When is the best time to hunt whitetail deer?

Maximize your chances of success when you are in the field by prioritizing and focusing on these hunting times.

The best time to hunt whitetail deer is dependent on both the season and time of day. In this article, we will discuss the different seasons for hunting whitetail deer and the best time of day to hunt deer.

What is the best time of year to hunt deer?

Deer hunting season in the Midwest US typically starts in late September / early October and ends in early January. The start times and the seasons described below will differ from state to state.

Deer hunting season can be split into four unique periods:

  1. Early Season – From the start of the season through mid to late October.
  2. Mid-Season – Late October through the start of the rut around the second week of November.
  3. Rutting Season – The whitetail deer rut typically starts in the second week of November through late November.
  4. Late Season – After the rut through the end of the hunting season in January.

The season timing listed above is based on general times from the midwest states in the US.

Early Season (thru mid to late October):

Early deer season starts from opening day and goes through mid to late October.

The early season is a great time for bowhunters to get a shot at a trophy whitetail.

Deer are less likely to be spooked in the early season because they’re still getting used to the sound of people. Early season hunters get a chance to hunt deer before the bulk of hunters enter the field during gun season.

Weather: Early season hunting can be warm if not hot. Deer activity is reduced from midmorning to late afternoon as a result of the hotter temperatures.

As a result of the warm weather, the best time to hunt during the early season is the first two hours of the morning or the last two hours of daylight.

In the morning, deer are heading to bedding areas to relax throughout the day. The hotter the weather the earlier the deer will bed down for the day, which can limit your effective hunting hours.

My favorite time to hunt in the early season is during the evening.

My favorite time to hunt in the early season is during the evening. This is when the temperature starts to cool down and deer start to emerge from bedding down. During this time, deer are most likely looking for food or moving from one feeding spot to another. 

Mid-Season (late October thru early November):

Hunting during this time can be really enjoyable as the weather is pleasant and there are fewer hunters in the field.

The cooler weather and farmers in the fields mean that you could see deer anytime during the day. If you enjoy being in the woods then this is a great time to stay out all day and just enjoy the peace and calm of the woods.

The best time for hunting deer during mid-season is around sun up or sundown as it’s still relatively cool outside and deer are most active during these periods. Make sure you are fully alert and ready for that big buck to walk by during this time.

My favorite time to hunt during the mid-season is the early morning.

My favorite time to hunt during the mid-season is the early morning. I then just stay in my stand as long as I can through the day (even taking a stack or a book to read during a slow period).

The Rut (early/mid November for about 2 weeks):

The Rut – every hunter’s favorite time to hunt.

During the rut, deer are running around like crazy. The bucks are preoccupied with chasing does and less focused on hunters in the trees.

The deer rut typically starts in the second week of November through late November. During this time of year, the peak breeding season for whitetail deer occurs which becomes the primary driver for bucks (over food and safety).

Male deer will traverse great distances and will use any and all trails that they can find to try and locate any female deer in their search for a mate.

The best time to hunt during the rut can be anytime between sun-up and sundown. Hunters should keep an eye out at all times because that buck could run by anytime throughout the day.

My favorite time to hunt during the rut is very early in the morning.

My favorite time to hunt during the rut is very early in the morning. The rut is a time that more hunters enter the woods so you want to be the first hunter to your stand.

Getting to your stand early will allow other hunters to scare deer toward you as they enter the woods on the way to their blinds or stands (oftentimes after sunrise).

During the rut, you should stay in your stand until 11 AM at a minimum. You want to be in your stand when other hunters leave so you once again have the opportunity for deer to be pushed to you as the hunters leave the woods.

Late Season (after the Rut through the end of hunting season):

During the late season, deer are more likely to be seen in feeding areas and they start moving around less frequently throughout the day.

This time of the year is much colder, and when the temperature gets too cold, deer will not move as much. If it’s too cold, deer remain bedded down to stay warm, which makes hunting very difficult.

The benefit of hunting during this time is that, once again, you are not competing with other hunters in the woods.

Hunters should start looking for deer around sun-up and then wait until evening to hunt, as that’s when temperatures are best for moving about.

