By Mark Huelsing
Weather is never normal, is it? We, as hunters, talk about the weather a lot. It doesn’t matter if we are in the prime of the rut, enduring the heat of the early season, or even assessing whitetail shed activity in the winter – we often predicate deer activity on the weather.
Summer has, thus far, brought record-breaking temperatures and widespread drought to much of the country, especially the majority of whitetail country. The news has been buzzing with headlines that describe “farming in hell”.
You are probably one of the many whitetail hunters wondering what this heat and drought is doing to current whitetail activity, and more importantly, what it may mean for the fall.
In some ways, deer have the same basic needs and drives that you and I do, and the heat and dry conditions can bring about many common behaviors.
Let’s take a look at three ways that whitetail cope with heat and drought.
Anytime the weather is hot and dry, water sources are the first things that I think of. There aren’t a lot of conventional year-round water sources in the vicinity of my hunting properties that can withstand the current drought, but luckily I do have one such source on a property that I hunt. However, this watering hole hasn’t produced nearly the amount of activity that I would expect for these conditions.
Something I think that we easily overlook is the fact that deer can meet a large amount of their hydration needs through their diet. Conventional water sources are good, but don’t overlook lush, dense, green vegetation.
Several weeks ago, before a massive high-pressure weather system took seemingly permanent residence over much of the Midwest and created this drought, I was receiving text messages several times a day from my remote deer locator – aka, “Mom”.
My parents live really close to properties that I hunt and I am always happy to pick up my buzzing phone and read, “Big buck!” These messages were coming in at all hours of the day, but now my phone has been eerily silent and activity on my trail cameras has also dwindled.
Deer are still moving, but just like you and me, they will reduce the amount of energy they expend and limit their activity to more comfortable times, if they can. Some deer will actually need to spend more time foraging because food sources are not as productive during periods of drought, and simply limiting all activity to the night increases the risk of predation.
The more energy that a deer expends, the more food it needs to consume. This balance is especially important to maintain in the current conditions.
The epicenter of deer sightings on my property have been in low-lying areas of dense vegetation, nestled in between ridges. The deer are seeking relief from the sun, and literally “laying low”. These bottoms often contain thick vegetation, which provide cover, nutrition, and hydration, and are also thermal insulating – such spaces may be as much as 20 degrees cooler than areas exposed to the sun. Give particular attention to bottoms that are shielded by a north-facing ridge.
Deer are tough animals. They have survived conditions that are much worse than what many areas are currently experiencing. Some of your food plots may be in trouble, but these deer will continue to find a way to survive this heat and drought. That said, be aware that these conditions will stress the deer. It is in our best interest, as hunters, to limit the pressure we are putting on them and to consider how we can improve their habitat by providing relief in each of the three areas we discussed.
What are the conditions like in your area? How has this affected deer behavior?
– Mark Huelsing is a regular guy with an irregular passion for bowhunting and the outdoors. If he is not bowhunting, then he is planning towards it, training for it, and writing about it at SoleAdventure.com