Hunting the Wind

Wind can make or break your hunt in an instant.  Learn how to hunt the wind and you will be more successful on your hunts.

One of the key things to obtain a general understanding of when trying to hide your scent while hunting is how wind works. In general, wind is the movement of cooler more dense gasses called low pressure filling spaces caused by warmer gasses called low pressure. This movement of the hot, warm, cool or cold gasses we refer to as air causes wind. This is probably the most basic definition of wind. Adding to my simple definition, I will attempt break down some key factors while providing illustrations that should describe how understanding wind basics will help improve your hunting efforts.

Prevailing Wind

Prevailing wind is the typical wind direction you should expect for a certain area and knowing this is a big step in learning how to improve each hunting blind, stand or stalking location. Normally prevailing wind has a westerly direction, meaning it is coming from the west and is heading east. The primary reason for prevailing wind this is due to the earth’s rotation in relation to the sun and its heating effect of air, land and water. Each location is different, some are slightly different and some are dramatically different since numerous factors can play havoc on what you would expect without true field investigation. As you can see from the illustration, prevailing wind normally travels in one general direction. Hunting from down-wind facing up wind will improve your chances of your prey catching your scent as it travels with the wind.

Prevailing Wind

Prevailing Wind

Thermal Wind

Thermal winds are caused by the heating of air creating a low pressure through the expansion of air gasses and cooler more dense air traveling towards the expanded air to balance out the pressure. This never-ending cycle to balance the lows and highs creates wind. This action will be most easily observed in the morning and evening.

In the illustrations below you can see the difference in morning and evening thermals. In the morning, as the sun rises above the horizon the air above the ground heats up while the air around the ground remains cool creating an imbalance in air pressure that will draw air upwards. The wind may follow inclines and drop offs closely but on flatter grounds it may be drawing air upwards away from the ground. Traditionally setting up higher in the morning is standard practice and the illustration for typical morning thermal winds shows how it may affect your hunting locations.

Thermal Wind Morning

Typical Morning Thermals

Typical Evening Thermals

The opposite may occur in the evening when the air begins to cool and the air nearest the ground remains warm because the ground has been heated throughout the day. Many things can change how rapid this wind moves including ground cover, make-up and elevation changes. A grassy field won't absorb as much heat as a freshly plowed field or a stony hillside may retain more heat than a leafless hardwood forest hill in the fall. Each location will be different but in the illustration below, the evening thermals are shown falling and therefor hunting low may be a smart choice if your fieldwork results in this observed thermal late afternoon wind.

Evening Thermals

Typical Evening Thermals

Convection Currents

Convection currents are a process of hot and cold air trading places in a cyclical type pattern. This transfer of cold and hot air is not something that you can easily see in action because it would normally happen on a large scale. In theory a hunter could be sitting on a ridge when warmer air is rising from below and hunting an area (up wind) below them, believing that human scent is travelling up and away from the area being hunted. Convection currents would pull the air higher, where it would cool and then drop back down into a cooler lower elevation and then start over again. This may pull the hunter's scent right along with it which would alert any well developed nose of the hunter's presence. It is hard to plan for this type of wind but if you find your prey being on high alert when you are positioned down wind, this may be a case of convection currents working against you.

Convection Current

Convection Current Wind

Thermal Tunnels

A thermal tunnel is a phenomenon where prevailing high pressure winds crest a peak and drop along a slope where conflicting warmer low pressure winds are rising. As they collide, the two forces create a tunnel. This tunnel location will vary depending on the slope, the temperature differences in the two colliding winds and speed of the winds. Typical hunter theory is that this tunnel exists on the top 1/3 of a hillside or slope but this may vary from location to location.

Thermal Tunnels

Image Description

My own theory as to why deer may use a thermal tunnel is because of two reasons:

#1: Deer are more sensitive to pressure changes as we are and therefore as they travel a hillside the two colliding pressures create a path of least resistance for them and therefor they choose to travel in the equalized pressure of the tunnel. This calm would be much like the eye of a hurricane where the winds are calm inside the eye while outside the wall, winds are raging.

#2 Inside this tunnel, scents from both directions permeate the tunnel walls and therefore warning of predators are provided from both directions. Scent may even be carried up and down this corridor warning sensitive noses traveling the tunnel route.

If you can identify the location of a suspected thermal tunnel, the general consistence is to hunt high enough that the prevailing wind carrying your scent will be drawn over the tunnel and not into it. Of course a highly set tree stand may be the only option and if the forest doesn't permit a suitable setting a different location may be desired.

Hot, Cold and Scent

When thinking about your scent and how it may be picked up by the wind and give away your location, hot and cold locations are issues to consider. In flatter hunting grounds, cooler air could transfer air from a tree line with cooler shaded ground into an open area where the sun heats the ground surface. In the Cold and Hot illustration below, note each numbered item and keep this in mind if you are in a similar situation.

Cold to Hot Scent Transfer

Cold to Hot Wind Movement

Refer to the image above (Cold to Hot) for the cold to hot explanations below.

