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Let’s start first with a basic, universal truth that will save you from potential embarrassment, hassle and arrest by the local game warden—it is illegal to hunt deer at night.
Regardless of what you read online, hunting big game (like white-tail deer, mule deer, moose, elk, etc.) at night in the Lower 48 states is against the law. From Washington to Florida and Michigan to Texas, you can’t harass, stalk, chase or hunt deer when it’s dark. While there are exceptions to that rule (which are rare and we’ll discuss later), it’s best to keep this in mind: pulling the trigger on, or releasing an arrow at, a deer at night can get you in a world of trouble.
Table of Contents
- 1 hunting deer at night
- 2 FAQs
- 3 Final Thoughts on Hunting Deer at Night
hunting deer at night
Why Would Anyone Want To Hunt Deer At Night?
For one, because it’s harder to hunt them during the day.
White-tail deer sleep during the day, often bedding down in heavy cover for protection. Sure, the rut or a full moon can make them more active during the morning or afternoon, but for the most part, deer disappear during daylight hours. 
Why do white-tail deer move around more at night? Because they’re nocturnal, meaning they can see at night. And that super-power gives them a huge advantage against predators that love venison as much as we do. Coyotes, bobcats, bears, and even packs of feral dogs prey on deer.
So Why Can’t You Hunt Deer At Night?
For the same reason why you can’t shoot from the road, use artificial light or traps to fill your deer tag. Hunting deer at night violates something called Fair Chase, a set code of ethical conduct all true hunters must follow.
Back in 1887, a group of hunters started The Boone and Crockett Club to advocate fair chase hunting in support of habitat conservation . They established a set of ethical rules that give deer (or any game animal for that matter) a sporting chance to survive in the field. Since then, those rules have been codified into state game laws around the country.
When Can You Legally Hunt Deer?
The first thing you should do is consult your state’s game law regarding legal shooting hours because they can vary. But for the most part, states typically set legal shooting hours at 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minute after sunset.
Despite what it may seem like, this window is the perfect time to set your sights (literally) on a deer. Although they do move at night, deer are most active at dawn and dusk. They love low-light periods (which, again, make them a harder target for predators) and feed in the morning and evening.
In other words, you can legally shoot deer during the very times they’re most active.
Are There Exceptions To The Rule?
There are. If you live in Alaska, that is.
While individual state regulations change regularly (and again, you should check them prior to hunting any animal at night), the state of Alaska does not currently have a restriction on shooting hours for deer. Why? Because they experience days and nights differently than any other state.
In many parts of Alaska, the sun never truly sets in the summer and never really rises in the winter. This means legal shooting hours are difficult to set, which is why state law stipulates you can take any deer as long as available light allows you to safely take the animal (without the aid of artificial light).
Furthermore, as of March 2023, there is no closed season, no permit required, and no bag limit on deer in Alaska. Sounds crazy, right? It is until you realize many people in the state hunt for subsistence (central to the customs and traditions of many cultural groups) and are allowed to manage deer herds.
One other random Alaska-only regulation? You can’t fly and hunt game on the same day. This law was enacted to keep hunters and their guides from spotting game in the air, landing nearby, and shooting them. That’s anything but a fair chase…
Are There Any Animals I Can Hunt At Night?
There are plenty, and hunting at night can be a thrilling experience.
At the risk of sounding like your local game warden again, check your state’s regulations before heading out at night with your pistol, rifle, or bow in hand. But in general, there are a number of non-game/predator animals you can legally hunt after dark.
Here in Texas, feral hogs are without question the most popular animal to hunt at night. There are millions of pigs in the state causing billions of dollars in crop damage that must be controlled. In fact, Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed Senate Bill 317 into law on May 31, 2019 officially stating you don’t even need to purchase a hunting license to hunt wild pigs.
Yeah, they’ve gotten that bad.
Most states also allow “non-game species” to be hunted at night. This includes bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, fronts, and rabbits. Some states even allow you to hunt mountain lions at night (but keep in mind they’re effective at hunting you, too).
What Firearms Can I Use To Hunt At Night?
Basically, anything that goes bang when you pull the trigger.
Remember, you’re not hunting game animals or migratory game birds at night which means you don’t have the same set of firearm regulations to comply with. And that means anything is legal: rimfire or centerfire ammunition, fully automatic rifles, shotguns, or muzzleloaders. We suggest letting the animal you’re hunting dictate the caliber/platform you use.
While not required, using some sort of thermal or night-vision scope will greatly improve your odds. A thermal optic measures heat signatures from an animal translating it into an image, whereas night vision amplifies surrounding ambient light. You can learn more about the differences between thermal scopes and night vision scopes here.
Deer are most active at night during dawn and dusk, as they are on the move for food, water, and rut.
As long as they deem their environment to be safe from predators, deer will continue to travel the same path every day.
Final Thoughts on Hunting Deer at Night
Hunting at night can be one of the most challenging things you can do with a pistol or rifle. Depending on the game you’re chasing, it can also be one of the more dangerous things you can do. Be sure to read up on your state’s laws regulating night hunting and, whatever you do, keep one thing in mind.
Don’t ever hunt deer at night.