Do Major Weather Events Like Hurricane Michael Affect Deer Hunting?

Many hunters believe windy days mean less deer movement. Yet, research suggests deer are unaffected by wind and extreme weather like Hurricane Michael.
Do Major Weather Events Like Hurricane Michael Affect Deer Hunting?

With this fall’s steady serving of powerful hurricanes including Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael, deer hunters might stop to wonder how extreme weather affects deer hunting, specifically buck survival and movement.

After reading some of the available research, a hurricane’s effect on deer seems to have little impact. If there is a cause-and-effect due to wind and rain, data suggest deer increase their movement. This contradicts the common belief that these animals tend to hunker down.

When you consider the life-threatening nature of 2018’s Hurricane Michael, it's hard to image that deer continue to follow their normal patterns. This weather event, the third-most-intense hurricane landfall in U.S. history, struck the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds at 150 mph and its impact extended outward for 45 miles from its center.

major weather hurricane deer survival movement

Hurricane Michael was recorded as third-most-intense hurricane landfall in U.S. history. The 2018 hurricane struck the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds at 150 mph. Photo:

According to a reader survey by Penn State Ecosystem Science and Management Department, “almost 90 percent (of the site's readers) thought that wind would cause deer to reduce their movements. About 53 percent believed rain reduced deer movement and 11 percent felt that rain would increase deer movement.”

How Deer Respond to Hurricanes and Other Major Weather Events

The short answer is deer respond very well. Deer are resilient, as are all wild animals, and equipped to face uncertain weather events. The proof of such resilience can be observed in how deer responded to 2017's Hurricane Irma, the most intense hurricane to strike the continental U.S. since Katrina in 2005. The storm swept within 13 miles of a deer study area in southwest Florida bringing with it 135 mph sustained winds and 12 inches of rain. Yet, of the 60 deer wearing GPS collars in this affected study area, zero were killed.

And not only were there no fatalities among the deer, it's also true that deer movement did not decline the day the hurricane came ashore.

“Heather Abernathy-Conners of Virginia Tech reported that does significantly increased their movement rate the day of the storm,” according to the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). “Bucks moved less compared to the week before but more than the week after the storm, likely related to post-rut movement patterns and less so to the storm. All deer selected areas with higher elevation where flooding was less likely.”

major weather hurricane deer survival movement

Numerous studies from Texas to Maryland suggest that weather has little or no influence on mature buck movements. Photo: John Hafner

In another QDMA study analysis written by certified wildlife biologist and licensed forester Matt Ross, the weather events and locations of each study offered a greater sample size, but the results remained largely the same.

“With the exception of one study from South Texas in the summer, numerous studies from Texas to Maryland suggest that weather has little or no influence on mature buck movements,” Ross said. “I know, hard to believe, right? But, at least to-date, researchers have thrown everything at this concept and collected a lot of data, and still nothing. As I said before, bucks move the most at dawn and dusk, period.”

As Ross cited in his article, one three-year study that produced almost half a million GPS data points from over 40 bucks attempted to correlate weather variables such as temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and precipitation and there was no correlation.

But wait. Maybe now you’re thinking, "That’s counter to everything I've ever read!" Plus, those findings are based on a single hurricane (Irma) and various common weather events like humidity and barometric pressure and so on.What about other hurricanes or weather events that are considered extreme?

Still, there's very little impact.

“In cases of extreme weather events, like northern yarding behaviors in response to winter weather or like the Mississippi flood in the spring of 2011, there is some short-term response,” Ross said. “However, site-fidelity is so strong that in one case a research project lost nearly 30 percent of their collared bucks to flooding because those deer refused to leave and simply ran out of food or drowned; the others returned to the study site immediately after the water receded.”

How Deer Respond to Wind

If we narrow our scope to wind, apart from its association with hurricanes and other dramatic weather events, we find that deer are either indifferent to wind as Ross suggests or they increase, not decrease, movement as a response.

major weather hurricane deer survival movement

Research shows that, if anything, deer move more in extreme winds and other weather events, not less. Photo: NOAA

Also, it may feel like we're getting into some contradictory elements of this article. Ross was clear in his assertion and supporting evidence that weather variables have little impact on mature bucks. Perhaps that’s the nuanced difference: mature bucks verses all deer

Yet, there’s plenty of published articles that contradict Ross’ assertion regardless of whether the focus is on mature bucks, does or deer in general. The author of this article (me!) hoped to avoid such contradictions, but that's not how these things tend to work. Consider your own personal experiences. Anyone who has tried to improve their diet will quickly find that what defines healthy food varies depending on what study you read.

But don't give up just yet. There are enough similarities across the available research and published articles on the matter to offer deer hunters some confidence in what to expect from deer when weather varies. For instance, Penn State Ecosystem Science and Management Department published an article based on a smaller 2013 study that suggest wind does have an impact on deer movement.

Although, note the three wind levels the study observes:

Calm: Winds less than 1 mph;

Gentle/Moderate Breeze: Winds between 1 and 15 mph;

Strong Breeze: Winds between 16 and 27 mph.

Data from the study suggest deer movement is increased by wind and rain and the response varied based on the sex of the animal. Yet, wind speeds during this 2013 study never topped 12 mph. In October 2015 and 2016, deer were studied again and wind speeds were up. And, as such, the findings were different.

“Once wind speeds reached 16 mph, doe movements were no longer affected," according to Penn State's study analysis. "Females showed a biologically insignificant increase in their movements at lower wind speeds (1 to 15 mph) but neither increased or decreased their movements at higher wind speeds (16 to 27 mph).”

Even so, the study found that higher winds in 2015 and 2016 increased buck movement.

That leaves us at an intersection: Maybe deer are indifferent to weather events and movement isn't affected, or maybe weather events such as rain or wind increase deer movement and they're not so indifferent after all. Regardless, it's OK. There appears to be one certainty that offers an applicable takeaway for deer hunters:

Deer movement does not decline before, after or during weather events. Deer do not hunker down as a response to extreme weather like a hurricane. And it doesn't matter if those weather events are minor, like a windy day with a rain shower mixed in. Or if the event is significant, even catastrophic, as Hurricane Michael surely was.

Deer press on and deer hunters should too.


Featured photo: NOAA


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