When it comes to deer hunting, everyone’s an expert. Whether it’s scents, calls or stand placement, everyone has opinions on deer hunting tactics.
But if you really want to argue, ask deer hunters how the moon affects deer movements. Many hunters put lots of stock in moon phases; even planning their hunting schedule and vacation days to coincide with the lunar phases they think spur big bucks to move in daylight. Further, countless studies — scientific and otherwise — have tested if or how the moon affects deer.
Many hunters believe the full moon is a double-edged sword. They think November’s full moon kicks the rut into high gear, but they also believe many bucks move all night because of improved visibility. Are they right?
Marcus Lashley of North Carolina State University compiled over 22,000 GPS fixes on live deer and correlated their activity to moon phases. He found they moved the most at dawn and dusk, regardless of moon phase. In fact, their movements varied little between moon phases. However, Lashley detected a slight increase in midday deer activity during full moons. Also, deer movements were greatest at dawn during new moons, with some increased activity shortly after daylight. In addition, deer movements were greatest during late afternoon during the last-quarter moon. These were minor activity upticks, however, and not major increases over other moon phases.
In another study, Dr. Mickey Hellickson collared 43 bucks on Texas’ famous King Ranch and recorded more than 420,000 GPS locations to analyze buck movements from October to January. After analyzing the data, Hellickson concluded, “Although the moon may influence buck movements in other ways, our data did not indicate any patterns relative to the effects of moon phase on buck movements.”
Despite such findings, many hunters believe the moon plays a part in deer activity, and especially rut activity. The late Charles Alsheimer — a serious hunter and prolific whitetail photographer and author — worked with Vermont biologist Wayne Laroche for years studying moon phases and rutting activity. They created a Lunar Rut Predictor guide that many hunters follow faithfully. The Alsheimer-Laroche theory holds that the second full moon after the autumnal equinox triggers rutting activity in bucks and does. Their guide predicts peak dates for the rut’s seeking, chasing and breeding phases. It also predicts whether a given year’s rut will be a “synchronized” rut, a “classic” rut or a “trickle” rut.
For more information on their predictions, click here.
We know with certainty that moon phases strongly affect some creatures, including some fish species. But as much as we want to believe lunar phases affect deer movements, most research finds no supporting evidence. Any minor movement changes based on moon phase are statistically insignificant. Still, many veteran hunters who consistently tag impressive whitetails swear by the moon’s influence.
The Archery Trade Association’s Patrick Durkin recently wrote an article citing a Penn State survey of hunter opinions about the moon’s influence on whitetails. Of the survey’s 1,600-plus respondents, only 12% believed moon phase had no effect on deer, while 22% said it had significant effects.
You can read Durkin’s story here.
Still, it’s untrue to say moon phases have absolutely no effect on whitetail movements. Different moon phases seem to trigger slight activity increases at different times of day. However, scientists say these changes are minor or statistically insignificant.
Why, then, do hunters believe the moon affects deer activity? Maybe some hunters killed their best bucks during a full moon, and simply credit the moon for their success. Or maybe there’s more to it than science can detect. Either way, if the Penn State study is accurate, over one in five hunters puts great faith in moon phases. Whether you do or not, the whitetail’s rut is a magical time to be in your stand no matter the moon phase.