When I first decided to write about moonlight's affect on deer activity I had a clear idea of the direction I wanted it to go. After an extensive review of the scientific literature, opinion articles, and moon phase deer activity calendars online, I am less apt to declare a definite answer to the question.
There is no shortage of opinions about moon phase and position correlations to deer activity and very few agree. Scientific literature supports numerous hypothesis based on well designed studies and statistical analysis, but not all studies have come to the same conclusion, so I am inclined to remain open minded about all possibilities.
Does the Phase of the Moon Affect Deer Activity?
During my studies at college my ecology professor always answered open ended questions with “it depends.” I think that is the best answer for this question too. The moon may have some effect on deer activity, but is it the same effect regardless of weather patterns, hunting pressure, food availability, and the timing of the rut? I think not.
There may be something to moon phase and/or position that increases the odds of encountering more deer but relying on that alone will not do you any favors.
Weather's Affect on Deer Activity
I suggest that weather patterns affect deer movement more than any moon effects. Temperature, precipitation, dew point, cloud coverage, and wind chill and direction are all big factors that will alter your chances of seeing few, many, or no deer while hunting.
If these variables all line up perfectly AND the moon is in a favorable position, then yes you will likely see more deer. The current method of hunting during twilight hours seems to be working well and it just so happens that many studies and opinion pieces regarding moon phase and position suggest hunting on a crepuscular schedule to increase your odds. Truth of the matter is the hunter who has the time and discipline to stay afield longer hours per day, and days per hunting season, will have the best chances of encountering elusive deer.
Moonlight Feedings and Morning Behavior
There is one myth regarding deer behavior and moonlight that I will take a hard stance on. Growing up my elders would always remark on full moon nights that the deer will not be out in the morning because they will be up feeding all night in the moonlight. Deer do not need moonlight to feed at night. They have excellent night vision. Have you ever spooked a deer early in the morning and sent it sprinting through the woods? Did you ever hear it smack into a tree? No, they run through thick brush and woods with ease in the pitch dark. We may have created this association because WE can see deer better on moonlit nights. To say a correlation exists between two occurrences with only anecdotal evidence is like saying the sun comes up because the rooster crows.