As we approach mid to late October in many parts of the country we’re approaching that time of the year where the leaves begin to change, the crops begin to turn brown, the weather gets colder, the rut heats up and with that a whitetail’s early season patterns begin to change as well. When everyone thinks “first frost” they begin to think about the Rut, I know I do, my eyes begin to wander at the mounts on the wall and my mind begins to reflect on what I had to do to harvest those animals…lets dive into some of the key aspects I consider when hunting the 30 days between October 17th and November 17th:
Once we get into this stage of the Fall, many of the crop fields have matured and browned and have been or will begin to be harvested and deer will continue to spend time in those fields picking up the left overs as they continue to pack on weight for the Rut and Winter. However, when fields turn brown and begin to be harvested a shift occurs (if it hadn’t already) where deer will begin to spend more significantly more time in food plots. These first couple frosts will help turn brassicas more sugary, which also provide high protein and gross energy and moves this food source to the top of their list and the more does you can put in that plot this time of year the better. Over this next month, you know that if you have the does, the bucks won’t be far behind. Bucks still need to eat during the pre-rut and rut and what better place to catch one off guard than in a nice luscious food plot. If you don’t have any plots planted this season or are hunting public land you will want to shift your focus to one of a whitetail deer’s favorite foods, the white oak acorn. There will be deer in the white oaks like crazy and plenty of buck sign on the acorn ridges and flats. Hunting acorns can be unpredictable as oaks can be spread out through a property, so you will want to find the freshest sign, set-up and be patient. Using Attractants (where legal) like the End Game or Apple Burst Attractant is a great way to bring does and bucks to a selected location more regularly and is a great way to develop patterns and scout a property prior to hunting. Most of the time you’re going to catch a mature buck following a hot doe into your feeding area or winding it attempting to pick one up. During this time of year hunting the right kind of food can be just the ticket to help punch your tag on one of your hit-list bucks.
As the weather changes so will daylight activity as typically during this period and weather change buck activity increases by 50%. Bucks are cruising for does and checking scrapes from the night before. During this time, I change my tactics up and start hunting mornings around doe bedding areas and funnels between the two areas. Mornings are the best in my eyes, the scent is still fresh from the night before and once the frost starts melting the bucks put their nose in overdrive, most of the deer I have harvested have been in the mornings following the first frost during the pre- rut period. You want to put yourself in spots where bucks are going to be traveling during daylight now. Does and fawns can be read like a script during this time since they’re going to be where the food is. Those big bucks won’t be far away from that food either. Buck movement will change during this time period, bucks will be making rubs and checking scrapes in funnels, and around doe bedding areas in hopes of being the first to catch a hot doe. Hopefully by now you have moved your cameras to some active scrapes and known funnels and have a nice inventory of the bucks hanging around your property….granted that can change in an instant this time of year!
I love to sit on the downwind side of a food plot during this time. I’ve heard it a million times I had 20 does in my plot and some small bucks but no big ones. Mature deer do things different than young deer, again I’m just speaking from personal experience. Most of the bucks I have shot were in funnels around the food plot on the downwind side. This gives the mature deer the edge, they can scent any deer in the plot, in this case a hot doe and stay in the cover and not be seen by anyone or anything. Another great setup is a water hole especially once the rut picks up, bucks are roaming all night and most of the day but need water to survive, also the local doe group is likely to be at these areas as well so a mature buck will slip in to check it out and get a drink. Edges of doe bedding areas is another prime area during this time, I will always hunt these in the mornings when deer are going back to bed. Mature bucks know where the does are bedding and are always taking strolls on the downwind side to check for hot does. So, during this time morning sits are going to be doe bedding areas, travel areas and active scrapes.
Night sits are going to be over good food sources but on the downwind side as that’s where you’re going to catch a mature buck cruising.
Bucks are extremely responsive to grunting and rattling this time of year. Mature deer are looking for the first receptive does so they hear a battle going down they’re going to come investigate or engage in a battle for that hot doe. Every deer is going to respond differently to calling and the best thing you can do is match the tone of your grunt with the age structure of deer or just slightly younger than him. Just remember mature bucks are going to circle downwind to try to scent the deer there looking for. I love blind calling in the mornings, once I see deer filtering back into bedding areas I will usually do a grunting sequence followed by a rattling with a few estrous bleats, you’re creating a scenario that there’s bucks fighting over a doe but hearing a doe bleating can add that final twist to your calling sequence to make that buck come in close enough for a shot. I used this exact scenario to harvest my biggest buck to date. I was on the downwind side of a plot, in a funnel, along a doe bedding area on oct 21st cold front had hit on the 19th. My cameras had exploded with daytime buck movement. This buck came along that plot winding it looking for does at 7:45. He was in a different funnel about 175 yards away from my location. I first grunted but with the wind in my face he couldn’t hear me, so I banged the antlers together and got his attention, I then grunted at him, he postured right away, so I snort wheezed at him. He then went over to a pine tree and shredded it, I wheezed again. He then turned and walked straight away from me so I did an estrous bleat, I didn’t even get the call out of my mouth before he had turned around running down the hill towards me grunting. The more real you can make that scenario the better if I would have not been able to bleat, I’m sure I would have never harvested that deer. Like I said I like blind calling in the mornings and about the last hour before dark if I’m not seeing much for mature buck activity. IF you do see a big deer make sure you try to get his attention if he’s not coming your way. It could really work in your favor.
Hunting over scrapes this time of year can be extremely effective, the trick is using cameras to find active scrapes that bucks are using daily, the more bucks the merrier during this time because the mature buck will be back more frequently to mark it up, and check for receptive does. Most active scrapes will be in the woods in funnels or on the edges of those doe bedding areas. Most field edge scrapes are mostly attended to at night, which most of us know is true but if your cameras showing you daylight movement and big bucks hitting that scrape you need to be aggressive. Hunt that scrape right away, the longer you wait the more chance of him abandoning that scrape. Last year I had a mature buck hit a scrape four days in a row before dark. After that he didn’t show back up for a week. WHY? I think he found a receptive doe and took off after her. The best way to do this is hang and hunt. Hang a stand downwind of the scrape and hunt it, remember to pay attention on the camera which way he is coming from so you have a clear shot when he steps in to freshen up that scrape.
I hope you can take some of the information I’ve gathered over the last several years and apply it to your property and your next hunt! The next 30 days are my favorite time of the year and can be unpredictable…but hopefully some of these strategies will help tip the odds in your favor.
Best of luck this Fall,
Jeremy Berlin – Antler King Pro-Staff – Wisconsin