Dusk or Dawn – What’s the best time of day to hunt deer?
Believe it or not, deer don’t keep the same schedule as humans. Some might even say they keep a particularly inconvenient one for the hunter. Well, you can’t expect them to adapt to when you want to go to sleep or see your spouse, so you’re going to have to adapt to them. That’s why you have to know when the deer want to go to bed or chase after does in the rut.
In fact, understanding the deer’s internal clock is essential to a successful hunt. Knowing when the deer are likely to move and when they’re bedded down so you can move to your stand is one of the biggest parts of getting your kill.
This internal clock is not set in stone, either. It depends on various biological and circumstantial factors, and understanding the way everything from the moon to the weather affect the deer’s schedule can be useful to a skilled hunter.
Do deer move during the day?
When it comes to daytime, the standard dogma is that deer mostly move at the beginning and end of it. That doesn’t mean deer never move at other times of day, though, just like you might catch a human out on the street in the middle of the night even though most people are asleep. Daytime movement is more erratic, though, and it depends on a number of factors.
For example, because rain interferes with deer’s primary senses of hearing and smell, it encourages them to be more active while there’s daylight when they can rely on sight. A heavy rain can be one of the best times to catch deer moving during the day.
The rut also makes a big difference. Deer keep to a more strict routine when they aren’t mating, but during the rut, movement, especially for bucks, becomes more erratic.
Just consider teenage boys and how willing they are to change they’re schedule for a date. The bucks are much more unpredictable when they’re chasing does, and a lot of times it may be worth it to stick it out in the stand. We’ll get into what times and why later on.
Morning vs evening hunts
Like we said, dawn and dusk are going to be your best bets for hitting the stand, but each have their pros and cons. Most of it just boils down to logistics. For instance, if you catch a herd of deer moving into their feeding area at dusk, but your buck’s out of range of your bow, you’re pretty much stuck for the night. Otherwise, you risk spooking the deer, and they probably won’t return to that feeding area. Plus, in the evening hours, it’s only going to get darker, and unlike deer, your primary sense is sight.
On the other hand, evening has some advantages over the morning. Especially if the deer aren’t in the rut, evening is when they’ll be going methodically to get food after sleeping all day. Imagine yourself hungrily going straight to kitchen in the morning, food the only thing on your mind. It also allows you to get out to the stand in the afternoon while it’s still light. In the morning, you’ll be going to the stand in the dark. Your stealth will be considerably diminished this way, and like humans, deer don’t all have the same bedtime, so some may have already hit the sack, and you risk spooking them.
If the deer are in the rut, though, morning does have some perks. Think that dawn is like happy hour for bucks. It’s right before they go to sleep. They’re getting distracted chasing does and might stay out a little later than they’d planned. When the sun starts to rise, they rush back to their beds, more likely to make a mistake and wander into range of your bow.
Morning versus evening depends a lot on your personal preferences, like how comfortable you feel in the dark, as well as some deer biology like whether or not they’re in the rut. Either way, while twilight hours in general are usually considered the best time to catch deer on the move, circumstances may make dusk or dawn a better choice over the other.
Don’t forget about midday
Dawn and dusk might be the most active time for deer, but it’s not the only time. Just like you might get up to get a midnight snack, it is possible to see deer moving about at midday. We mentioned that a couple of things can affect when they might be on the move.
A big factor is human movement. When are the other hunters getting too cold, bored and hungry to stay in the treestand? If you wait them out, you can catch the deer they disturb on their way out of the woods. Outlasting your fellow sportsmen can pay off big.
The moon is actually has a major effect as well. During the full moon, deer are more likely to be out at midday. This extra movement seems to move later and later as the moon waxes and wanes. During the last quarter, deer may move later in the afternoon while during the new moon, they may move later into the morning than normal.
Can you hunt deer at night?
Deer are a crepuscular species, which means they are mainly active during the twilight hours, dusk and dawn. This is when they move to their feeding areas for the night or back to their beds to sleep during the day. It’s when the bucks chase the does. It’s when you’re most likely to see them, and there’s a good chance it’s when you’ll get most of your kills.
A lot of hunters consider night one of the best times to hunt deer. They aren’t moving as much, but they are feeding out in the open. So what’s the problem? Laws. Night hunting of deer and other game animals is illegal in all 50 states, and most ban night vision goggles or artificial lights as well, effectively prohibiting you from hunting at night anyway. If you’re a bow hunter, though, you’re already in it for the challenge, so it shouldn’t be too disappointing you can’t use high-tech equipment to eliminate deer’s primary advantage.