What is the Best Time of Day to Hunt Deer?
- Thursday, 03 June 2021
Professional hunter and deer stalker Peter S Jones considers an apparently simple question with no easy answer.
At last, there in your otherwise busy diary is a clear day! No meetings, no commitments, finally you can get out into the field. The only question now; What time should you set off? Well surprisingly, there are a number of things that you need to consider.
Firstly, the law. In the UK it is a criminal offence to take or intentionally kill a deer at night, unless under licence or as an act of mercy. Night is determined as being one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise.
OK, so we need to be hunting during the day. However, broadly speaking deer are largely crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk during the twilight hours, just before sunrise or after sunset.
This narrows the desirable window significantly and for much of the year possess no problem. However, if it’s Roebuck that you are after, remember, that during the summer solstice on the 21st June, sunrise is 04.31am, that means that it gets light at around 03.45am. Assuming that you don’t also have a long drive, how does dragging yourself out of bed at around 3am sound? Or at the other end of the day, the latest I have shot Roebuck was 10.10pm. Add on the time spent gralloching and extracting, and the journey home and let’s just say, it can be a tad antisocial. So, whilst in the summer there is approximately eighteen and a half hours of daylight during which you can legally hunt, you might want to consider at what time you plan to get out off, or into bed! The bonus of course, is that it’s perfectly possible to fit in an outing deer stalking either side of a full day’s work!
Conversely, during the winter solstice on the 21st December, it is dark at around 4.45pm and it doesn’t get light until 07.30am. Whilst this is more social, the nine short hrs of daylight fall during the hours that most people are expected to be at their desks.
This point aside, there are other factors which you may also like to consider. The deer’s behaviour at different times of year being one.
Deer will be more active at different times of the day and night, depending on the time of year. The rut is one such example that determines activity. Roe for example, are often best hunted in the mid-morning or late afternoon during late July and early August when they rut. Fallow, on the other hand, are most active during their respective rut at very first light whilst Red in the highlands of Scotland during the rut, will be active pretty much all day long.
Weather is also an important factor, some deer such as Roe are more susceptible to bad weather. Strong winds make for almost impossible Roe stalking, whilst other species are hardier, that is of course dependent also on habitat and cover. However, I’d fancy my chances more hunting Roe during midday in still conditions, than I would hunting at dawn or dusk in the wind and rain.
Pressure is another thing to think about. As the great Richard Prior once said: “Deer study people like their lives depend on it, which they do” Deer are quick learners, stalk regularly over the same patch at dawn and dusk and the deer will soon become more active at other times. Personally, I use March and April as an opportunity to mix up the timing of my stalk outings and deliberately stalk during the middle of the day when the deer are more readily seen.
Finally, consider what happens after you have pulled the trigger. Remember, grassing your deer is the easy bit. You have then got to extract the animal and get it refrigerated as soon as practical.
On the open hill this can take some time. Extracting a large Red from a remote location is not something that you want to be doing in the dark, where a twisted ankle and encroaching bad weather can be disastrous.
For most recreational stalkers of the smaller species of deer, who do not have access to a larder, there are other considerations, namely, having to skin and butcher the deer before it can go into the kitchen fridge! No small task, and something that for the relatively inexperienced, may take a few hours. Either way, whether you are a recreational woodland stalker or professional highland stalker, you need to set aside time for the process of extraction and lardering.
What is the best time of day to shoot deer? There is in fact, no simple answer. That said, in the interests of not posing more questions than I have answered! Broadly speaking, if you are stalking the open hill in Scotland, expect for safety reasons and logistics, to be stalking during generous daylight hours. For those that stalk the woodlands and lowlands of England and the rest of the UK, where extraction is easier and the deer have an abundance of cover, it is typically the crucial last, or first 45 mins of daylight that time again result in the greatest success.
In this environment, do not be tempted to set out too late in the morning or pack up just as it is getting gloomy, because with good optics (which are crucial when hunting at twilight) this is the period during which most of our clients have their greatest success. So just as you are about to climb down from that high seat, or head back to the car, give it just another five minutes, maybe that elusive buck that has been studying your departure time all summer, will appear!
Maybe you are a beginner and would like to take up deer stalking? In which case the PDS1 Certificate is a great place to start, click here for more details: pds1-proficient-deer-stalker-certificate
Alternatively, to read about how Moon Phases can affect deer stalking click here: moon-phases-and-their-effect-on-deer-stalking