2012 Central MI Bow Buck
***New Article: Make sure to check out my 2015 Whitetail Rut Forecast
Since 1986 I have absolutely loved chasing whitetails, and since 1986 I can count on 1 hand the number of times I have hunted from someone else's treestand. So, in 2012 when my close friend and previous client invited me to take a couple of sits on his land while in the middle of a lower MI site-visit trip, it took me a few days to actually say "yes". I hadn't sat in someone else's treestand in many years so I have to admit I had some mixed emotions. However as the time grew nearer and we were honed into an evening and morning sit, the visit began to turn into a can't-miss event to spend time with friends, as well as to hunt!
"Are you still coming?" my buddy asked. It was the afternoon of October 11th 2012, and with rain and even a few flakes of snow in the forecast, the wind speeds were gusting to over 50 mph. Daytime highs that approached close to 60 degrees were predicted to drop into the 20s overnight and the thought of climbing into an evening stand location to sit for a mature buck was bordering on reckless. However, a major cold front was slamming through the area and I didn't want to miss taking a seat on the backside of the storm when both the winds and temperatures would finally drop, to offer a precision whitetail forecast. My answer to him was a quick "YES", because although the evening was still a definite "maybe", the next morning was going to be one of the best mornings to hunt the entire season.
2012 was an incredible year to be in the whitetail woods. Countless rubs, aggressive scrapes and October rutting activity were all at their best and I believe there was one major contributing factor: Unstable Weather! When there are major swings in temperatures, barometric pressure readings, wind speeds and wind direction you will find great hunting whether it happens during the rut, or not. At the same time for the same reasons 2012 was great season-2013 was a poor season. Stable, predictable and boring weather conditions equaled a lot of the same conditions in the whitetail woods as well, including poor buck sign and sightings. Check out the 2 pictures of the October weather patterns below, as illustrated by weatherunderground.com.
*October of 2012 (above) features a graph of instability that carried the potential to turn into oustanding hunting opportunities and increased mature buck sign in the form of rubs, scrapes and sightings. October of 2013 (below) was just the opposite! Stable weather conditions resulted in a decrease in the overall rutting activity across much of the country as reflected in various hunting forums, my own personal experiences and those experiencs of my clients from CO to PA.
I ask that you take the time to study the above graphs that were pulled from a central Midwestern location. The variability in the temperature, pressure and wind speeds are fairly extreme, but take a look at the wind direction as well! Unstable weather also equals a greater opportunity to use all of the stand locations on you property and not just the same set over and over again due to boring and predictable conditons. Follow along for a few points about how you can use the forecasts of seasons past to predict the future of the 2014 Whitetail Rut.
The Advantage of Flexibility
If you have read my Hunting Season Calendar detailing when to shoot a mature buck you, will find that I believe mature bucks can be found all season long. However, an annual level of confusion and uncertainty typically begins in your supervisor's office during the beginning of the year. While staring at the months of October and November you may have tried anything and everything in the past to rely on something to predict the exact day to be in the woods-still several months away! What is the answer? Flexibility. For over 2 years I have relied on cold fronts to reveal to me exactly when to enter the woods for a mature buck. Anything else has been misleading at best.
*What about a "Favorite Day", for example November 5th...do you know how many giants fall the last 10 days of October? Waiting until your favorite day could easily be too late, and you will have missed at least a few GREAT days to be in the woods.
*What about a particular moon phase? The best answer I can give is this: "If the moon phase is "perfect" on October 27th, but the temps are in the 80s with 25mph winds it will be a terrible day to be in the woods if your goal is to shoot a mature buck. On the flip-side if the moon phase is "very bad" on October 27th, but the temps start out in the 20s with calm winds...take a day off, call in sick, beg, plead and PLEASE get into your favorite treestand!
Unless someone comes up with a way to predict what the exact temperature will be several months in advance, anything else is just a "best guess", at best. However, if you have the flexibility to hunt a day here or there with less than a week of notice, I would personally put more of a priority on that approach than choosing multiple days-off several months in advance. I chose my current and past careers based largely on that level of flexibility. There are just a handful of can't-miss days to be in the woods each year and they typically come in bunches of 3 days or less. Somewhere along the way I learned that hunting less during the "perfect" conditions offered a much higher level of success rate with mature bucks, and fit within a better schedule both at work and at home...which is even more important! The year is still young, so try doing all that you can to work for the flexibility of a day or 2 off the week before a sit, than trying to gamble on the perfect week 6 months in advance.
