Time spent in the woods with family and friends is sacred, but finding time to get away from work and other obligations can take tactful, strategic scheduling. We’re here to help. It’s easier to schedule your precious vacation days – and time for bowhunting – if you follow some guidelines for peak deer activity.
Charlie Alsheimer of western New York state is a wildlife photographer and author of “Strategies for Whitetails” and other books and hundreds of magazine articles on deer hunting. He has done extensive field work to identify peak activity periods for white-tailed deer. Through his work, studies and deer photography, Alsheimer found the formula for predicting the best times to hunt.
Getting to Know Deer
Before diving into Alsheimer’s observations, we must establish some basic knowledge about whitetail behavior.
Deer are mainly nocturnal, meaning they feed most freely in the evening and return to their bedding areas in the morning. They bed where they feel safest from predators, including human hunters. Deer usually bed in thick cover where they can easily hide, and stay in there throughout the day. Occasionally, they’ll get up to feed or drink at midday, but seldom stray far from their secure cover.
Things change drastically when the rut, the deer’s breeding season, starts. Rutting deer become more active during daylight, which offers hunters greater chances for encounters.
Understanding when deer are most active is important, because increased deer activity means more shot opportunities. Deer are most active during low-light conditions, which makes them feel more secure when moving in the open. The deer’s eyes have evolved to provide excellent vision in darkness and low-light conditions.
Varying combinations of weather, photoperiod, human presence and moon phases help dictate deer movements. Alsheimer continually studies all these factors to craft formulas to predict deer activity. His system proves successful year after year for hunters across whitetail country.
Of course, nothing in the deer woods is totally predictable, and Alsheimer notes exceptions to his guidelines. The key caveats are unseasonably warm weather and increased human activity.
Hot weather makes deer less active during daylight. They’ll mostly wait until the sun and temperature go down before moving much. Likewise, significant increases in human activity make deer hide in thick cover all day. They’ll become even more nocturnal than normal, and become even tougher to hunt.
Another caveat: Alsheimer developed his guidelines on data collected in the North. His preferred dates best apply to areas north of the 35th parallel. Southern whitetails have their own rutting schedules, and can vary widely within individual states from Louisiana to South Carolina.
If you live in the South, visit nearby archery shops and ask when the rut typically starts in your area. Once armed with this information, you can decide if Alsheimer’s information applies to your area.
Also note this important fact: There’s seldom a wrong time to go bowhunting. If you have free time, it still pays to patiently sit in the woods. You just might see a deer. At the least, you’ll enjoy the forest or woodlot’s sights and sounds.
Before planning your bowhunt, check your state and local regulations regarding season dates, and license and equipment requirements.
Early Season (About Sept. 1 to Oct. 15):
The best time to bowhunt in the early season is the last two hours of daylight. Warm temperatures at this time of year minimize deer movements from midmorning to late afternoon. “Most deer will feed throughout the night, and they’re already back in their bedding area by dawn,” Alsheimer said.
Mid-Season (About Oct. 31 to Nov. 10)
During early November, deer activity increases as deer begin breeding. Alsheimer believes the second full moon after the autumn equinox triggers the whitetail’s breeding cycles and its activity peaks. This year that particular full moon occurs Nov. 4.
Alsheimer’s research shows morning hunts are the best time to be in the woods during this time. “Our trail-camera data shows us that 45 minutes after daylight is the prime time to hunt, from about Halloween until the 10th of November,” he said. Alsheimer recommends staying in your stand until at least 11 a.m., but deer could be active at any time.
The Rut (About Nov. 7-15)
This is when bowhunters can see bucks moving any hour of the day. Every instinct tells bucks to find a doe to breed. Some bucks will cover miles in a day as they search far and wide or near and narrow. They have a singular existence at this time, and rarely stop to feed or rest. During the rut, hunt whenever you can, morning, midday or afternoon and evening.
The best place to find bucks is wherever you find does. In the morning and midday, stands near a doe bedding area are good places to see a buck. In the evening, food sources are great places to catch a buck looking for a doe.
When to Schedule Vacation?
You know you’ve become a dedicated bowhunter when you plan your vacation around the rut. But even if you’re simply looking for the optimal days to spot white-tailed deer – sans vacation days – this guide will help. Alsheimer is taking his personal vacation Nov. 5-11 this fall. “If you’re going to take vacation, anywhere from the 30th of October through about the 11th of November is your best bet,” he said.
Another great source for expert advice, especially on deer activity specific to your area, is the local archery shop. If you’re pressed for time, of course, follow Alsheimer’s guidelines to maximize your time in the field. But it never hurts to get second and third opinions. Experienced hunters at pro shops will help you understand deer habits in your area.
When in doubt, just go bowhunting. After all, there’s never a bad time to get out there and experience the woodlands’ silent symphony.
Reminder: Before planning your bowhunt, check your state and local regulations regarding season dates, and license and equipment requirements.