There’s no season like deer season! You’ve got your gear, picked your ol’ hunting stomping ground, and you’re ready to tag a big buck. But when should you be heading out?
Many hunters have one question on their mind: when is the best time of day to hunt deer?
Ask any hunter with more mud on their boots, and you’ll get a bunch of different opinions.
Deer hunting is a game of odds. But it’s also a game of smart decisions. To find success in the field and get a crack at tagging a buck, you need to find the best hunting time.
So what time of day makes the odds more favorable for the deer hunter?
The best time of day to hunt deer is any time you can go. But if you plan your deer hunts based on this guide, you’ll definitely see more action in the woods.
Whether you’re new to the sport or a seasoned veteran, here’s everything you need to know for a successful deer hunting season.
Best Time of Day to Hunt Deer – Understanding Deer Habits
Most deer hunters know that there are certain “tells” that indicate that a whitetail deer has busted you. If you’re a seasoned hunter, you’re likely aware of some of the habits. But if this is your first time in the woods, you might have no clue what to look for, let alone how to interpret deer signs.
Understanding deer habits can also help you determine whether your calling is working, whether the deer is oblivious to your activity, or whether to hold off on the shot because something larger this way comes.
So let’s cut to the chase, when can you expect to get a crack at tagging a whitetail?
Dusk and Dawn are the Best Times to Hunt Deer
One of the first lessons in Whitetail Hunting 101 is that deer are crepuscular animals, meaning they’re most active during dawn and dusk. By now, you’ve probably heard all about the “hunting golden hours” of dusk and dawn. There’s a reason these hours of the day are known as the golden hours for hunters.
This doesn’t mean that deer lounge around all day. It is possible to spot a deer at any time, and there have been successful hunts during midday to prove it. But your best shot (literally) at spotting a whitetail is to be at your tree stand at daybreak and just before you hit the hay.
There’s a reason these two times of the day are key for maximizing your deer hunting efforts. It all boils down to deer biology. The first rays of dawn are when deers are ready to head to bed. Dusk is the time when a whitetail’s appetite kicks in. They’re up and at ’em, ready to hit their feeding areas.
But before you decide on hunting at dusk or dawn, know that each has pros and cons. The most obvious con of hunting during dusk is that it gets dark. Unlike deer, we rely on sight as the main sense, so hunters may find it difficult to hunt when night approaches.
However, hunting at dusk has its advantages over dawn. Hunters can intercept deer while they move from their bedding areas to their feeding areas. Many hunters prefer hunting in the morning because of the light. However, it does mean you’ll have to head to your stand very early.
What About a Midday Deer Hunt?
While dawn and dusk might be the most active time for deer, it’s not to say that midday is a complete waste for hunting. Once deer return to their bedding sites after feeding (between 6-10 am), they typically sleep until noon. They rise again around 1 pm for a short midday stroll and a quick snack before heading back to bed.
Hunting during the day will definitely provide hunters with many benefits. A midday hunt means better vision, easier tracking, faster and easier setups, and more energy and strength. But midday movement is more erratic and depends on several factors.
For example, deer movement is particularly uneasy when it’s raining. Rain interferes with deer’s sense of smell and hearing, which encourages them to rely on their sight. This is why expert hunters tend to make so many kills when it’s raining.
Another factor that affects daytime deer activity is unseasonably warm temperatures. If you’re heading out on a warm or hot midday hunt, don’t expect to find any whitetails. Unless the temperature matches a deer’s comfort zone, you won’t see any movement during daylight hours.
Deer Hunting During the Rut
There is a period between mid-fall and late autumn when bucks throw out the dawn-and-dusk thing and move around whenever they feel like it. This period is known as “the rut” or breeding period.
Outside of the rut period, deer typically keep to a more strict routine. During a rut, deer behavior changes, and hunters must adapt to those changes if they want to score a successful kill.
For the hunter, this period is the best time to hunt deer. Deer movement increases as mature bucks search for a doe ready to receive their attention. Some bucks will stay in their home range, while others will move away. This can often make their movements unpredictable, but it also creates key opportunities for bagging that trophy buck.
