From Kansas to Virginia to Canada, 90 percent of the adult does will come into estrus and be bred from roughly November 5-20, regardless of moon phase or weather. It’s been that way for decades in the Northern two-thirds of North America, and will continue to be that way forever. Take off anytime from Halloween though Thanksgiving, and you’ll hunt some phase of the rut. Anytime you hunt rutting deer you are going to have a good time, and with the potential to shoot a big buck.
But I do believe that some days and weeks are better than others each year, according to when the various phases of the “rutting moon” occur each November. I base this on two things. One, 30 years of hunting and observing whitetails as they seek, chase and breed each November. And two, my keen interest in all things lunar, and how the four phases might affect deer movement. I read all the moon research I can get my hands, and then compare that data to my field notes.
The most recent study on the moon and its effects on whitetail movement was conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University. Researchers tracked GPS-collared deer throughout the four lunar phases, and analyzed text messages sent from those collars to determine when the does and bucks moved the most–and the least. I cross-referenced the study’s findings with my field notes, and found some similarities and common ground.
I’ll use that to make predictions on how and when the deer will move around and rut this November.
October 30, 2016: New Moon
The NC State study confirmed one fact we already know: Whitetails are crepuscular, which means they are active mostly at dawn and dusk, regardless of moon phase. “That fact did not change,” says researcher Marcus Lashley, who headed the study. “But the intensity of movement in each period when the deer decided to move did change.”
In some moon phases the deer were noticeably more active at dawn than they were at dusk. The new (dark) moon is example of that. “We saw a large peak of movement at daylight during this phase, and below average movement the rest of the day and night,” Lashley notes.
In any given year the first week of November is one of the best times to bowhunt for a big deer; hundreds of giants are arrowed this week across North America. If you take off this week, hunt all day every day, because you never know. But remember the new science that says with the moon new and dark and waxing crescent, bucks will be most active at daylight. Get on stand extra early and hunt the mornings extra hard.
November 7, 2016: First-Quarter Moon
The NC State study found that during the first-quarter moon, deer move less on average throughout the day than in all the other phases. Researcher Lashley goes so far as to say, “That would be a good seven days to work.”
This is where I totally disagree with the science. Looking back to my notes and past blogs, it is no secret that many huge bucks are killed every year during the peak-rut window of November 8-14. This is always a good week to take off work!
That said, I mention this. On and around November 10 every season, especially in the Midwest, the “lockdown” hits in many areas as mature bucks hole up in covers and tend and breed does. Couple that with the data that says the overall deer activity will diminish during the first-quarter moon and things could get tough.
Friend and big-buck hunter Mark Drury, a moon fanatic like me, concurs. “Look for the lockdown in mid-November to be fairly tough, but once bucks start to free up around the 14th, and with the full moon coming on, I think the buck movement will be quite good at all times of the day.”
November 14, 2016: Full Moon
Mark Drury texted me recently and said: “I think this year’s rut will be a little better than last year’s, good if temperatures are normal or below, but not great. I’m looking most forward to November 14-18 and I will sit all day. Daylight activity could be really good right then.”
For the last several years Drury and I have texted back and forth from tree stands across America, talking about the moon and what we’re seeing. Turns out we’re both working on and adding to a new theory—mature bucks move great during the day in and around the full moon in November. Of course this flies in the face of what many of you have read for years and believe–that deer are most active at night during a big moon, and therefore move less in daylight, and thusly the full moon is bad for hunting.
But I believe we’re on to something, because the more I hunt during the rutting moon across the U.S. and Canada, the more mature bucks I seem to see wandering around the woods, or chasing does. Mark agrees. We are not scientists so we can’t give you any hard data to that end, we just know we like hunting the full moon more and more.
Marcus Lashley is a scientist, and his findings on the full moon back us up, at least somewhat. “A common misconception is that deer can see better at night (and hence move all over the place) because it’s brighter when the moon is full. But according to our data they actually move less on average at night during a full moon and more during the middle of the day, and also earlier in the evenings,” he says.
While Mark Drury is only so-so on the 2016 rut, I’m more optimistic. I see things setting up to be pretty good during the moon that waxes full on November 14. Many of the old bucks will be coming out of lockdown around then, and as they go back on the prowl for more does, some of them will move long and hard from around 11:00 a.m. until dark each day. Plan to get on stand by 9:00 a.m. and hunt till dark.
November 21, 2016: Last-Quarter Moon
Later on in November is tough and unpredictable any season. The breeding is winding down, and weary bucks have been pressured for two months. Simple math says there are fewer bucks in the woods because a number of them were harvested earlier in the season.
But there is still hope. According to the NC State researchers, from a moon perspective, the deer movement should be best from November 21 until the end of the month. “If you are going to hunt the last hour of the day anytime this season, you should do it on the last quarter because that was the most extreme deer movement we saw during the whole study.”
Try this. Set an afternoon stand near a secluded, thick-cover funnel that leads out to a crop field where you know some does are feeding. A skittish, weary buck is still ready and willing to breed any last doe that will give him a chance. You might just shoot one yet as he sneaks out to check the girls in the last wisps of light.
Good luck and let me know how you do moon-wise this fall.