Hiking Downwind While Hunting Whitetails, Part I

Logically, to avoid being smelled by whitetails (and thus avoid being avoided by them), a hunter should always approach any trail or site where a deer is known or suspected to be currently located (or likely soon will be), from downwind. Whitetails routinely take this same precaution, traveling into the wind so they can use their superior sense of smell to avoid short-range encounters with potentially dangerous predators or hunters ahead. Wherever whitetails go while traveling into the wind, to a feeding area, for example, to get back to where they started from afterwards, a bedding area in this case, they must travel an equal distance downwind. Equal distances of traveling into the wind and downwind during a day afield is generally characteristic of us deer hunters as well. This means, of course, half of our time afield while afoot is spent making it easy for those 15–30 deer per square-mile that live in our hunting areas to smell us approaching from upwind, in turn making it easy for them to avoid us without us realizing it is happening. A study I conducted between 1960 and 1980 revealed the average hunter passes within easy shooting range of eight or more unseen whitetails per mile traveled on foot—on opening weekend only for randomly wandering hunters, sneaking hunters and hunters making drives (who quickly chase whitetails out of their ranges) but up to two weeks for skilled stand hunters.

Downwind travels on foot do not need to be ruinous to next day whitetail hunting, however. Done properly, such travels can actually improve odds for hunting success, even when intending to take older bucks. For example, let’s imagine an unremitting adverse wind direction has been keeping you from approaching the very promising stand site you selected and prepared well before the hunting season began. Rather than head to that stand with the wind at your back, you’ve been waiting for the wind to change direction. My sons and I often experience this.

When I can stand it no longer here’s what I do. After lunch in camp (when I can see where I’m going to go in the woods), and after studying one of my satellite maps of the area, I will select and use a  series of deer trails 200 yards or more to the left or right of my originally prepared stand site approach trail, coursing directly downwind until directly crosswind of my stand. While traveling along this alternate route, deer in the vicinity of my stand site will either be unable to identify me via my widening triangle of airborne scents, or if they do, I’ll be far enough away for my weakening scents to be ignored by them. Upon reaching a point crosswind of my stand site, I will turn and head directly toward my stand. Along this route, only deer downwind of my stand site will be able to smell me, and upon reaching my stand, as soon as mature, downwind, stand-smart whitetails realize I am no longer moving (characteristic of a non-aggressive stand hunter) those deer will only avoid a circle a with a radius of about 100 yards around my stand site. By taking important precautions such as walking non-stop, softly, at a moderate pace and keeping my head pointed straight ahead—displaying no hunting behavior—deer unknowingly encountered along the way will merely freeze in adjacent cover and then resume whatever they were doing after I am out of sight and hearing. I will thus finally reach my special stand site without causing hunt-ruining alarm among upwind and crosswind deer in the vicinity.

Watch for Part II

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