Mercury Matters

Warm weather keeps many hunters at home, but deer still have to feed. Here’s some tips on how to score a kill even when temperatures climb.

It wasn’t what any sane hunter would call a cool morning, with daybreak temperatures hovering about 72.But the September day wasn’t going to get any better — forecasts called for temperatures to crest in the high 80s, maybe even nudging 90.

A mosquito’s heaven, and a deer hunter’s nightmare.

Gerald Roberts wasn’t going to let that stop him, though. It was opening day in Area 3, and he was ready to spend some time in a tree.

The Lake Charles hunter headed out early, taking his time getting to his stand site.

He slowly climbed the tree, and then settled in to see what the day held.

And while most hunters were waiting for a cool snap that would make for more-promising hunting, Roberts was roasting in his stand.

By 9:30, the mercury had climbed into the 80s.

Still, Roberts sat, ignoring the sweat trickling down his back.

His patience paid off shortly thereafter when he saw his first deer of the season.

“I had a little buck come right under me,” he said. “The spike came by, slowly feeding my way about 9:30 a.m.”

The hunter hurriedly got in position, and that’s what messed him up.

“I think I got in too big of a hurry,” Roberts said.

He missed the shot, but he had been one of the first hunters of the year to feel that adrenaline rush.

By the time he climbed out of the stand at noon, it was 85 degrees.

“Only the tree trunk was giving me any shade,” Roberts said.

Roberts eased back to his truck, using the time to scout for other hunting areas.

He reached the truck about 1 p.m., and the vehicle was baking in the sun.

“I had an ice chest on the front seat with several drinks on ice,” Roberts said. “I had a sandwich in a baggie sitting on top of the ice.

“The top side of the sandwich felt like it had been in the sun … like it was a little toasted.”

Such is life in the early season. Of course, Area 3 hunters have it worse, since their hunting begins in mid September.

But even in the rest of the state, where bowhunters can storm the woods beginning Oct. 1, temperatures can reach into the 80s and 90s.

“It’s almost kind of humorous to think about what you’re trying to accomplish,” Schriever’s Bill Fromenthal said. “You’re sweating, you’ve got mosquitoes, you’re sitting in a tree, and you’re hunting an animal that can see 310 degrees and can smell in the parts per million.

“All the odds are stacked against you.”

So how can hunters like Roberts and Fromenthal stand it? They recognize that deer activity will be reduced, but they have a cavalier attitude about it.

“It’s not that I don’t mind that it’s so hot; I just like it enough to do it,” Morgan City’s Ricky Aucoin explained. “I would prefer it to be 70 degrees Oct. 1, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

Aucoin said he learned to deal with the heat by hunting with his father, Raymond, when he was a child.

“If he had a day off, we were going hunting,” the younger Aucoin said. “Now, I’m not saying that the deer move as well as they do during cool or cold weather, or like they do during the rut, but I’m not one to wait until those perfect conditions arrive.

“I would rather get out and hunt as much as possible simply because it is so enjoyable ….”

Aucoin is a U.S. Postal Service mailman, so he’s used to dealing with triple-digit heat indexes.

“I walk a mail route every day, no matter what the conditions are … so heat is just another day at work for me,” he said.

But whether you’re a heat-hardened worker like Aucoin or an office weenie used to the air conditioning, there are certainly inherent difficulties with warm-weather hunting.

First, it’s just hot and uncomfortable, for the deer and for the hunters.

The deer react by reducing their movements.

But Roberts said there are still deer moving about.

“There’s not a lot of action, but I do see them,” he said. “It’s not what you would consider a waste of time.”

Realtree pro Dempsey White of Natchez, Miss., added that while temperatures do play a part in how much deer move around, there is another equally important factor.

“I think the barometric pressure is critical,” White said. “I would much rather hunt on a high-pressure day (even if it’s warmer) than on a low-pressure day.”

Aucoin said he learned that deer still feed in hot weather while hunting near Alexandria with his boss.

“I walked to the stand at 4 p.m., and it was 90 degrees,” he said. “I had my long-sleeve shirt hanging over my back, and when I go to the stand, there were two bucks about 70 yards away.”

While deer have to feed to survive, hot-weather hunting is just miserable for humans: Nothing is worse than breaking a sweat doing nothing more than sitting still.

