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

Breanna | |

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.

More deer info…

If you’re looking into hunting deer, you need to understand your prey. One of the most important things to know are the sounds deer make. Most of these can be imitated with a good deer call.

If you like your hunting to be a challenge, consider using a bow instead of a gun. It’s more personal. This is explained in more detail in this article on the basics of bowhunting.

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 treestand, 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 treestand 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.

37 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.

    • You sir, are the only true outdoorsman on this site. I wish YOU would do outdoor writing bro. One woodsman to another. That was gold.

    • This is all good. You got to keep in mind. You love hunting and being in the woods. Seeing all kinds of wildlife. You enjoy what you’re doing. So taking a deer is a bonus. Enjoy your day in the woods and become a woodsman. I like when the weather starts getting cold. It draws all of us woodsman to the woods. So enjoy it and have fun

    • Yes yes yes and LOL yes. You could not be more on point. I just wonder what those before me used for not having audio books. LOL

    • You’ve established nothing in your rant! If you want to hunt successfully, scout, scout, scout……and de-scent!
      Buy a carbon suit, a good one, and only enter the woods de-scented!! Enter only when necessary and minimize your carbon footprint/presence. They know we are there; its trying to convince that not we are not there when you actually are. Once the shooting starts, any little scent of us throws off your hunt. Ozone generators and descent sprays work, but not if you stink or smell of something foreign to them! Don’t use apple scent or persimmon scent all of a sudden thinking they’re going to show up when there are no apple trees or persimmon trees anywhere around. If you’re gonna use that stuff, then start very early PRE-SEASON and not only when the season starts. And most importantly, de-dcent you!!! Take a shower in unscented soap/shampoo before each outing/day’s hunt. Don’t smoke, don’t eat smelly foods, or bring smelly liquids Don’t pee out of your stand (pee directly into a small hole you just dug and cover it up or into a bottle and carry it out) If you pee onto foliage then you just scent marked your location to them. Yeah young stupid bucks may venture in but not anything worth a photo opp!
      As far as sunrise or sunset, it doesn’t matter! But, I’ve shot all of my wall hangers in the morning. It depends on your location which may be best as other influences always come into play like foot or machine traffic, weather, moon phase,……….
      You don’t need to be a woodsman to be a hunter, but the more you know, the better! I hunt publicly and privately and both take vigilance, homework, and dedication! Just keep in mind, the one you worked the hardest for is the one you’ll remember the most, regardless of the size of its rack!!!
      It’s not called killing, it’s called hunting. Talk to guys who have an obvious success rate and ask them what to do. 90%+ will tell you that scent control is everything. I’ve killed many a buck downwind of me because I always utilize scent control and wear carbon suits. But, realize that as the season progresses, wind direction becomes more of an issue because as hunter pressure increases, the slightest wiff of you will make them nocturnal or dormant or both!!!!! Good luck!

      • I spend so much time in the woods that all the deer and critters ignore me now even had a 8 point basket rack following me to my stand he was maybe 10 yrd behind me to eat the apples and corn I was carrying. Which he did after I got in my stand but he was cautious I do this daily jus to sit and watch the wildlife for a few hrs a day. I’m not greedy. 1 deer a year .10 points 21 in spread 4 and 1/8 at the base prob a 5 yr old since I’ve been watching it for that long. Know your surroundings and what you’re looking for. Good luck

      • Hang old shirts around summer so they get used to your scent. Take your bible and read. Enjoy the woods and sounds. Go hunting but go for peace.

    • Let them spend years in the woods. Sometimes all day into the dark. Sometimes freezing. After the hunter makes enough mistakes they will figure it all out. Just like I did. Good luck gentleman and the wind to your face.

    • Every farm, hunting reserve swamp wherever you hunt is different…so every hunt is different…..someone could have coon hunted and run the deer out…for me I enjoy sitting in the woods so a day in the woods is a good day…getting some food is a blessing from God. A bonus.

