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Shedding Some Light on Early Mornings This Fall

September 14, 2015
By Grey D. Berrier II , Ohio Valley Outdoors

I really can't explain it. Maybe it's only a long-seated habit I inherited from my maternal grandfather and dad. Possibly it's the passion that makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning and I just can't sleep. Whatever the rationale, it's getting to be that time of year when "Oh, Dark Thirty" becomes a regular setting on the alarm clock and I find myself climbing out of bed several hours before first shooting light and the eventual arrival of sunrise.

Plain and simple, I like to be the first person in the woods or on the water, whenever I hunt. Regardless, whether its deer, bear, or waterfowl I'm after, I like to be in my stand or blind one hour before legal shooting start time arrives. I figure that gives me 30 minutes to quietly and methodically get dressed and position my gear in the darkness, before sitting there perfectly silent and still for the final 30 minutes listening for the woods to come alive and possibly other last-minute hunters rushing to get to their predetermined spots before daylight arrives.

Knowing I want to be at my stand or blind one hour before shooting time, my backward planning goes something like this. I estimate my drive time to my parking spot and the amount of time it will take to walk in at a comfortable pace that won't leave me completely saturated in sweat. I add to that one hour for the normal things I do around the house after leaving the sheets, such as personal hygiene, getting dressed, eating breakfast, packing a lunch, and loading up my gear. Totaled up, I usually find myself getting up 1 1/2 to 2 hours before I want to be in place in the field, normally 2 1/2 to 3 hours before first shooting light, so that means a lot of 3:30 to 4 AM wake up calls every fall.

Article Photos

A variety of headlamps and flashlights the author has employed while making his way through early morning darkness to a stand or blind. Photo by Grey D. Berrier II

It's not unheard of to get-up at 2 AM for a morning hunt, especially when I plan on driving a considerable distance or if I need to walk-in a mile or more to a remote location. (Possibly it's a military thing after all those years in uniform, but at this point in life, time is just a number and getting up at what many people would call an ungodly, or even insane, hour is just what I do because I love to be outdoors and maximize my chances of being successful.

Heading out so early has its pluses and minuses, along with its unexpected twists. Back in 1995 and 1996, when I lived and hunted in Armstrong County, PA; I was rewarded for my early risings by firing the initial shots of the morning for those two consecutive years and had my bucks on-the-ground within the first five minutes on Opening Day of Regular Deer Season because later arriving hunters inadvertently pushed them to me as they walked in. Like most hunters, it seems like at least once each fall I have the misfortune of walking into a spider web in the darkness and subsequently do that crazy dance that only other hunters can relate to as you scramble to get the cobwebs off your face and upper extremities. (It gets really interesting when you can either feel the spider moving around or if you're standing thigh deep in your waders while weaving through the red brush in a swamp.)

Sometimes you are blessed with unique experiences in the darkness you'll remember for a lifetime. Like the time I was walking into the same treestand in Armstrong County during the 1997 archery season and I was suddenly drenched by an unexpected downpour when there wasn't a cloud in the cool, star-lit morning darkness. I immediately stopped after I felt the first drops and it registered in my mind that something wasn't right about getting wet when it was completely clear. When I looked up, I made out the silhouettes of approximately 50 turkeys roosting in the treetops directly overhead. My presence was making them nervous and their fidgeting was shaking the heavy dew off the branches. I paused for a minute to take the entire spectacle in and realized I had to move at some point to eventually get to my treestand. I hadn't taken two steps when turkeys erupted in every direction and their hasty departures from the limbs, coupled with powerful wingbeats hitting branches, completely soaked me as I was trapped underneath the sudden dew deluge.

Fact Box

While the old adage is "the early bird gets the worm," my experience has shown that "the early hunter often gets the best opportunities for a shot."

While it's my natural inclination, and a significant amount of past military training, to walk in the darkness unaided after allowing for my eyes to adjust for night vision; it doesn't pass the common sense test and in many cases it's not legal when there may be other hunters in the woods. Your flashlight not only illuminates your way, it also vividly identifies you to other hunters as a human being working your way through the woods and not a potential game animal. While sitting in my position in the darkness, I'll shine my light towards any approaching hunters if they get within 200 yards, so they are aware of my presence and hopefully they'll move on to another spot so there's a little more room between us.

As hunters, we have more flashlight options today than ever before. Flashlights come in a variety of styles and sizes, and we must first decide between traditional hand-held models or headlamps. Then we have to choose between various types of batteries and rechargeable power sources, followed by the selection of either a traditional incandescent light bulb or the newer LED bulbs. I recommend you find what type of flashlight works best for you, based on your hunting style, what you'll be carrying on the walk in, the terrain and brush you'll be navigating, and the amount of light you'll require. I have found that batteries die and bulbs burn out at the most inopportune times, so allow for redundancy. For the past few years, I have gone to a hands-free headlamp as my primary light source for working my way through the forest, field, or swamp darkness. I always carry a small hand-held LED flashlight in my butt pack as my alternate light source and I also have a tiny key-chain LED light stashed away as a last resort option.

With the exception of spring turkey season, we're now entering the time of year when I, along with most hunters, spend the greatest amount of time afield in the darkness. It can be intimidating and unfortunately, many outdoorsmen and women, especially younger ones, have seen too many graphic horror films and allow their imaginations to get the best of them when they hear unusual sounds or can't see what's moving around them. While the old adage is "the early bird gets the worm," my experience has shown that "the early hunter often gets the best opportunities for a shot." All we can ask for is a chance to harvest the game we're after and increasing the odds of having that encounter is what keeps me getting out of bed very early on many mornings each Fall.

While your non-hunting family, friends, and co-workers may think you're a little eccentric to be afield in the early morning hours, you'll be content in knowing that the woods are a special place in the pre-sunrise darkness and you have to be there, not in bed, to make things happen as a hunter!



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