Know and Go

Increase your knowledge about when deer move, and be sure to hit the woods during those times.

John J. Woods

September 24, 2007 at 2:01 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Many deer hunters have found more deer move in the late afternoon, offering more opportunities to harvest bucks than the early morning hours.
Photo by JOHN J. WOODS
Many deer hunters have found more deer move in the late afternoon, offering more opportunities to harvest bucks than the early morning hours.
At my age I have just about broken all of my bad habits. I don’t smoke anymore (except for an occasional cigar at deer camp), don’t drink much either (well, maybe just a beer or two with my brother on fishing trips), no drugs at all (not counting a handful of prescription meds everyday), definitely don’t hang out at honky-tonks all night, and I no longer deer hunt at daybreak.

You figure out which ones are the most prudent choices.

Over the past couple of decades, the traditional behavior of white-tailed deer hunters has begun to shift. Maybe the changes parallel the aging status of us older deer hunters now too tired or less energized to hoof it to a deer stand in the cold pre-dawn darkness. Similarly, we are not passing old traditions on to new generations of hunters, so their attitudes about when to deer hunt are molded accordingly.

Indeed, deer hunters are beginning to rethink the traditional daybreak vigils of crawling out of bed before the crack of dawn. Interest has waned to creep to a hunting stand to catch the early deer movements. In many cases, these early morning hunts are giving way to alternative tactics or modes of time spent in the woods.

The question remains, though, is this smart thinking in terms of maximizing hunting success these days? Have deer shifted the timing of their daily routines, movements or activities? When is the best time of day to deer hunt? Do we operate on gut feelings, past observations or factual data? Well, let’s see.

Hunter observations

Spring Lake Farms is a 650-acre deer hunting club situated with a mile frontage on the infamous Big Black River in Holmes County. For nearly 15 years now, the six equal share owners have been hunting and trying to pattern the deer on this property.

“In the early years, starting in 1992, it was nothing to see 20-30 deer from a stand the first thing in the morning,” said club member Andy Dulaney of Raymond. “Our record for total deer observed in one morning by a single hunter is 55. All of the hunting in those years was done by waking well before daylight and getting into our stands just at the crack of dawn.

“Years later, the routine has completely changed. For the past several seasons, we rarely see deer moving until around 8 or 9 o’clock, so nearly all of us have stopped the pre-dawn get up. Ironically, the majority of the deer we are seeing now in good numbers come after 3 p.m. or even later in the day just at dusk.

“Around the campfire at night, we often ponder what brought this change about. As we continue to seek answers about this issue, our hunting times have shifted according to our observations, which means going from mainly early morning hunts to mostly afternoon hunting.”

Veteran Vicksburg hunter Jim Harper has noticed alterations in hunting style as well.

“We have changed our patterns over the years,” he said. “We used to hunt the crack of dawn until around 10 a.m., and we still do early in the season.

“As we have gotten older, getting up at 4 a.m. to sit in the cold has been less appealing. I still do this as tradition for my two boys, but as the season goes on, we focus on afternoon hunts. Now most of our sightings are right at dark.

“I like the afternoon hunts as we can plan them better rather than the rush to the stand in the mornings. My thoughts are to continue the early morning hunts during the first part in the season for tradition’s sake, but the afternoons work better all around as it gets later in the season.”

But Gary Starkey, owner of findahuntingclub.com of Clinton, feels there’s no better time to be in the woods than the early morning.

“I just love seeing a beautiful sunrise and watching and listening as the woods come alive,” he said. “To see a deer is a bonus. I grew up hunting that way, and cannot seem to get it out of my system. Now I hunt early, come in to camp, then go back mid-morning to noon, take another break, and then get back on stand by 3 p.m.

“This past season, I saw more deer moving during my midday hunts. I saw several 8-points, a 6-point and a couple of spikes along with several does on the move. I saw enough that I plan to do more midday hunts in the seasons ahead.

“However, reflecting on the actual times that I have taken deer, there have been a lot more taken in the afternoon than in the morning.”

Of course, this is all anecdotal information, but it was actually observed over several seasons by these hunters and, therefore, this evidence proves it meaningful, at least in their situations. It is important for all hunters to record observations on their hunting lands to determine deer movement and activity trends specific to where they hunt. This will translate later when best to hunt.

