Are deer nocturnal? We get this question a lot from hunters and non hunters alike.
The answer is no, deer are not nocturnal. At least not most of the time.
There are some times of the year when some of the deer will become nocturnal for short periods of time due to environmental conditions that force them to only be active at night.
When Deer are Most Active
Deer are most active during twilight and the few hours surrounding twilight. This means the 2 hours before it is light until the 2 hours after it is light in the morning and the 2 hours before dark until 2 hours after dark are when deer are most active.
This means that deer are crepuscular, which according to Merriam Webster Dictionary means, when relating to animals, active during twilight.
But that doesn't tell the whole story.
There are times when deer are very active during the daylight hours, sometimes even in the middle of the day, so we could say that deer are diurnal during certain times.
Diurnal means active during the day. Humans are considered diurnal.
Let's take a look at what makes deer active during the day.
Factors That Make Deer Active During The Day
There are many factors that make deer more active during the day, let's break down a few of the top causes.
Mating Season - The Rut
The period of the year when the females (does) come into heat and are bred by the bucks is called the rut.
During this time, the bucks are like testosterone filled teenagers and will be on their feet all day in search of a doe in heat. The movement by bucks will also keep the does on their feet as they constantly flee the harassment of the bucks.
This is the period when most mature bucks are killed by hunters and many deer are killed by vehicular collisions due to the fact that the deer are covering so much ground and in a haphazard manner.
The second most common factor that make deer active during the day is weather conditions.
Deer, like other animals, react and change behavior based on changes in barometric pressure. They can sense when a rapid drop in barometric pressure is going to happen and that means bad weather.
When they sense this, they know that it is time to feed because the weather may prevent them from feeding for a period of time. If this coincides with the daylight hours, they are going to feed anyway.
Prolonged Periods Of Cold Weather
The other weather condition that will have deer actively feeding during the day is a prolonged period of cold weather.
This usually occurs during the late season when the food sources are less plentiful and the deer really need the nutrition to recover from the rigors of the rut.
When this happens, you will see deer actually running into the field in broad daylight and in large numbers to be sure that they get the nutrition that they need to stay warm and survive.
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, there are times when certain deer are nocturnal. Let's take a look at what can make deer nocturnal.
What Makes Deer Nocturnal?
If you have ever spent any time around any deer hunters, you have surely heard them talk about a buck that has "gone nocturnal", but what does that mean?
According to a study at Penn State University, in which they radio collared whitetail deer, the number one cause of deer becoming nocturnal was hunting pressure.
The more hunters that were in the woods for long periods of time was directly correlated with less or even no daytime activity for some deer.
This nocturnal behavior was only temporary and the deer would resume their normal behavior once the hunting pressure lessened.
It is important to note that the deer in the study did not stop moving completely during the day. Their daytime movement was drastically reduced.
We can deduce from this data that the deer were in fact on their feet during the day, however, they would not leave the safety of the thickest and most overlooked areas in their home range until after dark.
Another thing that can make deer nocturnal for a short period of time is heavy rain. Deer will usually remain bedded during prolonged periods of heavy rain. If that rain occurs between dawn and dusk, the deer will remain bedded and only move at night.
There are times when deer will be active when it is raining. Click here for answers to the question: Do deer move in the rain?
What Do Deer Do At Night?
The 24 hours in a deer's life is a cyclical, habitual process just like every other animal or human.
A deer has 2 main feeding times in a 24 hour period, Dawn and Dusk. Once the deer is full, it will make its way back to a bedding area where it feels safe from predators and it will bed down and chew its cud.
Also during this time, the deer may close its eyes and sleep for short periods, but mostly it is just resting.
If a deer is mainly feeding at dawn and dusk, that means that it is chewing cud and sleeping or resting at night and during the middle of the day.
Obviously this pattern changes based on the factors discussed earlier in this article and there are times when a deer will be active all night and spend much more time resting during the day.
Tips For Hunting Deer That Are Nocturnal
First we have to realize that just because you are not seeing a certain buck during daylight hours, it doesn't mean he is truly nocturnal. It just means that he is not moving from where he feels safe until after dark, but I guarantee you he is on his feet and moving around inside where he feels safe.
The key to successfully hunting a buck like that is to stealthily make your way closer and closer to where he is hiding.
Let's take a look at how you can get close to a "nocturnal" buck.
- First, you need to find out exactly where he is spending his days. It is going to be the nastiest, most out of the way place you have on your hunting area. A place where no human ever goes. Get creative and think out of the box and you can find these places.
- Once you know where he is hiding, you need to get close and get up in a tree. We like to use a climbing tree stand that we can put on our back and climb a tree quickly and quietly. Sometimes you can catch him coming out of the thick stuff just before dark.
- In our experience, the best time to do this is very early in the morning. At least two hours before it is light. You may hear him moving in to his area before it gets light and with any luck, he will still be there when it is legal shooting light. One of our Pro Staff members used this strategy to connect on a buck that he had been hunting for a few years. You can see the buck below and read the full story here.
The good news is that no deer is truly nocturnal. If they are left alone and not pressured, they will soon return to their old predictable routines and you can hunt them during the best deer hunting times.
Are Deer Nocturnal Or Not?
As you have read in the article above, deer are not truly nocturnal. They are mostly crepuscular, but that can change based on a number of factors.
When deer are Heavily pressured by human intervention into their habitat, they will become nocturnal for a period of time, until the pressure is reduced. At which time they will return to their previous routine.
Deer will also become very active during the day in response to environmental factors, making then diurnal, until the environmental factors return to normal.
As you can see, deer are very adaptable creatures and will change their behavior in response to conditions in order to survive and thrive on their home range.