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High Plains Outdoors: Wind -- Friend and Foe

Luke Clayton
The wind is one of the most overlooked pieces of the outdoor puzzle. A skilled bush pilot bringing a float plane to dock on a windy day requires much skill and is an amazing sight.

Setting on a hillside in Palo Pinto County last week on the Dale River Ranch, I overlooked a little valley that led down to a creek that joined the Brazos a half mile or so to the north. My goal was to use my trusty old box call to entice a gobbler out of the heavy cover.

On my way driving into the ranch, I stopped at a low water crossing to change into my camo and when I shut the truck door, I heard several gobblers sounding off close by. The birds were sticking in extremely tight cover and I wondered why. Normally during the early portion of the breeding season, they are strutting around and gobbling in relatively open country, hoping to attract a receptive hen.  Had they just come off the roost? Probably not, there were no big roost trees nearby, just a lot of thick junipers and low growing brush common to the area.

Hunting gives one a good bit of time to reflect and ‘ponder’ on things. Setting on that hillside I found myself wondering just why the birds were not responding to my plaintive hen yelps. The wind was blowing a steady 20 knots with gusts somewhat higher every few minutes. I began thinking about just how much the wind influences those of us that hunt and fish. Wind might just be the single most influential factor when it comes to pattering fish and wildlife. We watch the wind closely when hunting, always making sure to set up to hunt downwind of where we expect game to appear. Once big game animals such as deer and hogs get a whiff of ‘human’ they disappear quickly.

A good case is point was during the last hour or so of this recent day I spent turkey hunting. My buddy Randy Douglas who manages the ranch informed me of a feeder that hogs were frequenting on a daily basis, usually showing up during the last few minutes of shooting light. I was hunting with my 45 caliber Texan big bore air rifle and wanted the shot to be within 60 yards. My goal was to drop the hog in it’s tracks. I didn’t wish to do a lot of tracking in the dark, especially after a full day of turkey hunting. The wind was still howling but I guessed it would not interfere with a feeding pattern the hogs had been using for the past several days. I set my hunting chair up in the edge of a thick cedar tree about fifty yards for the feeder and, sure enough, during the last minute or so of shooting light, I harvested a fat ‘eater’ sow that weighed about 125 pounds. Had I not ‘played the wind’, my scent could easily have spooked the sounder of hogs that came in for their evening snack of shelled corn.  Had it been deer season and I been after a big buck, chances are pretty good my hunt would have been fruitless. Deer and most game animals simply do not move during very windy conditions. The wind causes everything in their environment to be in motion and they lose the ability to use their nose to detect danger.

Fishermen are equally influenced by the wind from the time they launch their boats during windy conditions to the way they have to approach a dock or tree from downwind to tie the bow of their boat. I remember watching a veteran bush pilot pull his float plane up to a dock during a gale a couple years ago up in northern Saskatchewan. This was the most amazing display of piloting and sailing skills I had ever witnessed. Several of us were at the dock, waiting on the plane to carry us back to civilization. The pilot landed his float plane out in open water, downwind of the dock and used the engine/ wind to expertly maneuver his plane precisely up to the dock where it was quickly secured with ropes.  

We fishermen must or should pay close attention to the wind when casting for bass or striper, especially when using level wind reels. Even with today’s state of the art reels with very precise line tension adjustments, it’s next to impossible to cast very far into the wind without the dreaded backlash. Did you ever try to use a fly rod to cast into the wind? This is a feat that is best left to far more skillful anglers that I! The wind speed and direction affects where we fish also. During the winter, after freezing weather causes a major shad kill, the dead baitfish are often blown up in huge numbers in the shallows just out from shore and hordes of catfish move in for the easy pickings. Striper and white bass anglers often fish the windy side of major lake points during the morning hours because shad move shallow in these areas during the evening to feed on zooplankton and the game fish are there for the easy pickings.

Did you ever try to load your boat after a fishing trip during very windy conditions? Hitting those 12 inch long rollers on the trailer with keel of the boat requires excellent hand to eye coordination and a few principals of sailing must be employed as well. Back ‘in the day’ my boat trailers didn’t have side ‘guide rails’ that automatically center the boat on the trailer.

Yep, if we hunt or fish, the wind definitely is a natural phenomenon that we must learn to deal with. It’s just another piece of the intriguing outdoor puzzle that keeps our skill level whetted, whether we realize it or not.

Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton through his website  www.catfishradio.org

Outdoors writer, radio host and book author Luke Clayton has been addicted to everything outdoors related since his childhood when he grew up hunting and fishing in rural northeast Texas. Luke pens a weekly newspaper column that appears in over thirty newspapers.