Busting 4 Whitetail Hunting Myths

Many whitetail hunters lack a basic understanding of whitetail deer biology. Do you?

Busting 4 Whitetail Hunting Myths

I follow several hunter-oriented websites where people go to post questions about whitetails and whitetail hunting. During deer season, these sites get quite busy, but quite often I’m disappointed in the lack of basic knowledge demonstrated by some hunters.

Some of the questions are just basic deer biology that every hunter should know. Some would provide fuel for the anti-hunters’ fire. Some are just the same old repeated myths that were proven false years ago, yet many hunters apparently still perpetuate them. What follows are four of the more common misconceptions that some hunters still believe and practice.

Myth No. 1

Every fall, hunters post photos, either harvested bucks or trail camera photos, and ask others to guess the age of the buck. In most cases, the hunter posting the question does not know the answer.

One recent posting that I remember was a head shot of a 6-point (3x3) buck. The hunter asked commenters to answer the question, “How old do you think this buck is?”

Two points here: First, you CANNOT age a buck by the antlers. Because it was a small 6-point, you can assume it probably was a yearling or maybe even a 2.5-year-old. But it could also be an old buck whose antlers are going downhill. Secondly, why would a hunter ask this question when all they have to do is slice open the cheek and examine the teeth in the lower jaw? If you don’t know how to age deer by examining the teeth, please do a little research to find out.

Aging by the teeth is foolproof up to 2.5 years of age. By looking at the lower jaw, you cannot mistake a yearling or a 1.5-year-old buck. Even 2.5-, 3.5- and 4.5-year-old bucks can be aged accurately by the teeth. Older bucks get a bit iffy, in my estimation.

If you really want to know the exact age of a harvested buck, then go on the Internet and Google “labs that age deer teeth.” Contact that lab and they’ll tell you what tooth to pull and where to send it. There’s a fee, but you’ll get an exact age for your buck.

How old is this buck? The only sure way to know is to age the buck by examining its teeth.
How old is this buck? The only sure way to know is to age the buck by examining its teeth.

Myth No. 2

The hunter posts a trail camera photo of a deer that looks emaciated — ribs showing, skinny deer that does not look healthy — with the question, “What do you think is wrong with this deer?” Or, “What is causing this deer to look sick?” The questions are fine, but many answers are wrong. Usually hunters will immediately respond that this deer has chronic wasting disease (CWD).

That could be the reason, but in my home state of West Virginia, hunters post this answer all the time, yet CWD is found in only one area of the state. Yes, it’s possible the photo shows a deer with CWD, even if found 200 miles from an area that has CWD, yet the chances are almost zero.

Every time there is a sick deer out there, it serves no purpose to alarm other hunters into believing it is caused by CWD. Starting a rumor that CWD is now in the area where this sick deer was seen or photographed by a trail camera does not help hunting.

Now if that sick deer is near water and its late summer or early fall, then it might have epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD). Regardless of the case, if you see or capture a photo of a deer that appears deathly ill, contact your local DNR office or representative.

Myth No. 3

It’s largely assumed that deer move more at night and less during the day when there is a full moon. I guess the belief is that the full moon allows the deer to see better at night. And if they feed more at night, it is less likely you will see them during the day.

If you think about that, you’ll realize this is silly. Deer have exceptional night vision. Many animals do. If they didn’t, they’d be running into trees and other objects just as we’d do without the aid of a flashlight. No, deer do not need a full moon to feed at night.

A study conducted at Penn State University followed the day and night movement of does with GPS collars in the month of October in both 2015 and 2016. We already know that deer movement is influenced by sunrise, sunset and time of day, but what happens when there is a full moon? In this study, none of the moon phases (new moon, partial moon or full moon) affected the amount of movement of the does surveilled, at least not much. They did find that there was some small insignificant differences in deer movement per hour in certain moon phases.

For example, does moved 6.6 yards more per hour during the night when there was a new moon. When the moon was partial, does moved 4.4 yards more per hour during the day than when there was a full moon. When you consider that some of these does were moving over 2,200 yards per hour, these movements are insignificant. No, deer do not move around more at night when the moon is full.

Many deer hunters blame poor hunting on the full moon. Science says otherwise.
Many deer hunters blame poor hunting on the full moon. Science says otherwise.

Myth No. 4

While on the topic of the moon, let’s add another lunar misconception. Most hunters believe that moon phases dictate when the rut is at its peak. Not true, but this is a complex topic.

The peak of the rut is determined by photoperiod, the length of daylight. Summer days are longer but as we approach winter, the days get shorter. The amount of light affects levels of estrogen in does and testosterone in bucks. Furthermore, photoperiod is a constant; it does not change from year to year.

If that is true, then why do we sometimes have bucks chasing does the last week of October, when the peak of the rut is always November 13 to 18? Note, this is an example, but actually, the dates of November 13 to 18 are typical of peak rut for much of the northern half of the United States.

The answer is that weather and other factors determine daily movements of deer. If you have a cold front move through your area before November 12, then that triggers buck movement. If you get a warm week in November, then that slows buck and doe movement, even if it’s the peak of the rut.          

Breaking More Myths

Down the road, there are plenty more questions to answer. Is there an October lull in deer movement? Do old bucks do all the breeding? Will culling bucks with lesser or deformed antlers improve the genetics of deer antlers in your area? All of these and others are merely myths that hunters and TV hunting shows perpetuate. And so it goes.

In the meantime, I will leave you with a quote from Aldo Leopold to ponder: “Only those who know the most about it, can appreciate how little we know about it.”

Of course, he was talking about “the land,” but those words also apply to our knowledge of deer. The more we learn, the more we realize how much more there is to learn, the easier it is to toss out the myths, all the while becoming more knowledgeable regarding the animals we hunt. As a byproduct, we will likely also become better, more ethical hunters.

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