Whitetail bowhunters live for the rut. That’s when many request vacation days and count on hunting hard throughout November. The rut often provides buck action and increased shot opportunities, but don’t make the mistake of wishing away October. While the month can provide challenging hunting conditions, it also holds unique experiences.
Here’s how to overcome October’s bowhunting obstacles and make the most of its opportunities.
Across most of the U.S., October marks the change of seasons. The leaves transition into fall foliage and the temperatures begin to drop. In the northern part of the country, that means anything from sweltering heat to below freezing. These wild temperature swings create challenging bowhunting conditions.
Bowhunters need to make a judgment call when the weather is hot. If an animal isn’t recovered quickly enough, meat will spoil. There’s no definitive temperature or time frame; it’s highly variable. Though bowhunters always aim for a quick kill, the reality is that sometimes animals aren’t recovered for several hours. This may be due to shot placement, lack of a blood trail or other reasons.
When the weather is cool, meat spoiling isn’t much of a concern. But hot weather creates a time crunch. Have a plan in place when you’re hunting during hot conditions. It’s essential to field-dress the animal as soon as possible. This may require having help on standby to field-dress or blood-trail. If blood-tracking dogs are legal in your area, it’s not a bad idea to have the number for local members with United Blood Trackers saved in case you need to call a local blood-tracking dog and handler to help recover an animal promptly.
Cold weather brings a different set of challenges. Early-season snowstorms create dangerous hunting conditions, especially when they arrive suddenly and unexpectedly. It’s important to check the weather daily during October. The weather can be mild one day and extreme the next.
If you’re headed out of cellphone range for a few days, look at the extended forecast. Always bring extra food, water and survival supplies. Be sure to carry extra clothing layers in case of snow or rain. Let people know where you’re going and when you plan to return. If the weather takes an unexpected turn, sometimes it’s best to back out to avoid getting stranded in dangerous conditions.
Some bowhunters claim there’s minimal deer activity in October and begrudgingly call it “the October lull.” Is that true or just folklore? That depends. While bucks aren’t running through the woods in search of does just yet, they’re not necessarily in hiding. The savvy bowhunter just needs to know what they’re up to in order to find them.
Bucks spend early October packing on the pounds in preparation for the energy they’ll expend during the rut and winter months. You’ll have a shot at success if you find their food source. During October, whitetails often transition from their summer to fall ranges. Falling acorns and other mast help prompt this movement in some parts of the country.
Bucks will also be hanging out in groups. Scout where bucks are bedding and eating. In early October, research shows whitetail movement doesn’t change much from summer patterns, so if you can locate and pattern a buck you’ve got a good chance at trying to get a shot.
If you’re not seeing bucks during the daylight hours, you can locate them using their sign. Be on the lookout for rubs and scrapes. These activities increase in the weeks leading up to the peak rut. This means October is a good time to create a mock scrape.
The final week of October is when many deer experts claim bucks enter the seeking phase of the rut. This is when deer behavior at large starts to get noticeably ruttier. During the seeking phase, bucks begin strolling the countryside looking for does. They start to break away from their boy bands. This increased movement gives bowhunters a better chance of spotting a buck during the daylight hours.
This pre-rut period is a good time to try grunting, rattling and decoys. You don’t have to put a decoy in full view. Stash it behind a bush or tree so bucks get only a glimpse. This might pique a cruising buck’s curiosity enough to get him to come investigate. Grunts and rattling tell bucks that there is competition in the area. It might prompt the buck to come in and check out what’s happening.
In the Rocky Mountains, a large percentage of bowhunters spend September and early October chasing a rut of a different kind. When elk bugles are in the air, there’s very minimal pressure put on whitetails. If you typically chase rutting elk and tag out early or want a change of pace, consider spending October searching for whitetails. With so many eyes on elk, most western whitetails aren’t pressured. This means they can be easy to pattern and less spooky, and there’s a good chance you may be the only one hunting the area.
In the Midwest, there’s more pressure on whitetails during October when seasons begin to open. However, the myth of the October lull keeps some hunters out of the woods as they wait for the rut. If you can get out during the early season, deer may also face less pressure.
Don’t waste October. You can’t fill your tag if you’re not out hunting. October is a great month to try a new tactic. If you don’t find success, the rut is right around the corner.