Created for Rambling Angler Outdoors by Ken McBroom
If you bowhunt you have either heard of, read about or experienced the “October lull”. That time when deer seem to vanish into thin air. There is much speculation as to why this happens and even those that say it never does. I have listed below some of the more agreed upon reasons that might contribute to the October lull in your neck of the woods and help you turn this time into productive hunts.
Pressure: By October the woods become a hub of activities. Bow hunters are making their way to their stands while others are just enjoying the lower temperatures and an evening hike. Still others may be squirrel hunting or taking advantage of the fall turkey season here in Indiana. Deer sense this change in activity and will alter their movement accordingly and many believe that deer go nocturnal. This could be true for some of the herd but for most deer movement continues throughout the month of October and with a few adjustments of your own you could find October to be your favorite time to hunt the whitetail deer.
Locating travel routes to and from the primary food source is the first step to figuring out the best stand location to intercept deer that may have abandoned the open fields during daylight hours. The deer still use the same fields but will be much more cautious approaching them and may not get there before dark. Setting up a stand somewhere in the middle between the bedding area and the primary food source will help you bag your deer while others wait out the so called October lull.
Mast Crop: “Mast crop” refers to acorns for most of us. Acorns usually begin to drop in October and deer know this. Acorns can make up 80% of a deer's diet in the years of a good mast crop. Deer can stay deep in the woods when the acorns begin to drop and this puts them far away from those common areas where they are often seen, like the edge of corn fields. When deer begin to eat acorns and other forage foods, like persimmons and apples, they may still use the corn field but as much for hanging out than for food. This is why you can drive by a field at dusk and see no deer and an hour later drive by and see 100 sets of eyes moving throughout that same field.
A good mast crop is great for the deer but can make it tough for the hunter. When nearly every oak tree is dropping acorns deer don't have to move very far to get their belly full and then back to bed they go. When there is a weak mast crop the hunter must first hunt the oak tree, with acorns, before hunting the deer. This can be a great way to harvest a whitetail in October. Deer instinctively keep moving while on their feet and feeding. This instinct is a way of keeping predators from sneaking up and pouncing on them. When the mast crop is weak it forces deer to travel more to get their fill and if you can find a grove of oaks producing acorns in a year when most are not you have hit the jackpot in the world of bow hunting. Hang a stand and enjoy deer sightings all season long.
Hunt aggressive: As mentioned above deer can seem to vanish come October but they are still there and possibly moving just as much as prior months. The difference I think is that they spread out. Bachelor groups have broken up and scattered throughout your hunting area. This can be a great time for some aggressive tactics to harvest your buck. Once the pre-rut and rut kicks in sightings will go up because bucks travel more in search of hot does but until then you might have to get aggressive with your tactics to score.
Decoys: Using decoys can help pull a deer into bow range when the lull hits your woods. When the October lull is happening it is before the pre-rut so even though decoys are considered aggressive your set up should be passive. Bucks are not feeling real aggressive yet and will tend to stay clear of bucks that might give them a fight. A decoy with a small rack or even a doe decoy can be better for this time of year in drawing deer closer mainly out of curiosity.
Calls: Calls can come into play during this time but should be used sparingly. A good idea is to wait until you see a deer before using the call to see how they respond. When using a decoy just social grunts or bleats work best and I would say rattling could be a little too aggressive but I have seen bucks come into some light sparring sounds so have them handy and if the buck doesn't respond to your other tactics lightly tickle your horns to get a response. Very soft sounds is the key any loud aggressive rattling could send your buck into the next county.
Multiple stands: Multiple stand locations allows you to move around a little to find out where those vanishing deer have gone. Using terrain features connecting oak groves such as saddles and ridges are great places to set up. Remember those field edges have been abandoned as deer feed up on mast crop instead. The field edges will come into play again during pre-rut and rut when bucks will skirt the fields in search of does but that is for another article.
I like lock-on stands myself but during the October lull climbing stands are important in helping you move throughout your hunting area. Your lock-ons should already be set for later when the movement picks back up and these can be utilized as well as you move about looking for a shot. Climbing stands allows you to enter the woods and look around and get up a tree wherever you find some sign. A ground blind can work as well if your area is thick enough to hide it in.
While many have decided to stay home and watch football instead of hunting during the lull, you should embrace the lull and learn to locate deer during this time. With a little work and time spent in the woods you can figure out this time of year and be successful. The deer are still there and you might be surprised how much they are actually moving about. Use these tips and take the time this October to figure out the lull and you will be a step ahead of other bow hunters and add a couple weeks more to your season and a better chance to harvest your venison this year.