Spending an entire day in the woods during deer season is no easy feat, particularly if you’re primarily a stand hunter like myself. In my younger years I was much more inclined to sit the vigil from “can’t see to can’t see.” Experience taught me (or maybe I’m just getting old) to hunt smart, not hard, concentrating efforts on peak periods of dawn and dusk.

However, all those full days in the woods also taught me there are some fairly distinct patterns, at least as distinct as things can get when it comes to whitetails. And they offer some justification for why you might want to camp out for the day, particularly when timing and conditions are right, like optimum weather, peak rut or weekends and holidays when there are lots of hunters to move the deer around.

There’s something magical about daybreak in the woods. At first, all is concealed and mysterious. Slowly, darkness recedes and you watch the world come alive. It’s also one of the two periods of peak deer movement. In the gray dawn, deer fill their bellies quickly, then head off to bed. If you’re in the right place you might catch them. The action typically doesn’t last long before things get quiet for a while.

Deer are ruminants. After a frenzied feed they seek bedding cover where they regurgitate undigested food, which they then chew to a finer consistency. Once finished, they may move a short distance to their day beds, where they’ll spend most, but not all of the remaining daylight hours. This produces a second, more subdued activity period, usually an hour or two after sun-up.

The next stirring occurs at midmorning, around 10, and there are several possible reasons for it. One could be that the deer have done a considerable amount of digesting and want to “top off the tank.” A second is that this is about the time many hunters are heading out of the woods.

A third possible cause is the rut. Bucks were chasing does aggressively during the dawn period but as the does settle down they become harder to find. Randy bucks redouble their efforts, seeking out doe-bedding areas. Any outfitter will tell you a good percentage of big bucks are taken between 10 a.m. and noon.

Early afternoon is typically the slowest period. Warm temps and full bellies dissuade deer from moving. Around midafternoon hunters will return to the woods, and on their way may jump a few bedded deer. If you’re already on stand, they might push one past you. After that, things quiet down again for a bit.

As the sun sinks, shadows lengthen and temps fall, signaling deer it’s time to feed again. The first to stir are often does and young bucks. Older bucks have learned to wait until the final moments of daylight before rendering themselves vulnerable.

That means you’ll want to be close to where they’re at. That may not be possible if you waited until midafternoon to enter the woods. But if you’ve been sitting all day, they’ve had time to move closer to you without being disturbed. If you’re lucky, they just might wander by before dark. If not, you can always try another day.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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