7 Strategies for Defeating the October Lull

Don’t sit home on the couch complaining about the October Lull. You can beat it with these seven strategies.

7 Strategies for Defeating the October Lull

You hear it in conversations overheard in person or online every archery season, as September becomes October and autumn kicks into gear across whitetail country.

“The deer are just turned off.”

“Nobody’s seeing anything.”

“I’m just gonna wait until the rut.”

The phenomenon is popularly called “The October Lull.” But there’s a better way to name and define it.

The October Shift (Not Lull)

Commonly known as the October Lull, what happens is really more of a shift in deer movement. Late-summer movement patterns have ended, largely related to a change in deer foods and their availability. During early October, whitetails are in a time of transition — a profound shift — and it’s difficult for hunters to figure them out and get a good setup going.

October Lull better describes what happens to whitetail hunters during the early and middle parts of the month. Blaming decreased deer sightings on a perceived drop in deer movement, hunters approach the challenge in one of two ways — both of them lulls in their own right. Now many whitetail chasers simply keep hunting like they did during the early season, praying for a change in luck or a pick-up in deer activity. Or, hunters sit on the sidelines in anticipation of the upcoming rut, thereby wasting prime weeks of hunting.

The key ideas in the misconception called The October Lull are time of transition and perceived drop in deer movement. There are two key reasons why. First, deer movement isn’t depressed in October; it’s merely changing. The only real lull is what’s not happening at the same old spot you’ve been watching, scouting or hunting since the leaves were green. And second, there’s no reason for a self-imposed hunting lull “until the rut kicks in.” Considering the vagaries of weather and myriad other uncontrollables, there are no guarantees whatsoever in that plan B.

So what do you end up with? The simple idea that October is a month of change and shift and the deer season is too short to sit on the sidelines. Here are seven strategies for getting after your venison when full autumn has settled over the land, the leaves are ablaze, and the whitetails are proving to be their usual wary, persnickety, hard-to-figure-out selves.

 

1. Hunt Acorns

The deer have been hitting the green fields like they always have and then one day . . . poof! They vanish.

What happened? One likely answer is the acorns are dropping and the deer have shifted their feeding focus. If there’s one menu item whitetails like more than salad, it’s acorns — due to their abundant protein (for energy and building muscle mass) and calories (for building fat) as deer gird for the upcoming winter.

So, do you set up right in the oaks, or on a travel corridor to or from them? It all depends on time of day.

October hunting is aggressive hunting. One option is to set up right at the source, in the oaks themselves. That’s why afternoon hunts in the oaks are great — get there plenty early, set up, settle in and be quietly waiting when the deer start moving.

A dawn hunt in the oaks is tough, because the deer may already be there feeding when you arrive. A better option to avoid bumping deer is hunting travel corridors coming out of the oaks and leading toward bedding areas. Don’t be afraid to move right into the oaks after a couple hours, though. A mid-morning sit among the acorns are can be a fine place to arrow a hungry October whitetail.

If you bowhunt in or near hardwood forests, then you understand how acorns hitting the ground can dramatically change deer travel patterns.
If you bowhunt in or near hardwood forests, then you understand how acorns hitting the ground can dramatically change deer travel patterns.

2. Hit the Crop Harvest

Here’s another food play for October — crops. In corn country, the crop harvest really shifts whitetail habits and movement patterns. This is good news in two ways. By chopping down all that corn, farmers eliminate endless acres of extra whitetail hiding places. The deer become more visible and you have a shot at figuring them out. And whitetails find a new and accessible food source in the stubble. Become a combine watcher, and hit it right after the harvest.

Corn is second only to acorns in October’s preferred-food hierarchy. The protein content isn’t as high as in acorns, but all the sugar and carbohydrates in corn really pack on the winter fat, and whitetails know it.

Spend an evening glassing where the whitetails approach a fresh-picked cornfield, then set up on their approach. You can also hunt the field itself, especially any secluded nooks, swales, crannies or corners where deer like to sneak out and start feeding a little early.

 

3. Hunt Like It’s the Rut

The farther into October, the closer you get to full-rutting action. The last week of October is really rutting time across much of whitetail country. So what’s going on breeding-wise during the first three weeks of the month?

The answer is simple. Now bucks are warming up and making and visiting scrapes. In reality, the rut is all ready to go and the bucks are ready to breed. Scraping really increases in mid-October; be prepared.

Figure out those rub or scrape lines. Set up in high traffic areas or travel funnels. Grunt some. Rattle a little — though don’t try to imitate an all-out buck brawl yet. A little tine tickling is the ticket — just enough to get a buck curious. He isn’t quite ready to fight yet, but he’s willing to check out who is.

Finally, October is prime time for using doe-in-heat scents. Some does are in fact starting to come into estrus now. It’s nature’s way of spreading out springtime’s whitetail “hatch” with a few early births next spring, in case the main fawn drop for some reason is a disaster. This is also the biological reason there’s a late (December) rut in the Midwest, too.

 

4. Use a Doe Decoy

October is the perfect time to get some use out of that deer decoy. Your local whitetails probably haven’t seen one yet this year, and the first time can really get a buck’s attention up and curiosity chugging. The curiosity factor and breeding urge call for an antlerless decoy.

