By Mark Kenyon
When it comes to the moon and deer hunting, there’s a lot to wrap your head around. There are so many different theories, old wives tales and superstitions that have been popularized over the years that it’s hard to keep track of everything, let alone know what to do with them. Even worse, not many of these theories (if any) are backed up by science-based research. So what should we, as deer hunters, actually believe when it comes to the moon?
Well, I don’t even know if I can answer that question for myself. But today, what I can do, is provide a clear explanation of each different popular deer hunting moon theory out there, what the science-based research says about these theories and how I personally try to make sense of it all.
So with that said, here’s a run-down of each of the most popular moon theories.
Theory #1 – A Full Moon = Bad Hunting: I’ve heard this one a lot. The basic premise here is that because a full moon illuminates the night sky so brightly, deer are more active after dark, resulting in less daylight activity the next day and poor hunting, especially during the typical early morning/late evening hours. Some full moon theorists also believe that during that time period, if there is going to be any daylight activity, it will actually be during midday. The belief being that deer are active all night, bed down earlier than usual, but then get restless in the late morning/midday. Jeff Sturgis is an advocate of this, to a degree, as he believes that a rising full moon in the evening leads to a great opportunity for mid to late-morning success the next day.
Theory #2 – Certain Rising/Setting Moon Times Increase Daylight Movement: Another group of people pays less attention to the negative impacts of a full moon, and instead key in on the rising/setting times of the moon. According to this theory, when the moon is rising or setting during the typical peak movement times of dawn or dusk (last hour or two in the evening, first hour or two in morning), you’ll see an increased amount of deer movement. Advocates for this theory include Mark and Terry Drury, and John Dudley. It’s also important to note that these early rising and late setting moon times do correlate with a full moon. The early rising moon in the evening happens in the few days leading up to a full moon (leading to better evening activity) and the late setting moon in mornings happens in the few days after a full moon (leading to better morning activity).
“My favorite time of each month, regardless of the time of deer season, is the full moon,” says Mark Drury. “The seven days that precede it and the seven days that follow it. I like afternoon hunting as I lead into the day of the full moon, as the moon will be (visibly) rising in the afternoon. On that full moon day though, the best activity will switch over to mornings, and if you look at those days following, those are the days the moon will be visibly setting in the morning.”
John Dudley explains, “whenever I am in doubt about high-traffic times for animals, I look to the sky and try to find the moon. My experience is that animals move heavily when the moon is first coming up and also during the last hours before it dips below the horizon.”
Theory #3 – The Moon “Illuminates” The Rut: Tying in closely with the above theory about rising/setting times, both the Drury’s, Dudley and others believe that when the full moon falls during the typical rut time-period of late October/November, you’ll actually see your best days of rutting activity on either side. For the precise reasons listed in the above theory, those few days before the full moon are believed to have better evening rutting activity, and the few days after presumably should have better morning activity.
“The rut happens at the exact same time each and every fall,” explains Mark Drury, but he went on to say, “what part of it is exposed is based on when the full moon hits within that month, based on daylight activity … The moon, in my opinion, exposes the daylight portion (of the rut) different each year depending on how the full moon falls. That’s why you see the variance in ruts that are intense versus not. If it exposes during the seeking phase, you’ll go oh man, this was an awesome rut. However if the moon exposes the lockdown, you’ll think it’s a terrible rut.” That said, if you want to predict the best daylight movement during the rut, look for those dates during the traditional pre-rut or rut (late October into the first two weeks of November) that coincide with the days surrounding the full moon.
Mark elaborates on his above moon theory beliefs in Episode #63 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast.
Theory #4 – The “Red Moon Theory”: Here’s another one to throw in the mix, and this has something to do with the timing of moon position as well, but rather than focusing on the rising/setting times, this theory instead keys in on the overhead/underfoot times. Proponents of this theory believe that these overhead/underfoot moons pull deer to naturally want to move more, and when those overhead/underfoot moons coincide with dawn/dusk prime-times, the best conditions for daylight activity are present. The days when this happens are commonly referred to as “Red Moon Days”, a term popularized by the Deer Hunter’s Moon Guide, a tool which tracks the overhead/underfoot times and best days for hunting according to this theory. Believers in this hypothesis include Adam Hays, Andrae D’Acquisto, Dan Infalt, Joe miles and more. To learn about this one, listen to Episode #69 of the Wired To Hunt Podcast with Adam Hays.
