Understanding Thermal Winds When Hunting

Understanding Thermals

Legendary Whitetails 11.3.2016

In some aspects, hunting in areas with steep hills can be ‘easier’ as deer simply cannot travel through some of the unnavigable terrain, allowing for deer to pass by your stand if you have located natural funnels. With the rut upon us, there is still time to dive into some new areas and find terrain that will give you an edge.

Hunting during the rut usually includes keying in on travel corridors and knowing where doe groups spend their time. You can learn to use the wind and thermals to set up the ultimate ambush location if you can find certain elevation changes on your property that funnel deer. Thermals move very differently in hill country as compared to flatter terrain, and those who haven’t hunted in these areas find that out pretty quickly. In hilly areas, it can be much easier for a deer to bust you if you haven’t paid close attention to how rising and falling thermals move in hill country. However, once you fully understand how thermals move and bounce off terrain, it is an absolute game changer and will completely open your eyes to new ways of hunting. If you are hunting a morning set high on a ridge top close to a bedding area (assuming actual wind speed isn’t a factor) you will want to make sure you are slightly above the deer for a morning sit because morning thermals will be rising as the air temperature warms up. The opposite is true in the evening as the thermals start to sink around dusk when the air temperature begins to drop.

Understanding Thermal Winds When Hunting Air current travels upwards as the air temperature begins to heat up in the morning.  Keep this in mind when you think about where your scent will be carrying.

Understanding Thermal Winds When HuntingDuring the evening, the air begins to sink as it cools, thus, carrying your scent down hill.  

As a hill country bowhunter, I am still working to figure out how wind moves on the properties I hunt. Unless you are on a ridgetop, there are very few consistent winds in bluff country. Hunting low during the evening at the head of a ditch leading to a field might seem like a great idea, but you can guarantee if there is any wind at all, it will be swirling low at the head. Dealing with windy conditions can be frustrating, but if you can combine a consistent wind with a forced travel route due to terrain features, you’ll have a slam-dunk rut setup. Hilly terrain challenges deer and sometimes presents impassable areas for them. I have harvested many deer during rifle season simply by setting up down wind of a rock formation (or steep ‘point’ of a ridge) that funnels deer from connecting benches.

Fortunately for us, deer will sometimes have to travel with the wind at their back in order to pass through some of these terrain features. As mentioned, once you find a pinch point due to terrain features, diving in on the right weather conditions can be prime! During the rut, does will drag bucks with them on these paths of least resistance and this allows you to hunt the does and trust the bucks on your land will follow.


RELATED: Mapping Whitetails No.7 – Advantages of Hunting Hilly Terrain


If you can find land features that funnel deer to thick bedding areas, this can be even more deadly than simply finding features that separate two benches or open timber areas. My family and I have nicknamed a large bench on our property the ‘hot spot’ because of a large, thick bedding area that sits below a rock formation. Since neither our neighbors, nor us, hunt within 100 yards of this area, it has remained an excellent sanctuary that benefits both of us. This bedding area sits in between two long benches, one owned by us and the other by our neighbors. Many great bucks have materialized from this area.

Owning land with elevation changes can give you the advantages you are looking for, but you still need to hunt smart and understand how the deer use these areas.  Wherever I hunt, I always aim to search for those small things which could stack the odds in my favor, and more times than not, I look at terrain first and then work from there. Whether hunting my family farm back home or knocking on doors for permission, I am always searching for unique characteristics that might separate one property from another.


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