Hunting > Whitetails

On the Whitetail Clock (Page 2)

Whether we’re hunting the rut or keying on food sources, most deer hunters have a favorite day and magical hour for besting big bucks. What’s yours?

“I’m in contact with 35 people across North America who track deer activity,” Alsheimer said. “They’re hunters, trackers and outfitters. They’re using trail-cameras and are in constant contact with other hunters. I also collect data on deer-car collisions. It’s unbelievable how the numbers tie to the days following the second full moon. Everything is calm until after that moon peaks, and then things go nuts.”

Paul Conley, meanwhile, lives and hunts in the mature forests of far northwestern Wisconsin, where there are far fewer deer than most parts of the Great Lakes states. Even so, Conley is known for consistently finding big bucks each November. He, too, tracks the full moon, keying on the three days following the full moon closest to Nov. 1.

“I always see the best big-buck movement during the waning gibbous moon phase,” Conley said. “That seems to produce the best activity every year.”

When forced to choose a favorite day and time, Conley pinpoints Halloween (Oct. 31) and 8 a.m. Conley’s father, Al, doesn’t cite the moon, but he has no doubt about his favorite day and time—Nov. 2 between 1:30-2:30 p.m.—or the week and weather. “Deer come out of the woodwork from October 30 through November 5,” he said. “Just when you think deer numbers are down, they materialize that week and then disappear again. Fair-weather days produce the best activity. The bluer the sky and brighter the sun, the more sightings you’ll have.”

The Food Factor
This brings us to the other big factor in deer activity: food. Indrebo likes the first week of archery season, which opens in mid-September in Wisconsin, the tail end of summer feeding patterns. Soon after, bucks become solitary and seemingly vanish for about five weeks.

The best time for targeting specific bucks, however, is probably after the rut. That’s when snow, cold temps and depleted fat reserves drive mature bucks to feed. “I can’t pick a best day for this because it all depends on weather,” Indrebo said. “It’s usually early-to-mid-December. When daytime highs reach only 10 or 12 degrees, you can just about pattern bucks to a half-hour of when they’ll arrive. They take risks they’d never take any other time to reach that energy supply.”

Neil Dougherty of North Country Whitetails in New York agrees. “Forget the rut,” Dougherty said. “Rut hunting is the great equalizer. Anyone in big-buck country can sit in a decent funnel all day and have a decent chance of having Mr. Big walk by. It’s more luck than anything.

“I like hunting the specific bucks we identify,” Dougherty continued. “It’s impossible to pattern them during the rut. Your choices are the very early season or post-rut when bad weather sets in. Bucks are bruised and battered late in the season. They can’t stay away from food sources. When temperatures drop 10 degrees below normal for a couple days, bucks become incredibly vulnerable.”

What are Dougherty’s favorite days and time? “If I have to choose, it’s December 10 in New York and January 5 in Ohio,” he said. “The best hour is the very end of legal shooting light.”

So, then, what’s the most favored day and time to hunt bucks? The best we can conclude, based on this sample, is Nov. 3 for Northern states, and the 10 a.m. hour during the rut. When keying on food sources early and late in the season, hunt the final minutes of daylight.

Even so, something tells me the best time to hunt whitetails remains the same as always: Whenever you can.

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