Every accomplished whitetail hunter looks forward to the “last hour” even if they are fatigued from being out all day in beautiful bluebird skies, pouring rain, snow or freezing cold temperatures and haven’t seen a single deer. The HuntBlog team are no different than anyone else, in fact, we have gone so far as to label it the “bewitching hour” and we often let each other know over our communication devices to focus because the “bewitching hour” is upon us. But why is this the most exciting hunting hour of the day?
To tell you the truth I have always been a firm believer of getting into the stand well before daylight and I have personally shot more deer in the “first hour” of the hunt than any other time of the day but still, like most of you …. I am a die hard… can’t wait for… the last hour of the day kind of guy.
The reasons for this vary from hunter to hunter but the most common thread seems to be that this is the time of day that hunters no matter how experienced see the most deer. Sounds simple enough so where is the “magic”? The fact is there really is no magic involved at all it’s merely the nature of the beast we pursue that makes this time of the day seem so special.
It’s no secret that deer are nocturnal especially big bucks that prefer to bed down during the daylight hours and wait for the cloak of darkness to move around. We all have hundreds of night time trail camera pictures to support this observation. The hard truth of the matter is, that’s why big bucks live long enough to grow into big bucks. That’s not to say that big bucks won’t move around in the morning or during midday because they do. I shot my personal best 179 6/8 net typical Boone and Crockett Ontario Whitetail Buck on an unusually warm and sunny November day in 2009 at 1:00 pm in the afternoon. He was travelling with two impressive 8 points hot on the trail of a big Doe who was obviously in heat. I have in fact been fortunate enough to shoot some very nice bucks at all different times of the day but still I am the first one to admit that my excitement heightens during the “last hour” of daylight.
So again we are asked the question …. why is this? Deer of both sexes and any age group are for the most part nocturnal. They feed and breed mostly from early evening right through the night until just after daybreak. But there are several factors that can change this pattern such as weather, hunter pressure, predators and most importantly the rut! Weather seems to have the least effect but I do find you have a much better chance of seeing deer late morning or midday during low winds, overcast, drizzly or better yet … foggy days. The reason for this is that deer just feel more comfortable moving around in these conditions because there is less noise. I find there is no better time to be in the stand than a calm foggy morning and I rarely miss one of these. Hunter pressure is not something I have really had to deal with in my home bow hunting territory as I have the luxury of hunting private land but that being said, we do have some productive areas of public land that I hunt with my son in southwestern Ontario where hunter pressure is a definite factor that can have a dramatic effect on deer movement. This is especially true the first week or so after the shotgun season is over and bow hunting has resumed. During this period the “bewitching hour” definitely lives up to its name because the deer have been pushed so hard the week before that they have now hunkered down during the core daylight hours rarely to be seen until just before dark if at all. Predator problems such as coyotes can be an issue but not always a negative unless your property is overrun with them which is the case in some areas of the province. The advantage occurs when coyotes stay hunting actively until late into the morning. When this happens they will often push deer to you that you would have never normally got a chance to take. The negative occurs when you do connect during the “last hour” and the deer runs off. In the areas we hunt if you don’t find your deer within 2 hours after dark sets in then you can pretty much count on the coyotes finding it for you. I had the unfortunate experience a few years back of taking a very nice Doe with 10 minutes of shooting light left. I found her about 30 minutes later and started to gut her when I suddenly realized that I had company in the form of three very hungry coyotes. They must have been experiencing a similar difficult success rate in their hunting as mine because they had no intentions of backing off no matter how much I tried to scare them off. I had been hunting 15 days straight at different times of the day and the “last hour” had paid off this evening so there was no way I was giving up my prize but these coyotes had other ideas. It was all I could do to keep them at bay for over an hour until my two hunting partners were able to hook up with me. That night the “last hour” became known to me as the “horror hour” and one I will never forget.
This leads me to the “rut” which in our area starts around the first week of November and last about two weeks. During this time of year under the right conditions the whole day can sometimes feel like the “last hour” if you are lucky enough to have a good deer population in your area. That being said I still look forward to the last hour of the day during the rut with increased excitement.
One point I will make is that seeing deer during the “last hour” and shooting deer during the “last hour” are two totally different things. Anybody can go out and see deer in the last hour but the successful hunter will be the hunter that knows how to read the deer and most importantly determine why he is seeing them “where” and “when” he is seeing them. This is called patterning and this is where spending countless hours scouting and the use of trail cameras really pays off. In most cases deer are coming out at this time of the day after being bedded down for a long period and they will be seeking food, water or the company of other deer. Recognizing where these sources of food and water are located on your property and finding the travel corridors the deer are using to get to them is the real “magic” of the “last hour”.
My last two pieces of advice about the “last hour” are my most important ones. The first is that after you have established a pattern of where and the approximate time that the deer are coming out, you then need to pick a stand location about 50 to 100 yds back along the game trail they are using. This will insure that you will have good legal shooting light to make your best shot. In most cases this will be the mid-point between their afternoon bedding area and the night time food plots they are feeding on so it is wise to move into these stands very slowly and quietly. I recommend you don’t hunt these locations during an all-day sit. Instead use them as your evening go to spot only and move into them in late afternoon about a couple hours before you expect the movement to take place. The second and most important tip is to always use illuminated nocks on all your arrows or bolts when you are hunting this period of the day. The reason for this is that you are most certainly going to be looking at a retrieve in the dark after your successful “last hour” hunt. Finding a blood soaked arrow will help you find the blood trail that will turn the “last hour” or “bewitching hour” into “Happy Hour” back at your camp.
ProStaffer Greg Mather