Having been deer hunting for a few decades, I’m still amazed at some of the old-school deer hunting information that science and research have proven to be incorrect. For me, one such thing is how the moon phases can impact deer activity.
My dad’s brothers (my uncles) introduced me to deer hunting, and one uncle in particular who was always willing to take me hunting (May you rest in peace, Uncle Pete!) actually paid attention to the moon phases via the Farmer’s Almanac. However, he absolutely refused to deer hunt the day after a full moon or during a full moon, saying it was a waste of time.
But times have changed, and many deer hunters incorporate the moon phases into their hunting approach. I know a few hardcore deer hunters who schedule their hunts entirely around the moon being in a specific phase.
But, the relationship between the moon and deer activity is a hotly debated topic. Some hunters swear by the moon (or, more accurately, the Moon Guide from the late Jeff Murray).
On the flip side, there are plenty of naysaying deer hunters who refute any link between the moon and deer hunting success. Those naysayers will refer to various studies conducted using GPS collars on deer to track movements compared to moon phases. The two most commonly quoted studies were done by Dr. Mickey Hellickson from the King Ranch in TX and Dr. Marcus Lashley from the University of Florida Deer Lab. In both those studies, GPS data showed no real relationship between the different moon phases and deer activity.
About ten years ago, I started paying more attention to the moon during deer season based on a few things I had read, but more on the hunting success a few acquaintances had by hunting during certain moon phases.
Now, I incorporate moon phase data as a part of my hunting plans. That being said, I also work full-time, so I hunt when the opportunity arises, regardless of the moon. But the moon data does play a role in how and when (in terms of the time of day) I hunt. Again, it plays a role in my hunt plan but does not govern when I hunt.
Another point worth noting about moon phase deer hunting:
Other factors outside the moon can change the way deer move. One example is heavily hunted public land. Heavy pressure on public hunting land can significantly change how the whitetails move, but they are reacting to the hunting pressure versus the moon.
With heavily hunted public tracts, the hunting pressure will cause these animals to change their feeding schedule, bedding locations, etc.
I’m going to go over a few different deer hunting scenarios involving the moon phase and weather conditions and then how I hunt those conditions. Remember, these are just my own experiences and opinions, so your hunting success may vary.
During the Rut
For me, the rut changes things as I try to be in the woods as much as possible, especially during the peak of the rut. During this time, I tend to take the moon phase information into consideration, but I’m hunting regardless of the phase.
I focus on finding does during the rut because the bucks won’t be far behind. I typically focus on two areas during the rutting season:
- Food sources
- Bedding areas
During the mornings and evenings, I’ll focus on hunting food sources that I know are drawing does. When possible, during the midday, I’ll transition to another stand near a bedding area. While the bucks aren’t thinking about bedding down during the rut, the does will. And, chances are, bucks will be near any hot doe.
Depending on the rut phase and deer activity, I usually try to hunt all day (if possible). I typically pack my meals and try to sit all day.
Outside the Rut
When hunting outside the rut (the active rut), I tend to give the moon phase information more attention and adjust my hunting times and techniques off those phases.
Here are some moon phase situations outside the rut and a quick overview of my hunting approach:
Full Moon with Clear Skies The Following Day
I find this moon and weather scenario to be a challenging time for deer hunting. The deer activity is predominantly nocturnal, with little action or movement during the day.
In this situation, my preferred approach is to get in the stand in the late morning (around 10 AM-ish) and hunt up until the late afternoon (around 4 PM). You might be surprised at the volume of deer movement that occurs during the midday hours.
I saw one of the largest whitetail bucks I’ve seen while hunting (to date) come out of a dense bedding thicket at 1 PM. Unfortunately, he was headed away from me, so I never had a shot at him. That being said, he was absolutely a wall-hanging candidate and would have been my highest-scoring buck to date.
Full Moon with Overcast or Cloudy Skies The Following Day
With this moon and weather situation, the whitetails seem to move on a more expected schedule of rising early to feed or socialize, followed by some rest periods (bedding), and finishing the day with activity up into dark.
I usually hunt this scenario just like a typical deer hunt, where I’m in the stand well before first light and hunt until lunch. I break for lunch (or at least try to slip out of the stand and stretch my legs a bit) and then return to the stand by 2 PM to sit until dark.
While there does seem to be some mid-day deer movement, I find it to be less than the full moon with clear skies scenario. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, I may stay and sit through the entire midday period. For example, if I’m positioned far from my truck or am significantly worried about spooking nearby bedded deer, I’ll stay in the stand for the entire day.
Daytime Full Moon with No Clouds
In my experience, a full moon during daylight is an excellent time to hunt. I’m not exactly sure what it is with this situation, but deer activity is usually very good. If possible, I always try to get in the woods during this weather and moon combo, especially outside of the rut period.
I try to hunt all day with these conditions because the deer movement is usually pretty good. While there doesn’t seem to be as much mid-day movement compared to the full moon with clear skies the next day scenario, there does seem to be some mid-day movement.
With this scenario, I focus on hunting food sources that have nearby known bedding locations. And by “nearby,” I mean bedding areas very close to an active food source. That approach potentially allows me to see whitetails feeding and traveling to bedding.
One of my favorite stand locations for this type of deer hunting is a food plot or food source in a field bordered by a thicket, thick brush, or cutover area. This allows the whitetails to feed close to cover and then only travel a short distance to bed. In my experience, when food is located right by a favorite bedding area, the whitetails are more likely to leave the bedding area and eat several times a day because the food and bedding cover are so close together.
Daytime Full Moon with Clouds
I find this moon/weather situation has much less deer movement compared to a day moon with bright sunny skies. I usually treat these days like a typical hunt, focusing on early morning and late evening activity.
Occasionally, depending on the circumstances, I might sit in the stand all day, but the midday activity seems to be relatively light.
Full Moon with a Pending Weather Front or Change
Although the moon phase seems to play a role in deer movement, a pending significant weather change or front in the next 24 hours really seems to trigger whitetail activity.
Some examples of significant weather that seems to trigger movement 24 hours before arrival include the following:
- A cold weather front where the temperature will drop more than 15 degrees.
- A pending snow
- A bad storm with thunder or lightning (especially with a major drop in the barometric pressure).
- A 15-degree or more temperature increase from freezing temperatures.
While most animal species can somehow detect a pending weather change, the pending weather changes I previously mentioned, in combination with a full moon, typically triggers above-average whitetail movement.
I find that most activity occurs around 24 hours before the impending weather change. Assuming that you are watching the weather (and most deer hunters are) if the situation allows, I’d try to be in the woods right after the full moon and during the 24 hours preceding the inclement weather arrivals.
Out of the weather changes I previously mentioned, I like to hunt before the cold weather front moves in and before a pending snow. For me, those two weather situations seem to trigger the most movement.
The warmer weather coming in is also very effective but seems to be most effective in regions with really cold winter weather. In my home state of North Carolina, the temperature doesn’t get near as cold as what deer hunters in the Midwest and Northeast face. Because of that, temperature warm-ups don’t generate the same level of deer movement that is likely seen when the daytime temperatures go from 10℉ up to 40℉.
If you’re a fan of moon phase hunting and it works for you, keep on using it. If you’re new to moon phase hunting, you could always try it to test your results. If you think it’s complete hogwash, ignore the concept and keep doing whatever works. Either way, you won’t kill any deer from your sofa, so the best times to hunt are whenever you can get in the woods.