Bowhunting in August sometimes feels like doing time. Spending sixteen hours straight in the woods can be incredibly boring, hot, and seemingly futile. Because deer are most active in the morning and evening, a lot of hunters will come back to camp for lunch and a nap during the day and then return to the field in late afternoon. But hunters beware: your odds of bagging a big buck at midday might be bad, but your odds of bagging a buck at camp are zero. But if you learn a little bit about mule deer daytime habits, you can increase your odds of success.
In low hunter pressure areas, bucks bed down for the day around 9:00 a.m.
Between 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. deer get up for short time to stretch, grab a quick bite, and maybe change beds to avoid the sun. They unbed again between 3:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. to use the restroom and then bed down until evening.
The reason we can count on these times is simple: Mule deer are browser-feeders and their digestive systems run like clockwork. Since a buck is most vulnerable when he rises from bed, we can watch for them to move during the slower midday hours.
When the hunters roll into high-pressure areas–like most of Utah’s public lands–deer change their behavior quickly. The worst place I know of is Monte Cristo. I hunted this area for several years and never saw a big buck up and feeding during the day. Eating may be the primary drive for deer, but sheer survival is more important than eating.
When their lives are on the line, deer will bed before daylight and remain bedded all day until the sun goes down. They simply adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle. When hunting nocturnal bucks, don’t get discouraged. They still exist somewhere; you just have to find them.
When the hunting pressure is on, bucks leave the upper ridges where you might see them living all summer, and move to steep secondary ridges where there’s more protective cover. Look for the steepest and thickest terrain possible. Sometimes they move to the heavily wooded north-face side dark timber where the elk live.
Learning a little about deer’s diet will help you pin-point a good secondary area. In Utah, the deer’s primary food source is bitterbrush, cliffrose, and sage brush. It is imperative that you learn you identify these sources. Try to locate secondary hideouts areas and a quality food source, and then be there before first light. Deer that aren’t feeding midday still have to eat at night, but they won’t travel far from their hideout to do so.
When hunting secondary ridges, start by still-hunting the steepest and thickest terrain you can find. Move very slowly and glass every ten steps or so. There’s nothing harder than hunting bedded bucks, but remember you have all day!
It’s also good to locate a nearby water source. Deer don’t require daily water because they get most of their moisture from the plants they eat. But they still need to water every few days, and even more frequently in hot, arid areas. Any small seep or spring will do. One way to locate water is too look for willows. Willows are easy to spot because of their tall, reddish stems. As an aside, deer also eat the willows.
In my time, I’ve see some real monster bucks up and feeding during mid-day. Whenever possible, spend the entire day in the woods and it will eventually pay off. Hunt smarter, not harder. By putting in the time, you will increase your chances of success.