Monday, January 7, 2013

Hunting the New Year Full Moon - Or Not

Every year, somewhere around the last week of December or first week of January - the height of duck season - we are blessed and cursed with this sight:

Image: NASA Goddard Space Center
I mean, holy moly, that is a big, bright old moon.  And in the mid-Atlantic around this time of year, the humidity is low and the cloud cover is non-existent unless we have a real weather system move through the region.   Every year, around this time, I'm antsy, because the family obligations of the holidays and the work obligations of the new year generally prevent me from hunting much between December 15 and January 5.  Happens every year.   And until this year, every year I've gone stir crazy and hunted under this moon.  In literally every case,  I've come home empty handed.  For a decade.  So this year, I'm waiting for the moon to fade, and then hunting heavy as it's out of view (roughly December 9 - December 18).

Why does the moon matter to hunting?  Any hunters who are reading already know the answer.   Mid-winter hunting offers certain promise to the human hunter, because our warm-blooded quarry must eat to maintain their body temperature.  The smaller the animal, and the colder the air and water temperature, the more they must eat.   When little moonlight is present, most animals roost or bed down at night, rather than expose themselves to predators and exhaustion while inefficiently rooting around for food.   Then, as soon as the animals can muster up enough strength to get moving, they feed in the morning, also known as "legal shooting time."  This is how we'd all prefer our winters to go.   However when ample moonlight is available in cold weather, the animals can and will move all night, and you might be best served by staying home unless the weather is so cold that the animals must continue to feed during the day as well.

In Maryland, I've found that if daytime highs will be above 35 degrees, and a clear, full moon is out, I am wasting my time by hunting (although the fields and rivers are usually bright enough to set up without a headlamp).  Deer, ducks, and geese will eat their hearts out all night, and head back to bed on the roost or the bed before dawn, awaiting the inevitable warmup.     Then, having warmed up, they are likely to stay on the roost all day, and head out once again after dark.

However, if the daytime high isn't expected to really warm the water or the shaded woods, I've found that there still may be value to hunting, because around 930-1000am, those animals are going to get motivated to find some more food.

This mid-winter, under this mid-winter full moon (called "the 13th moon of 2012" for your personal files), our night temperatures are in the upper 20s, with daytime temperatures around 40 degrees.   I've been watching the ducks, deer, and geese moving (a perk of working outdoors) and after about 800am, they simply are not moving.  All day long.    Then, after dark, the river is full of the sounds of beating wings and fat birds crashing into the upper creeks to feed on acorns, worms, and who knows what else.  The suburban woods, about 30 minutes after sunset, become thick with the sound of crushing hooves through briars, leaves, and carefully landscaped shrubs.

You didn't fool me this year, full moon.  Not this year.  When this post becomes public, I'll be sitting in a duck blind, looking up at a fingernail sliver of a waning moon.  See you in a month, full moon - two days after duck season ends.

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