Deer hunters, by nature, are crepuscular.
Before you go reaching for the dictionary, it means we relate to twilight.
Think about it. Most of us get in a stand before first light, hunt for a few hours, and then exit the woods, returning hours later for the late afternoon hunt. The middle of the day is spent eating, napping, checking trail camera images and considering other places to hunt.
Largely ignored for hunting, the middle of the day is when many deer do what deer normally do — eat, check scrapes and maybe returning to a bedding area from a late breakfast.
If you’re not seeing the deer you want to shoot at dawn and dusk, it doesn’t always mean your stand location is poor. It could just be that you’re in it at the wrong time.
So, just what governs deer movement?
How can a hunter know when the deer will be active?
Those are questions for the educated, like Dr. Bronson Strickland of the Mississippi State University Deer Lab.
“The natural forces that make deer move are hunger, fear, and procreation,” Strickland said. “Deer will certainly move some throughout the day, but their most active times are around dawn and dusk, and during the night.
“These basic patterns change during the hunting season based on the rut and likely due to hunting pressure. I say likely because it’s hard to prove why some deer move more during the middle of the day, but hunting pressure may be one of the causes.”
Use your cameras
Trail cameras aid hunters in patterning deer, and they can be useful tools throughout the season in detecting midday deer activity.
Cameras are not an exact tool, however. There is no camera that can look at all the places all the time, and deer can walk just beyond the range of the sensors, behind the camera, or while the camera is resetting for another shot.
Still, there is no better method of tracking the movements of deer than the trail camera. Most top-of-the-line cameras timestamp images, and some even add such information as moon phase and temperature.
Choosing the correct location to hang a camera is extremely important, and mistakes can be made.
Look for trails between food sources, bedding areas and or core areas, but don’t put the camera right on the trail. Instead, back off 10 to 15 yards, which will allow the camera to become awake and take the shot before the deer has passed.
The analysis is pretty simple. No midday deer movement after a few days means that the area is not a place to hunt. Odds favor deer movement while most hunters are having lunch and a nap, especially later in the season when deer have patterned hunters.
Popular feeding areas are places to put a camera. The soft mast is gone by November and deer are relying heavily on the acorn crop. The problem is that 2014 looks like it’s going to be a bumper crop year for acorns.
That makes it imperative to locate trees near bedding areas where deer are feeding. Fresh droppings, tracks, and rubs nearby are certain indicators deer are using the area on a regular basis. White oaks, Cow Oaks (swamp oak) and pin oaks are known to be top choices.
Consider the sun, moon
Solunar tables, which are based on sun and moon positions, are considered by many hunters to be a useful tool. Many hunters think they are a magic bullet; others feel they are rubbish and should be ignored. I am in between the two extremes, and I have my reasons.
When I was traveling for a living, I’d record the times I saw deer feeding on the side of the road,or within sight of the road, then compare it to the solunar tables. Obviously, this was not a scientific experiment since I was traveling a narrow corridor. Deer could have been there, just out of sight.
But, the end result for me was this — at midday, when the tables predicted, I’d see deer moving, whether I’d been on the Natchez Trace or on I-20
I figure it this way: If hunting midday is a 50-50 proposition, and 10 percent of the time the tables are right, then I’ve just upped my odds to 60-40 for seeing deer when the solunar tables predict midday movement.
I have a 10-point on my wall that I shot at 11:30 a.m., and a big-bodied 8-point I shot a few minutes after 1p.m. The 8-point was working a scrape line on the wooded edge of a hayfield, and appeared out of nowhere after I had shed my jacket and was fighting sleep. It was during the pre-rut, and he was just out looking around.
The point is, deer move at midday.
Which way will they go?
Knowing what direction a deer will take when it decides to take a midday stroll is something every hunter would love to know. One Smith County hunter, hunting public land in the Caney Creek Wildlife Management area, found a solution.
“There are a number of natural prairie sites on the Bienville National Forest where the soil is so acidic that even pine trees can’t grow,” Andy Hawkins said. “Some of these areas are quite small, while others are several acres in size. Scouting through them I’ve always seen trails and bedding depressions. A few times I’ve bumped deer off those beds.
