Does Feeding Deer Make Them Nocturnal? [Know THIS First]

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Video does baiting deer make them nocturnal

One of the most aggravating things about early season deer hunting is when you have a buck on camera, and he just disappears or goes nocturnal. A bait pile is an extremely popular place to hang a camera, and I have done that plenty of times. Although when deer seem to go nocturnal, plenty of hunters wonder if the bait is to blame. It is a valid question, but it doesn’t have a single answer. Let me sum it up for you before we dive into the details.

Feeding deer does not make the nocturnal. The main reasons for decreased daylight activity around supplemental food sources are: increased hunting pressure from constantly hunting the area or adding more bait and checking trail cameras, or natural range changes throughout the season.

That is the brief version, but let’s get into the most important aspect of this whole topic; deer are not bats.

Whitetail Deer Are Not Nocturnal

Sure, deer move around plenty during the night, but they are not nocturnal animals. Raccoons and bats are nocturnal, meaning they primarily come out at night. Deer move at all times of the day. The height of their movement is during sun up and sun down, which is why you hear people say deer are crepuscular.

Deer feed 5 times in a 24 hour period. At least 2 of those feedings are during the daylight hours, whether they are in front of your camera or not. While it may be true that a particular deer is only spending time on your property at night, he is moving around another property he feels more comfortable on during the daylight.

If you aren’t quite convinced that your buck isn’t nocturnal, I wrote an entirely separate article about how to get a nocturnal buck in front of your crosshairs that you can read right here.I go into what exactly makes bucks nocturnal (not just bait piles) and what steps you can take to see him during the day.

The Big Ten whitetail buck trail camera photo OG 1024x538 1 Does Feeding Deer Make Them Nocturnal? [Know THIS First]

It is Probably Your Fault

While deer love a good corn pile, they are not willing to die for it. They are smart animals and are still going to be weary when they come into the bait. So when you hunt that same stand weekend after weekend, they start to catch on. The more you hunt it, the more hunting pressure you are going to put on the area. Hunting pressure is exactly what bucks try to avoid by staying on parcels with more cover during the day.

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What is that hunting pressure exactly? Well, it is when the deer figure out you are there and start to avoid the area. The more time you spend in a portion of the woods, the more likely it is that deer are going to catch on. Having deer see or smell you and just generally spending more time in the woods is going to increase the hunting pressure in that area.

Scent control is extremely important for keeping pressure at a minimum; and if you hunt in the same area all the time, that is fine, but you have to be even more careful with your scent. The same thing is going on when you go to check your bait, add more bait, or check your trail camera. That is going to put your scent directly where you want deer to be, and you can bet they will smell you.

Scent control is a huge topic and it is crucial for any hunter, so I wrote an entire Ebook about it. If you want to learn everything the industry knows about scent control and hear my 2¢ too, then check it out on this page. You can even get the first chapter for free!

How Much Bait Are You Using?

Of course, I am not an all knowing god of deer hunting, so I did plenty of research for this article. One interesting theory that makes plenty of sense is using less bait. If you are using an automatic feeder, you can obviously set it to go off at a certain time. If you set it to go off for only a few seconds a couple times during the day, you might be more likely to see deer during the day.

Compare this to just spilling a 50 pound bag of corn out in the woods and hanging a camera. There is more corn than a deer can eat in a single sitting, and it is available 24 hours a day. If the nighttime temperatures are more preferable to the day time, why would deer bother going there in the day, when they know it will be there at night and they can eat as much as they want?

So some hunters configure their feeders to spit out a minimal amount of corn to create some sense of competition among deer. If you set it to go off at 9am each day, and the deer actually eat your bait, you can bet they will show up every day at 9am.

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If refilling that big automatic feeder is getting a little expensive though, there are plenty of other things you can use to attract whitetail. If you want to see a few more affordable baits, check out this other article I wrote titled “20 Cheap Ways to Attract Whitetail Deer”.

Natural Range Changes

Something else that may be going on is a totally natural range change for your favorite buck. We all know that bucks have a major range change when we go from summer to fall, but they can change their range more than once a season.

If an area has a ton of hunting pressure (either from you, others, or both) then they may go somewhere else. You could still see them on cam because they still feel comfortable in the area at night, but not during the day. Of course, when the rut rolls around, you can forget that bucks normal patterns.

A change in food source can also be a solid reason they stop showing up during the day or at all. Once the white oaks start dropping, you can forget that corn. If the best acerns are not in the same place as your corn and camera, they probably will not spend a ton of time there. I have had corn piles completely mold over when acorns start dropping.

I actually wrote another article trying to rationalize why deer can be so active at night. If you want to learn a bit more about how deer find their way around at night while it is so dark you can’t see your hand in front of your face, read this article: How Well Can Whitetail Deer See in the Dark?

What Deer Like More Than a Bait Pile

If you really want to attract deer and have them spend a lot of time on your property, give them a reason to. If you want something, you have to work for it. Sadly, my solution is harder than pouring out some corn every now and again.

In an effort to see if deer preferred bait piles over food plots, the Mississippi State University Deer Lab conducted a three year study on collard mature bucks along the Big Black River in Yazoo and Madison counties. They tracked the movements of these bucks and recorded every time they visited a food plot or a corn baiting site, which were available at the same time.

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They found out that during the firearm season, those bucks were 3X more likely to visit a food plot over a bait site. Later in the season, they saw that those bucks were 25% more likely to visit a winter food plot over a bait site. That is a big win for food plots.

The craziest part was that they also observed more nocturnal behavior around the bait sites and they saw that those deer moved less overall than other deer. The same behavior was not observed around the food plots. So if you want to provide more food, bring bucks around more often, and have bucks in the daylight, you are better off making a small food plot than baiting.

Attracting deer, specifically bucks, is the main goal of most habitat improvement, which is the category that food plots fall into. So if you want to learn a little more about food plots and a few more things you can do to bring in bucks, you should read my other article I wrote all about How to Attract and Hold Bucks on a Small Property.

How To Keep Deer From Going Nocturnal

Mature bucks are going to look for places where they feel safe during the day. That is generally a place with plenty of cover, and possibly a good food source. If you don’t have that on your property, you might want to watch this video from Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions about “Nocturnal-Proofing” your property.

That’s about it! If you are going with the tried and true pile of corn, try to spread around as little scent as possible when you are topping it off, or checking your camera. Making some key changes on your property can also make bucks feel more comfortable during the day too. Just make sure you are not over pressuring the area! If the bait sites really aren’t working for you, I would try hunting around buck sign like scrapes or rubs, or hunting near natural funnels where deer frequently travel.

Thank you for reading my article! I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions or feedback, please send me an email at [email protected]. If you want to learn more about me or Omega Outdoors, visit my About Page. Otherwise, I hope you have a great day, and check out some of my other articles while you’re here!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>