“It’s not exactly comfortable,” Roberts said.

Added to the discomfort is the result of perspiration — deer will bust you in a second once you stink like a day laborer in August. You’ll often never see the deer, but you’re likely to hear it blowing in warning to its brethren.

The trick, Roberts and Aucoin agree, is to take a few precautions to decrease the chances that you’ll sweat.

Roberts said the process begins long before he heads to the woods.

“I wash my clothes in baking soda,” he said.

White said he uses scent-free detergent, and then seals his clothes in plastic bags to prevent them from picking up extraneous odors.

Roberts and White also pay attention to their own body odors.

“Before I leave the house, I take a bath with baking soda,” Roberts said.

White, on the other hand, showers with commercial products.

“I use scent-free soap, shampoo and deodorants,” he said. “I think it’s just got to start with basic hygiene.”

Roberts is such a fanatic about having scent-free clothing that he often doesn’t even put his camo gear on until he is sitting in his tree stand.

“I wear a pair of shorts and a T-shirt to walk in with,” he explained. “I want to stay as cool as possible.”

Then Roberts leaves his house way before he needs to.

“You’ve got to get there early enough so that you don’t have to hurry at all,” he said.

Strolls to a stand site can be excruciatingly slow for Roberts.

“It may take me 30 or 40 minutes to walk a half mile,” he said. “I’ll walk a little ways, and then take a break.

“If you walk at a good, steady pace, you’ll have sweat rolling off you by the time you get there.”

Roberts wears light shirts, and even lighter pants.

“I wear Bug Tamer pants, which have mesh netting on the inside with a thin outer layer,” he said. “They’re much cooler.”

The pants also help with mosquitoes, which can be problematic.

Both hunters wear rubber boots to reduce the chances of giving themselves away.

“It’s not necessarily comfortable. It’s a little bit hot, but it keeps your scent down,” Roberts said.

For proof, he pointed to his opening-day hunt last year.

“That spike came down the exact same path I used to come in on, and he came within 7 yards of me,” he said.

Roberts and Aucoin — both of whom are die-hard public-area hunters — also place a lot of stock in scouting an area before showing up to hunt.

They spend plenty of time looking at the woods and carefully choosing which tree will be used.

“I pick out a tree that has some shade,” Roberts said. “You don’t want to be in the sun when it comes up.”

Part of the reason is that such trees will provide a lot more cover, but they also make for much cooler hunts.

“The whole difference is being in the shade,” Aucoin said. “It’s so much cooler in the shade.”

He pointed to two stand sites he’s hunted for years within the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management. One of the stands is in the middle of a big deadening, while the second is along the edge of a line of willows.

“That (first) stand is a killer in the evening: That sun sets right into it,” Aucoin said. “The other one … is never in the sun.”

He said it’s even more noticeable when hunting deep in the woods.

“In the big woods in Sherburne, there’s such a canopy that it’s a lot cooler than you would think,” Aucoin said. “As long as you’re not walking around, it’s really, really comfortable.”

But Roberts said he avoids moving into the depths of the woods.

“I don’t hunt the woods; I like to hunt on the edges, where there’s some breeze,” he said.

Once on the stand, Roberts relies on being still to prevent outbreaks of sweating.

Aucoin agreed that this is vitally important.

“If you are just sitting or standing and not moving around so much, your body heat is kept to a minimum,” he said.

But Aucoin and White don’t stop there — they periodically use scent neutralizer to knock out any built-up odors.

“I walk to the stand in a T-shirt and spray down when I get there,” White said.

Aucoin agreed, saying he’s had very good luck with this strategy.

“I really haven’t had many deer blow at me,” he said.

Roberts said he doesn’t use these odor-stopping sprays.

“I figure as long as you clean your body as well as possible, that’s about all you can do,” he said.

Roberts, White and Aucoin refuse to wear the scent-eliminating clothing, such as the Scent-Lok system.

“I would probably be a lot better hunting if I did all the Scent-Lok suits, but I think they would be hot,” Aucoin said. “I haven’t gotten into the no-scent suits.”

Fromenthal, on the other hand, believes the clothing really helps, and he added that manufacturers are coming out with lighter and lighter wear.

“I use the Scent-Lok suit, and it’s really not bad,” he said.

But he admitted it’s still not exactly cool, so he never walks to his stand with the suit on.

