One of the most important things to know about deer hunting is when to
hunt. When you're hunting you need to know where the deer are likely to
be during legal shooting hours. In order to know that you have to have
a good knowledge of when and where deer normally move during the day.
by Dr. Kent Kammermeyer and studies by Dr. Larry Marchinton, show that,
throughout the year, deer move more during the day than they do at
night. However, this changes as summer turns to fall, and as the rut
progresses. As vegetation begins to die off, food sources in wooded
areas are depleted, and the leaves begin to fall. This causes the deer
to seek food in more open areas, where they feel insecure during the
day. Consequently, they begin to move more during the night. The
studies show that fall deer movement peaks from 4:00-10:00 PM and again
from 4:00-8:00 AM, with some movement between 8:00 and 10:00 AM. The
farthest distances traveled per hour usually occur in the morning,
probably because the deer are trying to get back to the security of
their core areas before it gets too light.
Daytime Deer Activity
have had the opportunity to watch hundreds of deer during the day,
especially the ones that bed in the grove behind our house. Because the
deer bed within 50 - 100 yards of the kitchen window I have been able
to document everything they do during the day. They usually move out of
the grove to feed about from a half-hour to an hour before sunset,
earlier when there is cloud cover. They usually move back into the
grove from a half-hour before to a half-hour after sunrise, later when
there is cloud cover.
Once the deer are in the woods, they
usually wander around and eat grass, forbes and twigs for about a half
an hour, and then lay down. Most of the deer have two or three beds
they use on a semi-regular basis. One doe used the same bed three times
in one week. Most of the beds are on the side of a hill where they are
out of the wind, and are at the base of large trees, or near fallen
logs, or piles of brush where the deer can't be seen from one or more
directions. One bed is in the open, but it is in a low-lying area that
you can't see until you are within thirty yards of it.
the deer are in their beds they usually face down hill, or with the
wind at their backs. I assume this allows them to see or hear
approaching danger to either side or in front of them, and to smell and
hear any danger behind them, or from upwind. While in their beds the
deer intermittently lie awake or doze with their heads up and their
eyes closed. They usually open their eyes at the slightest sound of
danger, but don't usually get up unless they think the danger is
getting too close. Every once in a while the will put their heads down
on the ground and appear to be sleeping. But again, the slightest sound
will cause them to open their eyes and raise their heads and try to
determine what caused the sound. But, they don't spook easily, I have
seen crows land within five feet of the deer, while they remained lying
down, and only occasionally looked at the crows.
When I go
out the back door to go the garage the deer usually look in my
direction when the door slams shut, but they rarely get up. They do
watch to see what I am doing, and as long as I don't appear to be
moving in their direction, they lay there and watch me. However, if I
begin to move toward them they usually get up, make sure I am still
coming, and then run out the other side of the grove, across the field,
and head for the river bottom a half mile away.
day the deer usually remain in the same bed for 3-4 hours, and then get
up between 10:00 and 11:00 AM. When they get up they stretch, walk a
few yards from the bed and urinate, wander around a bit while eating,
not usually traveling more than a hundred yards, and then lay down
again. About 3 to 4 hours later they repeat this, and may lay down
again. If it is getting close to sundown they may wander around in the
woods until they feel it is safe to go out into the open to feed.
Most of the rest of their activities occur after dark, that includes
scraping. What all this means is that deer, especially older bucks,
spend up to 80 percent of the day in or near their bedding areas. If
you want to see bucks during legal hunting hours you should get as
close to their bedding areas as you can without alarming them.
Nighttime Deer Movement
Deer hunters don't often think about nighttime deer movement, because
they can't hunt at night. But, an understanding of where and how deer
move at night is essential if you want t0 be a successful hunter.
During the fall of 1999 I decided not to hunt the opening of the gun
season. Instead, I parked my truck on a high hill, where I could watch
the hunters as they drove to their hunting spots, so I could learn how
the deer reacted to all those vehicles driving down the county roads
and into the woods and fields; and all those hunters walking through
the woods during the early morning hours.
I couldn't believe
the number of vehicles I saw driving into and through the fields and
woods where I knew the deer would be feeding at night. As I drove down
the county roads to the hill, I saw five vehicles parked on access
ramps to logging roads that led into wooded areas. Didn't the hunters
know that the deer regularly used the logging roads, and often crossed
the county road right where they had parked their vehicles? Didn't they
know that any deer that saw the vehicles would probably not use the
trail, and probably would not return to their normal bedding area
because the vehicles were there?
I watched one truck go
across a half-mile cornfield, and then stop within fifty yards of the
woods. Didn't the hunters realize that the deer were feeding in the
field when they drove across it? Didn't they realize that every deer in
the field headed for the woods the minute they saw the headlights or
heard the truck? Didn't they realize every deer in the woods also heard
the truck, and that none of them would come out to feed after sunrise
when the saw the truck in the field?
