Whitetail Bowhunting in the Rain: I can’t count how many times I’ve been wet and cold while bowhunting whitetails. In north Idaho, where I hunt most, it’s common to climb into a dark morning stand under sifting snow, which slowly turns to slush and finally rain. By 10 o’clock I’m soaked to the skin and borderline hypothermic—hardly conducive to making my best shot.
Wet weather is common during the November rut. Is it possible to stay dry and stealthy?
November is one of the wettest periods in the Inland Northwest where I bowhunt whitetail near home. The problem is that the highly scattered signboard scrapes I depend on most for rut-time success in vast, mountainous big woods habitats are most productive when moisture prevails. Wet weather means big bucks showing regularly on camera are more apt to appear and freshen a rain-washed scrape.
Of course, Whitetail Bowhunting in the Rain comes with unique responsibilities. A wounded deer under wet skies is more easily lost, as tracking sign is quickly erased. I anticipate this possibility by using the most aggressive broadheads possible. In most states this would point to a wide-cutting mechanical. In Idaho, where mechanicals are illegal for big game, it means something like G5’s Striker XL series (3- and 4-blade fixed heads cutting 1 ¼-inch), Quality Archery Designs’ Exodus (3-blade cutting 1 ¼-inch) or Steel Force Big Phathead (4-blade cut-on-contact, 1 ½-inch). The idea is to turn any marginal hit—particularly after a string jump—into a mortal one.
The responsibility of making an instantly mortal shot often requires waiting, leaving a target buck in range longer, or maneuvering on stand for a more comfortable shooting position. This is challenging in itself, as whitetail are universally spooky, especially Idaho whitetail hunted year-round by mountain lions or wolves. There is no way around the fact rain gear typically comes with additional fabric rustles and swishes, particularly in weather just a few degrees above freezing. Combine the impermeable nature of even modern waterproof membranes with cold and added noise is inevitable.
In times past talking rain gear and bowhunting in the same sentence would be considered an oxymoron. The situation has improved to a considerable degree, though is far from perfect. Perfect would be something like natural wool or old-style Polar Fleece. A complete nonstarter would include anything with plastic-like nylon shells. Somewhere in the middle are waterproof, breathable membranes covered by thick layers of polyester fleece with a Durable Waterproof Repellent, or DWR, and perhaps even muffling insulating materials (more momentarily). That membrane is still going to rustle, but such materials help hush that noise.
Now, to be quite honest, every waterproof garment maker will tell you their rain gear is quiet. But there is a big difference between silence in a duck or even a rifle-hunting blind and while sitting on a bowhunting stand. Rugged waterfowling shells are the reason most of us have traditionally avoided bowhunting in the rain altogether, or sucked it up as long as possible and became drenched and slowly hypothermic sitting without rain gear.
Gore-Tex set the standard for everything to come, a proprietary rubberized membrane with microscopic, one-way vents that keep moisture out but allows heat vapors to escape, helping us avoid overheating and sweat (to a point). Similar products followed, some better than others. The rubberized-canvas rain gear grandpa used, for instance, could turn you as wet on the inside from accumulated perspiration as the outside from rain. Rain gear that doesn’t breathe will leave you feeling clammy and sticky and eventually lead to chills. Staying dry from the inside out assures comfort and the ability to stay on stand longer in wet, chilly conditions.
At bare minimum bowhunting rain gear must also include a silent fleece shell that doesn’t produce noise of its own while moving, and especially while making the conspicuous move of drawing a bow. No rain gear is as quiet as virgin wool or unlined fleece, but it’s a start. Ideally, a little wind, pattering rain and dripping foliage accompanying the moisture you are enduring will cover the slight rustles produced by a cold waterproof membrane.
Obviously not all waterproof membranes are created equal, just as not all white-tailed deer are as tightly wound as my predator-neurotic Idaho bucks. You know what your deer will tolerate better than I, as well as prevailing conditions (frequent wind verses dead-still days) but I still find it highly important to audition several raingear options while shopping. Grab a sleeve and flap it aggressively. Scratch the fabric surface with your fingernails. If a garment seems crackly and whooshy in a warm store under piped-in background music, imagine what it will sound like on a quiet stand. Sometimes a couple washings and rides through the clothes drier will soften material, but it’s best to start from the quietest point initially.
Finding quiet waterproof gear is actually easier in a whitetail arena, as thicker cold-weather shells, inner linings and quilted insulation improve dampening around the interior membrane. A big problem in the past was outer shells becoming saturated, heavy and saggy, posing potential bowstring interference. Durable Water Repellent/DWR finishes have largely solved this problem, effectively beading and shedding exterior moisture. If you’re dealing with only light drizzle, in fact, outer attire without noisy membranes but including such treatments can prove adequate.
Whitetail Bowhunting in the Rain: All of that said, in my part of the world it is common to face wet and dripping woods with hanging fog creating near 100 percent humidity and a dead-still atmosphere that seems to amplify every sound. Any membrane garment (water or wind proof) doesn’t pass muster with our super-charged whitetails. I manage to stay on stand longer by layering up, donning base and insulating layers, and then rain gear, with a wool (my Sleeping Indian wool is “shingled,” so sheds water relatively well for such material) or thick fleece jacket with DWR treatment, added as a final shell. This keeps you dry and warm, while also introducing an added buffering layer to muffle interior membrane rustle. It’s often just enough to allow drawing on the spookiest deer.
Bowhunting in the rain comes with inherent risks and the need to be even more careful with the shots you take and arrow placement, but during the November rut sometimes it’s a necessary evil. Staying dry is paramount to staying warm and in the game. Choosing bowhunting your rain gear wisely can also allow continued stealth.
Whitetail Bowhunting in the Rain
As always see more tips at insidearchery.com