Creedence Clearwater Revival had a big hit in the seventies called “Bad Moon on the Rise” and that turned out well for them. Unfortunately, as outdoorsmen and women, sometimes the moon doesn’t seem to treat us as well as those free spirited musicians. A full moon can seemingly make or break an outing. Recently, the first full moon of the 2009 calendar year arrived and it was easily the most brilliant moon light many can recall. How did the animals react during the inherently brighter night? Did the full moon allow the typical day light dwellers an extra advantage or did it hinder the abilities of those that hunt at night?
Let’s face it, the lunar cycle has been continually researched since the earliest times. Scientists have proven through centuries of close observation that different phases of the moon affect all sorts of natural living things. Take for instance tides…Mariners navigate by a pre-determined set of tidal charts fore warning of the highs and lows of tides. Certain species of fish feed on a high or low tide and sea turtles, alligators and other tidal animals utilize the full moon and the tidal pressures to know when to seek out a shore on which to lay their eggs for optimum results.
The Farmer’s Almanac predicts the best times to plant, harvest, (and yes even neuter animals) by the moon’s phase. Many horticulturalists believe that certain plants bud out during a full moon phase. Likewise, many sportsmen assert that animals such as deer and fish begin their spawn or rut rituals with arrival of the full moon.
It’s no secret that the moon affects every living creature, yet some seem more under its spell than others. Not all animals see well at night. Some creatures have eyes that require more light than others, (like us humans) so the full moon may be more of an advantage for them. Since a good portion of the animal kingdom is nocturnal, it can be difficult to compare those creatures with typical daylight activists, such as us humans. Still, since the outdoors is our passion and we strive to be more intelligent about our quarry, our panel of “field experts” was questioned about the affects that the full moon has upon their more common prey and how they try and overcome those challenges.
Since the waterfowl season is currently under way in many portions of the nation, we begin with how the moon affects our migratory birds. Our first waterfowl expert is Casey Self, co-owner of Tribal Outdoors, whose unique line of hunting wear is quickly gaining popularity with the hardcore young duck and goose hunters.
Casey chases waterfowl from early Teal season on up through the final days in February, when goose forces him to hang up the calls. He is the guy I often find myself calling to check with about theories and how the birds are behaving across town. When asked, he freely admitted he was a firm believer in that ducks and geese often make drastic changes in the behaviors during the full moon period.
For instance, over the years Casey noticed waterfowl would often go out to feed in the late afternoon and not return to their roost at dusk as is the common pattern. In fact, he witnessed them staying in the crop fields after sunset while the full moon was overhead. The moon provided plenty of light for them to feel secure enough to continue feeding during their normal resting hours.
Of course, this behavior had an immediate impact on the next morning’s hunt(s). Rarely did the ducks or geese fly out for their regular A.M. feeding. Warm weather just seemed to amplify this behavior as well. It became such common place that Self began to mark full moon periods on his calendar and would adjust his hunting schedule.
Through a process of elimination, Casey found that if the evening of the full moon was clear more often than not, birds stayed out late. It was not beneficial to hunt the next morning, since the birds had full bellies and typically lay up at the roost. Evening hunts (where legal) were more productive and only the last portion of shooting time was activity normally found. Of course, on cloudy nights the full moon may not “light up the night” and wildlife may not be able to feed as late. When the full moon falls during hunting season, this waterfowler will just sleep in and try his luck in the P.M.
A little farther south, in the town of Stuttgart, Arkansas lives Jim Ronquest. Most duck hunters know his bearded face and recognizable southern drawl from the RNT videos. “Jimbo” as he is known in the duck hunting world, is one of the nicest guys to ever pick up a call and he is one of the best (in fact a prior World Champion) callers and a die hard timber hunter.
When I asked Jim how he dealt with a full moon during hunting season, he answered matter of factly with “persistence”. He explained that the full moon would not keep him out of his cherished flooded woods, but that things can and do get tough. Still, things didn’t always work out for the worst. Jim mentioned that sometimes ducks and geese will feed hard the night before a full moon. “Come the next morning,” he advised” they’ll want in that timber bad!” Of course, in hunting there is no guarantee and every day has a learning curve. “Sometimes you just have to wait them out,” he chuckled and sometimes you go home empty handed.
A couple tricks that Jim has garnered over the years are that birds that feed all night long will often head to those less pressured areas to rest. Near by reservoirs can be great places to find loafing ducks with full bellies. Much like Casey, Jim felt that mid day or afternoon hunts were more productive than early morning. “Actually, I like to be out right around noon, when some ducks will mill about some and good hunting can be had!” quipped Ronquest. Keep in mind that lots of hunters leave their hunting areas at or before noon, so this can really be a prime time!
Just east of Arkansas, across the Mississippi River if you are lucky you might find Kelley Powers, marketing director for Higdon Decoys. A former champion of just about every goose calling event, Kelley is always on the road during hunting season. He follows the migration from Canada to Kentucky hunting in all sorts of conditions and situations.
When the full moon topic was presented to him, he like the other pros agreed that it could throw a wrench in things. “There are lots of variables in hunting,” admitted Powers. “Moon cycle is just one of the numerous things that change” he added. Warm weather patterns combined with a full moon could really be the kiss of death in Kelley’s opinion. “Warm weather will find birds (especially geese) roosting on ponds and lakes” noted Powers. Just about every impoundment has grass banks available and waterfowl love to forage for grass just ask any golfer. Combine warm weather and a full moon with open water near grass and you have found a location that birds may not want to leave! They may just loaf there on the water and lazily walk up the bank to nibble some vegetation when needed.
Now cold weather can cancel out the fore mentioned pattern even during a full moon cycle. “In cold weather, birds have to feed, so even though they might not go out at the same times, chances are they will go feed sometime,” Powers pointed out. Although it’s tempting to hunt water holes during the full moon period, Kelley warns hunters to use care not to run birds off their roosting location. “Birds bumped from water may not come right back or come back at all (during a full moon)” advised Kelley.
A better bet during cold weather is to find a good food source and stick it out there. Settle in for a wait knowing that any birds that do fly may be toward the very end of shooting time. Pay attention to the specific conditions, temperatures, wind direction, clouds or clear skies and the actual day of the full moon cycle (which lasts for 4-5 days).
The common theme among these three waterfowlers was to expect changes. Pay attention to the moon, set a game plan ahead of time and adapt to the conditions the birds are in. Having multiple places to hunt is critical, as well. Just as Kelley mentioned, warm weather will drive the birds to grass, so it’s critical to have access to a pasture type pond or similar lair when the temps are above forty. Proper scouting is possibly more critical during the full moon than any other time during the season.
Stay tuned for coming additions on how the moon affects deer hunting and fishing, as well. We will be broaching the topic to several pros in those fields in hopes of improving our outdoor skills! For more moon phase info, click www.moonphases.info