Do Weather Apps Help With Predator Hunting?

Can using a weather app and moon phase chart increase the number or predators you kill?

Do Weather Apps Help With Predator Hunting?

The best night hunting may be during dark moon phases, according to some research results. That's when animals are most active.

We hunt them day and night, rain and snow, wind and calm. Some days we stack them up. Others? It seems as if the places that were crawling with cats and coyotes a season ago are as empty as a country church on Tuesday. 

It’s no secret that weather plays a significant role in the activity levels of the predators we hunt. So does the time of day. Sometimes, they are on their feet searching for a meal. Other times, they hunker down and just stay close to home. That may explain why we call in a truckload of predators one day and never see one the next time we hunt. 

A number of studies found that foxes, bobcats and coyotes are crepuscular. That is, they are most active at dawn and twilight. That’s not surprising, but the reason may have more to do with their food than anything else. 

As it turns out, prey species tend to be most active during that same period, as well, making them more available to foxes and other predators. Jackrabbits, for example, were most active between 4:00 and 7:00 in the morning and 6:00 and 10:00 at night, according to a study that took place in the Chihuahaun Desert. Cottontails were active during similar hours. So were coyotes, although their peak morning activity was a few hours later, on average, in that study area. A number of other studies also found that other common prey species, including cotton rats, voles and deer mice were most active during the first and last hours of daylight. Predators hunt when prey is most vulnerable. 

Although bobcats are active at dawn and dusk, they are almost as active during the middle of the day. Researchers think that may have to do with two of their preferred foods: birds and squirrels. Both are active and more available during the day. 

Weather Matters

The time of day isn’t the only factor that affects predator activity. The weather matters, too — especially wind. Research conducted by Mississippi State University found that during the fall and winter, coyotes were most active with a south wind, but as wind speed increased overall, the animals’ activity decreased. 

“Coyotes rely heavily on olfactory stimuli when hunting, hence it is not surprising that movement rates decreased with increasing wind speed. Hunting efficiency for coyotes, and canids in general, likely decreases during periods with high wind. Thus, it is not adaptive for coyotes to forage intensively (i.e., increase movement rates) during these periods,” wrote the study authors.

Approaching weather fronts also affected coyote activity. Contrary to popular belief, they were less likely to move during a decrease in barometric pressure, which indicates an approaching front. They were more likely to hunker down prior to and during weather events including rain, as well as falling humidity levels and dew points. 

Gray foxes exhibited similar behavior. They were more likely to be active during a decrease in relative humidity and temperature. Unlike coyotes, however, they were less active when the barometric pressure was rising, although activity increased when the barometer was either rising or falling “sharply,” according to researchers. Gray foxes in the Mississippi study also moved more as wind speeds increased, particularly when that wind was from the south. 

Bobcats also moved more during a falling barometer — an indication of an approaching storm. A south wind got them moving, but a north or northeast wind reduced their activity. So did rain.   

Lunar or Loony? 

Plenty of research has shown that moon phases influence whitetail deer activity, but what about predator movement? There’s no question the moon matters. Research in Texas found that coyotes tend to group howl and group yip less during a dark moon phase. Generally, cats and coyotes are more active during a full or near-full moon, but red foxes tend to move less on bright nights. They also ate far less during full moon periods, as well. 

That’s because moon phases also affect prey species. A Montana study found that snowshoe hares were more vulnerable to predation during a full moon. Researchers radio-collared 177 hares and found predation rates were 1.8 times higher during the five days on either side of the full moon. It was even higher, 2.5 times, when there was snow on the ground. On the other hand, rabbits were more active and moved farther distances on moonless or darker nights. Numerous other studies found that during full moon periods, a variety of prey species move less, eat less and spend more time in thicker cover.  

“Our results support the hypothesis that if prey move and forage less during high lunar illumination, then bobcats must search larger areas to meet energy requirements during such periods,” wrote Western Carolina University assistant professor Dr. Aimee Rockhill. She was the lead author of a North Carolina study that examined bobcat activity in relation to moon phases and illumination.

However, a number of other natural factors may shift predator activity, including the presence of other predators. A study in Spain also found that red foxes were most active on a dark moon phase. However, that may be a response to lynx activity, which was higher during a full moon. The cats will kill foxes, which may explain why reds avoid moving long distances when lynx are most active. 

“Fox activity in relation to the moon seemed to reduce dangerous encounters with its intraguild predator,” wrote the study authors. 

Other studies where larger predators that kill foxes are not a factor found similar activity levels in relation to moon phases. Research on non-native red foxes in Australia showed less activity overall during a full moon, even though those foxes have no natural predators. 

Bobcats do move less during dark nights, but when they are on their feet, the cats tend to hunt more open habitat during the new moon, according to the eastern North Carolina study. Overall, they moved less during dark moon phases and considerably more on bright nights. Rockhill thinks that may have to do with the animal’s relatively ineffective night vision. 

“The high movement rates of bobcats during high illumination implies bobcats are not able to take advantage of increased prey movement during dark periods and may hunt prey that are available during crepuscular or daylight hours to compensate for poor night vision,” she wrote. 

Rockhill did not take into account cloud cover, but did find that moon phases that provided 10-49 percent illumination (a full moon equaled 100 percent illumination.) seemed to be the ideal hunting conditions. That amount of light was enough to see, but low enough that prey species were most active. 

A study conducted in Mississippi by Mississippi State University researchers found similar results. Aside from the dawn and twilight, bobcats were more likely to be on their feet during the middle of the day than the middle of the night. Daytime activity was highest when the moon was darkest. The only exception was in summer. Cats didn’t move much during the day in the hottest months. Authors of both studies assumed that was heat-related. 

So what does it all mean? Knowing how weather and moon phases affect the animals we hunt can help us put more fur on the ground. With a glance at the lunar charts and a swipe of a weather app, we can choose the days and nights that might provide the most action. Or we can go at every opportunity and hope for the best. 

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