Deer and the Moon's Phases

Full Moon
Deer, like so many other species on the planet, tend to feed on a regular schedule. This schedule, as it turns out, literally rotates around the Moon.

It has been said that the moon and its phases are responsible for many important things. If you doubt this just talk to a police officer or delivery room nurse. They will be the first to tell you that people commit more crimes and high numbers of babies are born when the moon is full.

Put the same question to deer hunters and they will say the same thing, only relate the moon phases to deer hunting. It is widely accepted that a deer’s activities are tied in with lunar cycles.

As a deer hunter, this knowledge is invaluable.

When talking about the moon and its effects, deer will feed at certain times, move around at other times, and use specific trails at distinct times. If the phase of the moon is noted during these activities, the next time that phase occurs, you will be sure to see the deer in the same place or doing the same thing.

Knowing this increases your odds of success very dramatically by helping you tailor your movements or hunting schedules around that. For some people, this is a hard thing to do since some regard “moon phases” as a myth. However, when you really stop and think about it, some of it does ring true. Most deer sightings occur during certain phases of the moon. Mark down the phase whenever you see deer, and you will convert your thinking into what every successful deer hunter already knows.

The Moon is Unique and Influential

deer beds 
Deer movements are not the only thing affected by the moon. Deer also feed and bed depending on the moon.

You may be asking yourself “what's so special about the Moon”? Well, plenty. For starters, the Sun is 400 times larger than the moon, but the Moon is 400 times closer to planet earth. This makes them appear about equal in size - and the latest research indicates they're about equal in influence. We now know, for example, that the Earth's crust experiences tides similar to that of oceans. That's right, the Earth's surface bulges in response to geomagnetic forces like the planet's vast seas.

Even more impressive is the manner in which primitive organisms like oysters can register and respond to invisible lunar messages. This is what one well known doctor discovered when he relocated a study group of oysters from a Connecticut seashore to a laboratory near Chicago.

Upon placing the oysters in trays, enough salt water was added to cover their shells. Light and temperature were held constant. During the first two weeks, each oyster continued to open its shell, feeding according to the tides (created by the Moon, of course) at its former seashore home site. But by the end of the second week, every oyster had changed its "cycle" to feed as the Moon peaked at its highest point over their new location.

Deer and the Moon

The easiest way to understanding the Moon's effect on Earth's inhabitants is by understanding the fact that all living organisms great and small exhibit alternating cycles of rest and activity. These, in turn, are directly related to the Sun or Moon, or both.

For example, humans have a circadian rhythm - we wake shortly after the sun rises, and we fall asleep after sundown. Nobody has to teach us this. Our bodies respond to changing light levels by producing the hormone melatonin that causes us to become drowsy and fall asleep. On the other hand, bats, owls and some species of snakes are nocturnal - they're on an after-dark activity schedule.

So, how does this relate to deer? Well, the unique makeup of their light-gathering eyes and their weird four-part stomachs suggest they're neither circadian nor nocturnal. Some biologists classify whitetail deer as "crepuscular," or low-light creatures, but this is only partially true. On some nights, herds of deer can be seen frolicking in fields, and on other nights they're nowhere to be found. Likewise sometimes deer are active during the day, and sometimes they're not. Why is this? It is all because of subtle rhythms to whitetail patterns involving the Moon. And this is what makes deer fairly predictable.

Deer herd running by bank
WIth deer being crepuscular, if they are spotted moving during the day, it is usually due to the moon. And they generally react to the moon at the same time in the same way.

Research from Harvard University involving 122,000 registered nurses dating back to 1976 revealed the perils of "shift work." As it turned out, the results from the study revealed that women who worked rotating shifts for six years or more experienced a 50 percent higher risk of heart disease.

As it turns out, deer are no different. With its four-chambered stomach, a deer is designed to feed quickly to minimize exposure to predation, then retreat for security cover to "chew its cud." Deer must feed rhythmically or the microorganisms living in the first chamber of their stomach, the rumen, will die. Without these microbes present deer would surely die because they wouldn’t be able to digest woody fibers and food matter high in cellulose.

