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Deer Activity, the Weather & the Moon

(all of this information is from the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual)

Normal Daytime Deer Activity

Fall & Winter Deer Behavior

Fall signals an increase in white-tailed deer activity, which is brought on by changing food supplies and the rut. In a study by Kammermeyer and Marchinton, deer traveled greater average distances per day during the fall than they did in the summer. The deer also traveled greater distances per hour during both dawn and dusk in the fall than they did during the summer. The research also showed a shift in daytime deer activity; during the day in the summer the deer were most active at dusk, from 6 PM to 10 PM; during the day in the fall they were most active at dawn, from 4 AM to 10 AM, with activity continuing until noon.

Overall, the deer were more active during darkness in the fall than they were in the summer. This increase in deer activity during darkness in the fall can be attributed to decreasing hours of daylight (in some areas from 14 to 8 hours), decreasing foliage as leaves fell (leaving deer more exposed during daylight hours) and changing food sources. During the summer deer can feed securely in wooded areas where there is abundant forage. In the fall deer often feed more heavily on agricultural crops, and browse in more open areas, which causes them to feed more at nigh for security reasons. The change in feeding patterns from wooded areas in the summer to open food sources in the fall forces the deer to travel farther in search of food. I refer to this deer movement from bedding sites to food sources as the Distance Factor.

The graph below shows the number of miles deer regularly traveled per hour throughout the day. It shows that peak deer movement occurred at sunrise and sunset, and that during the day, the deer were lest active (probably in their daytime core areas) between the hours of 10 AM and 3 PM. I suspect that the deer traveled faster in the morning, than they did in the evening, because they were in a hurry to get back to their daytime core areas before it became too light (security to a deer - when there is a lot of light - is being in an area where it is darker, or where they cannot see very far).

 

This is from my 1990 Deer Study in central Minnesota.

 

John Stone's studies in Texas (using cameras) showed similar results, with peak deer sightings at sunrise and sunset.

They all show the deer activity peaks within 1-3 hours of Sunset and Sunrise; with more activity at Sunrise, (as the deer hurry to get back to their core area before the sun gets too high) than an at Sunset (as the meander toward evening feeding sources).

 

How The Weather Affects Deer Activity

Several different meteorological conditions affect the comfort of deer including: 1. The Relative Temperature, such as the temperature, wind speed and direction, thermal currents, windchill, humidity, dewpoint, heat index and type and amount of precipitation that determine whether the deer feels comfortable, or to too hot or cold. 2. Wind Speed and Thermal Currents, and 3. The amount and type of Precipitation - such as rain, sleet, hail and snow.

Relative Temperature

Deer feel temperature factors (temperature, humidity, dewpoint, heat index and windchill) essentially the same way humans do. When its hot deer have a hard time cooling off, which makes them uncomfortable. When its hot and humid (creating a high dewpoint) they feel even more uncomfortable. When its hot or the dewpoint is high, and there is a strong wind, they don't feel as uncomfortable, because the wind provides a cooling affect. When its cold deer lose body heat; when its cold and damp creating a low dewpoint they lose more body heat; when its cold, damp and windy (creating low windchill factors) they lose even more body heat. Like humans, deer have preferred temperature, dewpoint, heat index, windchill, wind speed and precipitation factors in which they prefer to move.

Once the deer grow their winter coats in the fall, high temperatures keep them from traveling far during daylight hours. They usually wait until the sun goes down and the temperatures drop before moving open areas during to feed in the evening. When temperatures are low they deer often stay in areas providing protection from the wind - they move to areas open to the sun when there is no wind, or they wait until daytime temperatures rise and move during the warmer part of the day, often in the late morning and late afternoon hours.

Relative temperature factors affect deer activity because they not only cause the deer to feel uncomfortable, they can cause heat stress in high temperatures, or heat loss in low temperatures. In their study in Georgia, Kammermeyer and Marchinton found that lower temperature and dewpoint were "significantly correlated with greater deer movements in the fall." In other words, cooler temperatures in the fall resulted in increased deer activity after the deer had grown their winter coats. M.E. Nelson found that deer in northern Minnesota regularly migrated when temperatures dropped below 19 degrees for five or more days. This suggests that when it gets too cold, the deer will migrate to warmer areas, or to areas where they can find relief from low windchill factors and deep snow. In the Great Lakes states deer often migrate to deeryards in coniferous forests. In mountainous regions deer often migrate to semi-open or open areas at lower elevations.

Note: The above graph shows deer sightings from two different years in three different areas in southern Minnesota. There are five noticeable peaks in deer sightings. The highest peak occurred at 15 degrees. A minor peak occurred at 50 degrees in the summer when the deer had summer coats. A medium peak occurred at 35 degrees, which often occurred in September. A medium peak occurred at -5 degrees, often as the result of temperatures remaining below 0 for several days. The minor peak at -25 degrees was the result of consistently low temperatures in January and February, after many of the food sources had been depleted, when the deer were seen either early in the afternoon or late in the morning at remaining food sources.

The Watson and Eagan sightings paralleled each other because they were both in areas where the deer could be protected from the wind by hills and woods, when the deer were sighted in both the mornings and evenings. The Houghlum sightings were fairly consistent because they were on the south side of an open hill, out of the prevailing winds, where the deer were seen primarily in the evening. However, they were seen bedded near the food source in the mornings when the temperatures were below 0 degrees, and it was obvious that they had spent the night there instead of returning to their normal daytime core areas.

