Last December 5 Jeff Burgess overslept. His dad came and rousted him out of bed, and when they got into the woods daylight was breaking. The story goes that Jeff was pretty upset with himself, until about 10 a.m., when this 18-pointer came cruising by. The Rutherford County buck scored 151¼, a brute for Carolina.
I would argue that Jeff had nothing to be upset about, and that arriving at his stand at daybreak actually worked to his advantage.
Many if not most hunters I know hunters want to get to their stands super early each morning, an hour or more before daybreak, so they can set up and “let the woods settle down.” I have hunted with friends and guides who want me to get up at 3:00 a.m. or so they get me to a stand or blind as much as 2 hours early “to let the woods settle down.”
I politely tell them, “If it’s okay with you, just get me there 20 minutes or so before daybreak and I’ll sit till noon.”
It seems logical to head for your stand very early in the dark, set up, be quiet and “let the woods settle down” so that a big buck will feel safe and cruise by at first light. But in my long experience, it rarely works out like that. Although there is no way to put an exact number on it, I figure I have hunted around 2,800 mornings for deer in my career. I can count on one hand the number of giant bucks that I have killed at very first light.
Much more common is for a big boy to cruise by 30 minutes, an hour, up to three hours after daylight, especially during the 6 or so weeks that comprise the entirety of the rut. I cannot count the number of mature deer I’ve shot in the midmorning hours, my favorite time to hunt, but it’s been dozens.
I would argue that getting to your stand too early in the morning can actually hurt your hunt in a number of ways: you use your flashlight too much…it can be hard to find a stand in the dark…setting up early and being quiet is good, yes, but after a while you can lose your edge or freeze out before it even gets light…if you get to a stand at 4:30 a.m or so, it makes it harder to sit still and hunt alertly until 10:00 or 11:00, prime times to shoot big bucks that move late, again especially in the rut.
Bottomline: If you oversleep one morning like Jeff from North Carolina did last December, don’t worry, go hunting, you’ve still got a good chance. If you’re one of those hunters who has always gotten to his stand an hour or two before daybreak with little to show for it, change your strategy this fall to sleep another hour and plan to get on stand 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise. I think you’ll hunt better for it.