The shadows were lengthening and the air growing chilly when I heard the snap of a twig and rustling in the leaves. Something was approaching; time to get ready. A flash of brown and the flick of an ear revealed a deer, still some distance off and in thick cover but drawing slowly nearer until it stopped, stiffened up then nervously stomped a hoof sharply on the forest floor.

Next came that sound all hunters dread: the loud, nasal blowing of whitetail alerting all within earshot of potential danger. That’s when I felt it, the slightest wisp of wind on the back of my neck.

Wind, specifically wind direction, is a critical component of any deer hunt. One of the most important steps I take before heading afield is to check the local forecast for prevailing wind direction. This helps me in selecting which location I’ll hunt on that particular morning or afternoon. As we’re all sometimes painfully aware, even the forecasters don’t always get it right, but at least it’s a starting point for planning your pursuit.

For the stand hunter and the still hunter, the best option is often – though not always – to have the wind in your face. That alone will give you an edge, which increases if you have an idea which way the deer will be traveling. However, that’s often less reliable than the forecast.

A common misconception is that deer always travel into the wind. Legendary bowhunter Gene Wensel once said, “If that were true, they’d all eventually end up in the Pacific Ocean.” That’s certainly not the case. In fact, they often travel with the wind at their back. This allows them to look for danger ahead and smell for it behind. They may not smell you, but they’ll still see and hear you if you don’t sit still and quiet.

Deer also sometimes travel perpendicular to the wind, and if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense, too. Traveling upwind or downwind they can only detect what’s directly in front of or behind them. Walking perpendicular to the wind gives them a fresh perspective with almost every step. Bucks are more inclined to do this during the rut when scent-checking for does. Keep that in mind when selecting a stand or planning a stealthy walk.


A more tactical approach, which I more often use when bowhunting, is to set up where the wind is almost, but not quite wrong. Why? Deer know far better than we do how to use the wind to their advantage, so more often than not they’re going to beat us. However, they may be more likely to make a mistake when the advantage seems clearly in their favor. And sometimes, we just get lucky.

Settling into my stand one afternoon I reached into the pocket of my hunting vest for something, and quickly pulled out wet and somewhat malodorous fingers. The cap on my bottle of doe pee had come loose and its contents leaked into my vest pocket. I looked at it optimistically. “Can’t hurt, right?”

Right. The buck that approached my stand in the fading daylight came from almost but not directly downwind. Unlike a hundred different deer had done a hundred times before, he didn’t pause just inside the wood line and wait until dark. He came trotting across the small opening and directly to the base of my stand before I could react. Long story short, it didn’t end well for him.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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