Rut Aside, When’s the Best Time to Hunt?

As the days pass, we get closer and closer to the rut. For many, this will provide the best opportunity to bag a trophy buck (trophy meaning whatever makes you happy). The bucks are obviously a little easier to kill during this time, as they throw caution to the wind in pursuit of hot does. But, what about bagging your trophy outside of the rut? I don’t claim to be any better of a hunter than the next person, but I’d like to discuss a few things that have worked for me.

Before I even dive into different approaches to help you be more successful in your hunt, here’s a disclaimer. You may do exactly the same thing as me and never see a shooter buck on the hoof. You may do the polar opposite of me and kill a Booner every year. There’s no right, or wrong, way to skin a cat. This is simply what seems to work for me. And that’s not set in stone. Sometimes you have to change your approach on the fly, which I’ve done numerous times, with success and failure.

The first thing that is important to me is keeping a journal. After each hunt, I take a little time to detail the conditions. I keep up with the location that I’m hunting, the date, time, weather conditions, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, temperature, and finally, my results. I jot down whether or not I saw any deer, what direction they came from, what direction they went, and what type of deer they were. For me, in hunting, as well as baseball, past performance is the greatest indicator of the future. Obviously, this isn’t always perfectly accurate. There are other external factors that often play a role in whether or not you see deer. They could have been bumped by other hunters or predators. Their food sources could be changing. You really just never know, but keeping a journal will help you pattern your deer in the event they haven’t been tampered with.

I have a lot of friends that swear by hunting with the lunar calendar. Aside from a full moon, this is something that I never even looked at until a few years ago. The more I pay attention to it, the more of a believer in it I become. I’ve found the lunar calendar to be more useful when the weather pattern stays relatively the same. The moon phase hasn’t been a “be all, end all” game changer, but the different phases do seem to affect deer movement. I’ve seen more deer activity during the “New Moon” phase during normal hunting times in the morning and evening. Some hunters won’t even get out of bed during a full moon and will hunt during the midday hours. I’m not one of those guys. I’ve noticed more late morning and early afternoon activity during the full moon, but not enough to make myself sleep in. Instead, I’ll just hunt later and get back in the woods earlier during the full moon.

For me, weather may have the most significant impact on whether or not I’ll see deer. I’ve had more success on the front end and back end of weather fronts than anything else. Over the years, I’ve noticed that deer that are up and moving when rain begins will continue to move, but deer that aren’t moving will stay bedded until it stops. If you can brave the elements to be in your stand just before the rain ends, be ready to see deer when it stops. There’s been many times I’ve waited in absolute misery to be able to be in position when the deer start to move, and it’s worked. If you do this, be sure to take measures to keep your weapon dry. Take care of your gear and it will take care of you.

We don’t get a lot of cold weather in Mississippi, but when we do, make sure you’re in the woods. There’s not much better than hunting a quiet, frosty morning. The deer may not move at first light, but when the sun gets high enough to burn the frost off, the deer will start to move around. This is my favorite time to hunt. For me, if we are going to have a good frost, I don’t care what the moon phase is. Weather trumps moon. Afternoons ahead of a good frost have also proven successful. The deer activity really seems to pick up in the evening, just before dark, ahead of a good freeze. Barometric pressure has also proven to be a nice guide when hunting. On cool, high pressure days I like to stick close to food plots. When the pressure is low, I’ve had more success hunting close to bedding areas. Once again, this isn’t a sure thing, but it makes sense given deer are more likely to stay close to home with an approaching front.

Regardless of whether you hunt the moon phases or the weather patterns, one thing is for certain. You can’t kill a buck if you are sitting at home on the couch. That being said, I do believe it’s best to save certain areas for the right conditions. If you have the patience and the ability to do this, you will greatly increase your odds of having success. The best thing is to go with your gut. Sometimes it will betray you and you’ll come up empty, but that’s why they call it “hunting” and not “killing.” Keep a journal, have a good time, and get in the woods!

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