Last year I offered a 45 Day Rut Forecast on the 1st of October. 45 Days is still too long to offer the level of precision that you should seek, but the point of the article was to offer a reflection of just how few days there are available that should be considered to offer very high priority sits.
When To Hunt A Precision Whitetail Forecast
There are several factors that you need to look for, to help you find a definitive level of success:
*The value of a major cold front is increased when it is preceded by several days of stable weather. When you see an October 17-22nd period of daytime forecasted highs of 71,73,69,72,71,54...I urge you to do all that you can to be in the woods following the 17 degree temperature drop! Another aspect of temperature drops is that it is all relative. What I mean by that is that although a 15 degree drop from 60 to 45 daytime highs is better than a 15 degree drop from 75 to 60; it really isn't that much better...it is still a 15 degree temp drop!
*The greater the cold front is, often times the greater the wind speeds are and the general level of noise in the woods. Cold fronts are a stressful time for deer! Crashing trees, breaking branches, wind, rain and snow all contribute to a loss of demishing energy reserves for deer. Also, deer feed 5 times in a 24 hours period. During a major front deer will stay hunkered down within their daytime bedding areas and miss the opportunity to feed heavily under the cover of darkness in their most preferred food sources. Stress, lack of food and increasingly cold temperatures equal a triple-threat of energy depletion that needs to be fed!
*The calm and cold period after the front has just passed, is the perfect time to sit in the woods in early October, let alone during the pre-rut and rut. After the rut the reverse takes place, as deer typically feed heavily before a major storm, and then conserve energy during the first day or two of calm and cold temperatures directly after the front.
*The first day following the storm is the best day and there is a good reason why. If you were stranded in the woods for several days with no food, you would be extremely hungry! In fact you would most likely eat as much food as possible as soon as you were rescued. However, would you stuff your face with the same amount of food the next day? What about the 3rd day? You can expect the first day to be outstanding, and then the quality of the hunting opportunity declinining and leveling off during stable conditions until the next cold front comes through. If you are planting food plots, make sure that you focus your efforts to offer as much food during the October and November cold fronts with Plantings That Specifically Target this period of time. And if you are hunting public land, finding food sources that match the season will offer a major advantage to you!
*Starting during the early bow seasons in September and until about the last 10 days of October you can expect a quality cold front to bring quality food-related hunting opportunities. But once you near the 20th of October, expect mature bucks to become extremely active for brief periods of time within their core areas following a cold front. The level of activity as well as an expansion of rutting activity outside of a mature bucks core area will increase well into the middle of the rut! I have for the most part hunted only cold fronts since the early 90s and I have been greatly rewarded. Cold front hunting will produce a rollercoaster of brief quality sits, sandwiched between longer periods of poor sit opportunities. In some cases I have experienced that a given stand when used during a calm and cold morning could produce shot opportunities on a mature buck 30-40% of the time, while at other times that same stand could offer success less than 3% of the time. When you add it all up, 3 weeks of low quality sits won't make up for missing a long weekend of high quality sits!
During the evening of October 11th, 50 mph Northwesterly gusts with spits of rain turned into solid showers, decreasing winds and drastically plumetting temperatures. Clearing skies under the cover of darkness allowed extremely cold air to coat the weeds and painted leaves with a dusting of the first frost of the year! As the sun released it's glory over the top of the canopy above, I was truly blessed to be able to witness one of the best mornings to be in the woods, especially for an early October sit. After an hour passed, several does and fawns could be seen making their way towards me through the neighboring parcel. Corn and bean fields were only a 1/2 mile away through the adjoing mature hardwoods and my friend's property featured the thickest and most attractive bedding habitat in the area. The deer were taking their time and browsing all the way back to their bedding areas as a nice set of antlers suddenly appeared not too far behind the does. As the morning thermals continued to rise the does and fawns surrounded me with no idea of the danger above them! As the buck came closer I was eventually able to find a hole in the underbrush to send an arrow through, and into his vitals.
I really can be that easy! 2012 was an oustanding hunting season due to the overall volatility of the weather, and if you use that volatility to your advantage success is their for taking at a very high level. Later on the 20th of October I took a WI giant during the same conditions and the only bad thing? getting to sit just 7 times in 2 states with a bow for the entire season! Even if you have to sacrifice some days afield, I urge you to do your best to hunt during the outstanding conditions provided by the October and November cold fronts. And if you enjoy that strategy, check out the numerous other similar strategies that can be found within my Whitetail Success By Design Series of books.
Which days will be the best to hunt during the 2014 Whitetail Rut? It all depends on when the conditions are cold and calm following a major front! Stayed tuned to the weather to find out more...