The Ultimate Whitetail Plan: October and the Pre-Rut

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Author’s note: This is the second of a four-part series that we’ll post this fall covering all four phases of whitetail season, from the first day of archery through the rut, till the bitter end in December. We’ll be highlighting the best stand locations on the same farm with each installment. No matter when you take off to hunt, we’ve got you covered. Good luck! (And click here to read part one of the series).

On a crisp, colorful October afternoon several years ago, Ontario bowhunter Shane Good shot the buck of his dreams, a 171-inch giant.

The next season, on Oct. 27, Good ran his climber up the same tree and watched incredulously as another buck—bigger than last year’s—rolled onto the scene. He grunted, and the giant came on a string. Good’s shot was true; the main-frame 10-pointer scored 176!

I emailed Good and told him how cool it would be to shoot a third monster from the same tree three years in a row. This guy is a tremendous bowhunter who was on a hot streak, and I thought he could do it. He sent me this note and photo on Oct. 28, 2010:

Mike, wanted to show you the buck I arrowed earlier today. You said it would be awesome to shoot three 170s from the same tree. Unfortunately, I have to settle for two 170s and a 162!

This is an incredible achievement with two good lessons: One, find a hot tree that produces and hunt it year after year around the same time. The three giants that Good shot were not there by happenstance; they were funneling by that tree for some reason as they prepared for the rut. And two, Halloween week is, all things considered, probably the best week to bowhunt monster whitetails. Big deer are scraping and prowling, moving more and more in daylight, and they have not yet been pressured by gun hunters.

Halloween week 2012 should be especially hot with the full moon on Oct. 29 (more on that later) but the three weeks prior—starting right now—can be good, too. 

Tactic 1: Think Green

This summer’s epic drought has killed the corn in many areas. The soybeans have fared only a little better, and many food plots planted in the spring burned up. You need to take into account that the food sources (and hence the travel patterns of the deer) could be different this year.

If you live and hunt in a drought-stricken area, pray for rain and “think green” the first week of October. Hurricane Isaac that moved up through Arkansas and into the Ohio Valley Labor Day weekend was much needed! If it rains where you hunt, and then soon thereafter green weeds and other forbs pop up in a plot, hayfield, edge of a harvested cornfield, logging road—you get the idea—you’re in great shape. Find a tree for a stand near an out-of-the-way patch of new green feed and hang there. You will see deer and quite possibly a shooter buck. 

Tactic 2: Scrapes in the Mast

In any given year, a surefire spot to find the first scrapes of mid-October is on oak ridge within 100 yards or so of a large corn or soybean field. As the acorns fall, many deer will stage in the oaks in the afternoon to hit the nuts before moving out to the crops after dark.

But this year, with many crops unproductive, most deer won’t head for the fields at all. Rather, they will spend an inordinate amount of time on the ridges and amid the mast.

If from earlier scouting you know of a ridge with trees that will produce even a decent crop of acorns, go there now and set a stand. With other food sources limited and iffy, deer will travel and work those hardwood ridges more than ever. Beginning around Oct. 15, you will find lots of fresh scrapes (and rubs) on a ridge, and it will be a hot travel corridor to hunt.
  
Tactic 3: Hunt “Rub Draws”

A study in west-central Tennessee by deer researcher Bryan Kinkel found that bucks prefer to rub in two types of terrains—“valleys” and “secondary points.” You know the valleys—draws, hollows, swales, whatever you call them in your part of the world. Kinkel’s research found that swales and draws with brushy ground cover (big bucks love it!) had twice as many rubs than other hollows and valleys with less vegetation. The brushy draws are prime travel lanes and good places for stands all month.

Tactic 4: Hunt the Cold Front

Download the free Realtree Weather app on your phone or tablet, and keep an eye on the weather every day. The two days after the first cold front of October blows through and drops the temperature from, say, 75 or 80 degrees to 50 or 40 is one of the best times all fall to be in a bow stand. Bucks in winter coats that were sluggish in the early fall heat get revved up and finally feel like moving more. The later in October a front hits, the better really; the rut is coming, the bucks feel it, and they walk harder in daylight, scraping and wandering for the first hot does. So when you see the first cold front (dry or rainy) coming, take off work and get your butt in your best stand for at least the next two days. 

Tactic 5: Love the Full Moon?

Halloween week, the bewitching week, is one of the best times to bowhunt any year, and I think the full moon this Oct. 29 will make it even better. For years I have been working on a radical new theory: The full moon closest to the peak rut is better than the dark moon for big-buck movement. Of course you’ve heard the exact opposite for decades—that the dark moon is better—but I’m changing my thinking on that.

I’m no biologist, but I am a hard-core deer hunter and a keen observer of nature and what goes on in the woods around me. I can’t explain exactly why yet, but no doubt I see a lot—I repeat, a lot—of big deer on the prowl during a full moon phase in late October or early to mid-November. More bucks than during dark moon phases of the rut. I see these bucks early, midday and late in the afternoon; time of day wise, there seems no discernible pattern to the deer movement.

What I can say with reasonable certainty is that if you bowhunt Halloween week, and sit in a well-placed tree stand for as long as you can hack it every day, you have a better than 50/50 chance of seeing—and maybe shooting—a big buck. In this October game, those are darn good odds. Good luck!

Must-Have October Gear

  • Any time you sit in a stand in October, especially a morning stand in the timber, you ought to grunt every 30 minutes in hopes of striking a buck tingling with the rut feel and starting to move around. If a buck hears you, he might veer over for a look. One of the most realistic-sounding grunt calls I’ve used costs just $7.99; Buck Gardner Trophy Deer Call.
  • Oct. 20 through early November is the time to set a tarsal lure near your stand. A prowling buck might come to the nasty smell of a rival invading his turf. I hang wicks doused with Mega-Tarsal Plus around my stands.

 

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