October Whitetails

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Long-Range Scouting

fall deer hunting season
During the fall deer hunting season it is best to avoid deer hunting in the morning. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Hunting a big buck is a lot easier once you've actually seen him. Ideally, you'll watch him do something at least twice so you can establish some type of pattern - but even one sighting is better than nothing. Several sets of big tracks may indicate that a big deer is using a trail, but how do you know you won’t put him off his pattern by simply scouting him this way? And how do you know he’s not coming out after dark? Hang back with binoculars and learn as much as you can about the overall situation before committing yourself to a plan. Don't focus single-mindedly on the bucks, either. You need to know what the other deer using the feeding area are doing too.

Rarely will the big buck be the first to come out in the evening. More than likely he'll be preceded by several does, fawns and young bucks. If they catch your scent they'll sound the alarm and you can forget about Mr. Big. Take all the factors into consideration before you pick a tree stand location so you won't mess things up the very first time you hunt the buck.

Be Conservative... To A Point

The worst thing you can do when choosing a tree stand site is to commit yourself so deeply into the feeding area that you run the risk of spooking the buck but not deeply enough that you can actually get a shot. You may have to move closer in stages. Hang back and observe things from conservative tree stand sites until you find the buck's weakness, then go for broke.

Tree Stand Accessibility

Early season bucks can’t be strictly patterned. You can’t set your watch by their behavior. They won't bed in the exact same places every day, nor feed in the same places every evening, nor always use the same trails in between. Unfortunately, even at it’s best, fall deer hunting is still a guessing game, and luck will still be a factor.

deer hunting pattern
It is a lot easier to hunt a buck once you have seen because you can establish a pattern. Make use of your binoculars while watching for your next trophy buck. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

You have to put in your time. If you don't get the buck the first time you hunt him, you need a good plan for getting back to your vehicle without spooking non-target deer that are already feeding. Try to place your tree stand where the deer will be out of sight shortly after they pass, giving you an opportunity to climb down and sneak away without being seen. Use the terrain and cover to your advantage. Your exit route will likely take you well out of your way, looping back through the timber or following a creek or erosion ditch in the opposite direction.

Mid-October Transition

The period from roughly October 10th through the 25th (in most whitetail states) is the hardest part of the month for tagging a trophy buck – maybe even the hardest part of the whole season. Deer hunting pressure and testosterone make bucks extremely reclusive. They'll still feed but not as heavily, and seeing them during daylight is rare. If you want the honest truth, this is a good time to stay out of the woods. Get things done around the home and clear your schedule so you can focus on the better weeks to come. If you deer hunt your best areas now not only is there little hope that you’ll be successful, but you’ll also decrease your chances for taking a good buck later.

Strategies for Mid-October

tree stand location
When choosing your tree stand location take all factors into consideration. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Since bucks are almost entirely nocturnal, you can only hope to catch them soon after they rise in the evening or right before they bed in the morning. The closer you can deer hunt to a buck's bedding area, the better your odds of taking him. But, it's really a catch-22 situation, because the closer you deer hunt to his bedding area the more likely he is to realize you're after him and clear out. It doesn't make much sense to push a buck hard at a time when he really isn't active.

If you are going to give the transition period a try don’t waste your precious vacation time. Deer hunt before and after work. The first hour and last two hours of each day are far and away the most productive for deer hunters. And confine your efforts to areas you don't plan to deer hunt during the rut.

First, try to figure out exactly where a buck is bedding. (You may have to actually bump him from his bed to find it.) This is where you have to hunt him. Depending upon terrain and cover, place your tree stand as close as you dare without the risk of spooking him - you'll probably have to stay at least 100 yards away unless there's plenty of cover and the wind is blowing hard enough to cover any noise you make.

Look for funnels that offer some hope of predicting where the buck will go when he leaves his bed. Sometimes a big buck rub will also tip you off to a possible travel route. Figure out a way to get in and out of your tree stand without being seen, heard or smelled. Give it your best shot. Your odds aren’t good, but at least they’re better than zero.

Deer Scrape Lines During the Early Rut

tree stand accessibility
When fall deer hunting make sure you have an exit strategy from your tree stand so you won't spook any other bucks. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

During the last week of October bucks will be seriously gearing up for the primary rut. They’re moving more than they were in mid-October and hitting traditional buck sign more reliably. Deer scrapes are the key to success at this time.

There are two keys to successfully hunting a buck along his deer scrape. First, you have to find the right sign. The rut hasn’t broken loose and bucks are still sensitive to hunting pressure. Too much scouting right now can educate a buck to the fact that he's being hunted. Smart old bucks pick this up quicker than younger bucks. If you’re after a big one make a special effort to keep the woods fresh. The type of animal you tag may be a direct result of how carefully you scout!

Some deer hunters prefer to do most of their in-season scouting using an aerial photo while sitting at home on the couch. You'll never spook a single buck that way. Learn as much as you can about the lay of the land before setting foot on it. You should be able to predict where the travel routes and the deer scrapes will be with reasonable accuracy. Now, make a quick pass through the area.

This isn't the time to study every piece of sign (save that goal for after the season), but rather it should be a single opportunity to prove or disprove your hunches. Stay off deer trails as much as possible, and give known bedding areas a wide berth. Look for fresh deer scrapes located back away from the field edges. Thick cover nearby is an added bonus. Such deer scrapes offer the best hope of being visited by a good buck during daylight hours.

Mid October Deer Hunting
Deer hunters have to establish different hunting stratgies for mid October deer hunting, different from the beginning of the month. Hunter shown wearing Mathews Lost Camo.

Deer scrape hunting in late October requires that you deer hunt back in the timber. Some of these strongholds can be ticklish to hunt. It seems that bucks love to deer scrape in the cool, damp earth found at the bottoms of draws and ravines. This is a great place to find sign, but a very dangerous place to deer hunt. When the wind blows, it will swirl through broken country like eddy currents in a trout stream. Every deer in the area will know a man is nearby. Resist the temptation to deer hunt these spots, focusing instead on locations where you can better control where your scent blows. You may have to hunt the scrape area from a distance on routes you feel the buck may use as he goes to freshen them.

The month of October is really three different seasons, each with its own challenges and opportunities. While none of these periods are as exciting or as a productive as the primary rut, at least you’re deer hunting. A bad day in the woods is still better than a good day at work. And when you October deerhunt carefully you may be surprised at what you can drag out!

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