Within 30 minutes, the skies turned from a neutral grey to a pinkish-purple and then to midnight black. From my tripod seat I could tell the bottom was going to fall out of the sky any minute, but my timing was off.

I hurriedly slid down the ladder like a fireman, ran across the food plot and jumped on my ATV. I had to pick up another hunter on my way back to camp, but by the time I reached him, it was pouring sheets of rain illuminated by constant lightning.

The rain was horizontal, cutting our faces like razor blades. We could not even raise our eyes from underneath cap brims to see the road. We barely made it back under the elevated cabin before the trees looked like a hurricane news replay. We were totally soaked all the way down to our bare essentials, as was all our equipment and guns. Our deer hunt was over.

Clicking on the radio, it was not long until we heard the news that a major tornado had hit Madison only 40 miles south of our location. It leveled a whole neighborhood, but luckily there were no fatalities. It could just as easily have veered north to send our club's cabins sailing across the Big Black River to another county.

As scary as it was for us, I wondered what in the world the deer were doing during such a terrible storm. And I wondered how we could have missed such a storm coming our way.

I also questioned if we would have been better off hunting a day before the storm or after it passed. Could deer hunters use approaching or departing weather to their strategic advantage?

Staying tuned in

Weather can be one of the most frustrating factors for hunters to contend with. This is mainly because they have no control over it. What this means then is that hunters have to stay tuned in to what's going on with weather conditions well ahead of a hunting trip and even during the hunt. Things can change fast in the Magnolia State when it comes to weather and precisely how it might impact a hunt if it even does at all.

Sometimes a bad-weather front can actually improve hunting opportunities, but hunters have to be flexible with their hunting schedules, adjust accordingly, and plan appropriately to work it to their advantage. The key to working weather is obviously to know what weather is looming before, during and after a scheduled hunt.

Knowing how to hunt well begins with knowing under what field conditions the hunt will take place. Sounds simple enough, but plenty of hunters often skip the obvious steps to proper preparation and thus never quite achieve the hunting success they desire. I see it time and time again in our own hunting camp as hunters forget to bring critical gear or run short just for a lack of simple preparation and forethought.

It is amazing how many deer hunters drive into camp without the slightest knowledge about the current weather forecasts. I've had to loan hunters coats, hats, gloves and one time even a pair of boots. Sometimes I even bring an extra set of rain gear if I think a real gullywasher is about to hit, because somebody will need it.

Weather makes or breaks hunts more than anything else outside of work or family business, so it is essential that hunters pay attention to pending weather conditions. So many different ways are available today to check the weather from numerous reliable sources that it is absolutely absurd not to. So stay tuned in.

Technology geeks have no trouble getting all the weather information updates they want. Hunters are another matter, for the most part. We tend to concentrate on deer hunting strategies, tactics, new gadgets, getting gear packed, trying not to forget to put ammo in the duffle bag, and oh yeah, rummaging through the refrigerator for food to take to camp. Checking weather in advance tends to be a low priority item for many hunters. That is a big mistake.

"I hardly ever leave the house for even a day hunt without watching The Weather Channel the night before, then again before I leave," said John Cockrell of Brandon. "In the winter months, our weather can change quickly. The tough part is that oftentimes the weather reports may be off by a day or so. You have to be ready to risk it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it crashes in on you, but at least I go prepared.

"You have to have a very good idea of what the weather is likely to be that day, and be able to adjust to it if a front is moving in. The worst part of weather in Mississippi is that it can be raining in one area, but be completely dry only 20 miles down the road, or vice versa. I've sat in my truck many a time waiting for a rain shower to blow over or had to shimmy down a stand to race to the truck before getting soaked. That's just part of deer hunting in Mississippi. Ironically, some of our best deer hunting comes right before a big storm and just after one clears the area."

Today's hunter would have to live in a cave not to know how to get up-to-date weather information. It is as simple as turning on the radio in the truck on the way to the hunt, but much better weather sources are just a fingertip away.

With a home computer, current weather trends are simple to access and to cross check on more than one source. Local television stations maintain their own web sites with weather information. Several national web sites update weather constantly giving long-term weather forecasts as long as ten days out. This information is critical for planning hunts.

The smartest deer hunters I know check several sites both local and national until they get a total perspective on the entire weather picture. They do this religiously as they prepare to head out to hunt, especially if their plans include multiple days away from home at a remote campsite or public hunting area.

Another piece of technology that is good to have around the house these days as well at the deer camp or in the truck is a special radio capable of monitoring National Weather Radio/Specific Area Message Encoding broadcasts. These weather broadcasts are originated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These desktop or handheld radios can be programmed to receive local weather reports as well as set to alarm mode upon approaching severe weather. Every deer hunter should own one of these.

Patterning hunts

Pending poor weather reports often keep a lot of hunters from going to the woods, when in reality they should be heading out as fast as they can. Rather than letting bad weather scare you away from deer hunting, learn to assess what type of weather is coming and how it might alter hunting plans and strategies. Then adjust your plans accordingly.

People define bad or even severe weather using different types of criterion depending on how it might impact their activities. I know some hunters who would never get off the porch to hunt even in a soft, slow drizzle. Others tell stories of literally clinging onto trees supporting their tree stands during virtual gale winds, driving rains or heavy thunderstorms complete with nearby crackling lightning.

Hunters must be smart enough to find a middle ground in order to protect themselves. Certainly it makes no sense to be in the field if weather is life-threatening.

The white-tailed deer seems to be mostly impacted by two major types of weather factors - temperature fluctuations and barometric pressure. Radical changes in temperatures or unseasonable temperatures, either hot or cold, tend to make deer do strange things, or sometimes nothing at all, especially bucks in the rut.

It is fairly common knowledge that an unusual warming trend in December can literally cease active rutting behavior.

"Well, after all, would you feel compelled to chase your wife or girlfriend around in the woods while wearing a fur coat when it was 80 degrees outside?" wondered Bill Lunceford, Mississippi's retired deer data coordinator.

When put that way, it is easy to understand why hot weather in the winter discourages rutting behavior, because neither bucks nor does tend to move much during daylight hours.

To compensate, hunters have to switch gears to daybreak and sunset hunting when the air is coolest, catching deer moving from feeding grounds to bedding areas. Hunting dark, shady timber, lowlands, wetlands and deep ravines might well catch a buck or two napping in cool breezes that frequent such habitats. If daytime temperatures top 70 degrees, you can forget it.

Barometric pressure is an atmospheric indicator of pending weather changes. If the pressure is on a downward slide, then an active weather front is likely on the move into the area. High pressures indicate more stable, fair-weather conditions. The trick is to monitor the pressure and be available to hunt as the pressure is dropping, but before the bottom falls out.

Similarly, after the storm passes and the pressure begins to rise again is another good time to be in the woods hunting. The best time to deer hunt is when the barometric pressure is moving up or down, but down seems to be better.

Oftentimes, deer movements can be roughly patterned by these two factors alone. Farmers and cattlemen have known forever how animals get unsettled as weather pressures change. The impact on white-tailed deer is thought to be similar.

Translated into hunting tactics, this means when the barometric pressure is falling, the deer should be unsettled and moving about. During these phases is one of the best times to be hunting for meat or antlers.

Savvy deer hunters stay on top of weather reports knowing how to beat bad weather prospects, turning them into some prime opportunities just before the storm hits and again just after the skies clear.