Is the October lull real or imagined?
Brantley has called me out.
As a man, I am compelled to respond. His challenge is to my assertion that the October lull is a myth. I’m sticking to my guns: There is no such thing as an October lull.
There is, however, a couple of factors that come into play that hunters must adjust to. If you don’t, you’ll see far fewer deer. In many cases, however, there is no adjustment that can be made. What happens will happen no matter what you do because it’s a reaction to something that’s already taken place.
I used to be a whole-hearted believer in the October lull mantra. Then I started using trail cameras. And I use them a lot. I currently have 14 cameras in the field and I check them about once a week. The information those cameras have revealed over the past three years has been eye-opening to say the least. And they’ve done something else: They’ve made me stop listening to anything people are saying about deer behavior locally. I used to listen to people talk about how the bucks had shut down and weren’t moving. Then I’d hunt and not see much activity which would affirm that what I was hearing was the truth. In other words, I allowed myself to be talked into something that probably wasn’t true.
But I don’t base my position on the lull merely on personal experience. There is also some pretty interesting research to back it up. A recent blog by Karl Miller on FieldandStream.com cited a study conducted by Dr. Mark Conner at Chesapeake Farms in Maryland. That study showed the buck activity does not decline in October – it increases steadily through the start of the rut.
Why then do so many hunters claim there is a lull? Two reasons: Changes in areas of activity and the impacts of hunting pressure.
Deer in late September and early October are fairly visible because they are usually on food sources that allow them to be seen: Bean fields, hay fields and large food plots. As October draws on, those food sources begin to change. Beans are harvested. Alfalfa begins to brown. Acorns may be more available and native browse begins to ripen. The deer change their areas of movement and very few hunters change with them.
Hunting pressure also takes a big, big toll on movement patterns. By the second week of October, hunting pressure has been substantial and sustained. Deer know they’re being hunted and they adjust accordingly. If you’re hunting an area that receives substantial hunting pressure – or you’ve booted deer from fields with your entry and exit – those deer have moved. It’s that simple. The irony here is that a lot of hunters I talk to that claim the lull has kicked in are the type of hunters who have pounded their hunting areas since opening day. For them, the lull is very real. And, unfortunately, it’s also self-inflicted.
I hunt with extreme caution in early October. In fact, I purposely stay away from my best areas until around the 20th of October unless I have trailcam photos that compel me to hunt an area early. It is my belief that mature bucks will very quickly change locations early in October when pressured. But once the middle of October has passed, those bucks will be very reluctant to relocate. Why? Well, for starters, they’ve chosen the areas they’re in because they feel safe. And because that safety has remained, they are comfortable there. The rut is also perilously close. They know the area, the does that live there and they’ve already established a pecking order. They want to stay.
None of this really applies if you happen to hunt an area with minimal hunting pressure. Guys that own or have exclusive access to big chunks of prime ground in states that aren't heavily-hunted, well, I don't know what to tell you if you're not seeing deer in mid-October. That's not a situation that I've found myself in before. Where I hunt, there are nearly as many hunters as deer.
I live in a heavily-hunted area of southern Michigan. The bow season has been open about two weeks and guys are starting to grumble about the lull as they are seeing fewer and fewer deer each time they hunt. My trailcams, on the other hand, have been catching steadily increasing activity. I think there is a correlation there.
There is a fine line to walk of course. The season only lasts so long and by sitting out the early part of the season, I realize that I’m putting myself in a position where I have less time to score. But I think it’s a gamble worth taking because the bucks I want to hunt will still be active when I hunt them and, most importantly, they’ll be less likely to relocate if I do screw up.
But maybe I’m crazy. Maybe the lull is a very real deal. What do you think?