Low-Light Hunting

The best time to hunt is often the worst time to see.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Deer season is here (or almost here). while we may be content to use the same tactics each year, a quick review of basics (and a look at new research) can only make us better hunters. Hunt hard, hunt smart, hunt safe. The deer of your dreams may be around the corner.

Sunrise and sunset, the best times to hunt whitetails, pose tricky light situations that can ruin a hunt.

Contrasts: At dawn and dusk, open terrain may offer enough light to see deer clearly, but wooded areas may remain murky. Given time, your eyes will acclimate to the gloom. However, problems arise when you constantly shift your gaze from light to dark areas. Your eyes may need 15 seconds to adjust to highly contrasting light conditions. In that time, many a whitetail has made his escape. So, it's better to concentrate your hunting vision on one light condition or the other.

Binoculars: Dealing with low light poses the greatest problems for seeing deer clearly. A pair of 7x50 binoculars will brighten things up. Their larger front (objective) lenses let in more light than the standard 7x35 binoculars. This added light-gathering ability is helpful in low light even when you may not need the magnification.

During the half hour of twilight before sunrise and after sunset, when deer are most active, you can use 7x50 binoculars to help locate deer, and then zero in on them with open sights or with the much smaller field of vision offered by a rifle scope.

Silhouettes: Even without binoculars, you can improve your ability to see deer by taking advantage of snow patches in shaded draws, in stream bottoms, on northern slopes, and in other likely deer haunts. Early-season snows that melt quickly in open areas often linger in shaded areas that deer use for traveling to and from feeding and bedding sites. Where snow remains, reflected light is greater and you can quickly pick up deer movements silhouetted against the snow. Both stand hunting and still-hunting near these sites can be a revelation.

**Hats: **That ubiquitous, billed baseball cap, pulled down tight over your eyes, cuts out a lot of light. Take it off when your view is uniformly gloomy and deer are difficult to distinguish. Put it back on to block out a light sky above a darkened landscape, a situation you'll face just before sunrise and just after sunset.

Generally, you will see deer better if you keep your back to the rising or setting sun. You won't be faced with the glare and the confusing contrast between light and dark, but the deer will be.