Different opinions on what’s the best time of day to hunt exist, but is one really better than another?
Early alarm clocks, pre-dawn darkness and a seat in a treestand before sunrise. A late afternoon hike, guaranteed game animal movement, and the race against sunset.
There are good and bad things connected to hunting in both the early morning hunt and the late afternoon or evening hunt. Lots of factors weigh in, and two different thoughts can both be right.
Things like location, time of year, and the specific individual deer on your hunting land all have an influence, but generally speaking, here are some benefits and some disadvantages for both times of day.
Deer will travel back to bedding areas is the day begins, so you’re likely to know which way a deer is moving.
Often, bucks stick to just a few routes when returning to their bedding area in the morning. If you have trail cam photos that can help identify a popular travel route you will know the “when and where” to ambush yourself a trophy.
It is also wise to watch the moon phase. If it has been a dark night, meaning less of the moon is visible, the deer will be more likely to eat and move in the early hours of dawn, making a morning hunt a great option.
Morning hunts allow plenty of daylight when tracking a deer becomes necessary. There’s no race against the clock, as blood trails are tricky to follow in darkness and terrain is difficult to navigate.
Morning hunts allow plenty of daylight to find your game and prepare or process it.
From the human perspective, morning hunts can allow for a full day of other activities. As a morning hunter, you are going to leave in the darkness to be at your stand before daylight. Big game movement typically slows down after the first few hours. If you are successful early on or only put in a few hours you can potentially be back home before the rest of the family really gets going. This leaves time to catch the football game, and keeps you in attendance for dinner.
Big game animal eyes are rapidly adjusting as more light becomes visible. This tends to make animals extremely sensitive to any movement. A little shuffle in the stand may get a hard stare later in the day, but on a morning hunt that little bit of movement is likely to send your trophy on a bee-line to the bedding area.
If you tend to be restless, a morning hunt may not be your best bet.
With morning hunts, it is hard to know what went on during the night. Heavy pressure from predators may have big game frazzled to where they are not using their typical routes and are hyper-vigilant. Other hunters may be hitting the woods and fields around you and interrupting the game that can hear them.
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Full moon and clear, illuminated nights often cause the deer to feed and move more prior to legal shooting times.
You may be your own worst enemy on a morning hunt. Humans have a need to urinate more in the first few hours after waking up then at any other time during the day. If you have the urge to go while on the stand, you have a real hunter’s conundrum to contend with.
An early-out can throw off your typical daily routine if you are not used to it, and can cause you to be tired, hungry or feeling ill. None of those things are going to help you hunt.
The majority of heavy big game movement is during the last few hours of daylight. This is because they want to eat heartily before the temperature drops for the evening.
Deer will be heading for food plots, natural food pockets like acorn trees, natural food sources or baits.
On an afternoon hunt you can easily make your way to a stand or blind location, with plenty of sunlight and quiet, hiding deer to work with.
Get out ahead of when deer will wake from their daily sleep and move from bedding areas, and you’re in good shape.
Taking into account all kinds of big game, the afternoon hunt will usually be somewhat more predictable than a morning hunt. This is largely because anything that occurred under the cover of darkness has long been forgotten by the animals.
The largest trophy animals are often the last to show themselves in the fading light. A buck, bull, or boar may show itself when there is enough light to make them out but not enough to make a precise shot.
If you are savvy enough to get a shot at a trophy on an afternoon hunt it is difficult to track and retrieve the animal if it is not killed instantaneously.
Depending on the animal, it can also be extremely dangerous. Also if you don’t recover your animal, you risk predators and scavengers finding it before you do.
Your sights will become ineffective before the end of legal shooting time under many circumstances. Unless you have high quality optics, you may lose a chance to shoot because your equipment handicaps you.
If you’re on an afternoon hunt, you are probably going to miss dinner. When the hunt is over there is a lot of gear to take care of and hopefully you have game to take care of too. But at the end of an afternoon hunt you better have a lot of flashlights.
Morning or evening hunts? That’s ultimately for you decide. Take these pluses and minuses into consideration, and make the call. You’ll only find out for sure what works for you by trying both and comparing.