Our Outdoors: In the Wind
I’ve been on both sides of the wind in many of my outdoor adventures but none more notable than last week, when the well-worn mooring rope on the cleat of my boat broke and my boys and I had the stunning experience of heading down from the parking lot to the launch dock to see the old Lund about 40 yards out in the bay, with a portion of the red tether dangling off the side and the other part still attached to the dock. (Yet one more thing to throw in my hole in the water, as discussed at length last week.) Watching the boat slowly drift away, I felt a small shift from the southwest to a more westerly flow and the boat began moving to the nearest possible curve in the shoreline with the wind, as if mother nature was saying, “I hope you learned your lesson, now here’s your boat back.” Beyond a little mud on our shoes from the shore and a wet wade for me, I had both boys back on the bow and we were humming out of the bay about 15 minutes after the escapade began.
Like most elements of nature, the wind can be both friend and foe to hunters and anglers throughout the upper Midwest, one of the North American continent’s most gusty regions. A light breeze brings the scent of a covey of sharptailed grouse tucked in the sage and prairie grass to the nose of my dog and lights up a hunt like the sizzle and crack of a fuse leading up to a package of TNT. A strong gale makes maintaining the position of a boat at times impossible and, in some cases, downright dangerous as whitecaps roll and splash over the gunwales and the bow plows through the oversized crests. Aligning with the wind allows a deer hunter to send his or her odor down the draw and away from the trail where the wary nostrils of a moving whitetail won’t pick it up and a shot can be made, but too much intensity in the invisible force means most deer won’t be moving.
Spring is one of the windiest seasons with speeds whipsawing as fronts move through and the jet stream struggles to find its summer pattern, which generally rests farther north in the warmer months, stabilized by the seasonal atmospheric boundaries settling in. Additionally, the direction of the wind is prone to change from day to day or system to system – or moment to moment, as my recent experience reminded me – and anglers know to keep an eye on any stabilization from a certain direction to help target their quarry. As the wind drives water in a consistent direction and pushes it up to a given shore, carrying along with it transient portions of the food chain – microscopic plankton, small insects and baitfish – it muddies up the water, allowing predators like walleyes to go shallow and gorge. The breezes providing a valuable clue as to where to go if they’ve stayed from the same direction for much longer than a day.
There are also times where nature seems to defy the wind, because other factors at play are greater in their influence than the rising breezes. I have sat in a deer stand that has shaken with sustained thirty- mile-per-hour gusts on the opener of firearms season, fully expecting no deer activity but going out because it was tradition. With those anticipations low, I was surprised to watch a parade of two dozen deer run, chase and engage in rut-driven fun for an hour in front of my perch, all the time using one hand to cling to my gun and the other to hold tight to the rail of the stand as it moved under the might of the waving cottonwood it was attached to. While such situations are rare, there are times when other weather conditions like snow deposits left by recent storms move animals around and birds can be found on the downwind side, as opposed to the upwind edges where I like to finish out on a walk.
The wind plays many roles: ally in finding fish and game, spoiler of best-laid plans, enemy to certain activities and even close friend in the heat of a late summer hike. Sometimes it acts out all of those roles and more in a single day, making it one of the most challenging and unpredictable forces we as hunters and anglers experience…in our outdoors.