Some good hunters I know don’t hunt their best stands until around Halloween, and then they hunt them hard for the next 3 weeks. Their strategy is sound: put no pressure on bucks until they start rutting and moving more in daylight hours.
Good in theory, yes, but I don’t believe that approach is practical for most of us. You’re busy…you hunt when you can. If that happens to be 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 is one thing to keep in mind.
Grant Woods, one of the premier whitetail scientists in America and a seasoned archer who hunts as many days as he can in October, says to key on what the deer are eating now.
“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 Grant, 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 they fed often in crop fields, where they were visible. “But now many deer feed on browse and mast inside the woods, and they aren’t as easily seen,” he 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.”
Most hunters know to look for acorns. But an overlooked strategy is not to focus enough on thickets in the woods, and the cover and browse they provide for deer. As they mender through the October woods between bedding covers and mast trees and fields, bucks veer here and there to walk through thickets, where they linger and nibble leaves, buds and stems. Look for trails with recent 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.