The timing of the rut season differs in different parts of the country. In the North, this breeding period is at its peak at the start of November. In the South, it can extend all the way into January.
Everything you know or have heard about deer hunting is cast aside during the rut. You’ll likely witness deer behavior that’s out of sorts or completely normal. Buck movement will depend on an individual deer’s personality. However, one thing is certain. Where there’s a doe, there’s a buck nearby.
Some tips for hunting during this period: stick close to a bedding site, stay downwind and keep your eyes peeled for a doe.
Lastly, while there are “peak breeding” periods during the rut, you can still yield good results during any phase if you employ the right tactics and have patience.
Best Times of the Season to Hunt Deer
We know the best time of day to hunt deer is early morning and late afternoon, but what about the time of year you’re in the field?
Season plays a large role in spotting deer, let alone getting a shot in. Some parts of the season are definitely better than others.
You can count on deer moving a lot on the opening day of gun season.
Early September through a few weeks of October is prime time to tag some whitetails. Though in some states, hunters will take to the woods as early as August.
Hunting early season has many advantages. This is mainly because more mature bucks, even the biggest ones, are still on their late summer/early fall bed-to-feed routine. These super predictable behavior patterns are why many experienced hunters call it the “second rut.”
Using trail cameras in the right spots, you can nail down the daily movements of bucks coming out to feed. The best spot to place trail cameras is along travel routes between thick cover and probable food sources.
Another reason this is the best time to hunt deer is that deer haven’t been hunted in months. They’re less weary and more likely to feed in open areas.
Mid-season is when hunters experience the most depressive drop in deer sightings. Call it the October lull or pre-rut blues. So how do you make the most of your time in the field if you can only hunt mid-season?
The drop in deer sightings during this time is partly due to high hunting pressure in the season opener. Being smart animals, deers quickly catch on to hunting behavior and change their patterns to adapt to it.
You’ll find big bucks sitting tight in bedding sights throughout the day during most of this time. Nighttime is when they’re most active for their foraging needs.
This period is also known as the “pre-rut,” as a handful of does come into estrous (heat) before the main event. Capitalizing on this action means hunters need to scout frequently and implement what is known as ‘pre-rut’ hunting tactics to adapt to the changing deer behavior.
Large bachelor groups begin to split up to establish dominance as they near the rut. Scrapes and rubs on trees and telltale signs of this deer activity. The seeking phase soon follows; this is when hunter anticipation runs high.
While mid-season is not the most ideal time for optimal hunting, it’s definitely a serious prelude to The Big Show that every hunter should try to take advantage of.
Many hunters forget about the chilly 12th month of the deer hunting season. They point to the glorious September days and the thrill of the rut.
But the beginning to middle of the late season brings some busy times in deer woods. You’ll find many of your fellow hunters out looking to get their stock of venison for the year.
As we mentioned earlier, there are no rules during the rut season. So we won’t go too much into hunting during this time.
As the rut comes to a close in early December, hunters will find some of the biggest of bucks in the unlikeliest places at improbable times. In addition, there are almost no other hunters out now, as most have filled their freezers or given up on the hunt for the year.
Naturally, there’s no sugar-coating the pains of hunting during this time. December is cold and frigid – so be prepared! But the cooler the temperature (even the uncomfortable hard frost), the more deer you’ll see.
Another drawback of hunting during this time is deer are on high alert. After being spooked, harassed, and shot at for over three months, they’ll naturally flee at the first sign of danger. If there is a time that tests the skill of a deer hunter, it’s the late season.
Factors To Consider When Hunting Deer
Many hunters get so hung up over the best time of day to hunt deer that they end up overlooking other factors that are just as important.
While hunting for deer at the right times is important, there are other factors hunters should consider:
Whitetails can be found all over the US, but they’re most abundant in the Midwest and Southwest. They can also be spotted in the Rocky Moutain states as well. If you want to increase your chances of tagging one, it’s important to know where in your state they’re located.
The best way to get information on prime hunting locations is to network with other hunters. You can also join deer hunting groups on social media to learn more about the best concentration of deer in your area.
