THE TRUTH ABOUT HOW THE MOON EFFECT WHITETAIL DEER MOVEMENT.
by Darrin Bradley
A vast number of observers have attempted to correlate whitetail movement in relation to moon phases. Some theories have suggested the whitetail deer needs light to feed at night. This contention would suggest whitetail movement is enhanced on days following low lit moon phases. Others theorize whitetail movement is enhanced by lunar positioning. The list of theories is endless with relentless attempts at predicting movement of big game animals. These lunar theories have been commonplace conversation pieces throughout many a deer camp for decades. Minimal evidence is present to support any of these lunar theories. It is my contention there is minimal evidence in support of these theories due to the fact that whitetail movement is not predominantely determined by the moon, but rather by other environmental conditions which are more significant to the animal’s survival.
Very little experimental testing has been conducted in regard to how lunar phases enhance or decrease animal behavior. Even less experimental testing has been conducted specifically on how moon phases effect the behavior of the whitetail deer. After researching, several studies conducted in regard to animal behavior, I quickly discovered the majority of these experiments were performed on labratory animals crabs, birds, rats, etc. in controlled environments. Although these tests results may be useful for modern day science , they are virtually inapplicable in regard to the implementation of whitetail hunting strategies in the field. The labratory animals in experiments are responding to moon phases in abscence of fear responses. In the wild, whitetail deer are forced to react inside the parameters of the instinct of survival. They are constantly attempting to detect predators while avoiding detection by predators. In reality, moon phases play a very insignificant role in the accomplishment of this task by whitetails.
According to Frederick Toates (1980), an animal behaviorist, “Aggression and fear share important characteristics in common with, on the one hand, feeding and drinking, and , on the other, sexual behavior. They serve the survival of the individual animal, and therefore allow perpetuation of its genes.” Toates, further adds , when we experience intense fear, we usually take some type of evasive action. Fear forces animals to modify their behavior. Although moon phases may play some type of minor role in the scenario, more important environmental factors determine whitetail movement. These environmental factors are inclusive of wind speed, wind direction, hunting pressure, food, thirst, predators, time, and precipitation. It would be insane to say whitetail deer will move in a given area based solely upon lunar phases. As a whitetail hunter, I know deer movement will be decreased on a day with 30 mph winds, a pack of hungry coyotes howling at the edge of the primary foodsource, during the 7th day of firearms season, in the middle of a monsoon, irregardless of what moon phase is occuring. On the other hand, I also know on a day with 5 mph winds, during an incoming storm front, in a month which falls outside of deer season , deer movement will most likely increase, irregardless of what moon phase is occuring. The whitetail’s movement coincides primarily in response to the environmental conditions which allow deer to detect predators and avoid danger.
Since 7/30/94 I have recorded environmental conditions on 416 seperate hunts. I recorded wind conditions, food source, temperature, moon phases, precipitation observations, commercial scent usage, number of deer seen, number of bucks seen, and the number of bucks seen possessing antlers exceeding a minimum Boone and Crockett score of 130 gross inches, National Record Book bucks.
By studying the observations recorded in a game diary I have obtained data surrounding whitetail movement in relationship to lunar phases. In the early stages of the game diary , I believed moon phases significantely effected whitetail movement. Prior to recording lunar data I can remember blaming moon phases for unsuccessful hunts on days following a full moon, or praising the moon for successful hunts following a new moon phase. Prior to beginning the studies, I had actually hoped I would discover moon phases significantly increasing or decreasing whitetail travel. I would have been able to predict whitetail movement and in turn would have enhanced my odds for successful hunts.
The eight primary moon phases are inclusive of the New Moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Last Quarter, and the Waning Crescent. Each phase lasts approxiametely 3 days. I have ranked the moon phases in regard to my hunting success during each particular phase. A “successful hunt” is defined as hunts in where I viewed whitetails while hunting from a stand location. The rankings, in regard to all whitetail deer movement, are as follows:
ALL DEER MOVEMENT (Does and bucks.)
Ranking Moon Phase Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
1 Waning Crescent Phase 36 11 77%
2 First Quarter Phase 41 13 76%
3 Full Moon Phase 52 20 72%
4 Waxing Crescent Phase 35 14 71%
5 Last Quarter Phase 42 19 69%
6 Waning Gibbous Phase 32 16 67%
7 New Moon Phase 26 16 62%
8 Waxing Gibbous Phase 24 16 60%
In addition to studies encompassing all deer movement I recorded whitetail buck movement specifically, during particular moon phases.
