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Q I'VE READ SO MUCH about how the moon affects whitetail deer activity, and it all seems like conjecture. Have there been any scientific studies done that might shed some light on this subject? A. Anderson, NC

A MANY ARTICLES HAVE BEEN WRITTEN about deer movement patterns and activity levels in relation to moon phase and weather. Most of these articles base their conclusions on observational data obtained from hunters in the field. Although this is very informative, biologists now use GPS transmitters and activity monitors to detect movement patterns in an attempt to answer the question: "How do moon phases and weather parameters affect buck movements?"

I started working on the answer by referring to Dr. James Kroll and Ben Koerth's book, "Solving the Mystery of Deer Movements." The authors state, "The lowest amount of daytime activity occurs during the full moon, while the new moon has the greatest amount of daytime feeding." Their trail camera study indicated the following percentages of activity per moon phase for both bucks and does: New Moon (33.7 percent), First Quarter (26.1 percent), Full Moon (19.9 percent), and Last Quarter (33.5 percent). The authors concluded, at least from a statistical viewpoint, "Moon phase does not appear to predictably affect deer activity. Because the moon is such a noticeable phenomenon in our world, it seems almost intuitive it must have equally profound effects on the habits and lifestyles of animals as well, at least we all want to believe it to be so."

Years ago, Dr. Mickey Hellickson, chief wildlife biologist at the 825,000-acre King Ranch in South Texas, collected over 420,000 observations on 43 collared bucks. Hellickson found, "Although the moon may influence buck movements in other ways, the data did not indicate any patterns relative to the effects of moon phase on buck movements."

Hellickson then looked at only the daytime movements (6 a.m. to 7 p.m.) of bucks during the October to January timeframes for two years. He then compared these daytime movements to data centered on a full moon against a new moon. For Year 1, Hellickson found that bucks moved an average of 58.9 percent of the daytime hours during a new moon, while 52.2 percent during a full moon. In Year 2, bucks moved 36.1 percent during a new moon and 36.7 percent during a full moon. Statistically, the difference in the data is insignificant, leading to the conclusion that during the hunting season, daytime buck movements do not appear to favor one moon phase over the other.

Most hunters would swear that temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure have an effect on buck movements. Hellickson's data proved otherwise. In fact, none of the correlations with buck movements and weather were even close. Again, this was based on over 420,000 observations.

A classic study conducted by Paul Beier and Dale McCullough entitled, "Factors Influencing White-tailed Deer Activity Patterns and Habitat Use," was conducted at the George Reserve in Michigan. The authors looked at the effect of temperatures, wind speed, cloud cover, relative humidity fog, rain/snow and moonlight on deer activity None of these weather parameters were proven to be significant in relationship to deer movements.

Although barometric pressure was not included in the Beier and McCullough study and Hellickson found it was not significant, other researchers have found that a rapidly falling barometer (associated with storm events) can have a significant effect on daytime deer activity.

Conclusion: Although biologists and hunters are always trying to piece together buck movements in relation to moon phase and weather parameters, no data has been found to completely solve the puzzle. Some may claim moon phase and specific weather parameters have an effect (or no effect) on deer activity but no biologist has data or the magic pill for accurately predicting deer movements. The bottom line is this: There are too many variables to consistently sort out deer activity in relationship to moon phase and weather.

Certainly buck-to-doe ratios; a herd's age structure; general condition of the bucks, does and fawns; genetics; predation and hunting pressure all play a role in movement and activity patterns. If hunting moon phases works for you, keep doing it. But remember, not all moon phases are created equal. One month the moon could be 17 degrees off the Earth's horizon and 118,000 miles away, while the next month it could be 78 degrees and 210,000 miles away. That alone makes any kind of predictability difficult to impossible. The bottom line is you won't experience deer movement unless you're in the woods, so just hunt!

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Author:Winand, C.J.
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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