In deer hunting, as in ocean fishing, it doesn’t do you much good to know where to go unless you know when to be there. You can stand on a tropical flat for five hours, but you won’t see a bonefish until the tide turns and flushes the flat with incoming water. The rise and fall of the sun is the earth’s tide, directing the ebb and flow of deer from their feeding areas to their bedding grounds and back again. How you should hunt depends on where the hands stand on your watch.
7 a.m. to 9 a.m.
At dawn, deer that have fed off and on during the night in open areas ghost into the forest toward their bedding sites. They leave trails that look like a cord frayed at either end: Many threads gather together as deer leave the feeding zones, then fan out again in the heavy cover. Place your stands downwind of where the trails coalesce-nearer to the feeding areas on opening day, closer to bedding zones as the season progresses. As deer wise up, they will leave fields earlier and earlier, passing stands located nearby before shooting light. Late in the season, some of the biggest bucks will bed down well before daylight, leaving you no option but to locate your stand in the bedding zones (erect it before the season if possible, so the deer will get used to it). Sneak in well before dawn and stay quiet.
9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Still-hunting can be effective during midmorning, after the deer have bedded and the sun has warmed the higher ground, creating a predictable updraft of wind. In mountainous terrain, you can work down from the ridge tops into the breeze, but be prepared for a quick shot. Tracking also can pay off, especially on windy days or during rain or snowfall, when it’s easier to approach deer closely before they bolt. In heavily hunted areas, it’s a better idea to stay on stand than to move around. Many hunters leave their morning stands at nine or 10 o’clock, disturbing bedded deer that may push past you, offering a shot.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Radio-collar studies have shown that bucks get out of their beds several times during midday to feed a little and stretch their legs. A tree stand with good viewing lanes into heavy cover may pay off. This also is a good time to still-hunt or track, but understand that you will disturb many more deer than you see, and will take the risk of pushing them out of your area. Midday is the best time to conduct deer drives, because you can count on deer being holed up in cover and can more easily predict escape routes.
**2 p.m. to 4 p.m. **
The same tactics that work during midday can also fill your tag now. But don’t neglect hunting from a stand. Hunter who have returned to camp for lunch and a nap will start drifting back into the woods in late afternoon, and they will disturb deer along the way. Play the game by being in position ahead of the rush. You may get an easy shot.
4 p.m. to Dusk
As the sun begins to sink, deer ease from their beds and move toward feeding grounds. Early in the season, a stand located near the fields might work. But as deer leave their beds later and later, you’re better off taking a position along thoroughfares nearer to their bedding areas, to catch them before it grows too dark to shoot.