“The problem for me has always come in not knowing what direction a deer that might be bedded there will move once it decides to move during daylight hours.”
Hawkins first considered the food option. With acorns dropping in three different directions, south, west and north of the bedding area, he had a 33 percent chance he would be on the right side of the area when the deer moved.
Next he considered wind. While most of the mornings are dead calm, a breeze usually picks up late in the morning and blows until late afternoon.
“The common belief is that deer always feed into the wind,” Hawkins said. “So it makes sense to set up on the windward side of the bedding area and scent proof as much as possible. This has worked for me several times, as does seem to have the tendency to feed into the wind.
“Bucks, however, have been a bigger challenge.”
Hawkins decided to try a third strategy. Along the northern side of one of these natural prairies is a decades old scrape line. It runs east and west where the prairie transitions into mixed pine and hardwood. It seems every year that bucks choose this quarter-mile-long area to make scrapes. As mid-November approaches Hawkins will make what amounts to a line of mock scrapes where bucks have made scrapes before. He has seen lots of bucks, but …
“I’d love to say I’ve killed the buck of a lifetime there, but it just hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “With the wind blowing the scent of the mock scrape into the bedding area, the bucks seem to move in that direction when they come off the bed. I see legal shooters there every year.”
This same technique should work, according to Hawkins, with core areas where scrapes are usually found early in the season. He describes core areas as being the thickest places in the woods, with multiple escape routes.
Having hunted the Caney Creek WMA since before it was a WMA, Hawkins claims bucks continue to use core areas until timber management practices or nature alter them to the point a buck no longer feels safe there.
“I’ve been using Paul Meek scents ever since he moved to Raleigh,” Hawkins said. “Mostly, because I like to support local merchants, but also because his stuff works.”
Moore’s midday magic
In 2014, Tommy Moore of Forest was hunting in Smith County in hopes of seeing a buck that members of the hunting club had named “Big Nasty.” The buck had been watched for three years, but for the last two years the only sightings had been on trail camera images.
“There wasn’t really a lot to say about this buck,” Moore said. “We hunted him hard, passed on other bucks hoping he would show, and bemoaned that another year would pass with the massive buck dying of old age or being hit by a truck.”
Moore’s fellow hunters fall into the group who seldom hunt through midday. But that may change this year, thanks to Moore.
On Jan. 6, 2014, after the first rut had come and gone with no sign of Big Nasty, Moore reached his stand and settled in for a long sit. A bit of breeze moved the treetops a little, and the usual forest critters were doing what forest critters do.
“I looked up just before noon and there he was, just walking along a trail, as if he had nowhere to go and no set time to be there,” Moore said. “I have since wondered how many times he had walked under an empty stand just a few hours before a hunter sat for the evening hunt.”
Big Nasty tipped the scales at 165 pounds, but estimates of his pre-rut weight were likely in the neighborhood of 190 to 200 pounds. He sported 14 points with a couple of kickers, giving him a Buckmasters score of 181 7/8 inches. Moore used a Browning rifle chambered in .270 WSM and Federal Premium ammunition.
Another consideration for midday hunting is the fact other hunters are on the move, and may spook a deer in your direction. Hunters may never know they spooked a buck, and, likewise they may never know they walked right past a deer.
Or, that they had sat right next to one.
Doe, a deer, a very near deer
Example: Former Mississippi Outdoors host Melvin Tingle and I were on a rabbit hunt in Claiborne County one day when the action began to wane. Tired of walking we took a seat on a small tree that had been cut on the edge of a power line right-of-way. We talked for a while and rested until the beagles were regrouped and headed back in our direction.
We had been at this one spot for perhaps 15 minutes when a hunter with a single dog returned to where we were sitting. The beagle began nosing around the top of the tree we were sitting on when a large doe bolted from her bed in the top. As long as she felt undetected, she saw no reason to move.
Make it a point to hunt during the midday period this year. Check deer sightings against major and minor times calculated by the solunar tables, and make some mock scrapes near your stands.
If nothing else, you will enjoy being in the woods while adding to your storehouse of deer hunting knowledge.