Piecing Together The Puzzle Of Deer Movement

Upstate Outdoors
October 26, 2018 - 12:44 pm

Phillip Gentry

It’s that time of year again when whitetail deer begin engaging in the breeding season. If you are a deer hunter, this time of year is referred to as “The Rut”. For deer hunters, the rut typically means more deer movement at odd times of day or any time of day. Unfortunately, it can also mean more deer activity after dark.

Many deer hunters lament that they won’t see as many deer during legal hunting times after the full moon that occurred this week. The thought is that deer prefer the dark and so only move after the sun goes down. The truth is that deer move throughout the day and night, but may only visit certain locations after dark – when it’s safe.

Weather, moon phase, hunting pressure, food, and the presence of other deer are all factors that affect where and when a trophy buck is going to show himself. Understanding these factors will help you piece together the puzzle. The idea is that a deer on his feet and moving is better than a deer that is stationary or moves only a short distance between feeding and bedding areas. The goal is to intercept him while he’s on his feet somewhere along that route.

Deer appearing to be nocturnal often has more to do with hunting pressure than any other factor. The way to combat excessive hunting pressure is by rotating the stands and locations that you hunt, making you as unpredictable to the deer as they have become to you. Marking permanent stands off the list is probably in order, unless those stands have not been hunted at all. Even so, one or two hunts will probably be all you get out of one.

Moon phase is always an influencing factor in deer movement but seems to be the hardest to pin down. More available light at night tends to make deer move more during that cycle and conversely more toward the middle of the day, but moving from one place to another is still moving so it’s hard to get a read based solely on the moon phase, because other factors also come into play.

A lot of hunters look for deer to move more during the day once it gets cooler. To a certain extent that’s true, but deer are outdoors 24/7, 365 days a year and they develop routines over time that are not as interrupted by cold, rain, heat, wind or snow as you might think. Again, it’s hard to pin deer movement solely on weather because there are other variables.

Food is the old standby that probably gets more deer killed than anything else. One of the reasons for this is that all deer have to eat, some experts say as much as 5 times per day. Deer tend to congregate at food sources so the presence of food and the presence of other deer often work together to make a wary buck drop his guard.

Not all food sources are available or desirable at the same time of year, so keeping up with which type of acorn is falling and which browse food is ripe is an important part of being in the right place to congregate a lot of deer and increase your chances of crossing paths with the trophy animal you’re seeking. 

During the breeding season, which is broken down into the pre-rut and the rut phase, deer tend to respond more to the presence of other deer. Bucks who hung out together with little interest in does now stake out their territory which usually encompasses where the girls are.

It’s a toss up to say which deer will bring a trophy buck out of hiding and into broad daylight quicker, a doe in heat or a competitor for that doe and that territory. Buck are known to search longer distances than their natural home range looking for females but will stand in the middle of a busy intersection during rush hour traffic and lock horns with a competitor for his turf.

All in all, it’s a dilemma that keeps deer hunters returning to the woods day after day to work the puzzle.


Phillip Gentry is the host of “Upstate Outdoors,” broadcast from noon to 2 p.m. Saturdays on WORD 106.3 FM. The show can be streamed live online at 1063word.radio.com or via podcast anytime.


Deer movement is a puzzle whose pieces don’t always fit the way you’d expect. 




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