rain, the leaves on the forest floor don’t crunch and crackle like they do on a dry day.

§ In the rain, you are often one of the only hunters in the woods.

§ Scent doesn’t seem to carry as far on a rainy day. As a general rule of thumb, as long as it isn’t pouring buckets and the wind isn’t blowing too hard, deer still move around in the rain. So next time it is a rainy day, consider grabbing your bow and head for the woods. With today's new rain gear, you can remain dry while whitetail hunting in the rain.

The best way to pattern deer using the weather is to begin by keeping records of the weather every time you head to the woods to observe, track, scout, and hunt in your favorite part of the great outdoors. Make this part of every trip for deer and you will be able to zero in on harvesting your next trophy.

Science has confirmed that weather affects wildlife in a variety of ways, and whitetail movement is no exception. But which is more important: Wind or temperature? Do deer move more on a rising or falling barometer? Do atmospheric conditions such as rain, cloud cover, fronts, or fog really matter? When looking at weather conditions, be sure and factor in the hunting pressure on your neck of the woods as well.

Now let us discuss hunting whitetail deer when rainfall is above-average to heavy. The first piece of advice I have for hunting during heavy rain is that you must be more cautious in the woods. Steep slopes becomes slippery. Tree stand equipment also becomes slippery, which can lead to an easy fall, resulting in injury. Be careful when you hunt during a heavy rain. Three years ago in the state of Missouri, I crossed a small creek which was the only way out of the property on which I was hunting a big whitetail buck. A light drizzle turned into heavy rain, but my stubbornness kept me in the tree stand as I felt the big bruiser would still pass by despite the precipitation. After a couple hours of heavy rainfall, in darkness setting in on my evening whitetail deer hunt, I began walking back to the truck. When I got to the creek, it was 40 feet wide and 12 feet deep at a minimum. I was trapped with no way to get out of the property, landlocked by a flooded tributary. Fortunately, I had my cell phone and was able to call a buddy who assisted in giving me directions by looking in aerials and met me on a nearby gravel road that I had to walk to in the dark. When I say "nearby," the walk I took in the dark was over a mile and a half. Believe me: it was no fun, and without a cell phone, I might still be out there wandering around right now. Always remember of heavy rainfall is dangerous while hunting even if you do feel immortal.

I have found that while deer activity increases during an oncoming storm front or any light rain, heavy rainfalls substantially decrease whitetail deer movement. After all, nobody likes to be soaking wet. An example of this occurred in Missouri during the 2009 firearms season. Rainfall began heavily on opening day and did not stop for eight straight days. As a result, Missouri recorded its lowest harvest of whitetail deer during a firearm season in 16 years. Just like human beings, whitetail deer seek shelter from heavy rainfall. This is not only to avoid the rain itself, but also to protect the species against predators. Remember that whitetail deer detect predators with their eyes, ears, and nose. During a heavy rainfall, the whitetail deer’s ability to detect predators is decreased, as they can neither hear nor smell them. I believe it is not the rainfall itself that minimizes whitetail deer movement during heavy rain, but rather their decreased ability to detect predators, including human hunters.

I don’t like hunting in a downpour any more than the next guy. If I must hunt in rainy conditions, I prefer to hunt when it's only overcast or when a soft or misty rain is falling. This serves a twofold purpose: As you move through the woods, visibility is improved because there are little or no reflections from the light and the forest floor. Secondly, the ground being wet allows you to move much more quietly. Several well-informed writers have said that deer move by the amount of daylight, not by the clock this time of year; thus, if the sky is dark, they should leave their beds earlier. So if you're posted in a stand near a feeding route during this time, the chances that a buck will show up when you have plenty of shooting time left are greatly increased.

The rain can present other problems also.

