Shooting in terrible conditions is a nightmare that every hunter dreads. Those bold enough to continue hunting regardless of the conditions deserve recognition for their tenacity. However, some hunters might be unaware of the factors involved in certain conditions and others might know that some “bad” conditions are actually misconceptions.
Boldness will only get you so far. Hunting in bad conditions comes down to experience and practice. Every extremity requires a different understanding of the environment in each particular situation. Sometimes it’s knowing how to read wind patterns, while other times it’s a matter of not passing out from extreme heat. No matter what the situation, preparation is key if you want to turn a hunt in unfavorable conditions to a favorable one.
Rain isn’t really considered an unfavorable condition, unless it’s a downpour. I think it’s more of a misconception for some. Worst case scenario:
- Your vision is impaired at a distance during a downpour.
- Your gun becomes slippery and you drop it or misfire.
- Your scope fogs up due to condensation.
You can’t really get away from the first factor. If it’s a downpour, then best of luck. If you’re clumsy, it happens, but you can purchase some gloves that will give you more friction on the handle. For foggy lenses, you can purchase anti-fog clothes or Cat Crap, which is an anti-fog lens cleaner. The good news is when it comes to shooting; rain has no affect on your bullet’s trajectory.
Snow, similar to rain, doesn’t affect a bullet’s trajectory. It’s the cold that comes with snow that makes it difficult to shoot. Worst case scenario:
- Your vision is impaired at a distance during a blizzard.
- Your hands get numb and/or lock up.
- Your trigger or bolt sticks.
Again, you can’t really get away from a blizzard if you still want to hunt. Just wait it out if you can. Get some hand warmers or some highly-insulated, thermal gloves to keep your hands comfortable for steady shooting. If your trigger or bolt sticks, this could be due to the snow sticking to or getting into the crevasses of the gun. I imagine this will only happen after much exposure to snow or if it’s freezing rain. Keep one hand covering the trigger and bolt areas of your gun, so snow can’t stick and harden on these parts.
Extremely hot or cold weather each play a significant role with bullet trajectory and the shooter during a hunt.
Hot vs. Cold
Bullet Trajectory: A bullet will drop less the hotter it is because the air is thinner. It will also have a greater impact. For every 20 degree drop in temperature, a bullet will average a 50 inch drop in trajectory (Source: LongrangeBPCR.com). This of course will be difficult to see the difference without practicing. Practice shooting in various weather conditions to get a feel for this change in trajectory.
Shooter: Hot or cold, the shooter faces many factors that influence accuracy and even stamina.
- Cold: This was mostly covered above. The main thing to take away from cold temperatures is to be prepared and stay as warm as you can.
- Hot: This is a bit more difficult to stay comfortable and to shoot with accuracy.
- Mirages: High temperatures can trick a shooter with an illusion in the distance or a “mirage”. A mirage creates distortion and noise for a hunter and leads him/her to believe something is moving when it actually isn’t or there’s nothing there at all. Only take a shot if the target is close enough. If the target is in the shade of trees and not in a field, then there will be no or less of a mirage effect, since the shaded areas are cooler.
- Sweat: There’s nothing more annoying than having to wipe your brow every minute. Sweat is very distracting and causes temporary visual impairments. Wear a headband or bring a small towel to soak up that extra sweat, both camouflage or orange. You don’t want to be waving a white flag. The towel is also good for your hands, so your fingers or hands don’t slip. Staying hydrated will help stay cool, so make sure to carry a canteen at all times.
Wind is the granddaddy of all the unfavorable conditions. It plays its advantages when it’s steady and soft and if hunting with a muzzleloader, since the wind blows the smoke out of the way to see your target. The wind that every hunter hates is the gusty, unpredictable types.
Pattern Wind: For inexperienced hunters, even a pattern wind can be “unfavorable”, but in the long run it’s favorable in comparison to gusty winds. With pattern winds, time your shots and pay attention to your surroundings, such as trees and leaves, for indicators of wind shifts.
Gusty, Unpredictable Wind: Even for experienced hunters, this can be quite the challenge. Patience is an important characteristic to have when shooting in these conditions. You have to wait, pay attention to its “pattern” and time the shot.
- Wait it out: Sometimes the best strategy to overcome poor wind conditions is to wait. Even if you wait for a few seconds of calm, this could be your window of opportunity to shoot, so be patience and at the ready.
- Pick up on “patterns”: Look for indicators of direction, speed and irregularity. Wind can change direction almost instantly and it can also move in multiple directions. If shooting across a field, the wind might be moving in a different direction on either side of the field. Look at tall grass and leaves swaying for directional cues.
- Time the shot: Once you have an idea of the “pattern”, wait for the calmest moment in its movement then take your shot. If you notice a change in the pattern, adjust accordingly.
Live to Shoot another Day
If you’re ever in doubt about a shot in unfavorable conditions, then it might be a good idea to walk away and live to shoot another day, especially if it’s not the end of the hunting season. If the weather conditions are better the next day, then chances are it’s not worth ruining your hunting spot by scaring off your prey for a better shot you could have tomorrow.
One thing is for certain, though; practice makes perfect. Practice gives you the confidence you need to nab that prized prey you’ve always wanted or become an expert with a rifle. With enough practice, you’ll discover that any unfavorable condition turns out to be like any other day on a hunt and won’t be phased when it’s time to fire.
About the author
Sam Ott is a professional hunting outfitters in Missouri and Iowa who have thousands of acres of plentiful hunting land with game for the taking.