Friday, January 31, 2014

Fish the Falling Barometer

Normally magic time, but a steady/rising barometer shut the fishing down.
Large winter storm systems cause big swings in atmospheric pressure. We measure that pressure change with a barometer. In my experience, atmospheric pressure changes seem to have a tremendous impact on how sluggish or aggressive the fishing activity can be. We've got another storm moving in this weekend and it aims to bring more snow into the state. A swinging barometer could also make or break your ice fishing trip, so I put together a look at the temperature and barometric trends this weekend.
A winter storm brings a low barometer Saturday morning.
High pressure moves in for Sunday with colder temps.

I don't pretend to know much at all about ice fishing and the exact reasons why the bite is or isn't good. It always amazes me to sit next to your buddy just a few feet away when they're reeling them in and I haven't had a bite. Fish often relate very closely to structure and that can place you right on top of the hot hole, or too far away and in the middle of a featureless and fishless abyss. That's not to say you wont still catch a few fish cruising by in those locations, but often the action is slow. I do believe that weather effects the bite and I tested this theory this past Wednesday.
Heather with her first ice fish :)

We had mostly sunny skies and a relatively high barometer. Ice thickness was right around 12" of clear stuff, but the winds had whipped up and it was very chatty ice popping and cracking throughout the trip. I located some sunken Christmas trees in a flat with 10' of water. Once I located the active hole around 2pm, the fishing was pretty steady. Within 1 hour the barometer dropped slowly I had landed 10 small White Crappie. From 3pm to 4:30pm the barometer dropped quickly and I landed 50 more fish from that same hole. As sunset approached (5:26pm) I expected the typical increase in fishing activity. I only had a few bites from 4:30pm until dark and landed only one more fish. The barometer was steady during that time.
Blue sky, falling barometer and plenty of fishing action.

If you're fishing the falling barometer, Friday afternoon and before daybreak Saturday morning will be the best times to fish. Sunday afternoon/evening will also be a fair-to-good bite by the barometer. Saturday afternoon looks slow and steady, and Sunday morning the activity may be very sluggish.
Dusty got a little happy with the ice auger. Good work!

Good luck, and maybe I'll see you on the hard-water Saturday. Hopefully we'll both have a pile of fish!

Friday, January 17, 2014

One Last Hurrah

Iowa hunters have one last chance at filling a tag and the freezer with venison for the 2013 hunting season. The weather wont make it easy though as another storm takes aim at the state but then again, the weather has been pretty wild all season.

From thunderstorms with hail during the rut to near record cold temps and freezing rain in late season, the weather challenged hunters and their quarry.

The best deer hunting conditions boil down to two scenarios. The best in my opinion is associated with a falling barometer, cold temps, cloud cover and some form of precipitation. The other is a rising barometer, bitterly cold temps and light to moderate wind. Strong wind in any scenario tends to drive the deer to thicker cover.

Closing weekend for the January late doe season will feature strong wind on Saturday and near record Spring-like warmth on Sunday. Friday night and all of Saturday look to compile the best conditions in a hunter's favor. Sunday, temps warm substantially and the winds back down and game movement will slow way down.

I'll be ice fishing Sunday and with a slowly falling barometer the fishing action should be a lot better than the hunting. Some of the best ice fishing conditions occur when the light levels change surrounding sunrise and sunset. I've also found a dropping barometer to be good for fishing in the open water, but I haven't tested this theory much on the ice. Expect good fishing conditions Saturday morning and Sunday from sunrise to 10am and again the hour or so before sunset.

Good luck and stay safe!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Last Chance Bucks

Late season is the perfect time to take a last chance buck, but it’s often a narrow, winding and cold trail to get there. Heavy hunting pressure, the rigors of rut and unpredictable weather swings have made the Whitetail wary.

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The aggressive tactics of the most popular style of hunting deer in Iowa –deer drives- has pushed the herd into the thickest corners of cover available. The ones that have survived the orange invasion are educated, skittish and sensitive to human pressure. In many locations deer turn completely nocturnal or are scarcely seen in the daylight outside their sanctuary. Now more than ever weather is either a tremendous asset to hunting success, or an unpredictable foe.

Moving to feed.
For field watchers and stand sitters, warm air is not a friend. That comfortable sit in October-like temps usually yields very little deer movement to food sources. Arctic is our new favorite word despite the brutal cold and snow that usually accompanies that caliber of Canadian air. 40° is the new 70°, and the deer know they’re being hunted. So when it warms up, they keep their cool in the safety of thick bedding. Their bodies don’t burn as many calories and they can keep warm on a safer diet of forbs, multi-flora rose leaves and other snacks in their core area. In short, they don’t need to move, so they don’t move. Canadian cold and sub-freezing conditions stack the odds in a hunter’s favor as it draws deer from the safety of their bedding areas to stock up on food to survive the winter. Stalking and still-hunting bedding areas can work very well in warm weather. It can also produce when wind chills are atrocious as Arctic air pours more winter into Iowa.