If you do hit a buck while hunting whitetail in the rain and find yourself having to track it very far, keep in mind that heavy rain can quickly wash away blood droppings and tracks. An arrow's flight may not be that easy to see in these conditions, so a pass-through or a lost arrow could also present problems. One way to remedy this situation is to equip your arrows with one of the new-lighted arrow nocks such as:

Both will allow you to track the arrow's flight, see the hit, and - should it be a pass-through - locate the arrow so it may be evaluated. Through testing of both of these lighted nocks, I have found that they do add a minimal amount of weight to the arrow, but it is easy to adjust your sights to compensate for the additional weight, and it has no adverse factor in arrow flight. Your broadheads should also be sprayed with an anti-moisture agent, or rub a light coat of Vaseline on them. Keep in mind that if they are not treated, the slightest moisture will cause rust to form on the critical cutting edges of them.

Rain also demands your shooting distances be lessened. It's a known fact that the better the hit and penetration, the quicker the quarry will go down. I have seen well hit deer travel varying distances from 10 to over 200 yards. It is critical during these situations that we strive to get the best placed shot possible. I would much rather pass up a good buck and come back another day to get him than take the chance of merely wounding him or - worse - not finding him at all. Bucks will usually bed down during a storm, so you'll find them waiting for you in those great buck HQ areas you’ve found. Hunting whitetail during a heavy rainfall can be a simple waste of time.

Precipitation of any kind (rain, snow, drizzle, fog and mist) diminishes the available amount of light, which may cause the light conditions to resemble dawn and dusk. As a result, deer may move and feed during the day because the low light factor and limited visibility make them feel secure. However, they don’t often move during heavy precipitation, because they not only feel uncomfortable, they also can’t see or smell very well. If heavy precipitation persists through one or more morning and evening feeding periods, the deer may begin to feed shortly after the precipitation lets up, or after the temperature warms. During heavy precipitation, especially hail, deer seek cover in wooded areas or thick undergrowth. Generally speaking, the older bucks avoid moving during medium-to-heavy rain during my studies. However, once the does came into, they often moved during moderate to heavy precipitation, when the does remained in their core areas, which made them easy for the bucks to locate.

Possibly the only hunter that benefits from hunting whitetail deer during a heavy rain is the hunter that "still hunts," which might I mention I am not a big fan of. Most hunters are not happy when they wake up to the sound of rain pattering on the camp or lodge roof, and the vast majority elect to remain in camp hunkered next to a warm fire. However, over the years I’ve spent a lot of days still-hunting in the rain, and myriad of big bucks I’ve shot while hunting in the pouring rain have convinced me that deer are more active in a heavy rain than during any other weather situation.

Just because a hunter is wet, cold, and miserable, the rain is no indication the whitetails are suffering, too. The biggest bucks often carry on their normal daily routines of checking scrapes, making rub lines, etc., and hunters who elect to stay in camp on a stormy day may be missing out on some great hunting. When the woods are wet, conditions are perfect for the still-hunter. In fact, when the woods are wet and quiet, the impulse is to still-hunt at a faster pace and thus cover more terrain, but this is not a wise decision. Whether the woods are wet or dry, it's better to still-hunt at the same slow pace. A cagey buck has a difficult time picking a motionless or slow-moving hunter out of the woods, but his eyes are adapted to recognizing motion, and the hunter who moves too quickly will be avoided.

Thus far, we have learned that hunting whitetail deer in a front is a great time to intercept a trophy buck. A light rain or drizzle is perhaps a even a better time to take a trophy whitetail buck. Hunting whitetail deer during a heavy rain is probably a waste of time unless you want to try still hunting, which will most often times result in you running deer off your property.

Hunting whitetail deer after a heavy rain can be very productive as deer have been confined to dense bed areas and are ready to move to food sources to fill their bellies. Some of the greatest hunting for whitetail occurs after a heavy rain. When the downpour has stopped, position yourself on a food source or between the dense bed area and the food source to harvest trophy whitetails with one thing on their minds, "The rain is over and I’m heading out to fill my belly."



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