In my many years of hunting, countless sunrises have painted the horizon while I sat silently in my tree stand. The perfect setup and the right equipment matter, but timing is everything. In fact, deer hunting is all about timing. Deer are cautious, and you have to catch them on the move without spooking them. This means getting into your tree stand before they pass by, which can be easier said than done.
Optimal times to be in your tree stand vary: 30 minutes before sunrise for mornings, 11 a.m. for midday, and an hour before sunset for evenings. Seasonally, deer patterns change: early season sees predictable behavior, rut season is erratic, and late season finds them active during daytime. Hunter density, visibility, local deer habits, personal preferences, and local laws also influence stand timings.
Over the years, I’ve discovered ten main factors to consider when deciding what time to be in the stand.
1. Period of the Day
People hunt at all different times of day: morning, midday, evening, and even night. However, that doesn’t mean you can just hunt at any time. There are specific hours that are best for each of these types of hunt.
You should be in your tree stand 30 minutes before sunrise for morning hunts. Deer are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Once the sun’s up, they start heading to their bedding areas, a perfect time to catch them on the move. This usually means hiking into the woods in the dark.
I originally started hanging out in my tree stand till lunch for the alone time, but when I actually started seeing bucks, I made it a permanent practice, especially if it rains and the bucks go out to check their scrapes.
Some hunters even head back into town around 9 a.m. to get breakfast and then head back out for the lunch hunt. I recommend being in the stand by 11 a.m. in this case.
The evening hunt is just the reverse of the morning hunt, trying to catch deer as they move from their bedding areas to feeding areas. In my experience, they’re more energetic in the evening, so I recommend a bit more of a cushion. Be in your stand an hour before sunset.
Midnight hunts are rare, and they aren’t the most fruitful anyway. However, if your trail cams show a deer regularly passing a certain spot in the middle of the night, go for it. Just make sure you check your local laws since most states ban night hunting.
If it is legal, I don’t recommend a specific time. Rather, be in your stand 30 minutes before you expect the quarry to pass it.
2. Weather Conditions
Considering they don’t have heaters and umbrellas, deer react to the weather even more dramatically than people. On days with good weather, consisting of clear skies, mild temperatures, and sunshine, stick to the above times. However, on days with bad weather, consider mixing things up.
To put it simply, deer run and hide from storms. This is the perfect time to catch them on the move. This means before the storm hits. You should be in your tree stand when the barometric pressure starts dropping, usually an hour or two before the storm arrives. The deer note the pressure as well and start moving.
As a general rule, deer prefer to sleep on high ground. Therefore, in hilly terrain, morning hunts may be more fruitful as deer enter the area at dusk. Be in the stand 30 minutes before sunrise.
In flat terrain, you can follow the basic recommendations for different periods. That said, I’ve found evening hunts more successful in flatlands because more deer may come out of hilly areas to feed.
4. Part of the Hunting Season
Because deer hormones fluctuate so much over the course of the deer hunting season, their behavior changes drastically. Whether it’s the early season, rut, or late season, the best time to be in the tree stand varies.
In the early season, September, in most states, deer behavior is fairly predictable. They go to feed in the dark hours of the morning and then head back to bed at sunrise. Be in your stand 30 minutes before sunrise or an hour before sunset, as usual.
During the mating season, late October and early November, in most states, deer get pretty crazy. They’re highly active at unpredictable times of day, especially the bucks.
I give myself some more wiggle room during the rut. That means hitting the tree stand an hour before sunrise or up to two hours before sunset. The 11-am hunt can also be quite fruitful.
In the late season, December, and later, deer are cold and hungry from the energy they burned during the rut. At the same time, there’s little food left. You can focus more on daytime hours. You can even try hitting the stand around 11 a.m. and staying till after dusk.
5. Hunter Density
An often-overlooked aspect of hunting is competition with your fellow man. If you’re hunting public land, especially if it’s an area frequented by many other hunters, you should get to your stand as early as possible. You’ll beat your competitors to the game and best spots, and, more importantly, you’ll get there before they spook the deer.
You may want to adjust your schedule slightly based on visibility. Obviously, you need to be able to see to take an accurate shot, so on moonless, overcast nights in dense woods, getting to your stand far in advance of the sunrise is useless.
Similarly, you need enough light to be able to climb into your tree stand safely. I prefer to use a headlamp that has a red floodlight option, as this allows me to climb in the dark. However, if visibility is very low, you should wait until there is at least some twilight in the sky before hitting the stand.
8. Animal Behavior
Fun fact: over 30 years later, deer in the Czech Republic still refuse to cross over the once heavily mined Iron Curtain that separated communist Eastern Europe from the West. The moral of the story is that game in certain areas can develop their own habits and quirks that you should take into account when hunting them.
The best way to learn how and when the deer in your area move is with trail cams. However, if you’re hunting public land where they’re not allowed, consider talking to local hunting clubs or wildlife management personnel. Then hit your tree stand 30 minutes to an hour before the deer normally pass it.
9. Personal Preference
Hunting should be enjoyable. There’s no reason to torture yourself to get to your tree stand at a certain time. Learn what works for you and what makes your hunt successful and fulfilling both.
10. Local Laws
In the vast majority of states, it’s illegal to hunt deer at night. This is usually defined as 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise. This is because it’s dangerous to other people and not a good time for deer hunting anyway.
That said, it is legal in some jurisdictions, in others with certain permits, or for other game, particularly nocturnal furbearers like raccoons. Plus, your state may have different allowances for setting up in your tree stand before you’re legally allowed to shoot.
In any case, check your local laws. Stay on the safe side and only get in your tree stand when you’re legally allowed to be there.
1. What is the best time of day to be in your tree stand for deer hunting?
- Morning hunts should begin 30 minutes before sunrise. For midday, aim to be in the stand by 11 a.m. Evening hunts require being in the stand an hour before sunset. Night hunts are less common and depend on specific deer movement patterns and legal restrictions.
2. How does weather affect deer movement?
- Deer tend to move before storms as the barometric pressure drops. On clear days with mild temperatures, adhere to the standard times for each hunting period.
3. How does the hunting season affect deer behavior?
- Deer behavior is predictable during the early season, erratic during the rut, and more active during daytime hours in the late season.
4. Are there any legal considerations when deciding the time to get in my tree stand?
- Yes, especially concerning night hunting. Most states restrict or ban night hunting, and it’s crucial to check local laws and ensure you’re in your tree stand only when legally permitted.
5. Can local deer habits impact the best times to be in my stand?
- Absolutely. Local deer may have unique patterns based on historical factors, terrain, and more. Utilizing trail cams or consulting local hunting clubs can provide insights into these patterns.
Choosing the right time to get in your tree stand can significantly influence your bowhunting success. From understanding the daily movement patterns of deer to considering the impacts of weather, terrain, hunting season, and even local laws, a myriad of factors come into play.
Remember to balance this knowledge with personal preferences to ensure a fulfilling hunting experience. Above all, stay informed, be patient, and relish the joy that bowhunting brings.
For more, check out How to Bowhunt From a Tree Stand | All You Need to Know.
Christian grew up in the Ozarks where he spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ homestead learning about guns, hunting, and the great outdoors.
An avid traditional bowhunter, much of his writing covers this and other similar topics, but he also covers just about everything from history and economics to motorcycles.
See more of his work at ChristianMonson.com.