As hunters, we are always looking for the best advantage we can get over whitetail. One key indicator that many hunters look to is the moon. Whether or not moon phases affect whitetail deer movement is a highly debated topic, but I, like many other hunters, have definitely noticed some sort of correlation between the moon and deer movement.
According to professional anecdotes and scientific research that supports a correlation between moon phases and whitetail movement, whitetail deer move the most during the new moon and the last quarter moon phase, which leads into the new moon. Although science as a whole has yet to adopt this as fact.
In this article I have found three different experiments that all three show very different results. So let’s take a look at these experiments and find out just how good a new moon is for deer hunting.
What Research Says About Whitetail Movement During a New Moon
While I am not going to dive too deep into all the specifics of these three experiments, I think going over their methods and what their results are would be beneficial. So let’s start with the oldest experiment I found from 2007.
Study 1 – 2007 Tomberlin North Carolina State University
In 2007, James Tomberlin from North Carolina State University published an experiment that occurred from 2003 to 2006 on Chesapeake Farms in Maryland. This property has also been managed with Quality Deer Management methods since 1996. Tomberlin outfitted eighteen adult male whitetail deer with GPS collars and tracked their movements for twelve weeks. Tomberlin and his team tracked many factors including rut phases, weather patterns, and of course lunar cycles.
After the study was completed, Tomberlin stated
“When moon phase was a significant predictor, pre-breed2 and breed, activity responses consistently showed higher activity levels during darker moon phases.”Tomberlin, page 36
In his research, Tomberlin split the pre-rut into pre-breed1 and pre-breed2. The full rut was classified as breed. Read the full study here
So according to this particular study, the new moon was definitely an indication of increased whitetail movement during the last half of the pre-rut and the full rut. Let’s see if the next study reveals the same thing.
Study 2 – 2016 Sullivan Auburn University
This study published in 2016 was a collaboration between Auburn University, Louisiana State University, the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the Norfolk Southern Railway.
Jeffery Sullivan and his diverse team captured and outfitted thirty-eight adult male whitetail deer with GPS collars During May-August of 2009–2011. They then tracked their location during August–December of 2010–2012. These whitetail deer were located in the Brosnan Forest in Dorchester County, South Carolina.
After the experiment was concluded, Sullivan had this to say about the research: “Based on our results, on those days furthest from the full or new moon, deer were less likely to be active during moonrise and moonset periods, and more likely to be active during moon overhead and moon underfoot periods. On days with greater proximity to the new or full moon the probability of activity during moonrise and moonset periods increased while decreasing during moon overhead and moon underfoot periods(Page 1)” Read the full study here.
So his stance is that it actually depends on the position of the moon around the Earth, and not the phase. If you are as confused as I am with the whole moon position thing here’s what it means. The time the moon rises and sets actually changes by about an hour per day due to the moon’s orbit around the earth. So this is something you need to look up, and the moon overhead and underfoot will of course be between the two times of rising and setting. Here is a useful website for finding rise and set times. Search your zip code and then scroll down and look at the table for future times.
Study 3 – 2017 Hepner Pennsylvania State University
Jessica Hepner started this experiment by giving a survey to over a thousand hunters asking if they believed that the moon had any effect on deer movement. She found that twelve percent of hunters did not believe the moon had any effect, and the other eighty-eight percent either believed it did or believed it had some small effect.
She then tested the consensus by analyzing location data of adult female whitetail deer in the Susquehannock, Bald Eagle, and Rothrock state forests from October of 2015 and 2016. She simply took this data and made a fantastic graph shown here.
The crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk) nature of whitetail deer is really highlighted in this graph. Although as you can see, the moon phase had little to no effect on the movement of these deer.
As Hepner wraps up her experiment, she states
“Moon phase has an insignificant effect on deer movement meaning that none of the moon phases cause deer activity patterns to increase or decrease significantly.”
So What Does All This Mean?
As we can see, none of these three articles remotely agree with each other and they are all from respected universities. Without a solid consensus from the science community, we can not say for certain that the moon affects whitetail movement. However, that will never stop the strong beliefs that many hunters have based on their personal experiences.
How the Moon Really Affects Whitetail
One thing that we know for sure is that whitetail deer are crepuscular animals. This means that they move the most during first light, and just before it gets dark. Most of the time, all these moon phases or weather patterns just affect how long they will be active during this time, or if this time is pushed back or forward.
While some studies show that the new moon makes deer move more than other phases, those deer are still going to be moving during those phases. If there is any significant change in movement, it will likely come from the rut or major weather changes. The cold fronts of October can be the best time ever to be in the woods during the early morning, regardless of what phase the moon is in. Plus you would never catch me skipping the magical first week of November because of a moon phase.
All and all, I would be excited to see there is a new moon on the day I plan to hunt. However, I would not go out of my way to pick a particular day to hunt just because it has a new moon instead of another moon phase.
The New Moon Compared to Other Phases
That being said, if you do agree with the moon phases, the new moon seems to be the best phase. Certain studies show that on days where there is a new moon, whitetail move on average thirteen percent more than other days. It is believed that during a new moon there is less light at night so whitetail move more during the day. On the flip side, there is more light at night during a full moon so whitetail supposedly move more during the night.
Whether or not this is the correct reasoning, it is a trend that many of us have seen. Either way, deer are still going to be most active during day break and just before dark. So make sure that you are in the stand well before the sun comes up, and after it goes down.
Here is a quick guide from Jeff Sturgis of Whitetail Habitat Solutions on how to hunt the moon phases.
Should You Rely On Moon Guides?
One thing you need to watch out for are these moon guides that are all over the hunting industry. They tell you exactly which days are going to be the absolute best for hunting, and many hunters swear they are magic. Well they would be… if we were fishing. The moon has a much greater effect on fish, and those guides are built around fish activity, not whitetail. So just be weary of hunters saying they killed the biggest buck of their life on the specific day the moon guide told them to, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then.
If you remember our second study from Jeffery Sullivan, he also had a bit to say about moon guides. At the end of his results Sullivan goes on to comment on the normal moon guides that many hunters swear by when he concludes with “Our data suggest events identified by solunar charts have some association with deer activity. However, the relationships between lunar events and lunar phase expressed in solunar charts may be misleading.”