Have a Plan for October Whitetail Success

Beating the dreaded “October lull” requires understanding the massive changes in the whitetail woods, then adjusting your strategy to stay one step ahead of your quarry.

Have a Plan for October Whitetail Success

As testosterone increases in bucks, so does their interest in territory and eventually finding a willing mate for the day. Entice them with scent dispensed via a dripper like Wildlife Research Center’s Magnum Dripper.

October continues to mystify many bowhunters. Why? Whitetails that marched onto green fields before sunset during September suddenly become scarce. Often referred to as the “October lull,” this misunderstood transition could spell doom for your harvest month hunt.   

A horn-of-plenty of problems greets you every day in October, causing whitetails to transform from a movie-propagandizing celebrity making the daytime talk show rounds, to a Dracula-like species veiled in mystery. Hunting pressure, homeland harvest disruptions, mast explosions and disappearing canopy cover all create chaos in a whitetail’s world. Their answer is to alter their travel.

Fortunately for us hunters, October whitetail bucks have an equalizer. They begin to move more as November nears. Testosterone goads them into anxiety-ridden travel despite their better judgment. The early release of this chemical eruption causes many mature bucks to abandon their bachelor brethren and slink through the shadows solo.  

About the Boys

Overall research indicates that whitetail movement doesn’t change much through October, regardless of the region of the country where whitetails call home. They move about the same throughout much of October, day or night. It is the testosterone surge, peaking at the end of the month, that alters the data. Whitetail bucks, hopped up on testosterone, begin adding miles and minutes to their day, especially as Halloween nears. They also abandon friendships and leave their calling card throughout home territories in the form of rubs and scrapes. 

Depending on when your hunting season kicks off, mid-September or October 1, be prepared to hunt early season whitetails still flocking together like a gaggle of geese feeding on a golf course. Whitetail bucks might not be found on the 18th green, but expect them to still be banded together, oftentimes feeding in full sunshine on food plots, agricultural fields or openings exhibiting prime browse species.

Committed scouting and constraint on hunting an area unless conditions are textbook perfect can lead you to simple success in early October. All whitetails, but especially bucks, need to pack on the pounds before the cross-country rut competition begins and to face winter soon after. Feeding is a top priority, and any hunting strategy that revolves around this patternable display should be exploited ASAP.

Bucks begin to disperse from bachelor groups in October. A hot acorn patch may be the key to finding them again.
Bucks begin to disperse from bachelor groups in October. A hot acorn patch may be the key to finding them again.

A Breakdown of Brotherhood

The early October window shopping hunt could continue well into the month, but don’t bet on it. Testosterone alone has the power to disrupt any buck bowling league team. When this commanding cocktail enters a buck’s control system, most bucks prefer isolation and seclusion. In brief, they go underground. Add in the elements of crop harvest, surrounding hunting pressure, and the powerful attraction of dropping mast, and finding your target buck becomes a losing game of Whac-A-Mole.

Acorns and other mast drop at varying intervals depending on the region of the country you live, seasonal anomalies and climatic conditions. Typically, they drop fast, but that leads to an overwhelming amount of nutrition lying around that can change deer patterns for days or even weeks. Have all mast options on your property scouted and set up for when a mast event might occur. Remember, oaks don’t produce the same amount of acorns every year, so a preseason check of your hotspot could determine its success potential.

Regardless of the whitetail area, October is a good time to hunt hideouts, but with a less invasive nature. Buck activity begins increasing more leading to the rut despite the disappearing act of bucks. Look for rubs and scrapes to begin appearing on trails leading to dense hollows, brushy ridges and even into abandoned homesteads. This fresh and recurring sign could give you the clues to find an underground buck before it fully commits to crazy travel when breeding season arrives.

Breeding Bandwagon

Good news! If you struggled to pinpoint a pattern in early October whitetails and failed miserably when bucks shied from the public view during the mid-month transition, the pre-rut is your savior. Put up the Halloween decorations, but do a little decorating yourself. Now is the time to establish mock scrapes, use decoys and bring them to life with calls. At no time will deer be more responsive to these tactics.

Blinded by testosterone and a future filled with food plot hopping between sweethearts, whitetail bucks react to these faux attractors best during the pre-rut. Late October is when I make sure my Wildlife Research Center Magnum Dripper is continually filled with aromatic fragrances such as the company’s Golden Estrus. It leaves a wafting message in a scrape or on an October breeze of that first female to come into heat.

As the pre-rut begins, hostility between bucks rises and a decoy can bring an angry buck into bow range.
As the pre-rut begins, hostility between bucks rises and a decoy can bring an angry buck into bow range.

I have no aversion to stashing full-bodied decoys at my stands, but a guy can only own so many before people look at you with “Hoarders” reruns in mind. To keep a decoy ready for immediate deployment, I stash the foldable, photographic Montana Decoy Freshman, adolescent buck decoy, in my pack. Placed on an edge or in brush near a known acorn hangout, it gives bucks a visual to target when passing by. A quick burp on your grunt call often seals the deal. 

Remember, until breeding peaks, typically into mid-November for much of the country, these pre-rut bucks maintain a pattern that oversees their territory. Once the majority of does begin to come into heat, those patterns get tossed out the window. Buck movement patterns disappear only to reappear briefly between doe hookups.

With this information fresh in your mind, weigh your options for time off from work. You likely get only so much time away from your job, and October whitetail randomness can eat that time up with varying results. Based on your scouting, if you have an early season pattern, utilize it when conditions are perfect. In the mid-month, move undercover with the bucks or take off a week or two of hunting. In the days leading up to Halloween, get back into the game. The pre-rut advantages are many and should never be squandered despite the full-blown rut only being weeks away.

October can be a challenging month, but it’s winnable with a smart, targeted approach.

Photos by Mark Kayser


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