Theory #5 – The Rutting Moon Theory: Here’s our final theory and the second one related to the timing of the rut. Popularized by Wayne Laroche and Charles Alsheimer, this theory claims that the second full moon after the autumn equinox triggers the peak in rutting/breeding activity that year. To learn more about this one, check out our full explanation in our 2016 Rut Predictions article.
What the Science Says:
So there you have it; the five most common theories related to the moon and deer. But is there any research or scientific data to back any of this up? Unfortunately the answer, for the most part, is no. Here’s what we do know though.
According to numerous studies, “The Rutting Moon Theory” is not accurate. There appears, according to all official studies, to be no correlation between moon phase and peak breeding dates. This article from the QDMA breaks down the evidence on this one pretty clearly. Still, many continue to believe in the theory, and Laroche and Alsheimer claim to have 20 years of data from their own studies that back it up.
Furthermore, there’s not much research to back up any of the other theories either. According to another QDMA piece citing peer-reviewed studies, “in four separate GPS research projects from around the country each found that moon phase had little or no influence on deer movement. Three of these studies dealt directly with bucks and looked at the impact on daily, diurnal, and nocturnal activity; still, deer were crepuscular in every case regardless of moon phase.” One study did actually find a small correlation between moon phase and activity, but it flew in the face of the popular full moon belief, as it actually showed increased daylight activity just after a full moon. Interestingly though, in line with a bit of that theory, it did seem that late mornings/midday the day after did have increased movement.
Making Sense of It All:
So if the majority of our deer-focused research studies indicate that this moon theory stuff can’t be proven, is any of it worth paying attention to at all? My personal answer is this; the jury is still out, but in the meantime, yes (at least a little).
I’m a firm believer in the fact that the moon does not influence the timing of breeding, that’s been proven just about without a doubt. But, there does still seem to be some gray area in how the moon might influence the intensity or frequency of daylight activity – whether that is within the rutting time period or outside.
While most research has not been able to find a correlation between deer activity and moon phase, I haven’t yet seen or heard of one that specifically examined moon position in relation to time of day. This seems to be the crux of both the rising/setting theory and the red moon theory, and I’m not sure if these ideas have been examined in the right way yet.
Secondly, I’m not sure exactly how these researches are qualifying “increased activity” anyways. If, for example, a certain moon phase or position were to (on average) encourage a buck to move just 5 minutes earlier than usual, that could be a huge deal for me as a hunter. But when a researcher is looking at hundreds of data points, across dozens or hundreds of deer, would this type of behavior/data disappear in the clutter? I’m not sure. No research has shown any clear correlation between weather and increased deer activity either, but lets be honest, we all know that there is one – so what is it about these studies or the variables the researchers are keying in on that isn’t adding up?
I don’t have an answer to any of these questions, but in short, all of these questions are enough for me to say that there might still be something to these moon theories. At least enough to keep me testing them myself.
I personally am the most intrigued with the rising/setting moon theory and the red moon theory, as well as how either of those might apply during the rut. I do NOT think the moon is the most important factor in determining how active deer might be in the daylight, but I certainly think it can be an influencing factor. And when it comes to hunting mature bucks, every little influencing factor is important to keep in mind.
That said, here’s how I see the moon factoring into my hunting strategy currently. I have certain properties/stands that I know are my best spots for certain times of the year, so to keep deer in those areas uneducated, I won’t hunt them until the right time/conditions. Time of year and weather are huge factors in making that decision, but it’s possible that the moon can be an influencer too. As far as I’m concerned, time of year and weather trump moon, but it seems like the moon might enhance those two other variables. So when I’m looking to make a decision about whether or not to hunt one of those best spots, these moon theories begin to enter the equation, but only as part of the equation.
This topic of the moon’s impact on deer is one that’s certain to incite debate for a long time to come. And as you’ve now seen, there are lots of different ideas out there, and still not enough solid answers from the research community for us to say anything is locked in stone. But maybe that’s what makes this topic just so fascinating … or at least that’s what I’ll keep telling myself.
If you have any thoughts on any of the above theories, please let us know in the comments!