An understanding of deer behavior and travel patterns can help you choose a hunting site. Because deer feed primarily during low light conditions they have two primary rest periods, late at night and during mid-day. Generally they leave their daytime bedding areas in heavy cover late in the afternoon and move toward night time food sources. They intermittently feed, travel and rest during the night before returning to their daytime bedding areas.
Because the amount of light is a Security Factor, deer in forested areas (where there is shade) get up and begin to feed and move a couple of hours before sundown. As the amount of light becomes less they move into more open areas of low brush or sparse forest and feed, moving toward open fields and meadows. Shortly before sundown they move into the shadows at the edges of tall grass and swamps before going into open meadows or agricultural fields where they feel secure and feed during darkness.
In the early morning this pattern is reversed. As the sky begins to brighten the deer move from the open areas back into tall grass fields, then to brushy areas just before daylight and into heavy cover or woods again once the sun is up. Bucks are generally more wary than does and move about a half hour later in the evening and head back to their beds about a half hour earlier in the morning.
If you are hunting late in the afternoon, when the deer are just getting out of their beds in heavy cover, setup along travel lanes leading from the bedding areas to daytime food sources; near small openings in woods, fallen mast sites, swamp or creek edges near heavy cover. Close to sundown hunt the transition zones of tall grass, heavy brush, swamps and gullies. trails leading to staging areas, downwind of open food sources are excellent at sundown, especially for bucks.
If you are hunting at or after sundown and the deer are feeding in the open your stand should be along trails leading to the fields. Bucks move later than does and often come into the transition zones after sundown, preferring to stay in cover until sundown when they feel secure. If you don’t see bucks in open feeding areas move farther into the woods along buck travel routes in heavy cover and forested areas. Because the deer move late in the evening you have plenty of time to get to staging areas and transition zones before they arrive.
In the early morning, when the deer are still feeding in the open, don’t hunt from stands near open night food sources unless you are sure there are no deer near your stand or you can approach it undetected. Because of the darkness you won’t know if there are deer in the area until it’s too late and if you spook a deer it will alert all the others in the area. Hunt transition zones, heavy cover where deer feed in search of food, or trails leading to bedding areas. Be at your stand before the deer and ambush them on their return.
Before the breeding phase bucks usually return to cover well before daylight. Hunt rub routes back to the buck bedroom early in the morning, getting there before the buck. Once the rut begins the bucks may return later because they are either chasing or looking for does. Early in the morning you may catch the buck along his rub route near transition zones on the way back to the bedding area. If the buck is not in his bedding area hunt near it from first light until noon. I have seen bucks drag themselves home at 11:00 in the morning. If you previously observed or patterned a buck you know when and where the best setup is.