Hunting in the Heat: Tips and Warnings for Early Season Hunts

a man hunting in the summer

At school, I was different from most of my classmates. They grew sadder and sadder as August advanced, because it meant the end of summer break, and back to school again. I was looking forward to it, as the end of summer meant the beginning of the hunting season. Little did I care that these early season hunts come with a set of unique challenges, dictated by the fact that they must often take place in scorching heat. In this blog, we delve into how the heat influences game animals and hunting practices, and what you can do to be prepared for them. 

Hot Weather And Big-Game Hunting

Hot weather has a profound impact on the behavior of game animals. To survive in high-temperature conditions, animals will alter their patterns to stay cool and conserve energy. If you’ve always been hunting deer and elk in the rut or post-rut, you may be in for a few unpleasant surprises when you set your sights for an early season buck or bull with antlers in the velvet. 

Deer will seek shade and water sources during the heat of the day, and may reduce their daytime activity to near zero, pushing their feeding patterns to the cooler dusk and dawn hours, or even into the night. Elk may become almost fully nocturnal during periods of hot weather. In addition, they may undertake a migration to higher elevations, where they can dwell in cooler, shady areas during the day. They would typically dwell in prefer mature, thick forests, where they have an edge on you, tending to stay near water sources both for hydration and because the surrounding vegetation is usually lush and good for feeding.

Learn more about behavior of game animals from our blog.

This means that spot-and-stalk may not be the most efficient method for early season hunts. Spotting is further complicated by the treacherous plays of the hot currents, creating haloes and mirages. Still-hunting, or hunting from a tree stand near a water source may be your best bet. Focus on the very first and very last minutes of shooting light, as the animals are likely to be more active at the time.

Hot Weather and Bird Hunting

Early season waterfowl hunts may also be completely different from mid to late season. Blinds and large decoy spreads, essential for hunting migratory waterfowl, are all but useless on the local ducks which are the quarry of the early seasons. Their daily movement from resting areas to the places where they feed are not affected by presence or absence of other flocks. Pass shooting in the early morning and late afternoon, and jump shooting in the middle of the day are the methods of choice. 

For upland bird hunters, the hotter periods at the start of the season often present a dilemma. On the one hand, such birds as the Hungarian (gray) partridge hold the point the better the less mature the new birds are. Furthermore, the birds are more likely to be found in the shaded areas, where they will trust their camouflage cover and hide, rather than fly off well out of range. On the other hand, they move less, and are more difficult for the dog to smell. Heat also makes it harder on the dogs. 

Heat, Scent, and the Hunter

One factor that you need to bear in mind is hot weather can make it easier for animals to smell you. This is due to several factors, the most important being our unique way of cooling our bodies: the sweat. The hotter it is, the more you sweat. The smell of sweat can carry on the wind and alert game animals to your presence. Hot weather also affects the way scent travels. In the early morning, when the ground is still cool, thermal currents tend to rise, which can carry your scent upward and away. But as the ground heats up later in the day, these currents can shift and begin to flow downhill.

a deer with antlers in velvet
A chance to harvest a deer in velvet attracts many hunters to early season hunts.

To counter these effects, wear clothing designed to control scent. You may also use scent-eliminating sprays on your clothing and gear. These products are designed to neutralize human odors and can be very effective when used correctly. Regular bathing and using scent-free soaps can also reduce the amount of human odor you emit. It may also be beneficial to avoid consuming strong-smelling foods before a hunt, as these can come out in your sweat.

Another dilemma for early season hunts is brought to you by the creatures that hunt you: mosquitoes and other bloodsuckers. When you’re not hunting, you may solve this problem with a repellent. However, most common repellents have a strong, distinctive smell, that can spook game. Opt for scent-free insect repellents specially designed for hunters. Another option is to wear clothing treated with permethrin, which can keep insects at bay without alarming your prey.

Some hunters use cover scents or attractants to mask their own scent or to draw game towards them. This can be especially useful in hot weather when your scent may be more noticeable. But the most essential method of scent control is the one we have been practicing since stone age: be aware of the wind direction, and position yourself downwind of the game to avoid your scent being carried directly to them.

What to Wear in Hot Weather? 

When hunting in temperatures above 25°C (77°F), it’s crucial to choose the right gear. The key elements to consider are breathability, protection, and comfort. Moisture-wicking underwear is a must. Avoid short sleeves and shorts. Your hunting clothes should give you protection against sun, bugs, and brush, which is why you need long sleeves and full-leg pants (although convertible pants, which can be zipped off into shorts if temperatures climb higher, may be a good idea). Top your attire with a hat that provides ample shade for your face, neck, and ears.

