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Six Factors that Influence Deer Movement

Whitetail movement can be unpredictable, frustrating and fascinating. Seldom are there blanket rules to accommodate every situation and every deer, but here are a few general guidelines to help you decode and predict movement in your area this fall.

Seasonal temperatures are always best. A lot has been said and written about cold fronts getting deer on their feet during daylight, and that is certainly true, but there is such a thing as too cold. Research shows that the closer the weather is to seasonal, the more daytime activity you will see. Activity will peak when temperatures are five to ten degrees cooler than normal temperatures. Drastic cold fronts tend to shut down movement and sometimes it can take deer a day or two to get back on schedule. When temperatures do stabilize, though, focus on hunting transition areas, food sources, and rub and scrape lines. During unseasonably warm stretches, hunt the cover closer to feeding and bedding areas because deer will travel shorter distances during daylight hours and move most after dark when temperatures cool down.

Barometric pressure plays a role. A moving barometer is better than a stationary one because it signifies changing weather conditions. Deer will move better during a rising barometer (such as nicer weather following a storm front) than a falling one (a storm front moving in). Barometric pressure plays a very important role in deer behavior – in all wildlife behavior, actually. Avid turkey hunters know that when the barometer is rising and reaches that 30 mark they will hear an increase in turkeys gobbling. That’s simply their ideal range, and the same can be said about whitetails. When the barometer hits that sweet spot, whitetails will be on their feet.

Precipitation is good in moderate amounts. Heavy rains and thunderstorms will shut down deer movement quicker than anything. However, light rains, mist, and fog promote movement. Deer move most when skies are cloudy, although that probably has more to do with temperatures than the fact that there are clouds in the sky – clouds shield the hot sun and make temperatures more favorable for movement.

The wind is your friend…and your enemy. Windy days can be just as good as calm days for whitetail movement. More important than velocity is the type of wind blowing that day, such as gusty conditions or swirling winds. Deer tend to be more cautious during these conditions because they have difficulty detecting predators. For hunters, swirling winds make it hard to control our scent stream and there’s a greater likelihood of spooking deer. A steady wind from a single direction, therefore, is best for two reasons. First, deer feel more comfortable moving about, and second, hunters can predict how their scent will disperse throughout an area.

The moon also effects deer movement. Scores of books and articles have addressed this topic, but there are two basic rules of thumb concerning moon phases and movement that you can take to the bank. Mornings following a dark night with no moon will see a dramatic increase in deer movement. On the other hand, mornings following a night when the moon was full and bright all night will see minimal movement – but there will be increased late morning and early afternoon movement. The theory is simple enough. During bright nights, whitetails move considerably. Come daylight, they need rest. By mid-morning and early afternoon, they’re ready to feed again.

The rut, of course, plays a major role in deer movement. Some theories claim that the closer the full moon falls to November 1, the more intense the rut will be – the longer that span, the more sporadic it will be. Much of this can be attributed to weather patterns brought on by particular moon phases, and naturally there can be inhibiting factors such as warm temperatures and hunting pressure that suppress movement. On the other end of the spectrum, there are other researchers who say it’s more a matter of photoperiodism, the shortening of daylight, that triggers rutting activity, although they still cite the same possible inhibitors to movement. Regardless which school of thought you ascribe to, the rut is a factor, and it’s still the number one reason why mature whitetails move during daylight hours.

As always, there are exceptions to every rule, which is why these are just general guidelines for predicting whitetail movement. Every deer is an individual and will respond to certain conditions differently than others. A big buck is its own master and moves on its own accord. The best way to figure him out is to get out there and hunt.

-- Ralph Scherder


About the Author:

Ralph Scherder is an award-winning writer and photographer from Butler, PA. His work has appeared in Sports Afield, American Trapper, Bowhunter,, Fur-Fish-Game, and many others. His new book Hunting Mountain Whitetails is available from the First Fork Publications bookstore.

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