Nocturnal Whitetails: Why Big Bucks Go Dark


Why do they only show up at night?

Why do they only show up at night?

You can’t kill a buck if you can’t encounter him during daylight. Of course, this isn’t always easy, as many deer — especially older bucks — seem to turn to the dark side when hunting season opens. Here’s an expert’s insight into what drives nocturnal behavior.

By Charles Alsheimer, Deer & Deer Hunting contributor

Whitetails are not born with the ability to differentiate what is dangerous to them. Their ability to discern danger comes from their mothers. Does are incredible teachers, and because of this, fawns quickly learn what can harm them. As a fawn ages and moves into adulthood, it has hundreds if not thousands of encounters with all kinds of predators, of which man is the greatest. If man is not common to an area, whitetails will not have nocturnal tendencies.

Until the quality deer management model (limited access and hunting methods) took off in our region of New York, whitetails were extremely nocturnal because of human pressure in the woods, especially after the second day of firearms season. When more landowners began practicing quality deer management in the 1990s, greater deer sightings during daylight became the norm. Today, the practice has become so widespread it doesn’t matter what day of firearms season you hunt on quality deer management properties, because in most cases, deer will be on their feet throughout the day.

For years, I hunted remote Saskatchewan, where there appeared to be more wolves than humans. What I liked about the environment was that bucks moved about throughout the day because deer had no knowledge of the danger man brought to their world.

The speed at which deer become nocturnal is well documented. Perhaps the most frequently referenced study was done by D. Autry in the late 1960s at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois. His research determined that when hunters moved into the woods at Crab Orchard, it only tooDHSept14Cover_USk about three days for the whitetails to become nocturnal.

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