The fabric must be lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking. Choose materials that resist tearing and abrasion from walking through tough terrain (especially for pants) and offer UV protection (especially for shirt and hat). Merino wool is an excellent material, but for hunting in the summer opt for synthetic blends. Forget “natural is best” – cotton is your worst enemy, especially for underwear. It absorbs and retains sweat, which doesn’t only leave you feeling uncomfortable, but also increases the likelihood of the animals detecting you by smell. 

Hunting takes place in different environments, from hottest to coldest. Watch more videos like that on our YouTube channel.

Boots are the most important and the most overlooked item of hunter’s wear. It goes without saying your hunting boots must offer excellent support and good grip, and for hunting in the heat, be lightweight, breathable, and water-resistant in case you come across any bodies of water. For waterfowl hunting in the summer, depending on the area, chest waders may be an extra burden: if experienced locals prefer a combination of quick-drying pants and footwear that doesn’t keep water in, follow suit. Choose synthetic blend socks that wick moisture away from your skin and have natural anti-microbial properties that help prevent odor and keep your feet dry.

Choose light-colored camo that reflects sunlight and matches your hunting environment. If you are hunting in an area where hunter orange is required, ensure that you are wearing the appropriate amount. A lightweight vest or pack can be useful for carrying essentials. Some come with hydration bladder compatibility, which is beneficial in hot weather hunting.

Health Risks Associated with Hunting in the Heat

Hunting in the heat comes with health risks such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and sunburn. None of these should be taken lightly. Sunburn, once an inalienable part of a child’s summer, may lead to development of melanoma, one of the most lethal types of cancer. And a combination of physical extortion, dehydration, and extreme heat can do you in in as little as 24 hours. It’s vital to stay hydrated, take frequent breaks, and seek shade whenever possible. Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing and a hat to protect against the sun, and always have a high-SPF sunscreen at hand.

Hunting dogs, like their human companions, can suffer from heat-related illnesses, and in fact even more so. Their cooling system – panting – is less efficient than ours, and at the same time a pointer may cover ten times more distance than its handler in the course of the same hunt, and at a much higher speed. Provide plenty of water and allow for frequent rest periods in the shade. Be mindful of hot ground surfaces, which can burn a dog’s paws. Consider using booties to protect their feet. Monitor your dog closely for signs of overheating such as excessive panting, drooling, unsteady gait, and lethargy. Provided there are no dangers such as alligators, never miss a chance to let your four-pawed companion take a dip in a pool or stream.

Hunting dogs require special care in the heat
Hunting dogs require special care in hot weather.

Last but not the least, the gun safety. As temperatures rise, the pressure within ammunition can increase, which might result in higher muzzle velocities. Although the change is usually minor and unlikely to have a dramatic effect on accuracy, it’s worth bearing in mind. The important thing is to keep your firearms clean and properly lubricated. Wrong gun oil, that either gums under heat, or doesn’t have enough viscosity and evaporates, may lead to jams. 

Think About Your Harvest. 

Field dress the animal as soon as possible, to get rid of the parts that go bad first, as well as to allow the body heat to escape. Be sure to remove all internal organs, as these can spoil quickly and affect the meat quality. Leave the birds in their feather, and smaller mammals unskinned, till you get them home or to the lodge where they can be cooled. For bigger animals, it may be better to quarter the animal in the field, rather than trying to cool down the whole carcass. The smaller pieces will cool down more quickly.

After field dressing, get the meat cooled down to below 4°C (40°F) as quickly as possible. Game bags can be used to protect the meat from insects and dirt while allowing air to circulate and help cool the carcass. Filling the body cavity with ice packs or bagged ice after field dressing will help lower the carcass temperature, but make sure ice does not come into direct contact with the meat. 

If possible, hang the carcass in a shaded, breezy area. Remember to cover it to protect from insects. It’s essential to keep everything as clean as possible to prevent introducing additional bacteria. If you hunt in hot weather on a regular basis, you may want to invest in a high-quality cooler.

Do Go on Summer Hunts

Despite the challenges, hunting in the heat can be a rewarding experience with a bit of careful preparation and mindfulness. Be conscious of the behavior changes in game, consider the heat’s impact on scent, defend against insects wisely, understand your hunting arms’ performance, and most importantly, look after your health and that of your hunting dogs. With these tips and warnings, you’re ready to tackle early season hunts head-on. Happy hunting!

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