Lunar Influences and Whitetails
by Dick Scorzafava
Man it seems has always attributed the moon with controlling or contributing to happenings on earth. Some of these theories are proven others are mythical. Science has proven that the gravitational pull of the moon directly affects the level of high and low tides. Native Americans used the phases of the moon to schedule planting and harvesting and still today, the farmer’s almanac lists these guidelines for those who consult these charts when planting. The term “lunacy” was coined to reflect what people felt was the moon’s undesirable effect on human behavior. Whether proven or not we all have some conception of how the moon affects us.
In addition to these theories is one that attributes the phases of the moon as affecting whitetail deer behavior. We do know that the lunar cycle is the basis for the estrous cycle of the whitetail doe. So it does seem possible that the waxing and waning of the silvery orb can have an affect upon feeding and movement patterns as well.
Hunters’ records indicate that there may truth to this theory. If seems to make sense that as a nocturnal creature, sensitive to low light conditions, a whitetail deer would have some sensitivity to the moon and its phases. Research suggests a link between lunar cycles and whitetail behavior. It needs to be noted however that this phenomenon is not as crucial as other determinants. Weather and/or doe to buck ratio or the general health of the doe play a more important role influencing deer.
Whitetail behavior in relation to the moon is but another technique that you can be aware of, and use to help you formulate your overall hunting strategy. It is the type of tip that the serious hunter will investigate and use to his advantage. It is especially helpful to those hunters who do not have unlimited amounts of time to spend hunting, but who must make the most effective use of their hunting time.
When using the moon phase’s theory, you need to provide yourself with accurate logging of time of deer movement and sightings along with lunar phase information. Keeping accurate records will help you determine how helpful this technique can be. If you enjoy learning as much as possible from other hunters and statistical information, you can go a step further and analyze record books for their time of day harvest information and check back on the moon phases to see if you can establish a trend.
One significant theory summed up in a nutshell, is that the phases of the moon hunters should be concerned with are the full moon, and the new moon. Just as the appearances of these moons in the sky are opposites, so are the effects they seem to have on whitetail behavior.
The full moon has long been thought to be a bad time to hunt deer because the increase moonshine would allow for more light that would in turn allow for nocturnal feeding. It seems with this new theory though; some are finding that the inverse is true. The whitetails are able to see better in these more illuminating conditions and their predators enjoy the same advantage. The deer instinctively become more cautious. They will sneak about in the shadows, trying to remain undetected and then feed the following day. There will usually be an increase of movement around midday, lasting from approximately 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. There will also be some secondary movement early in the morning and late in the evening.
The dark of the new moon will provide additional protection and the movement pattern will be reversed. The most significant activity will be in the early morning and late evening, with considerably less movement during the middle of the day.
One can see then that for the hunter who can only hunt for a limited amount of time the knowledge of these general trends can have a profound effect upon the times he should be hunting. If it is a full moon hunt midday. This will increase your chances of spotting and harvesting a deer as it is at this time of day most activity occurs, when the moon is full. Remember that if your hunting day happens to fall when the moon has waned and a new moon is in the sky, early and late hunting hours are going to be the most productive.
This moonshine scheme is something that is easy to incorporate into your present style of hunting and it will not cause a degradation of your skills as you learn a new shooting technique for example. It is straight forward and easy to implement.
Remember that there are no quick answers in the quest for a trophy whitetail, just an ongoing commitment to learn as much as possible about the behavior of the deer, and the area where you plan to hunt. That coupled with practice blend together to take the hunter into the whitetail’s world as a smarter, more prepared adversary.
In addition to this theory there is another new theory of how the lunar cycles affect whitetail behavior. Wayne Laroche, a wildlife biologist, has come up with a whitetail rut prediction table used on Deer and Deer Hunting’s Annual Calendar that will give hunters the most accurate time table of the peak of the rut, more specific than the general November 15, date that we in the north and later dates at the southern latitudes have bee hunting as the peak of the rut. This hard and fast date does hold true generally, but Laroche’s predicted date will take the lunar phase into account for the determination of the doe’s estrus cycle.
Laroche offers that three types of behavior are evident in the whitetail male during the breeding cycle, these behaviors are seeking, chasing and tending. As the rut proceeds through this set of well predicted behaviors, one can predict the type of behavior and adjust his hunting strategy to be most effective. For example scrape hunting may be very effective while bucks are looking for does, but won’t do much good after nearly all the does have been bred.
