The Best Days to Deer Hunt in 2024

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Image: ImageBy_Rich_Waite_buck_trophy_best_days

Any day is a good day to deer hunt, but prime conditions make a few days special. Image by Rich Waite

A good day to hunt is any day you can get off work. But knowing that some days will be better than others, I flipped through the calendar, analyzed moon phases, guessed the weather as best I could, and predicted when the hunting will be best this season.

Image: ImageBy_Realtree_Media_hunt_bow_best_days_1

Be proactive and hunt days that are projected to produce better results. Image by Realtree

OCTOBER 20-21

After weeks of lazing around and fattening on grain and acorns, mature bucks get antsy and start to move more, the deeper we get into October. If you study historical rut curves assembled by biologists for the northern two thirds of North America, you’ll find that 5 to 7 percent of a herd’s does are bred around an October 20 “mini-rut.” That’s not many does, but it’s more than enough to make bucks active. For the bowhunter, good things can happen right now.

Best conditions: It will be a warm Indian summer weekend in many regions. Plus, on October 21 the moon is waxing to first-quarter, which studies have shown to be the worst phase for deer movement. BUT, if you get lucky and the first significant cold snap of the year blows in from the northwest and drops the temperature 20 or 30 degrees in your area, watch out, you might tag out.

Top stand: A narrow oak ridge within 100 yards of a corn or bean field is one of my favorite spots in bow season. Deer cut around points, ditches, and gullies on a hogback; hang stands on these terrain features to funnel bucks close. Bucks stage, eat acorns and browse in ridge thickets not only in the evenings, but in the mornings as well.

Go-to tactics: Deer are super sensitive to human odor now, so spray your camouflage, pack, and any other fabric gear with a scent-eliminator. I believe it’s too early to rattle, but keep your grunt call handy and use it if you see a buck cruising out of bow range. Hang two scent wicks with hot-doe scent near your stand to create the illusion of an early estrus doe in the area.

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OCTOBER 28-31

No trick but all treat for bowhunters this Halloween, so make the next weekend a long hunting weekend if you can.

Best conditions: Based on the full moon October 28, I predict good to great deer movement all weekend and through to Halloween, when the moon will still shine at 93% illumination. The bright moon should kick some bucks into scraping and prowling. If a cold front rolls into your area and drops temperatures into the 35- to 50-degree range, watch out because the Halloween pre-rut could be epic.

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Top stand: A killer spot is near the corner of a woodlot where an overgrown pasture and a crop field merge. Bucks will run those diverse edges and fence rows, rubbing and scraping as they make for the feed in the afternoon. Some does and bucks will cut across the weed pasture, especially in the mornings, so watch for tines and flashes of hide out in the brush.

Go-to tactics: On these full-moon days, I find that deer tend to move best at midday and a little earlier in the afternoons, so morning hunts could be iffy; concentrate time in the stand from 11 a.m. until dark. Grunt and light rattle to any bucks you see crossing the weed field out of range. Calling remains a good, if uncertain, tactic for the next three weeks. In the afternoons, try a doe decoy. Stake her where she’s visible in the cut crops 25 yards from your bow stand.

Image: ImageBy_Manuel_Huss_moon_deer_activity

Regardless of moon phase, you can’t go wrong hunting the second week of November. Image by Manuel Huss

NOVEMBER 6-8

Regardless of weather or moon phase, the majority of whitetail does in the northern two-thirds of America will be bred between November 5 and Thanksgiving. If you check the record books, November 6-8 have historically been top big-buck days within this window, especially in Midwestern states. That won’t change this year.

Why is this week hot? Most bucks haven’t bred a doe for a year. They wander around in a testosterone stupor, rubbing trees, pawing scrapes, acting ornery, and waiting on that first wave of does to pop into estrus any day now. Any given year you cannot go wrong taking off work and hunting this week, especially if you hunt from Missouri through the upper Midwest to Wisconsin.

Best conditions: Like on Halloween, hope for cold weather and frosty mornings. The cooler the days and the less humidity, the better. A light wind out of the north or west is perfect.

These three days will be illuminated by a last-quarter moon phase, which should make the hunting even better. I am a believer in a deer/moon study conducted at North Carolina State some years ago. It tracked the movements of GPS-collared whitetails through the four moon phases and found that overall deer activity is best during the last-quarter.

