Can you hunt deer at night? The question is not whether you can or cannot hunt deer at night, but whether it is legal to hunt deer at night.
1. Is it Legal to Hunt Deer at Night?
The regulations regarding the hunting of wild animals at night is strictly controlled but differ from State to State.
In almost all States deer hunting at night is prohibited and illegal. Even in States where night hunting is allowed, there are very specific guidelines and conditions to adhere to:
- In most States where night hunting is allowed, very specific times of day or season are specified for when it is indeed allowed.
- In some States, for example, legal shooting hours for deer hunting is 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. The precise sunset and sunrise times are then available from these States on request.
- In almost all States night hunting is limited to the hunting of coyotes, opossums, and raccoons.
- In most States, the use of artificial lights is prohibited but in a few States, even this is allowed.
- Some States allow legal hunting of raccoon, fox, opossum, beaver, nutria, coyotes and bobcats at night, with or without the use of light and with dogs, except during the spring Turkey season.
Visit the 50 State guide for detailed information.
Why is it illegal to hunt deer at night but allowed for other wild animals?
Although no detailed information is provided, the general consensus is that it is as a result of safety.
For your own safety – deer, of course, have excellent night vision and unlike other animals, they get pretty aggressive when having to defend themselves. They have the upper hand at night and will, without a doubt, spot you before you spot them.
In addition to this, you might be in danger to hurt yourself out in the woods. Imagine you fall and break a leg or arm out in the woods at night?
For the safety of fellow hunters – during daytime, it is relatively easy to spot fellow hunters. Especially since everyone should be wearing blaze orange. However, at night the scenario changes and it becomes increasingly difficult to spot fellow hunters.
It becomes a possibility to mistake a human for an animal and hunting accidents are not uncommon where this has indeed happened.
Legal consequences of hunting deer at night:
The fact is, there are penalties and punishments in place in every State if you do get caught for hunting or spotting deer at night.
In some States, for example, the following penalties are imposed:
- $2,000 fine, one-year imprisonment, or both.
- Hunting without a license could result in a $250 fine plus hunting privilege revocation for up to one year.
- Exceeding the daily or possession limit can result in a revocation for up to three years.
What is spotting? When you engage in the act of spotting, you shine a light onto land to locate wildlife at night. This includes handheld lights, accessory spotlights on vehicles and vehicle headlights when intentionally used to locate or view wildlife.
For hunters, this is an excellent way to track the whereabouts of bucks. Deer are more active during the night since they come out of the woods to feed in open areas.
It would consequently be ideal for deer hunters if they could implement spotting in the fall when the sun goes down. This will inevitably lead to finding more trophy bucks – was it not for the fact that it is illegal.
So under what circumstances is it illegal? Just the same as with hunting at night, each State has its own guidelines and laws specifying the use of artificial light to hunt or spot wild animals at night. Please familiarize yourself with the laws of State where you are hunting.
Following is a quick guide for the State of Pennsylvania. For full details of the 2018-2019 PA State hunting Laws you can click here.
It is illegal to:
- Spotlight wildlife while in possession of a firearm, bow and arrow, or other device capable of killing wildlife. Individuals who have a License to Carry Firearms permit are excepted, but only regarding their carrying of firearms authorized by the permit. Most sporting arms are not authorized.
- Spotlight wildlife during the regular firearms deer seasons, including those days separating the seasons, as well as any late extended firearms deer seasons in the Special Regulations Area counties;
- Cast an artificial light upon any building, farm animal or photoelectric cell.
It is, however, legal to:
- Do recreational spotlighting between sunrise and 11 p.m.
- Hunt raccoons, skunks, opossums, bobcats, weasels, foxes and coyotes on foot using a handheld light, including a gun-mounted light. Furbearer hunters may not use a flashlight or spotlight that projects a laser light beam.
3. Alternatives to hunting deer at night
So when is the Best Time of Day to Hunt Deer?
Now that we have established we should not and may not hunt or spotlight deer at night, we should look at the positive side of hunting deer: when is the best time of day to hunt?
A quick answer to this will be mid-morning to early afternoon. This means your best bet is to be at your stand from just before daybreak to approximately 1:00 pm. Statistics indicate that most deer are taken between 10:00 am and 11:30 am.
Your hunt gets even better when it is the morning after a stormy or cloudy night because even though deer are more active during the night, they will most probably bed down when there is heavy rain or snow. For that reason, they will then be more active the next morning.
Hunt other/different animals at night
The most exciting challenge for any hunter is, of course, night hunting. Since we cannot hunt deer at night, it might be a good alternative to hunt other animals at night instead.
Coyotes and raccoons are on the top of the list for this. They are much safer and also legal to hunt. Now, we all know coyotes might be a little harder to catch since they are much quicker than deer. Keeping this in mind, you need to be extremely patient when hunting coyotes.
Hunting raccoons at night is another good option to consider. They might be quite a challenge for beginner hunters and will for sure give even the most experienced hunters a good run for their money too.
To make raccoon hunting easier, it might be a good option to invest in a good device that mimics purr and chattering sounds to attract particularly juvenile coons.