Although this may seem like a simple subject and that the answer is simply at dawn and dusk; there are many more factors to consider when trying to figure out when deer will be moving around the most.
The Most Important Factors to Consider
- Time of Year
- Moon Phase
- Breeding Cycle (Rut)
Below I will go into detail about each factor. One thing to keep in mind; all of these factors will vary a little bit for everyone depending on where you live in North America.
The weather plays a pretty big part in deer activity and movement. Weather relates quite a bit to the time of year which we will get into in a minute.
Generally speaking, the warmer the temperature, the less deer movement you will see. Every different area and region in North America will have a different temperature point in which the deer really start moving at.
In my area when the temperature is above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit), for the most part, deer will stay bedded and in thick timber where it is cooler and in the shade.
Once the temperature drops below that 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit) mark, deer movement increases dramatically.
This is why most of the time during the peak of the day when the temperature is the warmest, hunters tend not to see as much as they do in the morning and evening when it’s cooler outside.
Other weather factors that play an important role are snow, rain, and wind. During times of harsh weather, whether it’s a snow storm, rain storm or very windy, deer will once again stay hidden and out of the elements.
Once the bad weather clears or the storms are over be ready. As soon as the bad weather ends, they will be up and actively feeding trying to warm up and fill themselves up with food.
Time of Year
As mentioned above, the time of year and weather are pretty closely correlated. During the summer months when it is hot out and the days are long, deer will be very inactive.
Often times they won’t move until late into the night when the temperature cools right down. They also don’t need as much food and movement to keep themselves warm during these months, which is another reason you don’t see as much activity.
Once summer turns into fall and the days start getting shorter, their active time gets longer. They start feeding earlier in the evening and staying out until later in the mornings.
This is why hunters generally follow the rule of thumb that the first hour in the morning and the last hour in the evening is the best time to hunt.
When fall starts turning into winter and the weather turns colder; it’s not uncommon to see deer feeding at any time during the day.
This is because the days are shorter and they need more feed to stay warm and make it through the cold winter months.
Now, of course, the one exception to all these rules of thumb is when the bucks start rutting, which we will get into in a minute below.
The moon phase isn’t something a lot of hunters will think of when it comes to deer activity and movement. Believe it or not, it does play a pretty important role.
There are multiple moon phases including a waxing crescent, waning crescent, full moon, and a new moon. The really important ones for us to pay attention to are the full moon and the new moon.
Deer movement during the night or moonlight hours makes a big difference from when deer move during daylight hours. When the moon is full, deer tend to move around more at night and less during the day.
This is because of the bright light that a full moon emits. You can think of it as having 24 hours of daylight through a deer’s eyes.
During the new moon phase, which for those that don’t know, is essentially when there is no moon. Deer will be the least active during the night.
Without the bright moonlight, deer will tend to bed down and sleep more at night and be more active during the day.
The period between the full moon and the new moon is what’s called a waxing or waning crescent.
Waxing means the moon is growing and heading towards a full moon. Waning means the moon is shrinking and going from a full moon to a new moon.
During these times you will see the deer movement slowly decrease when the moon is going from full to new moon and vice versa when the moon is going from a new moon to a full moon.
These changes will be very slight and will not be noticeable every day, but every week you will notice either an increase or a decrease in movement.
The breeding cycle of deer, more specifically the rut as most hunters know it, is the one factor that will dominate over all the other factors we mentioned above.
In most of North America, the rut will start and end within the month of November. The exact timing will vary from location. The weather also affects when the rut starts. Usually, after a good cold snap, the rut will kick-off.
During the rut, bucks will travel and move much more than they usually do, trying to find a doe to breed with. It’s not unusual to see bucks out cruising around in the middle of the day.
Does will also be moving around more, generally in larger groups. When a buck finds a “hot” doe he wants to breed, he will stay with her until she’s ready.
If any other bucks come around, he will chase them away. Sometimes this will turn into a fight if two mature bucks come into contact with each other.
During the rut, it is almost impossible to pattern deer, bucks in particular. All their old habits change.
There really isn’t a good or bad time to hunt during the rut, you never know when a big buck will go running by hot on a trail or chasing a doe.
This is a handy pocket guide you can bring with you to the field. It will take you step by step on how to field dress big game animals
One other small factor that can play a role in deer movement and patterns is increased hunting pressure.
I’ve found that during times of high hunting pressure, such as long weekends, opening day, etc. deer will be less active and stay hidden among the thick timber or brush.
The main driving factor for deer movement is feed. The only thing that differs is the times they feed and how much they feed.
The more time you spend in the field, the more you will learn and understand deer movement and will be able to easier predict active feeding times.
Of course, anytime you’re hunting and enjoying the outdoors, even if nothing is moving; is better than a day at work.