[Note: Because of the continuing interest shown in my earlier blog (November 2007) about hunting in high winds, I've decided to post the following column I wrote for the Alberta Outdoorsmen in September of 2010.]
Copyright (C) 2010 Don H. Meredith
Over the years I have written outdoor articles and columns, I have often been amazed at what catches the interest of readers. Subjects I think should generate feedback do not; while others I assume will be generally accepted generate heated debate. That is also the case with the blog (web log) I write on the Internet. By far my most popular post, year after year, is a short piece I wrote in frustration one day back in November of 2007 on “Why I dislike hunting in high winds.” I was new to blogging and most of my early attempts were read by just a few people. As soon as I posted my high-winds piece, the number of visits to my blog sky-rocketed.
How did it become so popular? People searching for information on the Internet find blogs and other sites through the various search engines available on the web. These engines daily catalogue new and updated web pages by subject, title and content. Obviously there were many people looking for information about hunting in the wind, and for some reason my post was ranking high. Its popularity demonstrated to me the concern many hunters have for how to deal with the wind, especially when it is blowing hard.
Like many elements of the weather, wind can mess with your hunting plans. It can cool you down, determine your direction, reveal your presence or threaten your life. I wrote the blog piece after I cancelled a deer hunt because of the extreme high winds that were buffeting the region that day. I was frustrated because I had been looking forward to getting out but knew my day would not be very productive with that kind of wind. In the blog I discussed how high winds can affect a hunt and how during those winds deer often go into deep bush for security.
Wild animals depend on their senses to protect them from predators, find food, etc. A deer’s senses of smell and hearing are keen and when conditions are not right for those senses to adequately detect what might be coming, the animals will seclude themselves in deep bush where an approaching predator must make a lot of noise to get at them.
A human hunter’s sense of smell is not keen, so we don’t depend upon it so much to find things. We rely more on our eyes and ears. However, it is important to know how our own scent travels in the air and how wind affects sound travel if we wish to get close to game.
Scents are tiny molecules in the air that are detected by special organs (olfactory system) in an animal’s nose. An animal such as a bloodhound has a large olfactory system and can detect very small quantities of substances in the air; while we humans have much smaller systems and require higher concentrations to be aware of the presence of certain substances.
The detected molecules come from various sources on an animal’s body, and include oils, gases, sweat, urine and sloughing skin. Scents are a major source of communication for many animals and plants and some substances are excreted specifically to transmit information about an animal’s condition or readiness to breed or be aggressive. Some plants excrete scents that attract certain animals, such as bees, to collect nectar and pollen in return for pollinating their flowers.
Although unable to detect many scents in the air, human hunters should be aware of the scents they might be leaving along a trail or in the air and where the wind might be taking them. However, some of our number are not satisfied with just knowing where their scent might be going; they want to eliminate or significantly reduce their scent. Thus, an industry has developed over the last few years built around eliminating or covering up scent on our bodies and clothes. You can now purchase hunting clothing that absorbs your body odor, and special soaps and detergents that will remove all or most traces of your essence from your body and clothing. Alternatively, you can purchase real or synthetic animal urine to mask your scent and attract game to your station. However, even that is not enough for some. Realizing that many odors we excrete are based on some of the foods we eat, some hunters go on special diets weeks before the season begins to further reduce the potential of offending their prey.
Now, I am a traditional, old-fashioned sort of hunter that relies on the good sense of his early training. Although I try to keep my body clean, I realize that I release odors whether I want to or not. In that way I’m a typical animal in the woods and fields. I urinate, I slough skin and I sweat especially when I climb a steep hill on a warm day. Thus I leave scent. It’s just a part of who I am. So, I realize that I will be detected by at least some of the animals I seek. I just have to understand where that detection will take place and seek to keep it behind me.
Scent traveling in a strong breeze is one thing but it can be quite another in a light breeze or no breeze at all. Air does not travel in a straight line and is easily deflected by trees, shrubs, cliffs and buildings. These obstructions cause the air to eddy on the leeward side and send whirlpools of air off into directions that aren’t easily discerned. Thus, in a light breeze, it is possible for a scent to travel in various directions, sometimes opposite to the prevailing wind.
When the wind is calm, the air in particular locations may still be moving. The sun heating the ground in turn heats the air that rises only to fall again as it cools. Thus, little currents of air might again take your scent in directions you would not predict. That might be the reason you sometimes hear a nearby deer snort from a direction away from where you thought your scent was going.
Sound is a series of waves in the air that causes a membrane in an animal’s ear (the ear drum) to vibrate. Without air, no sound would be transmitted. Sound moves through the air faster than scent, so it is less affected by wind speed, but it is affected. Anyone trying to listen to someone shouting at them from downwind in a whole gale can attest to that. As well, wind rustles leaves, trees and shrubs that can mask other sounds. In a strong wind, hunters can take advantage of those sounds to hide the noise of their movements. This can be particularly useful when walking on dry leaves or crusty snow.
Of course, this works both ways. A strong wind also can mask the movements of game, increasing the probability you will not see an animal before it sees you.
Winds can also be dangerous especially in forests. Even in moderately windy conditions, I have observed trees suddenly snap and fall to the ground, sometimes very close to me. The odds of getting hit by such a tree are very low, but it does happen.
The wind is one of the many factors hunters must take into consideration when still hunting or otherwise stalking game. Being aware of where your scent is going and how animals might otherwise detect your presence helps keep the mind sharp and focused on the task at hand.