The first morning of a hunt is always filled with anticipation. And this one was no exception.
I was nearly 1,000 miles from my home in Ohio and more than halfway through the month of November. Every tree was bare, leaves stripped away by the strong Kansas winds. Every tree, that is, except for the pin oak into which I'd tucked my Lone Wolf stand. I'd chosen this spot for my first morning because of its central location on the farm and its advantageous view. I literally could see just about every square inch of the property.
This wasn't my first visit to the 80-acre parcel. With the two previous bow seasons and a 170-inch 10-pointer under my belt from 2012, I had a pretty good idea where I needed to be. Even though this tract was much smaller than most others I normally hunt in Kansas, it was a little piece of whitetail heaven. The place was laid out for bowhunting, and I knew it held a great population of does: perfect for this time of year. Not to mention there were three major bedding areas within earshot of my rattling antlers, and I was in a travel corridor smack in the middle of all of them.
I'd chased a really big 8-pointer on this farm the previous November and December, with nothing to show for my efforts other than a few trail camera pictures of the stud. But word was he was still alive and in the area; in fact, two weeks before my return, a friend had had an encounter with him but couldn't close the deal.
"He's a giant this year," my friend noted. "Easily over 170 inches, and looks like his tines are pushing 14 inches."
What more does a guy need to hear? Although the buck had been missing in action since that encounter, I had a hunch this would be the week he'd make another appearance.
As daylight broke across the 80, the landscape came to life - and deer were on the move. A narrow creek splits the farm in half, running diagonally from northwest to southeast, creating a main vein for activity. Deer were moving in and out of the cottonwoods all morning.
Then, with my naked eye I caught movement at the top end of the farm. As I focused my Meoptas on the spot, there he was! The buck had just emerged from a thick bedding area in the southwest corner of the farm, and he was marching downhill to the creek with a purpose. All I could think was, "That has to be the tallest rack I've ever seen . . . and he's heading my way!"
The Challenge We All Face
Shooting a mature buck is a challenge in itself. Trying to accomplish this goal within a week, hundreds or even thousands of miles from home, can seem like winning the lottery. How do you even begin to plan a trip like this?
If you're like most other whitetail hunters, you have only a week or two of vacation, and you want to make the most of it. Even if you're lucky enough to have a little more time on your hands and are hunting multiple locations, you're still in the same boat. Planning an out-of-state DIY hunt can be tough, and trying to time it for the best results can be nothing short of a strategic nightmare.
In the world of the whitetail, timing is everything. If you don't plan well, it could end up a wasted trip with few, if any, sightings of the class of deer you're after. There are so many variables to deal with. Preferred food sources are constantly changing; standing crops or the harvesting of them can drastically alter deer movement.
And the weather of course can have a big impact on your trip; nothing's worse than having a warm front settle in the day you arrive in camp. As popular as the rut is for some hunters, even it can be unpredictable. If anything's definite about hunting big bucks, it's that nothing is ever definite!
A Predictable Influence
But in this never-ending cycle of variables, there might be a way to predict with fair accuracy when your best chance for catching a big buck on his feet during daylight will be. It's possible to predict the best days for optimal deer movement months in advance for anywhere you might be planning to hunt this fall. After paying close attention to the moon and its effects on mature deer movement over the last 16 years, I've found a consistent correlation between the two — and I have a handful of giants on my wall to prove it.
Back in the late 1990s, I had my first conversation with the late Jeff Murray. We discussed the moon and his theories about its influences on deer activity and movement. I'd read everything I could get my hands on when it came to hunting big bucks, and after hearing Jeff's ideas and the research that had been done on this, I felt compelled to purchase his book, Moonstruck. Jeff believed the position of the moon - not its phase — is what directly impacts when deer feed.
His reasoning was simple. Within the moon's orbit around the earth, it's closest to us and has the most gravitational pull when straight above or below us. This pull is what controls ocean tides and triggers fish to feed - but it also has a subtle influence on land animals to do the same. That theory made sense to me — and besides, who was I to question this theory or anything else about deer at the time?
I really enjoyed reading the book. Through it I picked up some pointers about the moon and some techniques from Minnesota's legendary Myles Keller, whom Jeff had interviewed. Anybody who's been around whitetail hunting for more than a decade knows Myles was a big-buck-killing machine back in his day, so I paid close attention to what he revealed in the book.
The key to Jeff's moon theory was targeting a very specific handful of days each month ("red moon" days) when the overhead and underfoot moon times coincided with "prime times" for deer movement. Using this, he created a dial called the "Deer Hunters Moon Guide" for each hunting season, highlighting the red days and exact "red moon times" for every day of the overall season. He also gave a specific location type needed to be hunting at these times, whether in bedding areas, transition zones or field edges.
I was anxious, to say the least, to put this newfound information to the test. I happened to be on the trail of a really good deer that had managed to evade me for two seasons, so I needed all the help I could get. I read the book over and over and studied the guide for the best days and times in October for that fall and planned accordingly. Then I stayed out of the area until the moon was on my side.
On the evening of Oct. 19 that year, which was one of the "red days" on Jeff's dial, I shot my first 200-inch whitetail. Coincidence? Maybe. But I knew who was going to be paying close attention to those "red" days the following season: this guy!
There is without question a correlation between deer movement and lunar position. Every time I see a big deer on the move, get a trail cam picture of one or hear about somebody knocking one down I consult the "Moon Guide," and the majority of the time the link is there. In the off-season I even pay attention to deer I see feeding in fields at odd times of day. From what I've seen, there's clear evidence to support an increase in deer movement during the overhead and underfoot moon positions.
