By Josh Boyd
As hunters, it is only natural to compartmentalize various segments of deer season, based upon the opportunity that each offers. We associate the earliest days of archery season with highly patternable deer movement, and the rut with heavy periods of seeking and chasing. However, few hunters look at the earliest portion of October in the same light, instead citing the current as a time of limited deer sightings and dwindling trail camera photos.
Most often referred to as the “October Lull,” the early portion of October is often viewed as being void of true opportunity, though maybe not deservingly so. Is this time of year truly accompanied by a lull in deer movement, and is success any more difficult to come by than during any other time of season?
Perception or Reality?
The legitimacy of an October lull has been tested on numerous occasions, and largely dispelled. One of the most comprehensive studies on the matter was conducted by Dr. Mark Conner, at Chesapeake Farms in Maryland, and covered by Field and Stream.
Dr. Conner used radio collars to track the movements of mature bucks throughout their home ranges. The locations of these bucks were recorded as often as 30 times per day, in order to determine the extent and time of their travels.
When comparing data recovered throughout the fall, it was determined that buck movement steadily increased from the latter portion of the summer, through the rut. No notable drop in movement was observed during the earliest weeks of October, nor did nocturnal movement increase.
However, it was also determined that bucks began using alternative routes of travel during this period, as their movements began to vary from that of the late summer months. Reasons for this can include, but are not limited to, the harvest of agricultural food sources, hunter induced pressure, and territorial aggression prior to the rut.
Hunting the Lull
If buck movement does not actually decrease during early October, then how can one realign their strategy with a whitetail’s seasonal shift in pattern? While the answer to this question can vary somewhat based upon location and the circumstances at hand, the following tips will help you make the most out of hunting during this often difficult segment of season.
Find the Food
No matter the time of season, deer must locate adequate sustenance for survival, and the month of October is no exception. While food is still abundant during this time of year, it is critical to find the food sources that deer in a given area are favoring. In much of the country, the month of October signals the harvesting of crops and the dropping of acorns. These events often lead to a monumental shift in a whitetail’s feeding habits, thereby forcing hunters to adapt as well.
October is always an excellent time to key in on oak flats, where acorns can be found in mass quantities. Scouting trails to and from these locations with the assistance of a trail camera can be a potent way to uncover the fine details related to deer movement during this seasonal shift.
Watch the Water
During the month of October, deer begin to prepare for the cold ahead by growing their winter coats. This heavier winter coat can lead to a rapid build-up of body heat on unseasonably warm days, thereby making a whitetail increasingly reliant upon nearby water sources. Luckily, we as hunters typically know when warmer days are forecasted, and are able to adjust our strategies accordingly.
Additionally, it can often be quite helpful to place a trail camera over a favored water source in the given area which you hunt. This allows you to take stock of the deer that are utilizing this watering hole, and can assist you in determining whether or not to hang a stand nearby.
Go Where Other Hunters Are Not
At least a certain percentage of what many perceive as the October lull, can be attributed to the onset of hunting pressure. As hunters venture into the woods in order to hang stands, pull trail camera cards, or to hunt, deer become suspect in short order. As such, the deer of a given area will often begin to vary their travels in a bid to avoid danger wherever possible.
When thinking one step ahead, a hunter can use this onset of pressure to their advantage. By hunting areas that are largely absent of outside intrusion, one can often relocate deer which have previously fled. Additionally, it can be helpful to consider partitioning off certain portions of a farm as a “No-Go Zone” in order to provide security cover for deer that have been pressured elsewhere. This often leads to an observable increase in overall deer sightings as a result.
Hunt the Cold Fronts
During the month of October, success, or a lack thereof, often comes down to whether or not you are in the woods during a passing cold front. By the second week in October, it is not uncommon to notice the presence of new scrapes and rubs, which seem to appear after recent cold spells. Although most does will not stand for breeding during this point of season, bucks are beginning to stake their claim as the rut draws near.
If you are planning to take any vacation time during the month of October, consult your local 10-day forecast, and act accordingly. Look for daytime deer movement to spike during the first two days following a cold front.
If conditions are prime, and you have noticed sustained deer movement in recent days, do not be afraid to increase the length of your sits on stand. Deer wear no watches, and only care
about moving when necessity arises. This can be an especially deadly strategy when you are hunting between a known bedding area and preferred food source.
This is also a tactic that can pay enormous dividends during a passing cold front. Rapid changes in barometric pressure have been known to spur deer movement, no matter the time of day. As a result, hunters who have remained in their stands are often treated to a few additional sightings.
Beating the Lull
This year, avoid falling for the notion that an October lull has any bearing over potential success. Instead, adapt where necessary, stay variable in your approach, and remain hopeful with every trip to the stand. As a result, you might be rewarded with a punched tag, long before many hunters have even begun to take the season seriously.