Twilight in the autumn hunting woods
A few years ago, we had a discussion in this blog about the stages of twilight and how it affected turkey hunting. Considering the change in New York’s hunting laws that have reset big game hunting hours to one half hour before sunrise, and a half out after sunset, it’s time to have that discussion again.
One of the last things a serious hunter does before turning in on the eve of 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. For the sake of terminology, there is civil twilight, nautical twilight and astronomical twilight to consider, which all occur before the official sunrise, and after sunset.
On Oct. 1, the sunrise and sunset hours where I hunt in eastern New York is 6:52 a.m. and 6:35 p.m. That means I can legally fling an arrow at a deer at 6:22 a.m. or as late as 7:05 p.m.
Coincidentally, a half hour on each side of sunrise/sunset falls close to civil twilight, which is the period when the sun is no more than six degrees below the horizon in relation to both sunrise and sunset and theoretically, provides enough light for normal outdoor activities (that was the debate during the proposal period for this change).
For the most part, civil twilight is roughly 30 minutes prior to sunrise and after sunset, but it does vary. Your favorite digital weather source likely shows these times in the almanac section.
Then there’s nautical twilight, which on average occurs slightly more than an hour before sunrise. Nautical twilight refers to the time of day when the sun is between six and 12 degrees below the horizon. Visibility is very limited. Astronomical twilight is basically still nighttime to the average person.
From this hunter’s perspective, visibility in civil twilight hunting situations is often pending, especially in the fall when the sun seems less intense with each passing day, compared to spring turkey hunting when it’s just the opposite. But these are solely my observations from various hunting locations, most in the woods rather than in fields.
The early-morning 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 many cases sooner. Set-up time, including foot travel, should also be accounted for as well as the fact that you now want to have the area around you settled down a bit by legal shooting light, which again will be within a few minutes of civil twilight.
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.
Lastly, these new legal shooting hours are going to allow us more time in the woods and fields. We’ve all been afield during dawn and dusk and we should know that things like weather and location can inhibit or enhance visibility. There will be instances where legal shooting light won’t mean safe shooting light. For our sake, that of our fellow hunters, and also the animals we pursue, please hunt and shoot safely.