During my deer research studies in Minnesota I found that, in the fall and winter, the majority of the deer sightings occurred when the temperatures were between 0 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with most sightings between 10 and 55 degrees; and they occurred between an hour before and an hour after both sunset and sunrise. Peak sightings occurred between 15 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. When the temperatures fell below 20 degrees morning deer sightings occurred from sunrise to an hour and a half after sunrise, with very few sightings before sunrise; evening deer sightings occurred from an hour and a half before sunset until an hour after sunset, with several sightings after sunset. When the temperatures dropped below 15 degrees the deer moved even later in the morning than normal, but with fewer sightings; while evening sightings increased and occurred earlier in the afternoon than normal. The majority of the deer sightings below 5 degrees occurred in the afternoon, during the warmest part of the day.

Obviously deer in different areas react to temperature in different ways. During his studies in Texas (where it is generally hotter throguhout the year than it is in the upper Midwest) Jon Stone found that the deer were active between 25 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dewpoint

The combination of humidity and temperature is known as dewpoint. During his study Kammermeyer found that deer activity was correlated with dewpoint. During my study deer were sighted most often when the dewpoint factors were between 5 and 55 degrees, with most deer sightings in the middle range (15 to 40 degrees); deer sightings peaked at 25 degrees. After the deer grew their winter coats there were very few deer sightings occurred when the dewpoint was above 45 degrees. There were also minor peaks in deer sightings at 55 and 5 degrees. The deer sightings at 55 degrees occurred in September, before the deer had grown their winter coats. The sightings at 5 degrees often occurred after it had been cold for a period of days, when the deer were seen most often seen in the afternoon.

When the dewpoint fell below 0 deer sightings were drastically reduced. I suspect that more deer sightings occurred when the dewpoint was between 5 and 40 degrees because the increase in humidity caused the dewpoint to feel warmer than the actual temperature. When the dewpoint was below 20 degrees, the deer were seen later in the morning and earlier in the evening than normal, with most of the sightings in the evening. When the dewpoint dropped below 15 degrees, twice as many deer were seen in the evening as in the morning. When the dewpoint dropped below 10 degrees, five times more deer were seen in the evening than in the morning.

Windchill

The combination of low temperature and wind speed is referred to as the windchill factor. Deer sightings in relation to windchill factors showed even more dramatic results than sightings in relation to temperature or dewpoint. Most of the fall deer sightings occurred when the windchill factor was between 5 and 40 degrees. There were very few deer sightings when the windchill factor was above 45 degrees. This was to be expected because there were very few deer sightings when the temperature was above 45 degrees. However, light winds can actually increase deer movement when the temperature is high, because the winds provide a cooling effect. Peak deer sightings occurred when the windchill factors were between -5 and 25 degrees.

During the studies most of the doe sightings occurred between 10 and 40 degrees windchill, and peaked at 35 and 15 degrees windchill. Most of the younger buck sightings occurred between 20 and 55 degrees windchill, and peaked at 45 and 25 degrees. Most of the older trophy class buck sightings occurred between 5 and 40 degrees windchill, and peaked at 35 and 15 degrees; which was almost exactly the same as the does. I suspect that the younger smaller racked bucks moved at different times than the does and the older bucks in an effort to avoid the aggressive older bucks during the rut.

The results of the studies suggest that low windchill factors result in increased deer movement. However, when I looked at the time of day when the deer were sighted (in relation to sunrise an sunset), it became apparent that deer activity during normal daytime activity times actually decreased when the windchill factors were below 20 degrees. Instead of deer sightings occurring within the normal activity times of an hour before and an hour after sunrise and sunset, they occurred from as early as 3 hours before sunset to sunset and from sunrise to 3 hours after sunrise. In other words: low windchill factors resulted in decreased deer sightings during normal daylight activity times, and increased deer sightings during the middle of the day, probably because the deer preferred to move during the warmer portions of the day. There was also a minor peak in deer sightings when the windchill factor dropped to -5 degrees. As with low temperature and low dewpoint these windchill deer sightings occurred earlier in the afternoon than normal. In another one of my studies there was a minor peak in deer sightings between -20 and -30 degrees. However, these sightings were all in January and February, when it had been cold for several days. I suspect these extreme cold temperatures forced the deer to move in order to find food so they could create body heat and stay warm.

Relative Temperature Factors

My findings on temperature, dewpoint and windchill indicate that cold, windy weather is more of a deterrent to deer activity than cold, damp weather; and that hot, humid weather is more of a deterrent than hot, windy weather. The findings also suggests that windchill (not temperature or dewpoint) is often the determining temperature-related influence on deer activity in the fall and winter, especially when the temperatures are low. I also suspect that the heat-index is often the determining temperature-related influence on deer activity in the spring and summer, especially when the temperatures are high.

Cloud Cover and Relative Temperature

Cloud cover often keeps the temperature and humidity high, which makes deer feel uncomfortable. In my studies I found that when there was cloud cover and the temperatures were high deer activity was often minimal, due to the high humidity and heat index factors. During their study Hellickson, Marchinton and DeYoung found that bucks responded best to antler rattling when cloud cover was estimated at 75 percent.

 

To find out more about deer biology and behavior and learn techniques on how to hunt deer during the different phases of the rut get a copy of the Complete Whitetail Addict's Manual, or Hunting the Whitetail Rut Phases in the Trinity Mountain Outdoor Products catalog.

Page 2 Windspeed, BarometricPressure & the Moon

 

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