Deer reports came flooding in in the fog and icy aftermath of the freezing drizzle event on December 20th.
Windless cold is great hunting weather. Relentless wind saps energy from hunters and deer alike making dangerous wind chills an enemy of late season stand hunter. Deer are in winter survival mode and everything is about energy balance. If a deer loses more heat from the wind, than it can gain back in food consumed, the energy bank account has experienced a withdrawl. In that situation, moving to feed was a bad decision and over time the deer would lose body mass and eventually may starve or freeze to death as a result of prolonged cold and snow. Nature has ensured the deer that understand this balance have better odds of survival and reaching maturity.

Hunting an active rub line. Activity turned nocturnal after shotgun season.
In bitter cold, big herds can be found in wind breaks, small food plots and out in the open on ridges when the winds are light. Arctic high pressure when the barometer is high and steady can be great producers of late season activity. Even better hunting weather can be found the evening before a winter storm. Easterly winds picking up, a winter gray sky, and a falling barometer with the first flakes falling send signals to the deer to feed now and stock up before the storm hits. They’ll feed heavily even as the snow is piling up and this is a great time to get set up on a food source.

Happy holidays from Heather, Harley and Me.
Hopefully you can find some time to “enjoy” the tundra-like temperatures of our Canadian heat waves over the next few weeks. Whether you’re toting the trusty smoke pole or you’re aiming for a longshot with your bow, I wish you the best of luck and happy holidays.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Second Season

The shotguns are sighted in, tags are bought and the hunting clothes laid out.

Tags are packed, let's get on with hunting season!!
For close to 100,000 Iowans the anticipation is building for opening day. Snowcover, reasonable temps and a late secondary rut may make this your year to take a big buck with a shotgun.

What more could you ask for? Reasonably cold with morning snow showers.
Sounds like good huntin' weather to me!
First off, I came across and article on and learned that this is the 60th anniversary of shotgun season here in Iowa. It seems crazy to think that the deer we hunt were nearly non-existent at the turn of the 19th century. Responsible hunting and resource management has blessed Iowans with good hunting opportunities and I am extremely proud to be a part of the shotgunning tradition.
I don't know who's more proud; father who shot or son who helped
 spot this nice 10 pt.

Opening day has Iowans grabbing the gun and heading outdoors with the blaze orange badge of a hunter. One of the things I love the most about this hunting holiday season is the fun, camaraderie and time spent with family.
Tracking, spotting, flushing all made easier by a light snow-pack.

This year there's snow on the ground and perhaps some more on the way. This is excellent news for shotgun hunters! The temperatures will also be tolerable mainly in the 20s for opening weekend with lows in the teens. Sunday morning will be frigid with fresh snow and clear sky. The fields will fill with deer at night, and morning movement should be better than average.
My first buck. Picture taken by my grandpa.

We've also got an overlap between the secondary rut and the second season of shotgun. Many bowhunters can attest the archery season was "off" and I believe rut came late this year. If that's true, the secondary peak of rut will be overlapping the first half of Iowa's second shotgun season. On the morning of December 13th I observed a beautiful, mature buck with his nose down searching the woods for a girlfriend. Young does and fawns may be coming into late cycle estrous and as a result have a bigger and antlered shadow. I'm not sure how much this will impact experienced, mature bucks when they know they're being hunted, but if they let their guard down - the inexperience of the young does should give hunters a serious edge.

One models guess on the new snow by noon Saturday. In any case, fresh snow would be  a blessing!
Next week's warm up into the 30s and 40s may be a negative factor. Deer have acclimated to the cold after a few battles with Arctic air so they may hunker down in their sanctuary instead of moving to feed in those temps. Daylight movement during the week will likely be significantly reduced due to weekend hunting pressure and the "warmer" readings on the thermometer.
Grandpa's beautiful Browning. It's just a great all-around gun!

There's a special place in my heart for deer hunting second season. This season was my introduction to deer hunting and one of the best and last memories I made with my grandpa before he passed. Normally, I hunt with the muzzleloader, but this year I'm going afield with his gun and a great group of friends. Maybe I'll hear the familiar report from the Browning 12 gauge, maybe not. But one things for sure, I'll be making more good memories with the gun that sparked my passion for hunting over a decade ago.

Good luck to you and be safe this season!