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.
In all my years of hunting, I have only shot one deer at daybreak. I don’t like to sit any longer than I have to, especially on a cold windy day. Now days, if I’m gun hunting, I will leave my truck right at daybreak so I can see on my way to the stand. This will allow me a shot if I encounter a good buck on the way to the stand. I have ran off many deer in the morning walking in the dark to my stand, most times I had no idea whether I ran off a buck or doe or for that matter, a big buck.
Two years ago while walking to my stand right at daybreak during gun season, a medium sized 10 pointer in full rut jumped out of the CRP where I was hunting only 15 yards away and came right at me. It did not have its head down like a charging bull but it just kept coming straight for me. I pulled my shotgun up to defend myself and when the buck was about five feet from the end of my barrel and about one mili-second before I was ready to pull the trigger, I yelled at the deer and it spun around and ran back into the CRP. That all took place in about 3-4 seconds and I’m not afraid to say I was pretty shaken up. Anyway, I thought about that experience later and wondered what would have happened if it would have still been dark when that had happened. That day I was very grateful that I could see walking into my stand that morning.
Mike: How much hunting do you do on public lands such as NJ.or Pa. have? Walk in from a public parking spot on a Gamelands in Pa. 1/2 hour before dawn and you’ll see plenty of flash lights…all shining at you to let you know there is someone sitting on that log you were heading for! Oh yes hike farther on that public land than the other guys are willing to go….doesn’t happen any place other than on paper at least not in the woods I hunted prior to buying my own chunk of property.