Twilight and the turkey hunter
One of the last things a serious turkey hunter does before turning in on the eve an early-morning hunt is decide exactly what time they want to be in their setup position. That is usually well before first light for most of us.
First light is obviously not sunrise, but rather sometime in the middle of what is known as nautical twilight. For the sake of terminology, there is also civil twilight and astronomical twilight to consider.
The reason for these considerations, at least in New York, is the fact that legal hunting hours for the spring turkey season are a half-hour before sunrise until noon. The three aforementioned twilight periods all occur before the official sunrise. Let’s start there, and work backward.
On May 1, the opening day of turkey season, the official sunrise, theoretically known as the beginning of daylight where I hunt in eastern New York, was 5:55 a.m. That means I could legally pull the trigger on a gobbler at 5:25 am. Coincidentally on this day, that is when civil twilight occurred. Civil twilight is the period when the sun is no more than six degrees below the horizon in relation to both sunrise and sunset and provides enough light for normal outdoor activities.
For the most part, civil twilight is roughly 30 minutes prior to sunrise, but it does vary. Six months from now the Southern Zone deer season opens when the sun officially rises at 6:48 a.m. on Nov. 16. There will be 31 minutes of civil twilight, which begins at 6:17 a.m.. We all know a lot of shooting goes on, albeit illegal, during that period. Whether deer hunters should be afforded the same luxury as turkey hunters is another debate for another time.
For the turkey hunter, there is actually more focus on nautical twilight, which on average occurs slightly more than an hour before sunrise and did so at 4:49 a.m. on May 1. Nautical twilight refers to the time of day when the sun is between six and 12 degrees below the horizon. Visibility is limited, but improves quickly during nautical twilight at dusk, and deteriorates at dawn. Astronomical twilight precedes nautical twilight and is basically still nighttime to the average person.
The early-morning turkey hunter should first take note of nautical twilight and plan on at least being at the parking area of their location by that time, and in most cases sooner. Setup time, including foot travel, should also be accounted for. The later part of this period is often the time when birds start signing, and gobblers start gobbling. So you want to either be set up or moving in on a roosted tom during the early part of nautical twilight, well before civil twilight and certainly legal shooting hours.
Using these levels of twilight is not only fun, if you happen to be a weather and/or astronomy buff (like me), they can serve as guidelines for setting the alarm clock and getting you where you need to be at the right time. Rise and shine!