October is the month of “The Switch”. Buck behavior changes more rapidly with each passing day, just like the leaves take on the colors of autumn. Once lush crops now undergo the reaping of the farmer and a deer’s world is changed with a flick of a switch. The changes in their behavior and habitat mean you must also adjust as a hunter. Whether you’re looking to score on an “October Lull” buck, or holding out until the time is right, scouting should still be a subject of focus if you’re looking to strike success this deer season.
October Hot Spots
There is no better hot spot than an active scrape. Deer activity (both does and bucks) is literally concentrated around a single overhanging branch and a three foot circle making it the perfect trail cam location. A trail camera will be your best tool to scout the scrape as most activity will occur during the night – if it’s got video capabilities, now is the time to use it. If you find one, get your camera on it to see what’s hitting it.
While they are tremendous spots for trail cameras, hunting over them can sometimes prove more difficult since most of the activity is happening at night. If you’re hunting a scrape, your best results will likely come towards the end of the month, when the bucks are ramped up and the does are not yet ready.
Here’s a trail camera I placed over a fresh scrape October 1st, below are some of the deer that stopped by to make their own mark. In total there were 6 different bucks that were caught on camera actively using the scrape in the first week including one big old mature buck.
Notice the body size difference between the buck on the bottom and the two young ones on top.
Best Time to Hunt: October 20th – 31st
Where to Find Them: Field edges; logging roads; trails; single standing tree with low hanging limbs
Rubs are another excellent scouting tool to hone in on during October. Rubbing activity basically comes in two waves, the first occurs when velvet is shed and the second is the days leading up to and during the rut. In between, however, there is a trickling of rubbing behavior. It’s certainly nowhere near the frequency you’ll see during November, but they can still be a key factor in honing in on a target buck. Generally the bigger the rub, the bigger the buck. Find one on a sizable tree and you just might be in business or at least know that a big boy is using the area.
What you’re really looking for during this time is a signpost rub. A signpost rub is one that gets used year after year, therefore, look for a rubbed tree that shows evidence of scarring from last year. These are called signpost rubs because they are essentially the communication hub between the different bucks in the area. Also, rub lines will tell you a whole lot more info than a single rub. You can learn things such as travel patterns, bedding areas, and times when a buck is travelling that line. There’s so much to mentally absorb from rubs that I wrote an entire article about finding and analyzing rubs in the latest Mapping Whitetails Blog.
Rubs act as communication hubs for the different bucks in an area.
Best Time to Hunt: October/November
Where to Find Them: Edge habitat; logging roads; check out Mapping Whitetails #04 for an in depth look at rub lines
Crops (standing and harvested)
Depending upon the area you hunt, cropland may or may not be a huge influencer on the local deer herd. October is typically the month of harvest throughout the United States and thus, a large portion of deer and deer hunters are impacted by the harvesting of ag fields. Hundreds of thousands of acres that once stood as adequate cover for whitetails is now cut to a stubble and possibly plowed. Hopefully for you, some grains got spilt along the way and the farmer won’t drop the plow until spring. While standing crops offer a tremendous food source, the cover they provide can make deer hunting extremely frustrating. Thus, the harvesting of these acres often serves to concentrate deer in wooded parcels and other brushy areas of cover. Take advantage of the harvest by scouting from a safe vantage point immediately after the field is picked, take notes, and move in the following day. There’s no better time to hunt an ag field than the first week following the harvest.
This cornfield was cut on my hunting grounds recently. You can guess where I’ll be sitting this next week.
Best Time to Hunt: The week following the harvest (maybe longer depending on amount of waste grain left behind)
Where to Hunt: Scout from afar then move in
As long as the oaks continue to drop acorns, these will be prime areas to hunt. Deer simply love acorns and will likely choose them over anything else. Of course some oak species are preferred over others, for instance white oaks over red oaks. Finding the target tree may not be that hard if there’s only a few in the area, but if your hunting large oak stands your guess may be as good as mine as to which tree they’ll be under during any given day. This and the fact that deer never have to leave cover to feed are the reasons hunting acorns can be frustrating. However, if you stick with it and hunt the wind correctly, there’s a decent chance of catching a mature buck browsing during daylight hours.
Acorns are likely the most attractive food source in an area when they are dropping.
Best Time to Hunt: As soon as they start dropping up until they eat them all up
Which ones to hunt: In order of preference – white oak, pin oak, red oak, black oak
Towards the end of October is when most hunters really start ramping up their efforts and rightfully so. The “pre-rut”, as most hunters call it, is the period just before the does become receptive. Bucks are pumped full of testosterone and on the move and, as deer behavioral expert Charlie Alsheimer explained in his 2015 Rut Predictions, you should be hunting! With plenty of rut content to come, we’ll just touch on the basic areas that you should get your stands hung.
Putting in a little extra effort to hunt a piece of unpressured property can pay off big time during the rut. Here the hunter uses a boat to access the back side of public ground to set up in a funnel between two water bodies.
Best Time to Hunt: October 24th – November 14th
Where to Hunt: Pinch points; ridge tops; saddles; creek crossings; river bottoms; staging areas; etc.
Most likely, hunting the end of October is nothing new, but maybe those other October hot spots will help you fill your tag by then. Nonetheless, October is a crazy month for whitetails and you have to be ready to adapt to the changing conditions of both the habitat and the whitetail.