Back in 1926, American John Alden Knight proposed the “solunar theory,” which was based on years of observations of fishing and hunting. This theory states that the action of the sun and moon influences the activity of all animals.
The theory that deer movement is affected by the position of the sun and moon is still widely accepted and adopted by hunters today. There are many solunar calendar apps that hunters can use.
Time of Year
As you know, the activity of whitetail – and other American game – changes according to the seasons.
During early deer hunting season, deer movement is minimal as there’s little competition for food and other natural resources. The time when you’ll see deer moving the most is during the rut. Rutting season sees a drastic change in activity for both bucks and does.
Temperature and certain weather conditions have a significant impact on deer movement. Whitetails generally prefer colder weather. Past studies on deer movement have shown that high temperatures have a strong negative impact, significantly reducing deer movement.
This is great knowledge to use when hunting deer, no matter the time of day.
Another factor to consider when searching for prime hunting times is the general weather conditions of the day. Deers are smart and can understand the uncertainties and dangers of harsh weather. For example, they will seek shelter during a heavy rainstorm.
If the weather forecast for hunting day is cloudy with a chance of rain, it just might be a good day to hunt deer.
Barometric pressure has long been a debated topic amongst hunters. Some say it has an effect on deer movement, while others believe the theory is an old wives’ tale.
Whatever your view on the matter, know that science has proven that barometric pressure has a distinct effect on humans and beasts alike.
Studies have shown that whitetails are highly sensitive to changes in barometric pressure and the resulting atmospheric conditions. Deer feed, bed, and move according to the barometer movement.
Much research suggests that deer move best when the barometer is high and stable – around 30.
Another critical factor is the wind. The wind can be an enemy to both hunters and deer, depending on who is using it to their advantage.
Deer have extremely sensitive noses. Some studies have said that a whitetail deer’s sense of smell is around 10,000 times stronger than a human’s. So, if the wind is blowing in their direction, they’ll be able to smell you from a mile away.
Remember that evaluating the wind direction and strength is vital when determining the best hunting times.
Deer Hunting Tips: How To Bag a Big Buck
To ensure you don’t have a frustrating hunting season, we’ve put together some tips to help make your season a winner.
If you’re new to the sport and would like more in-depth advice on how to hunt deer, the best equipment to use, and field dressing techniques – check out our beginner tips for hunting deer.
1. Smell Like a Buck
Never underestimate the power of a whitetail deer’s nose and the importance of scent control. Their noses are sensitive defense systems that alert them to predators…that includes you.
Human stink is a dead giveaway to deer. You might get lucky smoking a cigarette or eating a sandwich packed with onion, but ignoring the scent will most likely ruin your hunt.
If you want a deer hunting date with destiny, you need to smell like nothing. There are various scent-eliminating products on the market for hunters to use.
Remember, even if you’ve used scent-eliminating products but are walking around with an open mug of coffee, you’re still sharing a scent with deer.
2. Maximize Wind Direction
Eliminating your smell is only a part of a good scent control hunting strategy. The other is paying attention to wind direction. One of the biggest mistakes a hunter can make is ignoring wind direction.
Wind can either be your friend or enemy on a hunt. You need to be in tune with the wind to ensure success.
Wind direction may or may not matter if you’re in a tree stand or a blind. Scent does not travel as easily in raised blinds with walls as it does sitting in tree stands. Ultimately, staying downwind of where the deer typically are is key.
3. Scout the Area
If possible, you should be familiar with the land you are hunting on. You may have the opportunity to hunt on private property or public land that cannot be scouted before a hunt. But if you have access to the hunting area, you should take the time to scout the area.
You and either do this in person or use online satellite images to view the terrain from above.
4. Choose the Best Weapon & Hunting Equipment
From your boots and clothing to your weapon of choice, the right hunting gear and equipment are key to your success. For example, tree stands are an excellent choice for deer hunting; you get a better view of the surrounding terrain, and you’re out of the deer’s line of sight.
Whether you’re a beginner or a hunting pro trying out a new weapon, it’s essential that you’re educated on your weapon and have had plenty of practice before putting a game animal in your sights.
