Best Time to Hunt Deer? Don't forget About Lunch | Great Days Outdoors

A lunch date with a buck may be canceled if hunters return to camp at midday.

Humans are creatures of habit. We drive to work using the same path each day, visit the same restaurants and order the same coffee. Almost everything we do is by habit. Our manner of living is not haphazard. As some old-timers say, “We have become set in our ways.” And, like a gun-shy bird dog, old habits can be hard to break.

Deer also can be creatures of habit, even old bucks. They are at least that way until hunters arrive in their home areas and begin to disturb their habits or patterns. Deer change their habits in order to survive. They learn the sounds of truck doors slamming, loud talking and the putrid odor that walking-upright creatures emit.

After only a few weeks of hunting pressure, deer (especially bucks) learn areas to avoid and when the best time to take a stroll. They have learned the hunter’s habits and know around midday is a good time to move about and get a bite to eat along the way. Knowing this helps hunters understand, best time to hunt deer is during lunch.

 

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Grown over clear-cuts are top areas for midday bucks. This photo was taken by Charles Johnson.

 

Why Hunt Midday Bucks?

It is a known fact that deer move during the midday hours.

Several studies have shown deer are primarily crepuscular; that is, they move early morning and late afternoon during the twilight hours. Research has also shown deer movement to peak again from around 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Some factors can alter these times, such as weather conditions, the rut, and hunting pressure.

“If it’s a good weather day I will stay in my stand later,” mentions Andy Barker of Munford, Ala. “Usually by 10 a.m. other hunters are leaving for lunch and they will push deer by my stand.”

Barker says he’ll bring along some water and snacks to alleviate any hunger pangs. He says by midmorning it’s tough to stay in his stand. But he knows the chance of a buck coming by is greater during the lunch hour. If it’s good hunting weather, it’s much easier to stay in the stand longer.

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Deer, like hunters, can’t stay bedded down all day.

By late morning, deer are ready to take a stroll, albeit not a long one, to stretch their legs. Don’t expect the deer to take a mile-long walk during the midday hours. They generally will only move a couple of hundred yards and usually stay close to their bedding area.

“During the rut, bucks can move all day,” says Barker. “They will be up on their feet looking for does and checking scrapes.”

“Deer do a better job patterning hunters than vice versa,” says Dr. James Kroll, a wildlife biologist at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas. “Since most hunters are in their stand a few hours in the morning and the last two hours of the day, bucks often move during the midday.”

As food sources dwindle, deer will travel a little farther in search of a midday snack. Hunters can set their stand sites along travel routes between bedding areas and a food source. Yearling bucks and does are more likely to move about more than older bucks. The exception is the rut.

“During the rut, bucks can move all day,” says Barker. “They will be up on their feet looking for does and checking scrapes.”

Barker will have a couple of stand locations already in place for hunting during midday hours. He may leave one stand around and use one stand for a morning hunt and before moving to another location for a hunt through the lunch hour. His lunchtime stand will be near a thicket or other area where deer normally bed down.

 

Weather or Not

Changes in the weather can make a big difference in the movement of deer, including mature bucks. Through several studies, Kroll has determined during extremely cold weather days, deer in the South will hunker down and wait for a warmup to feed. Northern deer will feed before an approaching cold front.

Heavy rain and storms will force deer to stay put under heavy cover. Overgrown cutovers, mangled thickets, and low dense canopies are top deer holding spots in adverse weather.

Hunters also will have a difficult time hunting in these conditions. However, when the weather breaks, that’s the time to get in your stand.

“If it’s raining I’ll sleep in,” Barker comments. “There’s no use in trying to fight it. When the storms have passed, I will head out to my stand.”

Deer will move during drizzle and light rain events. Barker says this is a good time to be in your stand. The rain will help keep your scent from spreading. However, it does make it difficult to hear a deer approaching. Watch the trails adjacent to any type of thick cover.

A few cold weather days strung together will have the deer headed to a food source. Leftover acorns, food plots, and cut agriculture fields are choice spots to hang a midday stand.

Even on cold sunny days, deer will venture into open areas in search of food.

 

Bucks will travel ridgetops seeking a doe. This photo was taken by Charles Johnson.

 

A Different Approach

There are three natural factors that determine the best time to hunt deer. The following factors will affect deer movement: food, fear, and breeding.

We have mentioned the first two. However, the rut changes everything and gives cause for hunters to change their thinking and approach. Since deer could be moving anytime during the day, why shouldn’t a hunter stay on stand all day?

For some hunters this is possible. For most, physical limitations are a factor to remaining in a stand for several hours. Thus a majority of hunters will hunt the first and last hours of the day. But wise hunters will be in a stand during the midday time frame when the bucks will be up looking for a doe in estrous.

“By midafternoon I will get down from my stand and stalk hunt,” Barker reports. “I’ll ease along to areas where I’ve found plenty of deer sign.”

Barker said he may only cover a couple of hundred yards in an hour. When he says ease through the woods, he means to move slowly and quietly. He will use fox or coyote urine to help cover his scent. Barker likes to creep alongside a ridge or pine thicket looking for deer entering or exiting these locales.

Creeping along, Barker will stop every 30 to 40 minutes and scan for any deer movement. He will sometimes peak over a ridge and try to spot a deer. Of course, with this tactic hunters must wear hunter orange and watch the wind. Barker advises to also keep the sun on your back.

“Creeks, ponds, and lakes are top spots to set up for thirsty midday bucks.”

After a rain or during light rain is the best time for a stalk approach on midday deer. Such dry conditions make it almost impossible to stalk quietly. Barker recommends a lightweight, soft- sole shoe or boot when stalking. He will occasionally wear a tennis type shoe.

“During dry conditions, look for creek crossings,” Barker says. “Deer will often use the same crossing when moving from one area to another.”

Deer need water every day. Creeks, ponds, and lakes are top spots to set up for thirsty midday bucks. Does, too, will frequent these areas; the bucks usually won’t be far behind. Search for these spots that have some type of cover nearby.

Barker also mentions when approaching your stand to do so cautiously. Scan the creek bottoms and peek around the curves in old logging roads and trails for deer. In the low hunting pressure areas, deer are not as spooky. They usually won’t move out too far if alerted.

This stalking technique works great when changing stand locations. Many hunters clamor through the woods making noise that will alert every deer. They often enter and leave by the same route.

“When returning to my stand I will always change my direction,” Barker says. “I will come in and go out a different way, depending on the wind.”

Game cameras can be the best friend to a midday deer hunter. Set up two or more cameras along trails or feeding areas to capture deer movement. One camera can miss some deer action. A doe may walk in front and a buck behind and not be seen in a photo.

Checking the capture times indicates when the deer are moving during midday hours.

Hunters can use this data to set new stand sights and plan their approach to their hunts. Hunters can adjust their hunting strategies on how, when and where to set their lunch date for a buck.

Do not place the trail camera directly on a deer trail. Instead, back it off about 10 to 15 yards from the trail.

Set too close, the camera can miss the shot. You’re not looking for a portrait of a deer but rather the entire deer and a time frame. After a few days, if there is no midday deer activity, move to another location.

Best time to hunt deer would include midday hunting. Hunting during this time can have you lunching with a buck. And when that happens you know it will be a great day outdoors.

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