7 Ways to Beat the Heat During the Whitetail Rut

Global warming may be fact, it may be fiction — but it’s been really hot during the whitetail rut the past couple of seasons. Here’s how to beat it.

7 Ways to Beat the Heat During the Whitetail Rut

The coolest part of the day is right at dawn, making mornings top hot=weather hunting hours.

Common whitetail hunting dogma insists that, when the weather is unseasonably hot — as it has been the past couple of seasons during the traditional rutting cycle — a hunter’s chances diminish appreciably. I cannot quibble with that. However, I know from experience that success can be had when the mercury climbs north of normal. In fact, I arrowed my biggest whitetail ever (below), a typical 5x5 that grossed 182 and netted 177 3/8 Pope and Young inches, on a November day in Adams County, Illinois, that at the time set the all-time high temperature record for the region.

Long ago on a sweltering November day in western Illinois, the author arrowed his biggest whitetail ever.
Long ago on a sweltering November day in western Illinois, the author arrowed his biggest whitetail ever.

How it happened was a combination of luck and solid strategy. Our group had hunted the usual rut places for days with no luck, and the landowner mentioned to me he had a small isolated field nobody had touched in weeks with some fresh deer sign. I love to try new stuff, so my cameraman and I went that afternoon. I found a tracked-up trail leading out of a brushy hollow and ran a drag line from it to some scrapes 40 yards from my treestand. A half-hour before dark the buck ghosted up out of the hollow, hit the scent line, and I shot him as he nosed my scent wick above that scrape. Later, I found out the deer had been bedding in that deep, shaded hollow next to a small seep of cool water, in close proximity to the field and a mott of oaks full of acorns, both of which were being heavily used by a group of does. He didn’t have to move much to eat, drink, sleep and check out the girls for a willing partner.

What’s the weather hold for the rut this year? It’s anybody’s guess. As this is written in early spring 2023, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, the chances for above-average temperatures during the 2023 whitetail rut are well above 50/50 in much of southern half of the country, and about 50/50 in the remaining areas. If that occurs, here are some tips on how to beat the heat.

Trail cameras can help you locate buck travel routes after dark during hot-weather hunts.
Trail cameras can help you locate buck travel routes after dark during hot-weather hunts.

Basic Deer Biology

Did you know that when it’s hot, deer don’t sweat like we do to help cool themselves down? Instead, they breathe faster through an open mouth to expel hot air. Those thick winter coats — thickened due to the photoperiod, not prevailing temperatures — trap body heat. Daytime activity is restricted or heatstroke becomes a real concern.

Thus, deer movement is greatest during the coolest part of the day, which is just before dawn and right at daybreak. Under these conditions, I will make sure I’m on stand well before first light, hunting funnel locations that lead from preferred food sources to bedding thickets. I’m hunting the routes the does use, knowing rutting bucks will follow.

A hunt in northeastern Wyoming a couple of years ago proved this a valuable strategy. It was hot, and after 4 days of working over large alfalfa fields with no luck, we switched gears and decided to hunt a hillside oak mott located about a half mile above the fields. I was on stand an hour before I could see, and 30 minutes after first light shot a fat 9-point that was working his way up the hill, crunching a few acorns and he headed to bed.

The author arrowed this fat 9-pointer 30 minutes after daylight on a hot day as it worked its way into a bedding thicket.
The author arrowed this fat 9-pointer 30 minutes after daylight on a hot day as it worked its way into a bedding thicket.

Watch the Local Weather Report

I’m a Weather Channel junkie, checking the local weather report multiple times a day, looking for changes that will influence my stand location selection. During hot weather, there are two key elements to watch for — large temperature swings, and changes in the barometric pressure.

Barometric, or atmospheric, pressure is scientific gobbledygook for the amount of air pressure exerted by air molecules against the earth’s surface. The baseline is approximately 14.7 pounds/ square inch of pressure at sea level. A barometer measures this pressure with mercury, which rises or falls as the pressure fluctuates. “Standard pressure” is 29.92 inches of mercury at sea level, according to both the ISA (International Standard Atmosphere) and the US 1976 Standard Atmosphere. When the local weatherman talks about low-pressure systems or high-pressure systems, they’re simply talking about increased or decreased barometric pressure that comes with an approaching weather change.

