Hunters are tackling the late season — really late — and the woods are certainly different than they were in November and early December. In many places the snow hasn’t stuck around to give hunters that high-viz contrast of the dark brown deer against a bright white background. But the dark and damp woods offer the hunter some big advantages.
My friend Dana Gould of Armstrong County, PA capitalized on that advantage in Pennsylvania’s flintlock season by taking a page out of the shed hunter’s book. He shot a mature doe with his trusty .45 caliber longrifle on a dark, wet day — the kind of day shed hunters love as they search for dropped antlers.
Flintlock hunters are finicky about weather. Wetness is the enemy of primitive rifles fueled by black powder that’s ignited by sparks when flint collides against steel. Cold, dry weather is best for that chain reaction, but flinters need to consider the upside of wet weather rather than the downside.
Wet woods give a greater visibility advantage than many hunters realize. Flattened, wet leaves blanketing the ground are much darker than dry leaves and an antler lying on them seems to pop. That’s why dark, damp and overcast are the shed hunter’s perfect conditions.
A soaked landscape turns tree trunks darker too, making deer highly visible. Gould explains it this way. “Against the dark background of mature timber deer look lighter. Ten times today I saw deer before they saw me and I was able to pass up several small deer until this two year old came by. The shot was offhand at sixty yards and she ran about 100 yards before dropping.” Fittingly, he added, “Thank you, Lord, for an exciting day and this fine gift.”
Gould also has a suggestion for what camouflage to wear. Most camo patterns tend to be too dark in normal situations, but not for those dreary days. “When we wear light camo patterns,” he says, “we stand out in sharp contrast against the dark woods, just as the deer do, so go darker if possible. And a vertical pattern will blend in better with bare, vertical trees.”
Gould, a retired science teacher, also understands why dark days enhance our vision. “Bright snow creates glare and shrinks our pupils, but the dark woods allow our pupils to enlarge.” That’s an advantage when judging distance and helps us make out shapes better because hard shadows don’t distort what we’re seeing.
Gould notes one more huge advantage to hunting dark, damp, overcast days. “The wind isn’t as variable and thermals are less intense because the sun has less effect on air temperatures.”
The idea of hunting in wet weather may seem counter-intuitive to most hunters, especially flintlock hunters, but thinking in ways contrary to what most people think often makes sense and can be the key to successful hunting. Most hunters think of tramping quietly through the snow looking for tracks and feeding areas. Smart hunters also use days of overcast skies and penetrating dampness to their advantage.
It all makes sense, because deer are more willing to move on their own when cold and snow do not force them to conserve energy. They’re using these days to pack in more calories for the winter storms and frigid days to come. And as they move, you’ll spot them long before they suspect a hunter is afoot.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.