After enjoying success with the guide, I became such a believer that I began using moon times to predict the best summer days for catching big deer out in the soybeans before dark. While hunting season might be months away, a big velvet whitetail still doesn't like to be seen and won't be visible every evening.
A case in point was my second 200-inch buck. During July and August 2003 I sat in a tree more than 50 evenings, trying to get footage of him. The only evenings he showed himself before dark were "red" days!
If you still think all of this talk about moon position is fiction and that it doesn't matter because you're going to hunt no matter what the moon is doing, I say that's all the more reason to pay attention. These "red moon" times occur everyday, just at different times. Some can be at prime time (early/late in shooting hours), while others hit during midday. And of course, half occur when it's dark.
Knowing the best times each day is only half the battle, though. You also need to think about where deer are going to be when these times occur. If the moon peaks midday, deer in general and the more mature animals specifically are going to be back in the cover, not in the open fields. Thus, you need to be in the cover as well. If a big buck gets up to feed midday, you'd better be close to his bed to get a crack at him. Likewise, when these times occur around midday, chances of a mature buck showing up in the field before dark are slim.
I'm not sure when I had my "light bulb" moment, but with all of my success over the years, planning my hunts and scouting trips based on the "red moon" days and times, it finally hit me. Why not use this information to plan my out-of-state hunts, as well?
And so, I planned my 2012 hunt in Kansas around the moon, planning to be there for a week of "red" days. My game plan was to hunt transition zones between bedding and feeding areas, hoping to catch a big buck cruising for does. The hunt started off slowly, thanks to a warm front that hit right when I showed up; deer just weren't moving.
But on the fourth day of my hunt, things changed. I hadn't seen a single deer that morning, so I climbed out of my stand around 10:30, planning to grab a quick lunch before changing locations for the remainder of the day. Before leaving the farm, though, I slipped into a bedding area close to the road to check a trail camera I'd hung over a big breeding scrape. I just about fell over when I saw a picture of the big 10-pointer I was after. He'd been right there at 10:19 a.m. — only a half-hour before I'd checked the camera, and just off the "red moon" time of 10:55 a.m.!
Needless to say, I skipped lunch and dived into a stand I already had hanging nearby. The big 10 didn't return that day, but the new plan was to slip back into this spot in the morning and hunt all day, hoping he'd return. The "red moon" time for the following day would hit at 11:55 a.m. If he moved again on that pattern, I surmised I might get a crack at him around noon.
The buck did show. In fact, I shot him at 11:45, as he came through following a doe - within 10 minutes of the predicted time! Middle of the day, "red" moon and hunting back in the bedding area brought everything together for me. Being in the right spot at the right moon time had paid off with my eighth buck grossing in excess of 170.
Last fall, I planned my out-of-state quest to Kansas around the moon again, picking the last 10 days to concentrate my efforts. In 2014, the "red" moon occurred during daylight at the end of the month, and I believed this was my best chance for catching mature bucks on their feet.
And so, let's return to the story with which I opened this look at moon position. As I watched the big 8 disappear into the thick creek bed a few hundred yards from my position, I couldn't believe I'd seen him on my first morning, moving within the hour of the "red" moon. I stayed vigilant and in place throughout the day, hoping he might emerge from the cover.
As I waited, I constantly questioned myself and wanted to move closer to where I'd last seen him. I convinced myself to be patient and not risk bumping him the first day. I remained in the pin oak stand all day and just before dark saw him again, heading back uphill into the bedding area.
With less than an hour of daylight left, I made the decision that once it was dark I'd take down my stand and move it to where I'd seen the giant twice that day. Unfortunately, a dozen deer decided to hang out around my stand for nearly an hour right at "dark-thirty," and I wasn't about to get down and spook them. By the time the coast was clear I figured the big 8 could be anywhere on the farm, so I opted to leave everything in the tree and return well before daylight the following morning.
With the "red" moon occurring an hour later the next day (Nov. 20) and peaking at 10:40 a.m., I figured the hunt would start off more slowly than previous day's had. And it did; I don't think I even saw a deer until after 9 a.m., when a group of does emerged from the creek being pushed by a really mature buck with only six points.
This deer had the body of a 5 1/2- or 6 1/2-year-old and a really heavy rack. The group of deer entertained me for at least 30 minutes, as the dominant buck chased off two younger ones that were circling the old monarch and his harem like a couple of satellite bulls.
As the deer all disappeared into the lower bedding area to my north, I checked my phone. It was 9:45: within the hour of the "red" moon. Only a minute or two later, I heard what I thought was a soft grunt behind me. I strained to listen. Yep, definitely a grunt, followed by another . . . then another. I raised my binoculars and saw a doe heading down the trail that led right past my stand, with an extremely tall-racked buck right behind her. It was him!
When she came to a stop, I could have leaned over and spit on her; she was literally standing at the base of my tree. The giant 8 had stopped 10 yards behind her but offered no shot, as he was facing directly at me. The doe turned and headed to my left, angling over the crest of the hill I was on. Instead of following her, the buck angled to my left also, keeping enough cover between us to eliminate any hope of a shot.
As the doe dropped out of the buck's line of vision, it was too much for him to take. He crossed through the cover and stopped just 36 yards away. My Mathews Chill was at full draw as I locked in on the only opening I had. Moments later, I watched my Lumenok clear the branches and disappear right into the boiler room. The giant 8-pointer — my ninth whitetail over 170 inches — was history.
I hope by now you can understand why I pay such close attention to the "red" moon. Not only has it greatly impacted my success at home on big deer, I honestly believe it's the X factor when it comes to timing my out-of-state hunts. I guess the only remaining question is: Where will you be this fall during the "red" moon? I know where I'll be!