Certainly many other factors figure into how to determine the best times of the day to deer hunt. Even where the hunt is conducted, weather trends, type of habitat, deer population density and food resources may impact when the best times to hunt are throughout the day. Undoubtedly, though, actual hunter observations collected over time, season after season, can give good indications of when to expect to see deer moving.

Deer research data

Obviously, it seems way too simplistic to suggest that the best times to deer hunt are when deer are moving about. I mean, who wants to sit in a tiny lock-on stand or a shooting house for hours and never see so much as a single deer hair?

Lots of us do that routinely every deer season. We all love the outdoors, but we also want to see wildlife moving around, even if we choose not to shoot except with a camera.

Wildlife biologists have been asking these same questions for many deer seasons. As a result, a considerable amount of deer movement and activity data has been collected over the years. Much of this information is coming out of the technical wildlife journals and publications, and is becoming more accessible for public consumption.

More than 30 years ago, I recall reading one of the first white-tailed deer movement studies that came out of Missouri. In those days, the Missouri Department of Conservation was on the cutting edge of deer research and data collection. Though the study produced many data sets giving insights into deer movements at various times of the day, the bottom line to the report indicated that the prime deer movement times were between 7-9 a.m. and 5-7 p.m.

At the time, I remember thinking how revolutionary that was to see actual research data indicating when the peak movement times for most deer were. Then it dawned on me that these were the same times we had been seeing deer move for years hunting on the Gasconade River in Central Missouri.

For me, this detailed research study proved to be simple confirmation of what deer hunters already knew in the practice of daily hunting. That was, OK, too. It needed to be proven.

Since then, literally dozens of similar studies have been conducted all across the prime range of whitetails from Florida to Washington.

One such study from the University of Georgia by noted whitetail biologist Larry Marchinton found that the peak deer movements were usually happening at sunrise and sunset. Deer traveled less distances per hour of time between the hours of 4-8 p.m. They moved much more from 6-10 a.m.

Another small jump in deer activity was noted around the noon hour.

Further, a Texas study done by Jon Stone used hourly camera observations on whitetail feeding areas. Again, the deer activity data by the hour reflects much the same as reported above. The best morning times for deer to be out feeding were about 7-9 a.m. and, again, the best evening times were from 5-7 p.m. Once more, this is good validation.

Regardless of the topic these days related to any aspect of deer hunting, somebody somewhere has turned it into a science. This trend is found in no better place than in the field of analyzing various types of data input factors into a computer-designed program that will spit out the best times of the day to hunt no matter where you are in the country. Some of these technical services can even throw in a weather-impact analysis for your exact area on the specific day you intend to hunt.

Is all this necessary?

Well, in today’s modern technological world, that is like asking a deer hunter if he really needs that ATV or UTV with 950cc’s of power. Or that laser range-finding riflescope sitting on top of a custom factory-tuned rifle with an electronic trigger. Do deer hunters really need a GPS, a 10-mile range communications radio along with a cell phone, or Gore-Tex for that matter?

Have to have it? No. Want to have it? Yes.

Similarly, why not get a little help via the computer by internet or CD to help project the best times of the day to hunt, as well as the best days of the month to hunt. It’s just one more cutting-edge advantage we use to try to bluff Mother Nature.

“Research has shown that you are three times more likely to see deer during hours with above-average weather and wildlife ratings, and that you will see on average seven times the number of deer,” says Greg Rapier of Intratec, Inc., a technology company hosting the www.weatherandwildlife.com web site that produces data to recommend the best times to hunt and fish. The system is built around an analysis of solar and lunar effects.

Deer hunters have been toying with the impact of these phenomena for years, but this group has made a science of it.

“Each of the various individual solar and lunar effects will have an independent influence on wildlife activity; however, the hours in which multiple effects occur are the ones that have the higher ratings, and as a result, game animals are more likely to be active,” Rapier said.

So, after all this reflection, when is the best time of day to deer hunt? The prudent tactic seems to be twofold. One is rely on self-observations collected after several seasons. Secondly, the available research data still seems to suggest the best overall times to deer hunt are early morning and late afternoon with a realistic window of opportunity during the noon hour.

Otherwise, just subscribe to a service like Intratec’s, and follow those recommendations.

Remember, though, as one old deer hunter always said, the best time to deer hunt is anytime you can go.


View other articles written John J. Woods


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