What is the best times to Hunt for Whitetail Deer?
Ask any avid deer hunter “When is the best time to hunt whitetail deer?,” and you are likely to get a detailed and well thought out answer. Ask another avid deer hunter this same question, and you are likely to get yet another detailed and well thought out – and quite different – answer!
So how is a first time whitetail deer hunter supposed to know which theory will work best to bag that big, beautiful buck?
In this article, we are going to review three predominant theories that address the best times to hunt whitetail deer. But it will be up to you to test out each theory, pick your favorite and then (hopefully) weigh in on this topic by letting us know what you think and why!
Theory Number One: The Solunar Theory
The word “solunar” stands for “solar and lunar.” More precisely, the term relates to how the sun and moon influence one another and, in turn, influence the Earth and all the creatures that live here. Most precisely, if you are a whitetail deer hunter, the term “solunar” refers to a chart indicating the very best times to hunt whitetail deer annually.
A Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum honoree named John Alden “Jack” Knight is credited with developing the solunar system as relating to fishing and hunting. The solar/lunar tables were first published in 1936 and are still being used today.
A number of free online resources exist to help you pinpoint the best days/times to hunt whitetail deer in your geographic area (determined when you input your city, state and zip code). This example chart shows how each day details the best hunting times and also gives that day a rating (better, best, average, etc) compared to surrounding days.
Outdoor Life goes into more detail about how understanding solar and lunar cycles can be helpful to pinpoint the best hunting days and times in your area.
For many seasoned hunters, the overall goal is to use solar and lunar movements as one of several tools to anticipate the ideal days and times for whitetail deer hunting excursions. Weather, temperature, season, existing activity in the area and other factors can all be used in combination, with each playing its own important role in planning out your hunting calendar.
Theory Number 2: The Natural Cycle of Life
Every year, whitetail deer go through the same general cycle. It can really help to memorize this life cycle and then work backwards to outline the best months, then weeks, then days, then times of day, each year to hunt. (This can be especially useful if you need to request time off from your work far in advance!)
The website Sciencing is a great resource for a simple education in the whitetail deer life cycle:
- Female deer (does) give birth to their fawns in May and June.
- The male deer (bucks) begin to grow their antlers in the spring.
- During the summer, the bucks begin practice sparring to prepare for mating season (aka "the rut").
- Starting in September, the bucks begin establishing dominance to prepare for the rut.
- Mating takes place in October and November (this can depend on weather).
This great YouTube video showcases the full life cycle of a whitetail deer.
Understanding the life cycle, and how it may vary in your local area due to herd movements, weather, available forage and food and other factors is a time-honored way to decide when to hunt for whitetail deer.
Interestingly, according to Peterson’s Hunting, the whitetail deer’s own life cycle predicts which days each fall are likely to be the very best times to hunt:
- October 16, 21, 22, 31.
- 5, 6, 7, 8, 15, 16, 17, 27.
Theory Number Three: The Early, Middle or Late Time of Season Strategy
A third major way to strategize the best time to hunt whitetail deer is by time of season during the mating season. Here, the word “season” refers to mating (“rut”) season.
There are three definite stages in mating season: early, middle and late. During the early season, most of the does haven’t yet come into estrus (become receptive to mating) so the bucks spend pretty much all of their time following them around waiting. Of course, this can be good for you, the hunter, since if you can find the does, they will help you find the bucks!
During the middle season, every buck who has even the remotest chance of mating is busy mating. Bucks and does are out and about constantly. The downside here is that your fellow whitetail deer hunters are also out and about constantly. So while bucks compete for does, you have to compete for bucks!
Late season, like early season, is considerably calmer. Successful bucks have gone back to the business of fattening up for winter, and pregnant does are doing the same. But there is still mating going on, and bucks that haven’t mated are desperate to do so. Plus, most of the hunters have gone home, meaning you can enjoy more of nature’s stillness as you wait for your buck to appear.
For newbies, it is a great idea to try all three times and get a feel for how one differs from the next. Some hunters continue to hunt as often as possible throughout the annual rut season, while others swear by a specific strategy that can be as definite as “early rut season, late afternoons only.”
It is up to you to decide what strategy works best and feels right to you.
It is also worth mentioning that many more theories and strategies exist regarding the best time to hunt whitetail deer.
The weather pattern on a particular year can influence the best times to hunt that year (a wrinkle which is likely to continue given the general pattern of climactic change unfolding at present!).
If you have tried any/all of these strategies, we’d love to hear your feedback below in the comments!