WHITETAIL BUCK MOVEMENT
Ranking Moon Phase Successful Hunts Unsuccessful Hunts Success Percentage
1 First Quarter Phase 23 26 47%
2 Full Moon Phase 32 40 44%
3 Waxing Crescent Phase 20 29 41%
4 Waning Crescent Phase 19 29 40%
5 Waxing Gibbous Phase 15 25 38%
6 Waning Gibbous Phase 22 36 38%
7 New Moon Phase 14 29 33%
8 Last Quarter Phase 18 41 31%
I have recorded fifty six seperate National Record Book buck sightings over the past five years. These animals were bucks possessing antlers which would exceed the minimum Boone and Crockett score of 130 inches. The following data demonstrates Pope and Young buck movement during particular moon phases.
POPE AND YOUNG BUCK MOVEMENT:
Ranking Moon Phase Number of Pope and Young bucks seen during phase.
1 Full Moon Phase 12 bucks
2 Waning Gibbous Phase 9 bucks
3 Last Quarter Phase 9 bucks
4 First Quarter Phase 6 bucks
5 Waxing Crescent Phase 5 bucks
6 Waning Crescent Phase 5 bucks
7 Waxing Gibbous Phase 4 bucks
8 New Moon Phase 3 bucks
Moon phases may be seperated into three classes of light emittance. These would be inclusive of low light emittance, high light emittance, and fifty percent light emittance. Low light moon phases include the new moon, (Which is completely dark.) waning crescent, and waaxing crescent. Highly lit moon phases would include full moon, (Totally lit.) waning gibbous, and waxing gibbous. Fifty percent moon phases would include the first quarter, and last quarter. The most prevalent lunar theory contends whitetails feed primarily after dark during moon phases which offer a maximum amount of light. At the foundation of this belief lies another concept. Deer movement is increased on days following moon phases which offer minimal light, because they weren’t able to feed at night. The new moon phase offers no light at all. In review of my studies, a new moon ranks seventh in regard to all whitetail deer movement, sixth in regard to whitetail buck movement, and seventh in regard to Pope and Young buck movement. In other words the new moon hasn’t offered too much opportunity throughout the course of my hunting career. The forementioned theory suggests whitetail deer feed primarily on nights which offer the maximum amounts of moonlight. One could assume days following highly lit moon phases deer movement would decrease during the daytime, as whitetails are feeding at night. As a result this would give birth to inferior hunting following these phases in relationship to the low light moon phases. My studies depict the full moon ranks third in regard to all whitetail movement, third in relation to whitetail buck movement,and ranks in first place with regard to Pope and Young buck movement. Wildlife biologists have proven deer see as well at night as humans do at dawn and dusk. Whitetails can see to feed at night during any of the lunar phases. After reviewing statistics surrounding my studies, I have not found any correlation between the amount of light provided by individual moon phases and whitetail movement. In fact, I have not found any correlation between moon phases and whitetail movement.
The most prevalent lunar theory contends whitetails need light to feed at night. This theory further indicates that because of the whitetail’s difficulty with feeding during moon phases providing minimal light, deer will move more often on days following a new moon. The new moon phase offers no light at all. In review of my studies, a new moon ranks seventh out of eight in regard to all whitetail deer movement. The new moon ranks seventh out of eight in regard to whitetail buck movement. The new moon ranks last in regard to Pope and Young buck movement only. The forementioned theory would suggest whitetail deer would feed primarily on nights which offer the maximum amounts of moonlight. The theory furthers suggests days following a full moon would minimize deer movement. My studies depict the full moon ranks third in regard to all whitetail movement. Full moon ranks second in relation to whitetail buck movement,and ranks first place with regard to Pope and Young buck movement. Biologists have proved deer see as well at night as humans do at dawn and dusk. Whitetails can see to feed at night during any of the lunar phases. After reviewing statistics surrounding my studies, I have not found any correlation between the amount of light provided by individual moon phases and whitetail movement. In fact, I have not found any correlation between moon phases and whitetail movement.
In my game diary I have devoted one section solely to recording personal hunting records and accomplishments. One event in this section is entitled, “Most deer seen during a single hunt by myself out of a stand location.” This record count is the sighting of fifty two deer. This event occured in 1998 during a full moon phase. Another event is entitled, “Most shots passed in a single hunt.” A “passed shot” is defined as a refusal to shoot at a deer within bowrange. This hunt took place on 10-24-95 when I passed up twenty four shots during a new moon phase. You will notice both records are based upon the quanity of deer seen. One event occurs during the least light producing moon phase, while the other event occurs during the most light producing moon phase. This would be virtually impossible if whitetail movement was determined by moon phases or the amount of light various lunar phases produce.
It is my contention moon phases do not play a significant role in whitetail movement. A good whitetail hunter is as good as the amount of time he or she puts in the stand, the ground one hunts, and the ability to make the shot. My advice is not to plan hunts in accordance to moon phases, just plan to hunt. Over the past five years, I have harvested seven mature bucks during five different moon phases. There are few shortcuts in the sport of whitetail hunting. Moon phases predictions are not one of those shortcuts. Pay your dues in the stand regardless of the moon phase and your diligence will payoff.