Top Stand: This time of year, I love morning hunts back in the timber. Set a stand or blind where two or more ridges, points, and draws converge and drop off into a thick river or creek bottom. Resident bucks, as well some cruisers from a mile or 2 away, will swing though these corridors and funnels, either trolling for does or chasing them. Hunt a convergence like this for two or three days and I’ll put down money you’ll see a shooter.

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Go-to tactics: While scrape hunting is always iffy, these are the days to try it, especially if you have trail cam pictures of bucks hitting a really hot scrape. Rattle from your convergence stand (7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. on a frosty, still day is best). Grunt at any buck you see. Hanging hot-doe wicks can’t hurt. Hang tough on stand for as long as you can hack it, and be sure to hunt the last two hours of daylight. The N.C. State moon study I told you about earlier found that deer move best the last hour of daylight under a last-quarter moon.

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NOVEMBER 14-17

If you’re off work this week, hunt as many hours as you can, especially if you live in the Mid-Atlantic up into the Northeast, where peak rut tends to run a week to 10 days later than in the Midwest. It’s the rut, man, and you never know when and where you’ll see a big deer.

Not to spoil the fun, but this is the start of major lockdown in some places in the Midwest. Older bucks hook up with does and seem to go underground to have their fun for three or four days. Shooter buck sightings can decrease noticeably. If you hit it wrong, the woods can be like a tomb.

If you take vacation this week, keep in mind the pressure. This is a big hunting week all across America. There will be many bowhunters in the woods in some areas, and an army of gun hunters out in other places. Try to hunt a spot where pressure is lightest.

Best conditions: I sound like a broken record, but you want it cool-to-cold for the best hunting. But don’t let a heat wave stop you. One November 16 in South Dakota, with the sun burning the prairie at 80 degrees, I stalked and sweated and finally shot a 5½-year-old 8-pointer that was drooling and tending a doe out in the tall grass at 2 p.m. When you hit it right, the power of the rut is amazing.

These days fall under the New Moon of November. Both the N.C. State study and my 40 years of field-journal entries indicate that during the dark phase, deer move best at first light each morning, and movement diminishes the remainder of the day.

Top stand: Set a stand or blind on a timbered ridge flanked by a crop field on one or two sides and CRP, a marsh, or other heavy cover on the other. The more deer trails on a ridge, the better. Heavy cover near your stand is crucial, because with the pressure of the last couple weeks, old bucks will stage and move in or near thick stuff before coming out to feed. Be on stand extra early each morning and hunt hard until at least 10 am.

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Go-to tactics: I back off rattling now because bucks have heard clashing antlers (both real and fake) for weeks. But keep grunting because those calls won’t spook deer, and to the contrary might pull in a buck at any time.

Image: ImageBy_Mike_Hanback_kansas_buck

The author admires a giant Kansas buck he shot last season in early December. Image by Mike Hanback

DECEMBER 3-5

For the last five years I have hunted in Oklahoma and/or Kansas (when I drew a tag) in early December. On all those hunts I witnessed good buck movement and some of the best rutting activity of the year. I’ve shot five mature bucks over that span, including a stunning 160-class giant in southeast Kansas last December 3. The early post-rut has become my most productive time, and I urge you not to miss these three days this season.

Best conditions: This December 3-5, two things will work in your favor. While Sunday could be tricky, there will be noticeably less hunting pressure in your woods on Monday and Tuesday. On December 4, the moon will be waxing to last-quarter, which as we discussed earlier is typically the best phase for deer activity, especially the last hour of daylight. If it’s frosty and cold those three days, all the better.

Top stand: Mature bucks that have been hunted for weeks come to check does and eat the last morsels of food in a field or plot, but they’re hesitant to move through open woods in daylight. Bucks will cling to the last strips of standing weeds or brush in a draw, or walk in a cover-laced ditch, or hug cedars on a ridge. That’s where you need to set up, tight to those cover strips and close to the feed, and try to whack a buck the last hour before sundown.

Go-to-tactics: A landmark Texas study found that the early post-rut is the best time to rattle in a 4- or 5-year-old buck, so crack the horns (crisp, still mornings are best). Go back and watch areas you hunted in the November rut; you might catch a buck prowling back through the rut zone for a last hot doe. I lay a doe-in-heat trail into all my December stands, and then I hang wicks to float more estrus lure in the woods. There are only a few hotties left to breed now, and that sweet scent might bring a buck running. If you see him, shoot straight. Good luck!

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