I watched as another
truck was parked on a county road within twenty yards of a hay field
where I saw deer feeding from September through January. Didn't the
hunters know that the deer regularly stopped there for a last minute
bite of alfalfa before they went back to their bedding areas in the
morning? No wonder those hunters saw so few deer, and rarely saw a
buck, nonetheless a big buck; they let every deer in their hunting area
know it was the opening of gun season, and that the woods was being
invaded by humans carrying guns.
The only reasons I can think
of why hunters cross open fields to get to their deer stands is that
they don't understand that the deer eat in those fields at night. The
only reason I can think of why hunters park their vehicles where they
do is because they don't know that deer use access ramps as crossing
areas, and logging roads as travel lanes as they move to and from their
wooded bedding areas at dawn and dusk. Either that or they are just
If you want to be successful on opening day,
or any other day, don't cross an open field as you go to a stand in the
morning; know where the deer feeding areas, crossings, and travel
routes are; and don't park where the deer can see or hear your vehicle
when they use those areas. Nighttime Deer Activity
hunters realize that they see deer most often at dawn and dusk, but
some of them fail to understand that the deer rest in wooded areas
during most of the day, get up around sunset, and move out of the woods
and into fields after dark. They also don't understand that, when the
weather is nice, the deer often spend the night eating and resting in
or near the fields, and that around sunrise, they leave the fields to
go back to their wooded bedding areas.
During the night I
regularly check the feeding areas where I do research and hunt. While I
often see deer feeding after sunset and before sunrise, I also see them
bedded in or near the fields from 10:00 - 12:00 PM and from 2:00 - 4:00
AM. Several different studies on daily deer movement show that during
the fall deer are most active at night around dawn and dusk, and from
12:00 - 2:00 AM. This means they are not moving much between 10:00 and
12:00 PM, and between 2:00 and 4:00 AM.
So what do deer do at night?
deer leave their bedding areas at sunset they often head for the
nearest field, stopping to feed on grass, sedges, forbes, fruits and
twigs along the way. Once they get to the field they stock up on corn,
soybeans, alfalfa or whatever else is available. In areas where there
are several types of forage the deer may travel to each of them during
the first few hours of darkness.
Deer don't actually digest
what they eat while feeding because they are ruminants, they store the
food until later. Once they are full the deer usually lay down to
regurgitate their cud and chew it to make it digestible. From the daily
movement studies I mentioned earlier it appears that deer feed for 4-6
hours in the evening, lay down to rest and chew their cud for a couple
of hours, then get up and feed for another couple of hours after
midnight. Then they rest again for a couple of hours, and get up to
feed again for 2-4 hours before going back to their bedding areas.
It is thought that deer rarely sleep longer than two hours before
standing up to at least stretch. During the winter deer may sleep
longer than that. During the rut bucks may bed very little.
While I was watching the hunters during the first day of the gun season
one year I noticed three does, each with a fawn, feeding in the
cornfields within a half-mile of my truck. Because these deer were not
harassed by hunters they continued to feed until about 8:30. Even with
several gun-shots around them they continued to feed, and appeared not
to be alarmed by the gun shots in the nearby woods, or the fact the
hunting season was in progress. Shortly after 8:30 the does and fawns
moved north and crossed a county road in open country. Then they went
north until they got close to a group of trees planted along the
neighbor's driveway as a windbreak/snow fence. They followed the trees
east and crossed a highway, and eventually moved back into the wooded
area where they bedded. I suspect the deer were unaware of the hunters
stationed in those woods, unless they came across their scent, and
therefore they may have continued to move and feed as they normally
would. They probably didn't stop moving and feeding until they got back
to their bedding areas, which may have taken an hour or more.
Movements by deer such as these, which were unaware of the hunters,
explains why hunters often see deer moving in wooded areas late in the
morning even during the hunting season. Hunters who know that this
movement may occur can take advantage of it by staying in the woods
most of the day. They may even see a buck following a doe late in the
morning during the rut, especially if the does have been feeding in
fields away from their bedding areas.
If you are interested in
more whitetail hunting tips, or more whitetail biology and behavior,
click on Trinity Mountain Outdoor News and T.R.'s Hunting Tips at www.TRMichels.com.
If you have questions about whitetails log on to the T.R.'s Tips
message board. To find out when the whitetail rut starts, peaks and
ends in your area click on Whitetail Rut Dates Chart.
This article is an excerpt from the Deer Addict's Manual, Volume 7: Hunting Tactics ($9.95+ $5.00 s&h), by T.R. Michels.
T.R. Michels T.R.
Michels is a nationally recognized game researcher & wildlife
behaviorist, outdoor writer and speaker. He is the author of the
Whitetail, Elk, Duck & Goose, and Turkey Addict's Manuals. His
latest products are the 2005 Revised Edition of the Whitetail Addict's
Manual, the 2005 Revised Edition of the Elk Addict's Manual; and the
2005 Revised Edition of the Duck & Goose Addict's Manual.