It’s easy to chalk up midseason woes in the whitetail world to the October lull. This time frame roughly lasts from Oct. 7 to 25 in the majority of the whitetail’s range, and it earned its name by being a notoriously challenging time to fill the freezer. Stagnant weather patterns, changing food sources and increasing hunting pressure are just a few factors that impact deer movement. Myth or not, you can still hedge your bets on a few action-packed hunts during the infamous October lull, if you know where to look and when to strike.
October weather patterns are unpredictable. While some studies suggest the weather doesn’t impact deer movement much, most experienced bowhunters will tell you that cold fronts are critical for success in mid-October. Rather than burning out your spots before the rut, monitor the extended forecast and look for below-average daytime highs and rising barometric pressure. Don’t settle for just any temperature drop, though. Instead, look for prolonged weather patterns with above-average temperatures and limited variation from one day to the next. The most impactful cold fronts occur when such monotonous weather conditions get disrupted by a 10-degree or more swing in daytime high temperatures, paired with a spike in barometric pressure. These cold fronts are typically associated with precipitation and gusty winds. Deer activity can increase the day a cold front arrives, but the high-odds days typically follow after the rain blows through and overcast skies clear to bluebird ones with cooler temperatures and high barometric pressure. You can identify these patterns on a free weather application like Weather Underground and strategically plan your hunts for the days when the odds are in your favor.
Food sources can change overnight in mid-October, when the harvest season is in full swing. Farmers head to the fields to pick corn and soybeans, resulting in a temporarily hot food source that whitetails crave. These are high-odds hunting spots in the days immediately following the last tractor vacating the field, but the opportunity can fade fast. Modern farming equipment doesn’t leave behind much waste grain, and the few kernels left in the field are gobbled up quickly or tilled under without notice. Acorns are king in October, and locating the perfect oak can be the difference between feast and famine for October bowhunting — no pun intended. White oaks are the preferred food source for whitetails across most of the Midwest. An abundant crop can make for challenging hunting conditions since the plentiful food means the deer don’t have to travel far to eat. In contrast, a limited acorn crop means you’ve hit jackpot if you can find the secluded oak raining acorns surrounded by acres of dormant mast trees. That brings us to the most critical part of the equation for debunking the October lull: scouting.
Seasons across the whitetail range have been open for at least a few weeks when mid-October rolls around. The increased hunting pressure and changing conditions usually mean deer have abandoned the bedding areas they called home throughout summer and early fall. Don’t be disappointed if your spots that produced action-packed early-season hunts seem to run dry. It might just be time to burn boot leather and scout your hunting area to locate fresh sign. Work backward from the hottest food source in the area, being on the lookout for fresh rubs and scrapes. These are obvious signs that a buck is in the area, and while you’ll likely find them in field edges, push farther into the cover in search of the buck’s bedroom. High densities of rubs and scrapes tucked into thick cover are a good indication you’ve found a spot worth hunting. When you locate the food source nearest the buck’s bedding area, you’ll set yourself up for a hunt that’ll break the October lull.
Don’t get discouraged by deer sightings that are few and far between during the heart of bow season. Accept the challenge head-on and adjust your tactics. You might be rewarded with a heavy set of antlers, venison in your freezer and the dilemma of having to plan an adventure in another state once the rut finally rolls around, because you’re already tagged out at home.