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.
Why We Should Hunt Does
A great doe and end to a great hunt
The popular notion of the old school deer hunters in America is to not kill a doe. I have actually known of hunters that apply for a doe tag just so someone who wants to harvest a doe wouldn’t get the tag and kill a doe. These hunters remember the days when it was hard just to see a deer during a hunt much less get a shot and back then it was a dyed-in-the-wool tradition not to ever shoot a doe so she could have babies. Well those days are behind us now and for many areas of the country, not all mind you but many, harvesting a doe makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. The whitetail deer has adapted well to the many habitats it has been introduced to or advanced into on its own and with that adaptation comes an explosion in deer populations across much of the U.S.
First and foremost the overall populations of deer is increasing every year with the exception of a few areas that is usually on the fringes of the whitetail range and locations where the winters are brutal and those areas are becoming milder every year therefore contributing to the expansion of the whitetail range. The notion that you should never shoot a doe is diminishing with the younger generation accepting the importance of harvesting does to help with the population explosion but to me another important aspect to harvesting does is the buck-to-doe ratio.
Deer populations continue to grow while habitat continues to dwindle every year. Leased properties and limited access to private lands also contribute to the population increase but the land will only support so many deer no matter the gender. You might ask why does leased land contributes increases in deer populations. The answer is simple really. So many properties are leased by folks that may not hunt that often but has the money to lock up a piece of ground that many others could be hunting. There are many leases that might only be hunted once or twice a year and even if the hunters that are leasing the property are good hunters that is only a few deer harvested and to many groups the deer management program consist of only shooting bucks and many times does not include harvesting does which is a vital part of quality deer management. These factors leave many areas over run with deer while the limited public lands or accessible private lands are depleted of deer, including does, but in both cases the next reason for hunting does become vital in healthy deer herds and that is the buck-to-doe ratio.
I have hunted with a bow almost exclusively for the past 15 years. I hunt with a bow even during gun season unless someone invites me to hunt with them and I'm not familiar with the property. Hunting with a bow forces you to examine deer behavior whether you really want to or not and by virtue of the many hours spent in a treestand I have noticed something that puzzled me for many seasons before going on a hunt out west where the buck-to-doe ratio is at a little more favorable carrying capacity which is close to a 1:1 buck-to-doe ratio. Notice I said close because an actual 1:1 buck-to-doe ratio is rare and very difficult to manage on private land and even harder to manage on public ground.
The buck to doe ratio is important to the hunter as well as the deer itself. Out of whack ratios causes a lot of stress on mature bucks that attempt, through instincts, to breed all the does and ensure that the strongest genes survive. These conditions cause undue stress on mature bucks leaving them vulnerable to the harsh winter to come. This only increases the number of does which leaves the buck-to-doe ratio even more out of whack and the longer this goes on the worse it gets. Nature will take care of the deer-to-habitat-ratio and where hunting is not allowed at all nature will even take care of the buck-to-doe ratio but when there is hunting it is the responsibility of the hunters to help nature take care of the herd.
When there are too many does, rutting activities are much less evident because there is no reason for the mature bucks to establish dominance over a range or doe herd when he knows there are more does than he can successfully breed. Young bucks and subordinate bucks are also free to breed, at will, when there are so many does that enter the estrus cycle at the same time leaving subordinate gene pools. The mature buck will still try to keep these bucks away from the hot does because nature requires him to but he can only do so much and all this activity takes it toll. Out of the entire herd the mature buck is weakened the most during peak rut but then again in December and even into January when he must breed the remaining does that weren’t bred the first two cycles. This extra burden contributes to many mature bucks succumbing to the winter elements, more so than the subordinate bucks and again the cycle continues until the ratio is improved.
This limited rutting activity makes it tough to locate and pattern mature bucks, this is why maintaining a good buck-to-doe ratio is important to the trophy hunter that hunts mature bucks. I hunt mature whitetail bucks and from opening day through the rut, which usually ends in late November where I hunt, all deer are safe except mature bucks but during the late season I hunt does to fill the freezer. The buck-to-doe ratio is vital to trophy hunters because it generates normal rutting activities like rubs, scrapes and fighting to establish dominance among the herd. Have you ever hunted places where the bucks seem to never rut and there are does everywhere? These places, more than likely, have a bad buck-to-doe ratio and with little worry of finding a doe to breed most of the movement occurs at night. When the buck has to look for does they will move more during the day to check doe bedding areas for hot does.
