Are Whitetails Influenced By Moon Phase? The Answer May Surprise You

Every year, many whitetail hunters head into the woods based on moon phase. The thinking goes, whitetails go nocturnal when the moon is full and are therefore much less active during the day. Inversely, they are more active during the day during a new moon. The logic behind this is that deer behavior changes since it’s brighter out at night during a full moon, and therefore easier and safer for them to move around at night. Following this logic, one thing a hunter can do to improve their success is to plan hunts around a new moon since deer will be more active during the day and stay home during a full moon because they are less likely to be active during the day.

You’ve probably heard this countless times from other hunters, some that are very successful every year. You can find a good amount of articles online or posts on forums and social media stating this or some variation of this. Meateater even recently published an article on this same subject. In it, they included data from a survey done by Penn. State that asked hunters if they believed moon phase influenced deer movement. Of the 1680 people surveyed, 58% said they believed deer travel more at night during a full moon and less during the day. All this sounds logical enough, but is there science to back it up? The short and long answer: not one bit.

In the last 50 years, various researchers, including the folks over at the Mississippi State University’s Deer Lab, have been unable to find any correlation whatsoever between deer activity and the moon phase. That’s right, zero. None. Zilch. Nada.

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And these folks know whitetails inside and out. They do all sorts of studies and experiments on whitetails year round and offer plenty of advice on improving whitetail habitat and hunter success on their website. A recent study tracked the movement of 55 mature bucks over 750,000 waypoints in order to document how they react to hunting pressure, with some very interesting findings about just how big a mature bucks range can be. They were even able to get bucks to grow antlers more than once per year.

So it was only natural that they would do some studies regarding deer movement and the moon phase. Below are two charts, published with permission from the Deer Lab, that document deer movement and moon phase. Keep in mind these peak rut dates are for Mississippi and parts of the southern United States:

As you can see, movement remains relatively unchanged by the full moon or the new moon in either chart. What these studies did find is something most hunters already know: deer movement is most influenced by what stage of the rut they’re in. Several studies were done by other researchers as well, all returning the same results: zero correlation.

So why do so many hunters still swear by this? Many folks chock this up to good, old-fashioned, confirmation bias. Hunters are told deer don’t move during the full moon, so they stay home or hunt less intensely when the moon is full, and it appears to come true.

There are many who will see this data and still say it’s just plain wrong. Others still will say it is more about the position of the moon in the sky rather than the actual moon phase. For me, I take everything with a grain of salt. The most important things I’ve seen influence buck movement are rut timing, hunter pressure, and the weather, in that order, so that’s how I plan when I’ll be out in the woods.

Hunting season is short enough as it is. I encourage everyone to look for reasons to hunt more, not less. So instead of staying home the next time the moon is full, head out to the deer woods anyway because you never know when a random afternoon will turn into a day you’ll never forget.

Benjamin Burgholzer

Benjamin Burgholzer is an enthusiast of wild foods and wild places, a part-time professor, small business owner, freelance writer, and the Managing Editor of Harvesting Nature. A novice backpack hunter and seasoned fly fisherman, when he is not working or writing, he spends as much time as possible in the mountains of Oregon, where he has recently moved to from upstate New York.

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