Some of the best bowhunters I know don’t breach their best spots and stands until Halloween, and then they hunt them hard for the next two weeks. Their strategy is sound: put no pressure on bucks until they start rutting and moving more during daylight hours.
Good in theory, yes, but I don’t believe this approach is practical for most of us. You’re busy, I get it. You bowhunt when you can. If the majority of your seasonal quest for a whitetail buck happens in October, great. The woods are beautiful, the weather is nice and there are fewer people in the timber than there will be come November. There are opportunities to get your buck, and here are some things to keep in mind.
Food In The Woods
Grant Woods, one of the premier whitetail scientists in America and a seasoned archer who hunts as many days as he can in October, recommends to key on food sources.
“If you’re not seeing deer in October, you aren’t hunting in the right places,” he says. “Deer change their behavior as they go from summer to fall patterns. Our telemetry studies don’t show any let up in feeding activity during the so-called ‘lull’ in October. You’ve just got to find them.”
According to Woods, the main reason deer seemingly disappear during early October is a change in their diets and, subsequently, a change in their movements. In summer and throughout September, bucks fed often in crop fields. They were visible and could be seen in the same field most every evening. “But now many deer feed on browse and mast inside the woods, and they aren’t as easily seen,” Woods says. “Mast is a very strong attractant, and bucks will abandon their summer forage patterns when acorns start dropping. Find the mast and you’ll find some bucks.”
A lot of bowhunters know how to find acorns but often overlook wooded thickets and the cover and browse they provide deer. As deer meander through the October woods between bedding cover, mast trees and fields, bucks veer here and there to walk through thickets. Why? Bucks like to nibble on the leaves, buds and stems these thickets provide, and mature bucks like cover. Look for trails sporting fresh tracks leading to and from thickets; fresh rubs and scrapes nearby make the setup even better. Play the prevailing wind and hang a stand for an ambush.
The Weather And Moon
The first two or three days after an October cold front blows through and drops the temperature from, say, 65 degrees to 35, are prime October-hunt days. Bucks that were slow and sluggish a few weeks earlier get a spring in their step and move a little more. Plan to deal with moderate winds on the backside of a front, but building high pressure over the next few days ups the odds that a mature buck will wander under your stand. Take proper scent-elimination steps, play the prevailing wind the best that you can, and head to your best sets near acorns, thickets or crops.
I don’t really know why, but I have become obsessed with the moon and its potential effects on the rutting behavior of whitetails. I am working on a new, if unscientific, theory: Many mature bucks move quite a bit in daylight hours during the full-moon phase that is closest to the primary rut. I am seeing this more and more as I hunt across North America.
This year is somewhat unique in that the “rutting moon” is October 27. (Normally we think of the rut full moon in early to mid-November.) And so this bow season, I expect the Halloween week of October 27 to November to 3 to be one of the best bowhunting weeks of the entire season. Sit your best stands all day if you can hack it. Across America, a noticeable number of big deer will be killed between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily during that week. I’d lay money on it.
I should point out here that many of America’s top deer scientists are not convinced that any moon phase affects the movements of bucks, but some do and support my theory. A recent study out of North Carolina State University found this: “A common misconception is that deer can see better at night because it’s brighter (during a full moon). But according to our data they actually move less on average at night during a full moon and more during the middle of the day, and also earlier in the evenings.”
Find The Perfect Tree
One October afternoon several years ago, Ontario bowhunter Shane Good shot the buck of his dreams: a 171-inch giant. Two years later, on October 27, Good ran his climber up the same tree and watched incredulously as another buck – bigger than the previous year’s – rolled onto the scene. His arrow was true; the main-frame 10-pointer scored 176 Pope & Young inches.
Struck by the story, I emailed Good and told him it would be an amazing accomplishment to shoot a third monster from the same tree in a span of just a few short years. That October 28, he sent me this note:
“Mike, wanted to show you the buck I arrowed earlier today. You said it would be awesome to shoot three 170s from the same tree. I had to settle for a 162 this year. Ha ha!”
Look deeper inside Good’s incredible achievement and you’ll find three lessons that support our theme here:
First, Good’s stand is set on the edge of a linear thicket on a ridge. He watched all three of the big bucks he shot (as well as other bucks and does) come from a distance and veer into the thicket to stage and browse the greenery. Thicket stands produce.
Second, all things considered, the last week of October is the best week to plan your bowhunting vacation every year. The weather is starting to cool down, and the bucks are scraping and moving. The full moon during this year’s last week will make the hunting even better.
Third, find a hot tree that produces and hunt it year after year around the same time each season. The three giants Good shot were not there by happenstance. They funneled by that tree while moving between food and bed, and Good was in just the right spot. You probably won’t shoot three monsters from your perfect tree in as many years, but you’ll get a good buck every year or so. That’s pretty darn good for October.