I have hunted for over 30 years and I can remember when there were fewer deer where I hunt but I never had a problem harvesting a does when the regulations allowed it. I enjoy cooking and venison is high on my list of favorite wild game for the grill or griddle. I don't necessarily think that venison from a doe is any better than venison from a buck I would just rather harvest a doe rather than a young buck to allow that buck to mature. This concept makes a lot of sense to me, for one it fills my freezer with excellent table fare for the months to come, second it leaves the young bucks to mature which helps with the buck-to-doe ratio and that helps the deer as well as the hunter.
Early Season Scouting for Big Bucks
Created for Rambling Angler Outdoors by Ken McBroom
If you hunt whitetail deer with a bow you know just how difficult it can be to just lay eyes on a mature buck let alone harvest one. There is nothing better than time afield for honing the skills to consistently harvest mature deer but articles like this one can help you understand what your are experiencing in the woods. Mature whitetails, bucks as well as does, may act a little differently than younger deer and if you want to target mature whitetails you must approach your scouting as well as hunting a little differently as well.
I chase big bass throughout the warm season and have found that big deer and big bass take a different approach if that is what your after. If you enjoy seeing a lot of deer and some sparring and bucks chasing does all around your stand then by all means continue to enjoy those times but if you want to harvest really mature bucks then you just might have to forgo the multiple deer sightings and activity. There are definitely times when big bucks are out there in the action with the herd but these times, especially during shooting light, can be few and far between. Learning about mature deer can help you harvest those mature whitetails that hang back and approach every movement with caution and with a watchful eye. I hope this article can shed some light on some of your past as well as future experiences afield.
Locating rubs like this one early in the season can mean you are in the area of a mature whitetail buck and don't let the size fool you. This rub was made by a giant 10 pointer. I watched him one evening, just out of bow range, make this rub. Photo by Ken McBroom
EARLY RUBS:You should begin your scouting early in an attempt to locate the first rubs of the season. Mature bucks almost always make these rubs because their testosterone levels rise sooner than lesser bucks in the area. When you locate good rubs between say September and October, depending on what part of the country you hunt, mark the spot or hang a stand because you are in the living room of a mature buck. These rubs are not easy to locate, as they are few and far between not to mention the foliage can still be thick limiting visibility during the early season. Take your time and you can find these important sign post.
There is more going on during the early season than you might think. There are fewer mature deer in the woods and this is why this activity goes unnoticed oftentimes taking place well away from fields and food plots. Mature does often seek out the more mature bucks in her area to breed. This all happens earlier than all the movement we enjoy in November. This is mother nature's way of assuring that the strongest bucks breed the strongest does. The purpose of early season scouting is to locate one of these areas that have early rubs, and get a stand hung. The action will be slow but when it happens you just might be surprised at the buck that has been living in your deer woods for years.
When searching for early rubs stay back off the fields and food plots. More times than not the earliest rubs will be in the thickest cover in the bucks area and not down where the does come out to feed. When you locate some early season rubs pay close attention to the tree or sapling. A great way to tell if you are in a big buck's area is if there are licking branches on the rubs. These are little branches or sometimes fairly large branches that the buck has chewed on and rubbed his brow to leave scent to let other deer know he is there. Locate several of these in a small area and you might want to stop and hang a stand because you are close to where that buck spends a lot of his time and to move around much more could just push the buck out of the area.
The same giant 10 pointer checked this scrape shortly after making the rub. I never saw the buck again which enforces the old adage that the first hunt from a new stand site is the best. Photo by Ken McBroom
Scrapes: Early season scrapes are also a sign that a mature buck is around. Oftentimes scrapes made by these mature bucks are just territorial sign post much like the rubs were but if a scrape shows up early, where you found the rubs, and it has been aggressively worked then more than likely you have an early season rendezvous between two mature animals in your area. If this scrape has a licking branch above it then hang a stand and hunt. Be aware that you might have only a couple deer in the area to bust you but they didn't make it to old age by being stupid so be careful getting in and out and be absolutely sure the wind is right or the deer could shift just a couple hundred yards in any direction and avoid your stand location like the plague.
It's that time of year so get out there and do some early season scouting. Look for early rubs and scrapes in the thickest part of your hunting ground where the big bucks spend most of their daylight hours. Practice strict scent control procedures. When hunting these bucks in their living room silence becomes as important as scent control. Oftentimes you might only be less than 100 yards from the buck you are hunting. Super thick areas do help deaden sounds and allows for little mistakes but you have to be aware of the sounds that could spook the deer. I think it is a good idea to hand a stand, before going to you hunting area, just to see how noisy your stand can be. I always pay close attention to what causes the noise and wrap that part or area with tape to eliminate that harsh metal to metal clank that will alert a wary old buck.