My buddy calls it “The Magic Hour,” the 90 minutes before daylight ends. It’s the best time to see wildlife activity in our area, especially deer. All you need to do is cruise the back roads.
For as long as I can remember, hunters and deer watchers have been shining spotlights in fields, but in my book that’s passé. Spotlighting is best done with at least two people, one to drive and one to hold the light. The one handling the light is constantly telling the driver to slow down, back up, or stop. Holding a light can make your hand bitter cold. Technology has made spotlights better and brighter, but technology fails. Sometimes the plug pulls out and the light goes out exactly when you don’t want it to. And some nights, all you do is count reflective eyes.
Our eyes are built to see best in natural light, so why wait until dark? Why be forced to direct your eyes to the spot where the other guy is pointing the light? Cast your eyes where you want them to go and you’ll see a lot more deer. And the deer aren’t just in fields. They’re along the roads too, ten yards or less inside the woods. Those are the deer you often miss with a spotlight.
The magic hour eliminates all the downsides of spotlighting. You won’t be waving around a million-plus candlepower light, hitting people’s houses or the eyes of other drivers. You might drive a little more slowly than usual, but you’ll hardly be noticeable, and you’ll have far less risk of driving into a spot where you get stuck and damage your vehicle or someone’s property. Without a spotlight your hands are free to use binoculars, and you don’t need a partner. And when you’re looking for deer before dark, no one will think your real motive is to poach them.
On a nice, cool evening in early November, bucks are chasing does, and sometimes they really put on a show. Like the huge buck one friend saw a week ago. Deer are so preoccupied that they sometimes pay little attention to cars. On a typical evening we might see more than 50, including a half dozen or more good bucks.
And we’re not counting eyeballs. We’re seeing whole deer, and we can identify most of them.
You can also get more and better pictures. The auto-setting on virtually any mid-priced digital camera with zoom capitalizes on the available light and turns out surprisingly good photos. While smartphones will get it done, a camera that’s zoom-capable will do a better job.
The magic hour also saves time because you can work it into your regular routine. Run your errands in the afternoon and hit a few roads on the way home where you might see twenty or thirty deer, maybe a lot more. With a little planning it takes hardly any time at all.
Spot lighting is legal in both New York and Pennsylvania, but each state has slightly different restrictions. Know them if you’re going to go after dark. For the magic hour, just use common sense and etiquette. DO NOT drive like you’re the only person on the road. DO NOT ignore the cars behind you. Let them by because some drivers are anxious to get home after a long day at work. DO NOT stop on curves or other places where other drivers may not be able to see you. And DO NOT loiter when you see deer. You’ll see more if you move along.
Or, wait until after dark. By then my buddy and I will be finished cruising the magic hour. We’ll see more deer than you do. And you’ll keep getting cold hands, counting reflective eyes, and trying to avoid shining your light at people’s houses.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.