Item 1. Prevailing wind may pass over a pocket of open ground between dense forest allowing thermals within the pocket to control scent distribution more than expected.
Item 2. Cooler air is transferred to the warmer areas. On the left of the image this follows the prevailing wind direction but on the right side of the image it is possible for this air to travel against the prevailing wind until it becomes warm enough to rise from the surface.
Item 3. Air in a warmer open area surrounded by denser shaded area may be drawn upwards in the direction of the prevailing wind.
Item 4. Locating the right spot to hunt from may take some scouting and testing. Strengths of prevailing wind and degree differences in hot and cold areas may permit your scent to travel farther than you expect.

Wind Disruptions

Wind can be disrupted by anything it comes in contact with. The previous illustrations have shown how it can alter itself through high and low pressure in cool and warm locations. The items in the illustration below show a few basic wind disruptions to be aware of.

Wind Disruptions

Wind Disruptions

Item 1: The Barn in this image shows two physical actions happening to wind as it impacts the barn. On the windward side of the barn (the side of the barn getting hit with wind), the air molecules create high pressure by pressing together, this in turn creates a lower pressure at the leeward side of the barn (the side not being impacted by the wind). Wind will be forced to quickly swirl around the barn from the windward side and will be pulled into the area behind the barn on the leeward side. This is almost like a vacuum effect. This can happen with structures, large rocky outcroppings, sharp drops and rises in elevation or groups of trees. Imagine the flow of water around a boat. The water at the surface can be seen being forced around the sides of the boat and swirls at the rear.
Item 2: Open areas with sparse trees or rocks may have very little affect on altering the action of wind but still may create miniature wind disruptions that break up wind causing scent to be distributed to a wider area like a buckshot.
Item 3 and 4: Similar to item 1, this shows wind impacting a group of trees and being diverted around and not through the cluster while being sucked into a low pressure void behind the group of trees.
Item 5: Wind travelling the ground surface on a rising slope may continue travelling upwards after the peak of an incline is reached for about the same distance it traveled upwards in elevation as it ascended the slope. Thermal effects may force this air to then drop. In a case where thermals are traveling in the opposite direction, this falling air may be pulled back up the opposing slope in the opposite direction. 
Item 6: Wind traveling across an open area that impacts an area with dense trees, a cliff side or steep elevation change will compress itself creating high pressure. This high pressure may find its way around the physical disruption by building up a cyclical bubble and forcing wind up and over or around when a path of least resistance to a lower pressure area is found.

Wind Vacuum

A wind vacuum would occurs when a large amount of air is moving in one direction and pulls lower pressure air into the space or void left behind. On a large scale this can reverse air flow from flowing in the assumed natural direction forcing you to relocate your position when hunting. In the illustration below you will see some examples of air flow in an ascending valley with fingered ridges with smaller valleys between them.

Wind Vacuum

Wind Vacuum

Item 1: This shows the rising air flow in the largest valley. This will be the largest volume of air movement.
Item 2: These secondary valleys will have rising airflow similar to the largest main valley but with smaller air volumes.
Item 3: Prevailing winds are shown blowing in the direction indicated.
Item 4: This shows where the strength of the air flow of the main valley may be pulling air away from the lower section of a secondary valley.
Item 5: If the air flow is strong enough travelling up the main valley, air flow in a secondary valley may be reverse from a normal rising flow and pulled down into the main valley before ascending the main valley. Prevailing wind directions will also aid in creating this vacuum on the windward side of a valley.

Determining the Actions of Wind

Tools for your Kit

All the above information can be used to place yourself in locations where your scent is most likely being pulled or blown away from your prey and increasing your chances of seeing worthy game. Tools are available to help you "visualize" your scent that you should carry with you on your adventures into the woods for scouting and hunting. Small talc powder puffers like the Primos Wind Checker or small fiber containers like the Windfloater shown are available so you can check the wind during your scouting and hunting trips.

I prefer a fiber wind checker over a powder because I feel like you can watch the fiber fly through the air much longer than the powder to reveal any tricky wind patterns. This will tell me if anything crazy is happening further down wind from where I am set up.

Wind Checker

Wind Checker

Wind On Your Mind

By keeping wind on your mind and having a general understanding of how it may react to temperature changes, obstacles or land features, your chances to observe quality game animals and fill your tag will increase.

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Online Tools

There are some websites available to help you understand prevailing wind before you physically scout or hunt a new place. Only use these sites for an idea of the local wind since there are so many factors lightly explained future in this article that can alter how wind and air moves.

Below are a few websites to check out before you venture in the woods. These website all offer a mapping system displaying winds and weather for each area you zoom in on. Each is slightly different so choose one that works for you.

Ventusky.com/ - Scalable to your local area

Windy.com - Scalable to your local area

Windfinder.com- Scalable to your local area

earth.nullschool.net/ This one is a high level view of the world scale-able only to a large regions. This gives you an idea of how global ground level winds are reacting throughout the world.

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