The first three weeks of archery deer are in the books, and Keith Miller of Montana Whitetails reports a strong start to the deer season, citing weather and moon cycles as key factors influencing deer movement and hunter success.

“With Montana’s archery season opening on September 1st this year, hunters were hoping to try their luck at harvesting a velvet Montana trophy whitetail,” says Miller. “But we started seeing bucks shedding their velvet early this year. In the last week of August, we saw a lot of the mature bucks already velvet free.”


Miller sent me nine photos of Montana Whitetails’ hunters with mature whitetail bucks in beautiful settings, including those shown here; not one of the nine shots showed a velvet buck. Here’s what he said about them:

“What was on our side [at the start of the season] was the moon phase and some nice weather. With the moon times peaking directly overhead and underfoot and falling generally around peak deer movement, early morning & late afternoon, you will see an influence in better deer numbers at those prime times. This scenario just so happened to fall during our first week of the season leading into the second week.

“In our first week, six archery whitetail hunters harvested 5 whitetail bucks ranging from 118″ – 129”. The 6th hunter missed both a whitetail buck and a bull elk. Also, 2 of the 5 hunters who harvested their bucks missed bucks before arrowing their trophy whitetails. Game movement was really strong in both the morning and afternoons.


“Our 2nd week of hunters harvested an additional 5 bucks with one 10 point taping out at 135″ and another 129″ 8 point. The second week hunters saw some really big bucks for here in Montana. A few 140″ deer and 2 pushing upwards of 150″+.”

Whitetail populations across Big Sky Country are below peak levels after a series of bad winters and resulting losses; however, deer numbers are stable and on the climb across Western Montana. In Southwestern Montana’s Shields River Valley, north of Livingston, where Miller manages several ranches for trophy whitetail, deer numbers remain very strong.

“We are still into our 3rd week of hunting here in Southwestern Montana but with the moon phase fading into mid day peak activity and with warmer weather, deer movement is slowing down a bit. We had a cold front push through at the beginning of the week and on that night 2 hunters arrowed bucks, another 135″ 10 point and a beautiful chocolate antler colored 120″ 9 point. One hunter saw a big double main beam buck come by at 60 yards.”


Miller provides an explanation for decreased deer movement so far in the latter half of the month:

“Typically, during the early part of September, which starts our archery season here in Montana, the whitetails are still holding onto most of their summer hair. By the middle of the second week and into the 3rd week, the deer are fully molted into their Winter coats, which greatly effects movement during warm weather. Over the years the first week or two of September can be really warm, but still have excellent deer movement. However, during those same warm temperatures in mid to late September, after the deer come full circle into their winter coat, hunting can get a little more difficult as deer movement slows.”