  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. 🙂

  8. I’m 60 also, well in a week or so. I’ve been hunting almost 40 years. And I’ll can say is it’s not the kill it’s the thrill of the chase. Yes I love to eat venison. But I love nothing more then being in a stand in a western New York fall. No man has created a cathedral better than what the Lord has put in front of us and I mean that. May I just say one thing even with modern bows unless you have it really maxed out make sure that you have enough kill in your bow at 50 yards. Please don’t overestimate your skill

  9. I’m a deer hunter from. Eastern North Carolina and hunt a private tract in a small town called Plymouth. Now I’m gonna tell you guys that the hunting pressure around here is intense. Our rifle season kicks off around the 15th of October and runs slam until new years day with bow opening in early September and muzzle loader in early October. During the 3 months of rifle dog hunters run hounds every single day!! Patterning deer is impossible here!! There’s a million ways to hunt deer and be successful (which thank God I have been) but I also want to state that it certainly isn’t anything like you see on TV. I don’t care about scent free suits no odor soap or any of that stuff. Come to my town this season and I promise you that if you’re not a smart deer hunter who can perform under the toughest of situations you are going back to wherever you came from with no deer meat. This town my friend has produced some of the most savvy still hunters in the world. Come on down with your scent free suits after you’ve bathed in no odor soap and washed your clothes with no odor detergent and grab a tree.

    Sometimes the key to success lays no further than simple knowledge of your grounds. This is the truth to whitetail hunting in Plymouth north Carolina in the eastern section of the state

  10. Hunt at all times…They’re always Moving In Michigan…Done it all and always see them….When in Rut….anytime. Doe’s are always out and need too be taken, good meat and way too many….so unless it’s a Mass Rack Wall Hanger, Take Does and let little Bucks grow In Michigan…and Elsewhere!!

  11. If it’s during the rut hunt all day long same with the firearm season even if you are getting cold stay on stand during the gun season and let everyone else leave and move the deer around

  12. I’m a Pennsylvania hunter for 45 years and knowing the deer and deer habits in your neck of the woods is crucial to a successful hunt and for you it may include scent reducers, calls, etc.. Doing your early season scouting from May to September is also a great way to get to know your local deer patterns for that year, they sometimes do change from year to year. Put the time in on learning the deer in your backyard and you will fill your freezer and have a great time out in the bush. Great hunting to all!!

  13. I have to read once in a while just to see if it’s the same old B’s or if they invented some more,and glad to see many of you have called them on it and saved me the trouble.This season will be my 40th hunting whitetail my kills are too numerous to put a number on it and have my share of trophies on the wall.This is not meant to brag but just the lead in for my observation.I am self taught and have always hunt alone,I learn from my own mistakes because I know it’s all on me,and simply just the years of aquired knowledge your own dos and donts and trust what you know.Its not always skill sometimes your just lucky and I have killed deer at all hours of the day and have never harvested one from the seat of my couch,put the time in.The eyes are not your primary sense out there I will say that it all starts with the ears you’re usually going to hear them first rain obviously puts you at a disadvantage but birds can be spooked up and squirrels don’t just bark at humans.its not rocket science and you get better by being out there .You are truly doing yourself a disservice if your reading these so called experts how to guides when they’re probably putting out a couple grand for guided hunt on a managed farm and what they write goes against everything you know,happy hunting fellas

  14. There was things said on here that i wish people would start fight for…hunting is a tradition, something that means alot to well alot less people than it should…every year seems to get worse…i just hope it doesnt reach a point when im pointing at whitetail picture showing my grandchildren what they were…i hope the dnr remain on the the woodsman side instead of insurance companies because it is a very important right ,and tradition that families still cherish and live for…people can watch hunting videos and read every hunting magazine there is….and still be sitting in a chair on the top of a oak ridge on edge of a cut corn field,not in a blind or covered at all for that matter because they think they have everything figured out…if u want to hunt and you like it find a experienced mentor preferably who has owned thier own land and spent the time and work to improve the deer population and health…u think hunting is fun wait till u see the results of your own time and hard work to do your part preserving this traditon


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