As a result, deer, like so many other species on the planet, tend to feed on a regular schedule. This schedule, as it turns out, literally rotates around the Moon. Each day, the Moon rises and travels across the sky above the horizon just like the sun, peaking at its midpoint before beginning to set. But unlike the sun the Moon rises a little later each day - about 51 minutes, on average. This unique schedule makes tracking the Moon's comings and goings difficult and is largely responsible for keeping deer hunters in the dark over the years.

However, in recent years things have started to change. Lunar charts such as the Deer Hunter’s Moon Guide conveniently convert the Moon's overhead and underfoot positions into times of day. This information is very helpful because the Moon's "overhead" position (and 12 1/2 hours later it’s "underfoot" position) coincide with predictable feeding times of whitetails each day. Anglers have long used this lunar lore successfully, and now hunters are finding similar correlations.

But how do bowhunters know that this information is fact and not simply some old form of folklore? Well, to answer that question let’s refer to a study conducted by Texas Tech University biologist Steve Demarais and whitetail management consultant Bob Zaiglin. The two radio-collared 25 trophy bucks and monitored them from 1985 through 1987 in South Texas. The pair's extensive background enabled them to interpret and express their data in hunter-friendly terms, first published in the September 1991 issue of Buckmasters.

Many insights were obtained from their testing. However, one in particularly stands out among the rest: Deer movements were most pronounced during the traditional hunting hours of dawn and dusk "when there was a 1/4 to 3/4 Moon." Further, the Moonless and Full Moon phases seemed to "break this pattern down."

Bowhunter in Lost Camo
Shining is a popular tactic (when legal) to spot deer at night and try to pattern their movements and habits. Understanding the moon and how it influences deer will increase your harvesting odds tremendously. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

The key variable here is Moon position: Quarter-Moons peak overhead (and underfoot) during low-light periods of sunset and sunrise. Coincidentally, bucks use the reduced light as cover and are more comfortable with their surroundings during early and late "Moon times" associated with these phases. This observation is substantiated with harvest data: Most deer registered at check stations throughout the nation are harvested during favorable morning and evening "Moon times." On the other hand, very few bucks are taken during Full Moons, largely because the Moon is directly underfoot during midday - a time when deer hunters are progammed into thinking they won't see many deer.

How to Make the Lunar Connection Work

Many factors can contribute to when and where deer will be active, but none are predictable ... except for the Moon. It is true that you can’t always rely on temperature, wind, precipitation, hunting pressure (or lack of it) on any given day afield. However, you can always count on the moon to shine at very predictable times. Therefore, it is advantageous to first find out when the Moon is overhead and when it's underfoot before heading afield. Then concentrate your efforts in appropriate places at those special times.

To make things brief, deer hunters can choose any one of three locations to ambush deer. These locations are where deer bed, where they feed, or the travel corridors in between. Once you know when the moon will peak on particular days, you can then develop a game plan that is based on sound knowledge. When developing plans, be especially sensitive to early morning and late afternoon "Moon times" that allow you to hunt food sources, since they're a lot easier to identify than bedding areas. This happens to be the main difficulty of midday "Moon times": You see, deer will typically be bedded down when the Moon's urge to "get up to feed" hits. As a result, deer and they won't venture far from security cover to feed.

The more deer hunters learn about the moon, the more we understand that there is much more to learn. For example, the moon has recently been identified by many as the cause of varying deer rut dates within whitetail herds.

Shining

Shining consists of using bright lights at nighttime to spot locations and activities of deer herds. However, it isn’t always legal in some states so be sure to check game regulations before attempting this method of “scouting”.

This procedure is done at night because that is typically when deer feel safest and are understandably more active as a result. Shining can provide deer numbers as well as what food source is being used the most. Both can help with treestand placement.

Tools used for shining basically consist of high powered, hand held lights- usually those consisting of one million candlelights or more will work best. Many of these lights can be found in hunting/camping stores.

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