Moonlight and Whitetails

After many decades of keeping track of numbers of unsuspecting (unalarmed) whitetails seen moving about during daylight hours, it became obvious natural phenomena such as precipitation, temperatures, winds and even moonlight greatly influence hours of the day whitetails are most likely to be seen during hunting seasons. For this reason, well before each hunting season begins, I check hours and days we will have moonlight. After checking this year’s moon info on the internet this morning, I immediately emailed the good news to my sons.

“We’ll have a sliver of the moon during our first three nights which may or may not affect deer because of a snowfall,” I wrote. “and no moon at night during the rest of our hunt.  We  may get some significant snow opening weekend and temperatures will be normal after that—really great hunting conditions for a change.”

Why was this great news, particularly for us stand hunters? When there is bright moonlight beginning well before first light in the morning, mature whitetails generally begin feeding earlier (before 4AM) and typically quit during the first legal shooting hour of the day. When there is moonlight at the end of the day, lasting well into night, whitetails generally wait until sunset or after to being feeding during hunting seaons. When there is moonlight all night, few whitetails will be seen moving about during following daylight hours (unless certain weather conditions trigger a 1–2 hour period of feeding between 11 AM and 3PM). For mature whitetails (older than yearlings), a moonlit sky at night (whether cloudy or clear) is apparently equal to a sunlit sky for spotting potentially dangerous predators safe distances away. It also encourages deer to eat their fill in darkness before human hunters, limited to hunting during daylight hours, become a threat.

No moonlight at night has the opposite affect. Whitetails will then feed and engage in other activities longer during daylight hours, morning and evening, especially while the wind is calm or light. No moonlight before first light in the morning has this affect in the morning only. No moonlight in the evening generally means whitetails may begin feeding 2-3 hours before sunset. In wolf country, however, they typically remain bedded until the last legal shooting hour of the day regardless. Since 1970, my stand hunting partners and I have almost always seen the greatest number of unalarmed deer, including mature bucks, during daylight hours when there was no moonlight all night, all other factors such as wind, precipitation and temperatures being favorable.

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