What’s this mean for the deer hunter? Whitetails — and all animals, for that matter — are naturally in tune with changes in weather. They can sense when a big change is coming. Most formal and informal studies regarding barometric pressure show that whitetails become more active when the barometer is either rising or falling, but are most active when the barometer is rising.

Translation: deer increase activity levels immediately before a big weather change hits, and become most active right after a big storm front passes through. A big swing in barometric pressure also often brings with it relatively significant changes in air temperature. This is critical during periods of warmer-than-normal weather patterns. If the weatherman tells me there’s going to be a drop of 10 degrees Fahrenheit or more, I know for sure that daylight deer activity is going to significantly increase.

For deer hunters, small barometer movements are moot; it’s when big changes occur that deer movement can be affected. Years ago my friend Mark Drury described it to me this way: “Watch how the barometric pressure relates to the average for a given time of year,” he said. “Key in on the days when the pressure is high relative to the average for the season — especially those days following a big weather front. That’s when you need to be out there.”

Water can be the key to hot weather hunting success.
Water can be the key to hot weather hunting success.

7 Ways to Beat the Heat

In a nutshell, my strategy is simple: In unseasonably warm weather during the rut, target areas near bedding thickets, hyper-focus on water, and stay far, far away from open-country food plots and big agricultural fields. Here’s what I do:

  1. Hunt Mornings Hard: When the weather is well above normal, focus on your morning hunts. Why? Because the coolest part of any day is right at dawn. Thus, deer movement is more likely earlier, rather than later, in the day.
  2. Don’t Be Afraid of Bedding Thickets: Deer spend most of their time in cool, shady areas when it’s hot. This means bedding thickets in shaded areas that can catch any prevailing breeze. Hunt as close to them as possible, as long as the wind is perfect. If it’s not, back off.  I also require an access and egress route I can take without polluting the countryside with my scent.
  3. Hunt Food Source Funnels: The odds of seeing a mature buck strolling about a food plot with lots of shooting light are pretty slim during hot weather. That’s why I focus on funnels and travel routes that pass through cover near bedding areas that lead to food and/or water. These funnels or often well away from the food source, so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t see it. Another key is to find food sources within the forest canopy itself. There are few better ambush spots during hot weather than oaks dropping acorns. Conversely, there are few worse than the edge of an open-country food plot.
  4. Water Is Crucial: Even during years of normal temperatures, bucks need to drink an inordinate amount of water during the rut. Their need for water increases exponentially during hot weather. In extreme heat, I’d much rather be hunting over water than a food plot. In fact, my favorite hot weather stand locations are on a shaded water source located in a funnel. These are great spots to hunt midday, too.
  5. Hunt Weather Fronts: As mentioned earlier, keep a close eye on the local weather report and be prepared to come early and stay late when a big weather front is rolling through. If temperatures are going to drop significantly in a 24-hour period, do whatever it takes to be afield.
  6. Scent Bombs: I like using estrous scents during the rut regardless of the weather, and am even more aggressive with them during hot weather. I like to leave scent bombs hanging along travel routes and near food sources overnight so any traveling bucks out seeking does can get a whiff. This implants on their brains that, “Hey, this is a place I need to put into my rotation to come check out again.” Drag lines are a no-brainer.
  7. Midday Funnels: Even though the heat discourages deer movement, when testosterone levels are elevated and the rut is rocking, love-struck bucks will be up and moving trying to find a new girlfriend. On more than one occasion I’ve been sitting in an isolated funnel between bedding and feeding areas bored out of my skull for days, and then, Bam! Here comes a cruiser, tongue out and panting, down the trail. I vividly remember one day decades ago when, after 5 days and finishing two paperback books on a lonely funnel stand, I happened to look up at high noon to see a stud heading my way. He was going to pass by out of range, so I loudly hit a doe bleat call. He didn’t break stride as he changed direction and came at a trot. I shot him at five steps.

Hot weather deer hunting is nobody’s friend. But when the rut is on, anything can happen. That’s why it’s magical.

Photos by Bob Robb


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