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Thermals vs. Wind Direction: Set up downhill or uphill?

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Thermals vs. Wind Direction: Set up downhill or uphill?

Old 11-15-2018, 06:21 PM
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Default Thermals vs. Wind Direction: Set up downhill or uphill?

Hi y'all,

Going to hunt in some hilly country this Saturday (near the VA-WV state line), and I'm faced with a choice for where to set up at first light before still hunting the rest of the day (should the need arise).

There's a long ridge that runs the boundary between this property and public land; the top of the ridge (just under 3000 ft) is about 800 ft higher the lowest point in the property (~2200 ft). For a stretch of at least 325 yards, everything between the ridgetop and the valley is hunt-able for me and the 3 other people I'll be hunting with.
Perpendicular to the big ridge are several "hollers," which means nearly twice as many potential deer highways.

From years past, I know one in particular has massive traffic on it as the deer move uphill to bed during the day. Till now the strategy has always been to begin somewhere closer to the bottom of it; it was just easier in the dark, and we thought the deer's evening beds may be closer to the clear-cuts in the valley. But I've come to realize traffic tends to be limited to does and fawns near the foot of this ridge, right after the start of shooting light.
I'm therefore thinking that perhaps this year, I should be sitting at the foot of a tree at least 100 yards up (or more) on that perpendicular ridge. The wind almost always blows uphill, but also sideways toward the property line, away from the "highway" (forecast says it'll do the same). However, I'm worried that the thermals that early in the morning will not be rising yet, but going downhill, and could ruin our chances of seeing a buck moving up this "highway" from directly below us.

Is there a certain threshold of wind that could overpower the early morning downhill thermals? Or do the thermals win, most every time, meaning it's best to await first light near the bottom, no matter what?
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Old 11-16-2018, 06:56 AM
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Young gun, it's an interesting question. I can't be a hundred percent certain, but I suspect the thermals will work in your favor. My reading about them has always proposed that getting on a ridge early will take advantage of morning thermals as they rise. They take your scent up and away. The downward-moving thermal you are concerned about is not mentioned as any sort of problem in pre-shooting morning. It may exist, but it doesn't seem to be a serious problem.

See what others say, but I would look at it this way if I were in your situation: I'd need to be where the deer are going, and that means being exactly where you are thinking: 100 yards up at the foot of a tree on that ridge well before sunlight. I'd do it on the premise that using thermals is a proven tactic that leads to hunting success.

Is there any way to be off of "the highway" rather than directly above? That might allow any downward thermal to take your scent to a harmless place.

Another idea: read up on "thermal tunnels." not long ago, I read something on thermals that said there can be places on ridges, especially benches, where intersecting wind and thermals react to create a sort of circulating swirl. The currents don't go up or down but "round and round". A hunter in one can keep his scent localized around himself and that gives him an advantage.

if you can locate a bench on that ridge, that would be gold in any case. A big buck comes up the holler (maybe even getting pushed up by your buddies near the bottom), hits the bench, and gallops along it for his daily snooze. Except you're sitting there waiting on him.
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Old 11-16-2018, 10:29 AM
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I had one spot where I'd often set up. It was more a steep hill than a ridge, 30% slope. I'd set up facing the length of the slope near the base with an open area behind me, not much chance of them crossing the open area. The hill was on my left, most often mornings. I hunted that spot for years and never saw anything crossing left to right, they were always crossing right to left, from the bottom to the top. I had good vision onto the slope, mostly high weeds. Eventually I caught on, my scent was going up that slope. A few times I snaked up that slope through good cover to have a view of the top of the slope where it leveled out some. Most times there was game at the top of the slope. I went up there a few times and it looked liked liked a zoo up there, a lot of game. Which made me think my scent went up the slope and then kept right on going up to harmless places. My best guess is it may not be a rule, but may be kind of a localized thing. Trees can change the dynamic some, there is usually a temperature difference between thick stands of trees and the open areas.

Last edited by MudderChuck; 11-16-2018 at 10:39 AM.
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Old 11-16-2018, 01:31 PM
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I found that "hollers" tend to make the wind currents swirl around, which would make it easier for a deer to scent a hunter that is down in a bottom.

I think your pick of a 100 yards up the ridge is a good spot for a stand. My brother had many years of good luck harvesting deer, with his stand about 100 yards up the mountain ridge; since it would make it easier for him to see both uphill and downhill.

I believe the wind thermals switch around 10 am and 4 pm respectively.

Good luck...

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Old 11-25-2018, 06:08 PM
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Well, unfortunately we ended up not getting everybody out of the house in time to have enough time to work our way up the hill. Had to settle for sticking around the low area till shooting light before working our way up after not seeing anything.

After we ascended, we identified some excellent saddles for next time, and saw several does crossing them. I shot a yearling, which ordinarily I wouldn't do, but the circumstances were particularly tough. I was going to take what I could get.

There had been some snowfall a couple of days prior; at some point between then and the day of the hunt, the snow melted in the canopies, forming icicles. But when the sun hit them the day before our hunt, the icicles came loose, shattering on the forest floor where the sun doesn't shine much of the day. As a result, the forest floor was absolutely covered with ice shards (from a distance, it looked like snow all over the forest, but was actually ice), and every step we took sounding like crushing glass. You can imagine how hard it was to sneak up on anything.
My dad and I decided it was best to ascend all the way to the "laurel line" near the top of the main ridge, in the hopes that being above where the deer are bedded would be better for dissipating the sound of the ice underfoot, perhaps giving us a chance to get a shot. We were also stopping a lot more often, and for longer periods of time, than we had in years past. When we came to a point where the laurel line jutted out to form a "peninsula" surrounded by big woods/mature timber on all but the uphill side, we decided to slowly go straight through instead of around it. Just before we reached the edge of the laurel cover, the yearling made a break for it down a "superhighway" holler-forming ridge from somewhere either straight ahead and level with us or slightly uphill. It stopped about 85 yards away, and I fired an offhand shot into its shoulder for a DRT kill (I had been aiming for the center of the vitals just behind/under the shoulder...so giving myself the wide margin of error by not going for a shoulder or heart from the get-go paid off). On such a small target at that range, with an older Remington trigger, you can imagine how much I had to focus on trigger pull!
Dad later bagged a more mature doe.

Because we were taking the deer back to Tennessee the next day, and the new regulations forbid "importing" any cervid bones from any state that has documented cases of CWD (and Virginia is one of them), we had to de-bone the deer ourselves. It was my first time doing it, therefore slow going, but it was ultimately marvelously rewarding. I don't think we're ever going back to a processor. Got a vacuum sealer, and going to be on the lookout for a grinder for the "scraps," front shoulder/shanks, and neck meat.
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Old 11-27-2018, 04:43 PM
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Warm air rises in the morning, and drops in the evening. So in perfect world, top of the hill in the morning.
Though lots of people use elevated stands all day long.
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