Because deer aren’t as active, hunting in the late season requires a lot of patience (even more than normal). The key is to be in your stand when the deer are moving to a feeding area or when they are heading to a bedding area.

Food is more scarce at this time so try to use that to your advantage and hunt around any unpicked fields, food plots, or acorn trees.

My favorite time to hunt during the late season is late afternoon and into the evening.

My favorite time to hunt during the late season is late afternoon and into the evening. For one, this is usually the best weather during the day which makes it more comfortable for me. Secondly, I like to hunt food sources and deer typically come from their bedding areas to feeding areas during this time.

What is the best time of day to hunt deer?

The best time to hunt differs based on the season you are hunting.

However, there are some consistent truths that apply regardless of the time of year you are hunting.

Most hunters consider the twilight hours to be the best time to hunt. This is because deer are more active during this time, and the best light occurs at sunrise or just before full darkness.

Morning versus evening hunts has a lot to do with your personal preferences. If you’re an early riser, then morning hunts are best for you. If you are more of a night owl and like to hunt late into the evening hours, evenings may be best for you.

Let’s take a deeper look at hunting in the morning versus hunting mid-day versus hunting in the evening.

Morning Hunts

A lot of hunters prefer to hunt in the morning. This was always my dad’s favorite time to hunt.

Hunting in the morning allows you to get more time in the field, but it is also a really good time to see deer.

In the morning, deer are moving around, but they are also eating. Deer have been known to eat acorns and other food sources in the early morning hours which draws them out of their bedding areas.

In addition, deer will move from one area to another as the day goes on so being at your stand when that happens is best for seeing a buck at close

Mid-day Hunts

In general, you might have a better chance hunting at dawn or dusk because those times are when the deer are most active.

However, hunting in the middle of the day provides a good opportunity for seeing deer in another way. Human movement can affect when deer move around in the middle of the day.

The goal is to stay in your stand later in the day or get to your stand earlier in the day than other hunters. This will give you the opportunity to see deer that are spooked by other hunters going to or from their stands.

I recommend hunting more in the midday during the rut or other times when you know there will be a lot of other hunters in the field.

Evening Hunts

Evening hunts are my favorite time to hunt. I can get to my stand early and get settled in before the deer become active.

Additionally, the wind seems to calm down right at dusk and you just get the feeling that a big buck can come by any minute.

Deer are more active in the early evening as they are emerging from the bedding areas to their feeding areas. For this reason, I like to hunt food sources or trails leading from bedding areas to food sources in the early evening.

The one downside to evening hunting is that you are always up against the clock. It seems like you always hear noises or spot movement in the distance as nighttime quickly approaches.

It’s important to note that if there isn’t enough light to see clearly (i.e., legal shooting hours), then you should not force the shot. Quietly exit your stand or blind without spooking the deer and come back for a better situation the next day.

Common Questions – Time to Hunt Deer

What time are deer most active?

It is important to think about the time of day when planning your hunt. Deer are most active in the morning and evening hours, but they can be found throughout their territory at any time of the day.

How does the weather affect deer movement?

Deer movement is affected by the weather, and their activity levels will change throughout a 24-hour period depending on conditions. For example, rain or extremely cold weather may keep deer bedded in their resting areas longer.

Is it better to hunt deer in warm or cold weather?

Hunters are successful during both warm and cold weather. However, deer activity levels increase after a cold front and decrease during warm periods.

When should deer be expected back in their bedding areas?

Deer typically return to their resting and feeding areas around the same time each day, so hunters can look for them at those times best suited for hunting conditions.

What is legal shooting time for deer hunting?

Typically, sunrise and sunset are the best times to determine legal shooting hours. However, hunters should check their state’s hunting regulations for specific information.

Conclusion – Best Time to Hunt Whitetail Deer

Overall, the best time to hunt deer will greatly depend on the season and the area you are hunting.

That said, your best bet will likely be in the early morning or the early evening. Deer are more active during this time of day, and you have the best chance to see them.

There are some benefits to hunting in mid-day if there is a lot of human activity where you hunt or when deer may be spooked by other hunters.

Regardless of what time of day you choose to hunt, just make sure you are always prepared to take the shot if a big buck comes your way!

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