As the southern region of the US is experiencing another significant hurricane, hunters have one question: how will deer hunting be affected?
As yet another hurricane has hit the southern US, people are stuck with recovering and rebuilding from the storm’s aftermath. Natural disasters are devastating to people and wildlife alike. However, that doesn’t stop deer season from being well on its way in most states. No matter if you reside hundreds of miles inland, or live in Florida or Texas, you are probably asking yourself how a hurricane will impact the remainder of your season.
As complex as this question is, history has some surprising answers.
Photo Courtesy of Pixabay
IMPACTS FOR BY REGION FLORIDA AND THE IMMEDIATE SOUTHEAST AREA I’m sure we all understand that there are immediate repercussions of hurricanes in the animal kingdom. If you need a refresher of what it meant during Hurricane Harvey, you can check out the video below:
However, neither Harvey or Irma are the first or the last hurricane to hit the United States. Thankfully, previous storms have left us with a better understanding of how hurricanes affect deer.
It seems apparent that deer will “ride out the storm” near their home areas. Therefore, it is possible for populations to experience a few casualties. However, research has shown that the majority of the population will thrive in the weeks and months following the hurricane.
For example, research from Hurricane Andrew (the category 5 storm that hit Florida in the early 90’s) showed the tremendous resilience of deer populations. Of 32 collared deer, they found that all 32 survived and then proceeded to flourish. How was this possible? By the increase in low-level vegetation. This vegetation provided them with excessive food and cover (as trees fall, more sunlight can benefit lower vegetation growth). Not only did they benefit from the storm for weeks and months to come, but by the end of the study, it became evident that the overall deer population was relatively unaffected. Deer patterns returned to seasonal norms, and individuals capitalized on the surplus of resources.
However, that isn’t the only study suggesting that deer adapt well. A second study discussed the effects of both Hurricane Georges and Irene on deer populations. Their results? Surprisingly similar. Deer prospered both immediately after the storm and for the months following. The logic stayed the same: deer responded well to the post-hurricane ecosystem. The loss of timber allowed more resources to be immediately available, and the subsequent increase in vegetation improved conditions for months to come.
In fact, this study mentioned only two significant changes: ● Water sources near the coast can be affected by salinity. ● Home ranges for deer increased while daily distance traveled did not.
Essentially, storm surge can increase salinity in freshwater sources. The need to find fresh water may increase the deer’s overall home range during this period.
Photo Courtesy of Gary Bendif | Unsplash
So how should hunters respond? Keep in mind this is site specific. Area’s that were in proximity to the highest winds and rainfall won’t be able to capitalize on events as quickly.
If you have a chance to get in your stand following a hurricane, then give it a shot. You will likely be able to capitalize on deer who will be eager to feast after the stress of the storm. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. As mentioned, if you live near the coast, storm surges can salinate your freshwater sources. Therefore, many of these water sources may become unusable by the deer. Be aware of this before setting up near water.
Furthermore, set-up along new corridors provided by the thickening vegetation. Deer will be using these new sources of cover to migrate between popular food and water sources. Areas that were heavily forested may now become prime spots for deer to both travel and feed.
FURTHER INLAND One word will sum up this situation, and it’s called pressure.
The first thing I would like to clarify is that the wind, precipitation, and sky conditions are directly related to pressure. It is an entire system, so don’t assume it’s only one variable that causes changes. However, since they are related, it’s often easier to discuss storm systems in terms of pressure.
Hurricanes drastically weaken as they propagate over land and cooler waters. With respect to everyday weather, pressure changes associated with a hurricane will still be intense. At this point, the system will no longer be considered a hurricane, but an intense pressure center that will be termed a “tropical depression” or “remnance”. Both indicate a weakened storm system. Considering any damage is more manageable during this period of the storm’s evolution, hunters should not hesitate to capitalize on this weather change.
Midwest Whitetail had an excellent article discussing when hunters should capitalize on deer movement. They recommended two times that you need to be in your stand:
1. Immediately before the storm At this time pressure will be falling, but there won’t be much for precipitation or crazy wind changes, yet. Weather will soon be changing for the worst and deer will likely be feeding. At this point, expect deer activity to increase. Hit your favorite corridors and find the food source as they become very active.
Once the “eye” of the storm nears your location (if you are in its path) the wind will drastically increase, and overall conditions may get worse. Deer may bed down during this period.
2. Immediately after the storm As mentioned, deer will bed down when the weather is at its toughest (think torrential rains, the wind, etc..) That means as a system propagates out of the area, hunters can expect activity to pick up quickly. Numerous theories are suggesting why this is (and we won’t go there), but the consensus tends to be that this is the BEST time to be in your stand. Be sure to set up along popular food plots.
At this stage in the hurricane’s evolution (tropical depression/reminance), don’t expect any significant damage or long term effects on deer patterns.
A few other things to note: Monitor the weather and watch the pressure. Pressure changes over periods of days. You can track pressure changes through nearly any weather site. However, even watching your morning weather man can give you a good enough gauge as to when conditions will be optimal to hit the stand.
Also, note that the greatest pressure changes occur near the center of the system. A good gauge of changing pressure is how strong the wind is blowing. Greater pressure changes cause higher wind speeds, and after a certain point, it’s said that deer bed down during this period.
NO ONE STORM IS THE SAME Every storm system is different and so are the impacts. There are tremendous variations between storm intensities. Your location, the strength of the storm, and human’s influence all change the way deer respond to natural disasters. It’s important that you educate yourself on weather and deer patterns.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH Case studies are a great source of information. However, every hunter can run their own experiment, take notes, and improve their odds. The first step? Follow the weather and take notes. You can record changing patterns, including things like barometric pressure, wind direction, rainfall totals along with deer patterns, trail cameras, etc...
Although we have an idea how hurricanes may affect deer and hunting conditions, it’s up to every hunter to do their homework, monitor their property, and be responsible in the field.
Nicole Stone is a content strategist and blogger. She is active in the outdoor industry and has written for numerous B2B companies, authority sites, NDSU, and Wide Open Spaces. You can learn more about her at nicolestone.com and follow her on Instagram at @nicolestoneoutdoors.