November 13, 2023
Mother Nature wasn't being friendly. The Illinois rain was blowing sideways in heavy sheets. Smartphone in hand, I stared out the lodge window, swapping glances between the landscape and the radar on my phone.
It wasn't getting any better. It was getting worse. I was young — early in my whitetail career — and I couldn't stand it. I didn't want to wait. I wanted to be in the woods.
I asked the outfitter to take me to the stand. He looked at me, giggled, and asked, "Are you serious?"
When he realized I was, he told me that he admired my pluck and would take me out, but that it was raining too hard.
He was right. I sat 20 feet up a hardwood for six miserable hours. The rain was so intense that I couldn't see at times, and my rain gear failed the stay-dry test. I was soaked cold, and I didn't see a single deer.
Am I telling you not to hunt in the rain? No, I am not. I have had some remarkable hunts during periods of light moisture and on the heels of heavy rain events.
What I suggest is you learn to read the rain. Rain can be an excellent whitetail ally, but like all things in life, you must know when to hold them and when to fold them.
Let's dive in.
The Light Rain
According to most weather apps, rain comes in three forms: light, medium, and heavy. When the rain is weak, I want to be in the woods. Drizzly rain gets deer on their feet. Rain cools the earth, which prompts deer movement.
I don't have data to back this up, but I also feel like light rain appeals to the olfactory system of deer. Deer enjoy aromatic smells. This is why they rub certain trees and bushes more than others. A light rain makes in-the-woods aromas come to life.
I have had some of my best deer hunting days, especially during afternoon hunts when the precipitation is light, and the air is cool. Plus, I love how precipitation coats the forest floor with moisture. It quiets my entrance and exit, washes away any left-behind human stink, and, if you have good rain gear, is a blast to sit in.
When the rain is light, get in the woods.
The Medium Rain
As rain intensifies, deer movement minimizes. I'm a rain magnet. It seems anywhere in the country I go, it rains. Will I sit in a medium-rated rain? Yes. However, there are some downfalls to take into consideration.
First, as rain moves from light to medium, the noise in the woods cranks up. Rain falling on leaves and vegetation can trick your ears into thinking a deer is coming.
Second, a medium-rated rain will wash blood away quickly. When I decide to hunt in anything over a light rain, I hunt more open areas where I know I can see deer travel after the arrow impacts. I don't like hunting tight, heavy, thick cover during rain events. A marginal hit that's fatal but requires leaving the deer for an extended period could lead to you losing that deer. Be smart!
Third, please be safe. Rain creates slippery situations. Three years ago in Nebraska, while inching down a steep creek bank after a moderate rain storm, I fell hard. I didn't see a covered-by-brush log that had no bark. The log was like ice, and I fell hard and then rolled several yards before stopping.
Ladder steps, climbing steps, etc., also get slippery. If you're not using a lifeline, you should be. Never leave the ground without being connected to a lifeline.
During periods of moderate rain, I will hit the woods if the radar shows the rain will lessen or stop altogether.
The Heavy Rain
No thanks! I've hunted in torrential downpours too many times. During those hunts, I've seen three deer. Two came screaming over the hill — something spooked them — and the other was bedded in some hinge cuts 50 yards from my stand.
When the rain is violent, stay home. When it stops, though, and this is true of any rain event, get your butt in a stand or blind. An hour before your favorite weather app predicts the rain will stop, be parked in your hunt area, and be ready to go.
Deer bed down during heavy perception events, and the longer the event, the more eager those deer are to get up and eat and move around. During the pre-rut, when bucks are scraping hard, get on a community scrape after a rain event. Bucks will want to get up and freshen rained-in scrapes. One of my favorite times to hunt is after a heavy rain passes through.
Sometimes, especially early in the fall, rain events come with lightning. There isn't a deer in the world worth dying for. Use your weather app, and if lightning is in the area, stay out of your treestand until it moves off.
Other Rainy Day Goodness
Moderate and heavy rain storms that settle in and last for 24 hours or more aren't useless. You can use these days to your advantage.
I live in a state that requires cellular trail cams to come out of the woods 48 hours before hunting. When the season starts, I switch to standard digital cameras. A moderate to heavy rain event is an excellent time to slip into the woods and check your cameras. You can be quiet, rarely bump into deer, and, most importantly, the rain washes everything clean. Check those trail cameras during a rain event if you're worried about leaving human stink behind.
When it comes to rain and whitetails, moisture is generally a great thing. However, like the old Kenny Rogers song, Gambler, you gotta know when to hold 'em.' You gotta know when to fold 'em.'