Dusk or Dawn – What’s the best time of day to hunt deer?

Christian Monson | |

Believe it or not, deer don’t keep the same schedule as humans. Some might even say they keep a particularly inconvenient one for the hunter. Well, you can’t expect them to adapt to when you want to go to sleep or see your spouse, so you’re going to have to adapt to them. That’s why you have to know when the deer want to go to bed or chase after does in the rut.

In fact, understanding the deer’s internal clock is essential to a successful hunt. Knowing when the deer are likely to move and when they’re bedded down so you can move to your stand is one of the biggest parts of getting your kill.

This internal clock is not set in stone, either. It depends on various biological and circumstantial factors, and understanding the way everything from the moon to the weather affect the deer’s schedule can be useful to a skilled hunter.

Deer move more at the beginning and end of the day

Do deer move during the day?

When it comes to daytime, the standard dogma is that deer mostly move at the beginning and end of it. That doesn’t mean deer never move at other times of day, though, just like you might catch a human out on the street in the middle of the night even though most people are asleep. Daytime movement is more erratic, though, and it depends on a number of factors.

For example, because rain interferes with deer’s primary senses of hearing and smell, it encourages them to be more active while there’s daylight when they can rely on sight. A heavy rain can be one of the best times to catch deer moving during the day.

The rut also makes a big difference. Deer keep to a more strict routine when they aren’t mating, but during the rut, movement, especially for bucks, becomes more erratic.

Just consider teenage boys and how willing they are to change they’re schedule for a date. The bucks are much more unpredictable when they’re chasing does, and a lot of times it may be worth it to stick it out in the stand. We’ll get into what times and why later on.

Morning vs evening hunts

Like we said, dawn and dusk are going to be your best bets for hitting the stand, but each have their pros and cons. Most of it just boils down to logistics. For instance, if you catch a herd of deer moving into their feeding area at dusk, but your buck’s out of range of your bow, you’re pretty much stuck for the night. Otherwise, you risk spooking the deer, and they probably won’t return to that feeding area. Plus, in the evening hours, it’s only going to get darker, and unlike deer, your primary sense is sight.

On the other hand, evening has some advantages over the morning. Especially if the deer aren’t in the rut, evening is when they’ll be going methodically to get food after sleeping all day. Imagine yourself hungrily going straight to kitchen in the morning, food the only thing on your mind. It also allows you to get out to the stand in the afternoon while it’s still light. In the morning, you’ll be going to the stand in the dark. Your stealth will be considerably diminished this way, and like humans, deer don’t all have the same bedtime, so some may have already hit the sack, and you risk spooking them.

If the deer are in the rut, though, morning does have some perks. Think that dawn is like happy hour for bucks. It’s right before they go to sleep. They’re getting distracted chasing does and might stay out a little later than they’d planned. When the sun starts to rise, they rush back to their beds, more likely to make a mistake and wander into range of your bow.

Morning versus evening depends a lot on your personal preferences, like how comfortable you feel in the dark, as well as some deer biology like whether or not they’re in the rut. Either way, while twilight hours in general are usually considered the best time to catch deer on the move, circumstances may make dusk or dawn a better choice over the other.

Don’t forget about midday

Dawn and dusk might be the most active time for deer, but it’s not the only time. Just like you might get up to get a midnight snack, it is possible to see deer moving about at midday. We mentioned that a couple of things can affect when they might be on the move.

A big factor is human movement. When are the other hunters getting too cold, bored and hungry to stay in the treestand? If you wait them out, you can catch the deer they disturb on their way out of the woods. Outlasting your fellow sportsmen can pay off big.

The moon is actually has a major effect as well. During the full moon, deer are more likely to be out at midday. This extra movement seems to move later and later as the moon waxes and wanes. During the last quarter, deer may move later in the afternoon while during the new moon, they may move later into the morning than normal.

Can you hunt deer at night?

Deer are a crepuscular species, which means they are mainly active during the twilight hours, dusk and dawn. This is when they move to their feeding areas for the night or back to their beds to sleep during the day. It’s when the bucks chase the does. It’s when you’re most likely to see them, and there’s a good chance it’s when you’ll get most of your kills.

A lot of hunters consider night one of the best times to hunt deer. They aren’t moving as much, but they are feeding out in the open. So what’s the problem? Laws. Night hunting of deer and other game animals is illegal in all 50 states, and most ban night vision goggles or artificial lights as well, effectively prohibiting you from hunting at night anyway. If you’re a bow hunter, though, you’re already in it for the challenge, so it shouldn’t be too disappointing you can’t use high-tech equipment to eliminate deer’s primary advantage.

An experienced hunter from Primos Hunting describes all the factors involved in deciding what time of day to hunt.

14 thoughts on “Dusk or Dawn – What’s the best time of day to hunt deer?”

  1. I’ve shot a lot of deer in my life time that said I’ve killed them in morning and evening hours but no way to tell what year did what best it’s much changing every year but that’s why we love it with a strong passion

    • Just had opening day hear in Louisiana. Morning hunt, a little cold… jumped a deer feeding. Went back for evening hunt, it was extremely warm and humid, almost ready to call it quits…deer steps out on a bare lane…75 yd shot (primitive weapon). Been hunting over 33 years, it’s like you said, conditions change, situations change…the prediction is unpredictable…lol…persistence and consistency, pre-deer season and during, pays off.