Another key tip is researching the legal weapons for your chosen game, season, and area.
5. Setting Up in the Right Spot
Hunting higher up in a tree stand can benefit the hunter in a few ways. For one, it can help keep your scent higher off the ground. This will give you somewhat of an edge in the scent control game.
There are several great spots you can place your stand. Ridges are good because they keep your scent from reaching deer and offer better visibility. The corners of fields are also a good place as deer enter fields through corners to feed. Lastly, try placing your stand at the intersection of multiple bed-to-feed paths.
For bowhunters, in particular, the downside of hunting at higher ground is a narrower window for a clear vitals shot. Steep angles can make it difficult to get clean pass-through shots. Bowhunters should place their stand around 12-20 yards from where they think the deer are.
6. Call the Deer
Another excellent deer hunting tactic is calling the deer. Deers make various sounds to communicate with one another. You can use this to your advantage when you hunt deer.
However, this tactic should be done in moderation. Overdoing a call can point out the obvious – you’re not a deer.
Some calls you can use to draw deer towards you are:
- Rattling – This is a popular way to call bucks during the day. To make the sound, you mesh and bang antlers together to stimulate two buck fighting. It’s a great tactic that works just before and during the rut.
- Grunt Call – A grunt call is made by bucks and works on their sense of curiosity. Once they hear another buck in the area, they come to investigate.
- Doe Bleat – This sound works in the same way as a grunt call. Doe bleats let deer know that there are other deer nearby.
Another way you can draw deer out is to use a deer decoy. The best deer decoys come in handy on any hunt and can maximize your chances when used correctly.
8. Consider Hunting with a Partner
Those who enjoy the outdoors with other hunters understand the value of having a good hunting buddy.
If you’re new to the world of deer hunting, having an experienced hunter by your side is a great way to learn the intricacies of the sport.
Safety is another major reason, whether you’re a novice or an expert. There comes a time when hunters may be at odds with nature, and having someone there to help is incredibly useful.
Another major pro of a hunting buddy is more rewarding success. A hunting partner is there to push you even when you feel like giving up. There’s a great feeling that comes with camaraderie while out hunting deer.
9. Take an Ethical Shot
An important part of being a responsible hunter is taking an ethical shot at a deer, whether with a gun or bow. The definition of an “ethical shot” has been hotly debated. However you define it, hopefully it means getting the cleanest, quickest kills possible.
This takes practice, patience, and sometimes even the capacity to pass up a shot that’s not ideal. This is part of being a disciplined hunter.
Frequently Asked Questions
What time of day do deer move the most?
Deer are most active during the twilight hours of dusk and dawn.
How do you attract deer quickly?
One of the surest ways to attract deer is through their stomach. Large or small food plots with corn, peas, turnips, clever, milo, and alfalfa will attract and keep deer.
Where can you find big bucks?
Big bucks can be found if you hunt funnels and bedding fringe points during the rut. If you hunt deer on private or public land with a great deal of hunting pressure, pick an area where other hunters aren’t going.
Does the moon phase affect deer movement?
While many hunters put lots of stock in moon phases, they have no relationship to deer activity. Moon phases are the last thing to consider when hunting deer. Instead, focus and prepare your hunt around early morning and late afternoon when deer are most known for being active.
In truth, the best time of day to hunt deer is any time you can go. But there are critical hours in the day when hunters will find the most success. Dusk and dawn are the two windows of opportunity for hunters to have a shot at tagging a deer.
But be sure not to get too hung up on the time of day. Many factors come into play for a successful deer hunting season, from your location and weather conditions to the time of year and barometric pressure. And, of course, your skills as a marksman above anything else.
While it would be a dream for a nice buck or a healthy doe to walk past you every time you head out to the field – it’s not that simple or that easy. But you can certainly up your odds by following the advice above!
We guarantee you’ll enjoy the hunt, even if all you have to show for it is a numb butt and a view of a beautiful sunset.
Don’t forget to check out my guide to the best meat grinders for deer hunters if you’re successful in your hunt and have some tasty venison to show for it!