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Hunter’s Moon: meaning behind October Full Moon, and why it’s different from the others

5 min read

This year, the full Hunter’s Moon rises on Wednesday, October 20.
This is one of the two full Moons that enjoy an official astronomical name.
But, really will it be bigger, brighter, and redder?
Here’s all you need to know!

October is the month when leaves are falling, animals are fattened, and it is the time for hunting and laying in a store of provisions for the long winter ahead.
October’s Full Moon is called Hunting Moon, a name that comes from the fact that game animals such as pheasants, turkeys, and deer are all fattening up for winter during this season (autumn, or fall…if you prefer!), making this the ideal time for Native American hunters to stalk and gather food for their own winter survival.
Moreover, since the farmers had recently cleaned out their fields under the Harvest Moon, hunters could easily see the deer and other animals that had come out to root through the remaining scraps (as well as the foxes and wolves that had come out to prey on them).
The hunter’s moon is accorded similar significance in Europe, where it was also seen as a prime time to hunt during the post-harvest, pre-winter period when conditions were optimal for spotting prey.
However, the term did not enter into usage for Europeans until after they made contact with Indigenous Americans and began colonizing North America.

Interestingly, “Hunter’s Moon” is one of the two unique Moon names that are NOT tied to specific months.
The full Moon that directly follows the Harvest Moon is always called the Hunter’s Moon and, because the Harvest Moon can happen in either September or October, the Hunter’s Moon can happen in October or November. And this year, 2021, it’s in October.
For decades, the monthly full Moons names tied to early Native American, Colonial American, and European folklore and, traditionally, each full Moon name was applied to the entire lunar month in which it occurred, and through all of the Moon’s phases, not only the full Moon.
The Harvest Moon and the Hunter’s Moon are unique because they are not directly related to this folklore, nor necessarily restricted to a single month, but tied to an astronomical event: the autumnal equinox.
The Harvest Moon is the full Moon which occurs nearest to the date of the autumnal equinox, which falls on the 22nd or 23rd of September.
This means that either September or October’s full Moon may take on the name “Harvest Moon” instead of its traditional name. Similarly, the Hunter’s Moon is the first full Moon to follow the Harvest Moon, meaning that it can occur in either October or November.
Moreover, if normally the Moon rises about one hour later each night, the Harvest and the Hunter’s Moons come up only about half an hour later each night, an effect that begins a couple of nights before this full Moon and runs for 3 or 4 nights in a row.
This means there is prolonged periods of light during this time of the the year, which is the reason why these moons have traditionally been used by hunters and farmers to finish their work.

In any case, folks like everything to have names. While the full Moon is always recognizable, perhaps most dreamers wish that each was a bit more special.
There are 13 full Moons each year, making each one beautiful, but far from rare. And maybe that’s why we want to attach a unique label to each full Moon, be it blood Moon, super Moon, blue Moon, and others.
But, of course, Native American tribes had a reason, as they named the Moons to track the seasons.
Different cultures use different names for each month’s Moon and, like Hunter’s Moon, these often related to something significant that happens at this time of year.
Drying Rice Moon is a Dakota name that highlights the time to dry rice for winter storage, and Migrating Moon, used by the Cree, refers to the thousands of migrating birds that fly south in the fall.
Falling Leaves Moon is an Anishinaabe term that highlights the transition between summer and fall, while Freezing Moon (Ojibwe) and Ice Moon (Haida) refer to the increasingly cold temperatures of this period.
But it was the seasonal Moon name used by the Algonquin tribe that also became the name used by modern astronomers: Hunter’s Moon.
The earliest use of the term, cited in the Oxford English Dictionary, is from 1710, and the term is attributed to “the country people”.
Other sources suggest that other names for the Hunter’s Moon are the Sanguine or Blood Moon, either associated with the blood from hunting or the color of the changing autumn leaves, but also Travel Moon and the Dying Moon.

On this year, 2021, the Hunter’s Moon will appear on Wednesday, October 20, and will reach peak illumination at 10:57 A.M. Eastern Time.
Like September’s Harvest Moon, the Hunter’s Moon rises around the same time for several nights in a row, so you can start looking for it on this day, Tuesday, October 19.
In 2021, the Hunter’s Moon is 100% full on October 20, however, it may look like a full round Moon on October 21 and even on October 22, rising around the time of sunset for several evenings in a row.
As the Moon drifts over the horizon around sunset, it may appear larger and more orange.
How perfect for this season!
But don’t be fooled by the “Moon Illusion”, which makes it appear bigger than it really is.
Interestingly, any Moon near the horizon will appear bigger, and for a simply reason: the horizon provides more size perspective.
This effect is literally called the Moon Illusion.
Moreover, when you look at a full Moon near the horizon, it often looks more red or orange because the light rays have to travel further in the atmosphere before it gets to you.
The short wavelength blues and greens scattered, and only the longer wavelengths, reds and oranges, are left to be seen.
Most of the red light, which is the least scattered, enters our eyes.
So, the light from the Moon appears red or orange.
And, to conclude, don’t imagine that the Hunter’s Moon is special because it looks different from any other: despite it provides extra moonlight it does not appear bigger, smaller, redder, dimmer, or brighter.
Basically, the only difference between it and other full moons is the that the time between sunset and moonrise is shorter.
However, it does indeed provide that extra moonlight for several nights in a row.
Otherwise, It’s just another beautiful full Moon, and that’s enough for me 🙂

Images from web – Google Research