Moon Phases for Photographing Deer

November 27, 2012

mule deer doeFemale Mule Deer at Sunset I am a hunter of wildlife - of sorts. I research. I study behaviors. I track. And I shoot. But my shooting preserves the life of the animal and captures them in the electronic form of a photograph.

So when I recently stumbled across an article about how deer hunters follow moon phases to find deer, I was intrigued about this information.

Wildlife photographers often photograph wildlife during their mating season. In ungulates, such as deer, it is called a rut. In all animals this is a short but active time period when the animals go into a frenzy as they focus on nothing but producing the next generation.

That's where the moon phases come in with deer. Studies have shown that the beginning of the deer - white-tail or mule - rut season coincides with the second full moon after the autumnal equinox. For a hunter, seeking out deer becomes an all-day activity under a full moon. But for a photographer, this full moon - called the rutting moon - will help identify the best time of year for capturing deer activity with their camera.

This year the rutting moon happened to fall on October 29, just days before the predicted peak of estrogen and sperm levels in the deer around November 1. Basically that means that the stars - or moon - were aligned for an exceptionally active rutting season.

There are a few phases the deer progress through during the rut. The first is the seeking phase, which begins a few days before the rutting moon, and photographers will begin to see more deer during the day. The next phase is the chasing phase, which is when early does come into estrus, or heat. This puts the bucks into full alert for finding a mate. By the second week of November, the rut peaks with the majority of does in heat. Bucks - young and old - will be vying for the attention of the does, and not worrying about the pesky photographers taking their pictures. The new moon at this point means more daytime activity of the deer. Bucks will continue to seek out does through the end of November. Unbred does will cycle again and fawns go through their first cycle for a second rut in early December, providing a few last photo opportunities before the deer return to the shelter of night and cover.

At any point during the rut, photographers should focus taking pictures in early morning and later afternoon for the best deer activity under the best lighting conditions. The best photographs will show the bucks with a large, healthy rack without missing tines. A few lucky photographers might even see the bucks using their antlers to compete with each other over a doe. And the sentimental romantic in us will enjoy photographs of the happy deer couples nestled along the edge of a field with a wooded backdrop.

And since this year's rut is winding down, it will soon be time to think about timing for next year's rut. The autumnal equinox in 2013 is September 22. This will put the second full moon on November 17, two weeks after the peak of estrogen and sperm levels. The rut will be very different next year but that is why we love learning, watching and photographing wildlife.

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