When I asked a dozen random hunters whether they prefer morning or evening deer hunts, most replied that they prefer to go "whenever their wives let them." When I asked 12 dedicated big buck hunters the same question, most said they have the greatest success in the evening.
If this surprises you, read on.
See what makes morning stands and evening stands effective, how to identify which is best for your situation, and then how to maximize your odds at all times of the hunting day.
Deer aren't afraid of the dark. In fact, they prefer it. Mature bucks are fully aware they can move undetected in darkness, so they wait until dusk to exit thick cover, feed under the stars, and slink back to their shady beds as temps begin to rise. If a hunter bumbles into a feeding area before dawn while a buck's still in it, that hunter might as well turn around and surprise his wife by being home early.
Some savvy hunters figure their best odds are to slip into their stands near a food source in the afternoon after bucks have retired to their beds and wait for them to return as the sun sets.
On the other hand, deer don't always feed at night. When mast is available and deer can feed in the cover of woods, mature bucks will eat and loaf for a good portion of the morning. If hunters can access funnels or trails leading to these spots undetected and let the deer feed toward them on their way back to their midday beds, morning stands can be dynamite.
No doubt lunar phase influences deer movement, but to what extent is still mostly unknown. Empirically, I tend to see deer feeding at night under a full moon and at midday more so than on a new moon when I believe deer move at first and last light. The key is to take notes on your hunting property in order to study a large data set over time. Then plan your hunt accordingly.
The point of utilizing morning and/or evening stands is to minimize the chance of spooking bucks. So it's best to know what type of setup you have and manipulate it to your advantage if you can. Of course, the best time to hunt depends on stand locations, access routes, deer travel patterns, food sources, wind, hunting pressure, and other things — all of which change frequently — so as in all deer hunting, nothing is cut-and-dried.
For the sake of this article, however, we'll generalize two of the most prominent types of terrain/food sources and proven times to hunt them.
Evening Stands for Fields and Food Plots
Hank Tassitano has killed dozens of Pope and Young-caliber bucks on public and private land from Maine to Kansas. He says that in the early season he prefers evening stands, especially if these stands must be accessed by walking across open fields.
"Before dawn, while deer feed in fields, you'll cause more of a disturbance than you realize," says Tassitano. He's figured out that most deer vacate the field by midmorning. Tassitano says these stands (deer feeder setups included) are much easier to enter in the afternoon. "But," he adds, "they can also be difficult to exit."
Tassitano says the trick is to not get busted by deer you aren't interested in shooting. "I hunted one box blind for two weeks and finally killed the nice buck I was after," says Tassitano. "Most days I had deer on the plot at dusk, so I'd have my wife drive in to pick me up to push the deer back into the woods. They'd never see me get out of my stand."
If you don't have a wife like Hank's, a good strategy is to place your stand in the woods near a food plot's edge so you can shoot deer that enter it but also can climb down undetected after dark.
Morning Stands for Oak Funnels
While most of us would love to sleep in, climb into a stand at 3 p.m., and kill a big buck at 5 p.m., the fact is deer movement is heavy in the mornings, and so some stands are better then. On cool mornings mature bucks don't necessarily bed after feeding at night if they have the option to browse in cover.
Most of the mature bucks I've killed were taken in the morning, amid oak woods while they vacuumed acorns. My favorite stands are in oak funnels or near creeks in oak forests that I can access before dawn. I literally tiptoe to my morning stands. I don't dare flicker a flashlight. I hang morning stands months in advance, so I don't clank through the woods like The Tin Man.
And, of course, I choose the stand based on the wind that morning. While this stealthy "sneak in" strategy can also be used for evening stands, on my property I see more deer in the minutes after dawn than the minutes before dusk.
So I'm a morning man.
Exceptions to the Rule
Last year I killed an old, 165-ish, 13-point buck by slipping into the woods in the afternoon. I arrowed him as he ate acorns while waiting for darkness so he could visit a food plot a few hundred yards past my stand location. Conversely, legions of hunters have taken great bucks on food plots in the morning.
But remember, things can change.
"If I'm not seeing the bucks I think I should be, I try to determine what I'm doing wrong," Tassitano says. "Is it my approach? Am I bumping deer without knowing it? Is the wind doing something odd? Should I try it at another time? Many factors make deer move or not, so if you've done your homework and feel good about your stand location, just be patient."
In the end, don't assume you've got a morning stand or an evening stand based on what you think. Let the deer show you. Much of it takes trial, error, and experience on your particular hunting property. And if your trail cams show him at noon, hunt then.