Memories and Perspectives From the Magic Hour

Rev. Zeke Pipher of Nebraska, a regular contributor to Deer & Deer Hunting and avowed outdoors nut who gets lost amid the trees, dirt and sky.

The passage of time, and how quickly it seems to occur, is often a matter of perspective. The hardest moments are the ones that creep slowly by. The easiest are the ones that zip past us without our even noticing.

Last fall, on a Thursday afternoon in early November, I starred at the clock in the upper corner of my computer. It displayed “4:01.” I had to work until 4:30 p.m. before I could shut off my laptop and head to the stand. It had been a slow day. My hips were achy from sitting at my desk, my eyes hurt from staring at my computer, and the window to my left displayed a bright, calm, 50-degree day. After what felt like an hour, I checked the clock again: “4:06.” Then, several painstaking moments later, it read “4:11.”

After what felt like an eternity, my MacBook Pro finally presented the time I had been waiting for, and I shut things down. I locked up the office, grabbed my gear and drove to the deer woods. By the time I climbed the tree and was prepared to hunt, I had exactly 60 minutes of shooting light left. I checked my watch. It was 4:52 p.m.

The sun was falling on the horizon and the wind had stopped blowing. Central Nebraska was squarely in the middle of the seeking phase of the rut and the woods felt electric. I could hear everything happening around me. A twig snapped somewhere off in the distance in front of me. Then, two squirrels had an argument in the tree to my right. A moment later, several deer crossed the river channel somewhere behind me. Immediately after that, I listened to the sing-song purring of a flock of sandhill cranes over- head.

Then, to my surprise, several coyotes started howling. Coyotes? What time is it? They don’t start up until last light, and I just got to the stand.

I pulled out my phone and checked the clock. It was 5:49 p.m. I had only three minutes left in my hunt. I was in complete shock. It seemed like I had just climbed into my stand, and now the day was over.

The hardest moments are the ones that creep by slowly. The easiest are the ones that zip past us without our even noticing. Such is the nature of time; the more we are aware of it, the less we enjoy ourselves. This is why criminals refer to their desperate state as “serving time.” Lovers describe the pleasure of being together as “forgetting time.” My kids, walking aimlessly around the yard with nothing to do, will tell me they’re “killing time.” Our experience of a moment is connected to the passing of time. When we are aware of it, we’re bored. When we’re not, we’re happy.

For me, and many of the readers of this article, the Magic Hour — the last 60 minutes of shooting light — is our favorite time. But why? What is it about the Magic Hour that we love so much?

I would suggest we can answer this question with one word: surprise. We love to be amazed and astonished by things that we weren’t expecting. Personally, I would enjoy sitting in a treestand in the middle of the day, knowing that I probably won’t see any wild game on their feet. I would simply enjoy the time alone, outdoors, with my thoughts and the sounds and smells of nature. To some extent, just being outside makes me forget about time. But there is some- thing different about the Magic Hour. Sitting in that same tree for the last 60 minutes of the day … I know that absolutely anything could happen, and that potential for wonder thrills me to no end.

I tried to explain the potential of the Magic Hour to my 11-year-old daughter last fall. On a Sunday afternoon, I took Claire and her friend Grace to the river to hunt deer. Grace had never been on a deer hunt before. Claire was the one hunting that day, and she had been trying to shoot a deer for the past two seasons to no avail. We got to the timber and picked a perfect spot for our ground blind. The girls helped me trim branches, figure out the wind, and brush the blind into a group of cedar trees. By the time we were sitting on our buckets, we had about 2 1⁄2 hours to hunt.

By the time the Magic Hour arrived, the natives were getting restless. Claire and Grace no longer talked in whispers, and they were finding sticks to break and leaves to pull apart. I looked at my clock, and whispered to them, “It’s about to get good, girls! It’s the Magic Hour, and anything can happen.”

They looked at me with wide, excited eyes. They quieted down, leaned forward and peered through the mesh windows. Just then, as if on cue, a young buck stepped from the tree line on the trail we were set up to hunt. Claire’s little leg start shaking. And then Grace started shaking. Claire whispered, “Daddy, I don’t know if I can do this … I’m so nervous!”

“I know you can do this, Babe. Just take several deep breaths and wait for him to get closer.”

We watched that deer for about 10 minutes before it gave us a broadside shot. Claire leaned into the scope of her crossbow and squeezed the trigger. The bolt flew through the side of the buck. About 40 minutes later, as the girls helped me put her deer into the back of the pickup, Claire exclaimed, “I LOVE the Magic Hour, Dad!”

“We all do,” Sweetie.



So much of our lives is highly controlled and planned out. So many facets of our society are geared to choke the surprise and awe out of life. We do some of this to ourselves. We use Google to view our vacation spots before we get there. We use to figure out the elements before we encounter them in the moment. We study pictures on the menu in order to know exactly what our food will look like when it comes out of the kitchen.

As creatures who need a high degree of surprise in order to thrive and enjoy life, we sure do a lot of things to remove the unpredictable.

This is why nothing compares to the Magic Hour. During those 60 minutes of the day, we know we’re in for something unpredictable. We might just see a coyote or a raccoon. We might only hear the sound of geese flying overhead. We might just encounter a sunset we’ve never seen before. But whatever happens in those quick moments when time flies by, we know that creation is going to come alive. And that, if we just put ourselves in her presence, she will surprise us with something unexpected.

— Zeke Pipher is an author and freelance outdoor writer from Nebraska. For more on his latest books, “The Wild Man & Wild Mountain Tribe,” visit