  2. Bushnell and Nikon rifle scopes get it done with Ruger and Browning rifles in 308 and 3006 bolt and automatic rifles is our most favorite

  3. Don’t hunt in the morning or you may spook them unintentionally on your way to the stand. Don’t hunt in the evening or you may have to sleep in your stand to not spook them. Don’t be upwind or they’ll be spooked. Don’t be sidewind or they’ll be spooked. And for Chrissake, if you’re downwind then make sure wind doesn’t change direction or you might as well find a whole other region of the country to hunt because they’ll be spooked.

    If I was looking to start deer hunting for food, or as a pastime, and read this article or listened to the old codgers out there then I’d probably take up video games or hiking through the woods (ignoring hunters stands/blinds). No wonder our, the true Great Aremican, pastime is dying.

    According to most “hardcore” hunters and “experts,” the only time to hunt successfully is to hunt the rut when the bucks are stupid and does are running from stupid bucks. I’d prefer that federal law deny deer hunting during the rut. Hunters would go hungry or turn woodsman.

    I know where the deer on my property forage. Today I watched four or five squirrels, a couple of rodents, hundreds of birds, a racoon, and one big whistle pig. The wind was in my face. A chipmunk ran up a tree so close to me that I could have grabbed it. Previous experiences had squirrels on my shoulders or legs while looking for predators.

    Based on this article, I would be concerned that my scent carried all over the woods and “spooked” the deer into a neighboring state. I’ll hunt that spot again in a few days because I researched movement and located food plots. I’m not hunting those acorns for today. I’m hunting them for a week or a month down the road. If I “spook” the deer today, they’ll be back in a few days. Biggest bucks I’ve ever seen were when rabbit hunting with beagles. A week later I set up a stand and shot them.

    Deer have superior ears and eyes and noses, but they are the some of the most HABITUAL creatures in nature. You hunt the rut when you can’t stalk for habit. Yeah, modern hunting mags/articles are whoring out woodsmanship to validate their BS hunting techniques. I once heard of a couple of guys hauling shopping carts full.of white crappie up a bank because they knew where the spawned. They should have written an article on how to catch crappie.

    Gentlemen, stop teaching people how to simply kill deer. If they want to kill a deer then teach them to save up, buy a plane ticket, and kill an African lion. Give them landmines to place in a field. Quarintine them in Laziocracy. I don’t want your Field and Stream hunters in my woods. They leave their beer cans and chewing tobacco tins all over my Jurassic Park. Stop encouraging them.

    For those interested in environment and hinting then here are the 5 rules of deer hunting for new hunters:
    1. Go hunting.
    2. Be patient. We’re talking hours of Audible books.
    3. Learn your hunting area. Be there long enough to name the little ctitters.
    4. Woodsmanship has killed more deer than the plague killed people. Yes, you can sneak up on deer.
    5. Wind in the face means your facing the correct direction.
    6. ((BONUS)) Deer like corn and acorns and shoots. They will return to yummy food like fat people return to McDonalds….even if you “spook” them.
    7. (((BONUS TO THE BONUS))) The rut is not a cheat code for a bad woodsmanship. 10 point whitetail bucks do not run up to you, fall over, field dress themselves, decide how you want them butchered, and then pay for your venison jerky.

    All of this, the thing that we call hunting, consumes time. But, it is fun. And, it is rewarding. If you want to hunt, anything, then make the decision to become a woodsman first and foremost. Once you begin that forever adventure you’ll forget about hunting, but never want for fresh food on your table.

  4. Johnny, great comments. If you listen to all the experts you’ll decide to stay home and eat at Mickey D’s.
    Bobby, good luck,. Get out there and be patient. Bring lots of reading material and learn to read with one eye while the other watches for 🦌.

  5. Hunting one of the greatest species on the face of the earth is a gift .God created this beautiful animal For the sole purpose for men to survive and harvest in my belief. go out hunt enjoy it .the season goes fast and if you do not harvest a deer this season I love planning what I’m gonna do different next season to get that big buck . God bless America and white tail deer 🦌🇺🇸

  6. I’m a fairly new hunter as this is my second year out. Unfortunately, my dad had to give it up before I was old enough to be taught as a youth. I’ll be 47 and am self learning to be able to teach my son who expressed an interest. With that being said, I have and continue to put many days and an unbelievable amount of hours into hunting. I have more than not spent entire days just watching the many other animals in the woods/forest than seeing any deer movement. The deer I do see sometimes sneak behind me or are not in range or any number of other reasons that I don’t get my harvest. It can be disappointing and discouraging but I am out for the hunt, the thrill of a harvest and all the other things for which hunting is supposed to be. Last year was bow only. This year I bought a 30-30 to go during rifle season and am looking forward to next year when I plan to try with a musket. I do archery because it is definitely a more balanced way for deer and hunter (I believe) to be on equal footing. I tried rifle this year due to no harvest last year and figured I needed a slight advantage with no better luck. Lol. Anyway, I was able to harest a young doe in early archery this year and am still working on filling 2 tags(1buck) here in PA. I hunt public state game lands and forests and just love (for the most part) working for what I hope to get. I’ll be continue to go hunting as often as possible because that is what I believe is the only way to hunt. If you’re not out you don’t get your shot. Even shots I have had a chance for if it can’t be a perfect shot I don’t try it. Any how I think my rambling has gone on enough. I just really wanted to thank you for your statement. Happy and safe hunting to you.

  7. Reading all this good info. 60yrs young. Bought my first bow, got my 20, 30, 40 and even 50 yd targets marked out with sweet feed on the ground. Trees tend is up, i plan on walking in early am, departing and coming back pre evening as a strategy. Hole to get a 20-30 yd shot with my Matthew’s Single Cam S2. Outside of that range I really don’t think I have a chance and I don’t want to just injure one. But I am looking forward to showing my son who bags multiple deer ea season that I too can get the job done. 🙂


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