Feeding is the primary activity of a whitetail buck in the autumn before the rut begins. Nature is getting the buck ready for the physical demands of the breeding cycle as well as the severity of winter. Bucks feed heavily and put on extra weight. At this time, place your stand in a good ambush site along a travel lane that leads to or from a good feed source.
At the very onset of the rut, when bucks begin to look for does the seeking behavior begins. This seeking behavior kicks off the rut at about the time of the November full moon, in the north. The whitetail buck will spend much time and travel many miles in search of does. They travel slowly into the wind, as the sense of smell is the primary sense used by a buck to find does. You may also see more aggressive behavior between bucks as they enlarge their territories in search of hot does. This high level seeking and searching makes hunting from a treestand and effective technique at this time. Increased movement means increasing the odds of a buck meandering by your stand. Bucks during this time may be enticed with calls, rattling, decoys and scents.
The chasing behavior starts as soon as a buck finds a doe that is approaching estrus. At first, as the male nears, the female will run off. She will not take a flight for her life but rather plays coy dashing ahead to slowdown, stop and look back for the pursuing buck. This continues until the doe is receptive enough to let the buck remain with her. Now, your stand, located in a doe’s home territory, is a great place to be as more than one buck may take up the chase.
Once the doe allows the buck to remain with her the tending behavior begins. While tending a buck will stick close to a doe until she is bred. Usually this tending behavior lasts about 24 hours and then the buck immediately reverts back to more seeking behavior. Tending behavior peaks about the time of the new moon during rut periods. Tracking can be effective for a tending buck as he is focused on the doe. Bucks also tend to respond to grunt calls as they rush to drive off interlopers.
Laroche contends that the light of the moon transmits signals to the endocrine system of the doe, which in turn causes increased or decreased production of hormones which affect the estrus cycle. The fact that the moon produces light on a recurring cycle that is very similar to the 28 day estrus cycle of a whitetail doe, and that that light is detected on earth by whitetails, and that the endocrine system of whitetails is known to respond to light stimuli seems more than coincidence.
But coincidence or not, explainable or not, if it works for you use it. As more research provides us with more insights into the whitetail’s behavior, it makes us better prepared to enter the woods end emerge victorious.
The November full moon long called the “Hunter’s Moon”, and the entire moon phase during that month offers a key to the rutting activity. When that full moon fills the sky, bucks breeding instincts are in full swing. The doe’s reproductive cycle kicks in about a week later. Therefore, the period of the waxing moon, the full moon and the waning hunter’s moon offers the hunter optimum rutting activity. Again, just as the hard rule of November 15 in the north, can be affected by weather or hunting pressure so can these behaviors but they do give the hunter another general rule to follow. And things get to be general rules because they usually are true and they generally work.
Even though the does estrus will begin about a week after the November full moon (based on the shortened daylight hours), as the third quarter phase of the moon wanes and the total dark of the new moon nears most does enter estrus. When the breeding begins the scrape activity will fall off. That’s your signal that the breeding phase has begun. At this time hunt doe groups in their bedding areas, find the does and that’s where you’ll find the bucks.
Although the primary rut follows the November full moon, around the middle of the month this year, a secondary rut will follow in December. This December rut will be about 28 days behind November’s as it is going to be triggered by those does who did not conceive or were not bred during the primary rut. It’s easy to remember it follows the same basic cycle, just a full moon later.
In recent years whitetail hunters have become increasingly aware of whitetail behavior. We have become more scientific in our approach to whitetail hunting as new innovations and modern technology meet to provide us with not only more information than ever before but new techniques and devices to aid us in the pursuit of the noble North American whitetail. That silvery orb has been shining down on earth and all its creatures since the formation of the solar system. We know that it affects many things on our planet and as research is beginning to show whitetail deer estrus cycles and rutting behavior are among them.
Although latitude is largely responsible for determining the season of the rut in the higher latitudes, Wayne Laroche hypothesizes that photoperiodicity is the trigger and that moon light is the environmental cue that synchronizes the estrus cycle and triggers the rut. The lunar cycle is then an external mechanism synchronizing the estrus.
Note: To get an autographed copy of Dick Scorzafava’s books, Radical Bowhunter or Radical Bear Hunter, go to www.radicalbowhunter.com.