“I walk in wearing just a T-shirt and pants, and when I get to my stand and get settled in, and after I let my body temperature settle down, then I put my suit on,” Fromenthal said.

Wind is another factor on which these hunters disagree.

Neither Roberts nor Aucoin pay much attention to the wind.

“I just feel that if you’re reasonably scent free, what difference does the wind make?” Roberts said. “I think people over play that wind thing sometimes.

“I think those are the lazy people who haven’t taken the time to be sure they’re clean and scent free before leaving their house.”

To help ensure he’s not winded, though, Roberts sets his stands up fairly high off the ground.

“I like get about 25 feet high. You get better visibility, you get out of the deer’s sight and they can’t smell you as easily,” he said.

However, White and Fromenthal said there is nothing more important than playing the wind when the weather heats up.

“You can put all the Scent-Lok suits on and do all that other stuff, and if the wind’s not in your favor, they’re going to pick you up,” Fromenthal said.

White agreed.

“The main thing is if you have an area you want to hunt and the wind’s not right, just stay at home or hunt somewhere else,” White said.

That’s particularly true for hunters looking to kill mature bucks.

“You’re not going to kill a 2- or 3-year-old deer if he smells you,” White explained. “If he smells you once, he probably won’t come back again.”

And playing the wind eliminates the need to hunt extremely high.

“I’m not going to set up in a stand 30 feet tall,” he said. “It’s bound to help some, but there are a lot of people who physically can’t do it.”

Fromenthal said that, while he prefers to hunt from the heights, sometimes it’s better to situate a stand lower.

“If there is cover 30 feet high, that’s fine, but if there is cover 12 feet off the ground you’re probably better off kind of hunting out of the cover you have than going higher and hunting in the open,” he said.

Knowing how to hunt an area in any given wind takes a complete understanding of how the trail or feeding area targeted lays out.

“At the end of the day, if you didn’t do some serious pre-season planning, you’re not going to kill that deer,” Fromenthal said.

Roberts and Aucoin also bring plenty of cold water with them to help keep them cool.

“I freeze it the day before,” Roberts said. “That way you can at least have some cool water most of the morning.”

Obviously, even with the greatest care taken to eliminate odors, mosquitoes are still a problem — particularly in Louisiana.

“In Mississippi, our mosquitoes aren’t as bad as they are in Louisiana,” White said. “That’s a fact.”

Aucoin knows all about this, since he hunts in marshy and swampy areas swarming with the blood-thirsty insects.

All of these hunters avoid the use of spray repellents.

“I don’t want to use anything the deer can smell,” he said. “If you’re going to do that, you might was well stay at home.”

So how can he and his fellow hot-weather hunters stand it?

Roberts, as stated earlier, wears Bug Tamer pants to protect his legs. The same company also manufactures light-weight jackets.

Also, Roberts said he reduces the amount of mosquitoes present by carefully avoiding infested areas by focusing on the edges of forests.

“That keeps you away from mosquitoes,” he said.

Of course, Aucoin’s stomping grounds don’t offer such options — particularly when he’s set up on a marsh island at the mouth of the Atchafalaya River.

“I always wear a long-sleeved shirt with a T-shirt underneath,” he said.

That allows him to walk to his stand wearing a short-sleeved shirt, and then add some protection from the mosquitoes once he’s on the stand by adding the long-sleeved shirt.

All of his clothes have been treated with Permonone — a repellent designed for use only on clothing — before leaving his house.

“It’s odorless, and lasts through several washings,” he said.

He also wears gloves.

“You have to have gloves to protect your hands,” Aucoin said.

The final accoutrement covers the head.

“I always wear a head net while bow hunting, even if the mosquitoes are not bad,” Aucoin said. “I like the concealment.”

But Fromenthal said that, even with all of these precautions, much of the hunt comes right down to luck.

“You do all these extra things, but at the end of the day, you’re targeting probably the most highly evolved species you can hunt on the North American continent,” he said.

But it still beats sitting at home watching hunting videos and bemoaning the warm weather.

“I love to deer hunt so much that I will endure most any condition to do it. The long walks, pesky mosquitoes and extreme heat are just a part of the hunt for me,” Aucoin said. “Am I glad it’s hot? Heck no, but the season only lasts a few months, and I would rather be there than here.”

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.