For most people the answer to this question is when they can. It is dependent primarily upon the legal hunting dates. When you can get off from your job may be relevant too. There are hunters who work around deer-hunting seasons and there are hunters who hunt around their work schedules. Some people hunt year-round and others hunt only an hour or two. There are those who travel across states and around the world hunting deer at all times of the year, taking advantage of different climates and seasons; there are those who scout and observe deer year-round even though they may actually hunt only one day or a couple of weeks each year. Most people must take time to hunt. They are not likely to allow anything to interfere with their hunting time.
Hunts in all states are organized to allow the deer ample time off from hunter pressure to bear their young and nurse them. Hunting from February through August is virtually non-existent for this reason. Full-blooded Native Americans have the right to take deer anytime regardless of the season as part of their ancestral rights.
Deer seasons are scheduled in the fall throughout America. There are several reasons for this. The rut is well advanced, which makes the bucks less cautious and creates an advantage for the hunter. Also, it is only during the fall and early winter months that deer sport antlers, which most hunters prefer. In old times it was when most of the farm work was done that deer-hunting took place. The hunt season was also governed by when meat would not spoil and could be laid in to provide food for the winter months. Fall hunts were usually when there was a good tracking snow, making it easier to hunt and also to locate wounded deer. Animals were fat in the fall, having feasted on acorns, crops, and other mature mast food. Roads are frozen over, making them more accessible. Fawns are well developed and most does are bred. In the autumn there is a sharp increase in deer activity which peaks in late fall with the breeding cycle and maximum acorn availability. All these conditions helped to establish the tradition of fall deer hunting.
Quite apart from the biological reasons, the convenience of the hunter and the traditions of hunters are the chief factors in the establishment of the hunting season. The legislature is out to please the public, which is the voting public, of course, and they are the elected “public servants.”
Some farmers and entire communities keep Saturday or Sunday Sabbaths on which they do not hunt and allow no hunting on their lands. It is always best to respect these local traditions. In some locations, Sunday hunting is not only shunned but forbidden by local law in the form of ordinances. It doesn’t make for good hunter relations with the public when a Sunday morning church service is interrupted by gunfire on the ridge behind the churchhouse.
DAWN TO DARK
The majority of hunters like to be in position to hunt deer before daylight. Some anxious hunters are so intent upon early light hunting that they enter the woods at midnight and sit quietly until dawn in hopes that they will be undetected by the deer moving into the area and be able to see deer in the vicinity as soon as the sun comes up. This is, of course, going too far for most people, but getting there early might put you right on top of deer when daylight comes. I am the type that likes the woods more than my urban life. It is no problems for me to enter before dawn and exit after dark. There is seldom a rush to get back home. Daylight has found me perched in a tree with deer bedded beneath more than once.
The hunter who has prepared himself properly to enter the woods under cover of darkness to go to his hunting spot and wait for sunrise has the most intensely exciting hunt. Spotting the stately dream buck as he becomes visible through the fog and filtering light is dramatic. Arriving at a stand in darkness without alerting the deer in the area can indeed mean that deer are right under your nose. Quietly entering the woods with deer-like footsteps and with a flashlight held pointed to the ground and used minimally can really be the first step in the greatest of hunts.
Proper scouting allows hunters to enjoy the most success with the least effort in the least amount of time.
If you take your deer in early morning, you will have the whole day left to enjoy the after-hunt experiences, dress and preserve the deer, or hunt for another deer.
Remember not to shine your car lights into the area and not to slam your car doors.
It is important to carry a flashlight whenever you are in the woods in darkness, but keep it aimed at the ground so as not to arouse the deer but to notify other hunters of your presence. Never presume that there are no other hunters about! You can bump heads with another hunter in the most unexpected places at any time. Simply that there were no other vehicles about means little. If you could avoid the flashlight when entering the woods pre-dawn it would be to your hunting advantage. Safety must come first. Carry a flashlight. There is no deer worth dying for.
The transition from the darkest hour before the dawn into the slowly increasing light is one of the best experiences in deer hunting. It is majestic. It is a new dawn. The whole woods is resonant with the sounds of good morning.
During gun season, and especially on opening morning at sunrise, you will hear guns going off in the hills that excite the imagination and may stir up visions of the Civil War.
One drawback is that it is usually quite cold in early morning, and sunrise does not produce expected warmth. It is during this transition period that shivers can make you shake and spoil your steady shot. Take it easy in your early morning trek, being careful not to get heated up. Lighten up on the clothing for the trek in, and put more clothing on when you reach your waiting place in order to avoid the handicap of shivering.
Most states stipulate that the hunter may take deer no earlier than one half-hour before legal sunrise and no later than one half-hour after legal sunset. It is a good idea to find out just what time legal sunrise and sunset are for the given day of the hunt. This is particularly true for hunts on tightly regulated government lands. Terrain differences allow sunlight to filter in later or earlier in some locations than others. Deep valleys have later sunrises and earlier sunsets. The rising sun in the east may be delayed by an hour or more by some topographical obstruction such as a hill, and the same may be true of the sunset. Overcast days are slow lighting and quick darkening.
In some popular hunting locations such as the public hunting areas of state forests and military installations, especially those where hunters are monitored by check stations upon leaving for the hunt and departing, officials are equipped with a device which can determine almost the exact time that an animal was shot. The test is reputed to gauge the time of kill within 15 minutes with accuracy. When it is suspected that an animal was shot before legal hunting time, this test can be administered and used in court as evidence. All game wardens are capable of applying this test.