If you’re in the market to shoot an antlerless deer for the freezer, which I always am, a doe decoy still does the job. Most groups of antlerless whitetails that are hanging around together in October are family groups. Adult does will come check out the newcomer to their territory, often offering you a shot in the process.

Bowhunting World Editor Dave Maas (below) has experienced tremendous success during late October and into November using a doe decoy. His favorite model is made by Flambeau Outdoors; it's called the Regal Whitetail Doe, and measures 41 inches nose to tail. "I like the size and lifelike detail of the decoy," Maas said. "It looks like a young whitetail doe. It stands on its four legs without any stake system, and cruising bucks can't resist checking her out. The legs, ears and head/neck can be removed and stored in the hollow body cavity, so it's easy to carry in the field. I often carry my bow in one hand and the decoy under my other arm. Many times I've hiked a half-mile into the woods with this decoy and it's no problem."

Bowhunting World Editor Dave Maas loves using a doe decoy in late October to lure pre-rut bucks into close shooting range.
Bowhunting World Editor Dave Maas loves using a doe decoy in late October to lure pre-rut bucks into close shooting range.

Place decoys on field edges and at other highly visible spots where traveling or feeding deer can see them. Set up with the wind is blowing from the decoy to you, but also make sure you can swing and shoot crosswind, as bucks and does alike will often sidle in to try to get the breeze in their favor, and you’ll need to make your shot before they circle all the way downwind of your ambush location.

 

5. Make Some Deer Talk

You can also drum up October action by making deer sounds. This approach works for two main reasons. For one thing, bucks are as attracted to audio breeding cues as they are olfactory ones. And, doe talk can get antlerless deer coming in, if you a have a doe tag you want to fill.

As the month wears on, you might do more (and more aggressive) grunting and buck challenges. But earlier on, the goal is to make female talk, using sounds like doe estrous bleats, fawn bleats and fawn distress bawls. These calls may bring in curious does for a look.

 

6. Hunt Other Openers

Some bowhunters lament the start of pheasant, squirrel or fall turkey seasons because all the hunting activity inundates the countryside with humans chasing other critters. Instead of sitting it out, consider these small armies as your own personal pushers.

Think about where these bird, small game and turkey hunters ply their trade. Get out early and set up in escape cover where whitetails will head.

Hunt the day out. That’s important! While the initial push of duck, pheasant or squirrel hunter activity might not result in a deer in your sights right away, the whitetails will often spend the rest of the day filtering back in after making their flanking moves.

In farm country, a great time to be in a deer stand is pheasant opener, when shotgunners push thick cover suitable for both birds and bucks.
In farm country, a great time to be in a deer stand is pheasant opener, when shotgunners push thick cover suitable for both birds and bucks.

7. Act Like It’s Hot Out

There is one legitimate reason that whitetail movement might truly be inhibited in early to mid-October — unseasonably hot weather. Deer are already sporting their winter coats, and even a day that seems cool to you or me might be way too warm for a whitetail to do much traveling. Bring out a warm October sun with balmy Indian summer air and you could have the local deer herd going pretty nocturnal on you.

Anything below 50 degrees Fahrenheit won’t depress much whitetail activity. Between 50 and 60, you might still get some daytime movement. Above 60 degrees is pretty warm for a whitetail in its thick winter coat; deer movement when it’s this warm is often the first and last 30 minutes of daylight, as well as after dark.

Of course, there’s not much you can do to hunt deer that are moving only at night. But one solution is to hunt lowlands near water — especially river-bottoms, creeks, springs and ponds. It’s cooler and shadier here, and deer need the water, too. Another approach is to make your afternoon setup in timber instead of on field edges, giving you a chance at getting deer in your sights while they’re staging.

Keep your schedule flexible. Plan to deer hunt on days when a cold front blows through and the weather cools off. This can cause a big spike in whitetail activity. The deer will often stay out later in the morning and come out earlier in the evening when the air is cooler and truly more autumn-like.

 

Final Thoughts

It’s too easy to call October a wash and sit at home, waiting for the rut to kick in and the “good hunting” to begin. But the truth is whitetails are out there — and killable — during October. The key to success is changing up your approach, getting a little more aggressive, and just getting out there with a plan to beat The October Shift (formerly known as The October Lull).

 

Sidebar: October’s Soft Mast Connection

Hard mast — mainly acorns, but also hickory nuts, beechnuts and chestnuts — gets all the attention, but don’t overlook soft mast as a prime food source to focus on when bowhunting October whitetails. While the window of availability may be brief, the opportunity can be intense.

Soft mast is like candy to whitetails. Look for the following deer delicacies:

  • Apples: Never pass up a couple fruit-laden apple trees, or a whole orchard of them. Apples sweeten and drop with October frosts.
  • Persimmons: Southern hunters know how ripening persimmons pull deer. This happens around mid-October.
  • Crabapples: Don’t overlook patches of these productive trees.
  • Pears:  Sweet, soft pears may be the biggest soft-mast deer magnet of all.
  • One final note: If you own or help manage some hunting land, consider planting soft mast trees like those mentioned above. They can really pull in October whitetails.
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