Why You Need to Hunt Whitetails in October
Is October the new November?
Are you letting some of the best hunting of the season slip away as you skip October for the much-hyped November rut? You may be doing yourself a huge disservice through that simple act. Why hunt October, specifically the last two weeks over the sacred rut? There are a host of positive factors in play that make late-October hunting a far better prospect than the melee that may occur in the rut. Every hunting season, my dates to tag a Kansas giant inch closer and closer to the October ending as opposed to my traditional mid-November push. Here are some of the dynamics to consider if this pre-Halloween possibility intrigues you.
The fall rut wouldn’t be the rut without this one important chemical component: testosterone. Testosterone is found in all mammals, including you. It is associated with males, but females also produce small amounts. Although it is primarily associated with sex drive and sperm production, it also affects bone and muscle mass, plus how fat is stored in an animal’s body and red blood cell production. Obviously it can create moodiness as shown by the aggressiveness of certain bucks. High or low levels of testosterone establish the intensity of its effect on individuals.
Whitetail bucks have a surge of testosterone in the fall to compliment the breeding season when does come into estrus. Unfortunately for bucks, their testosterone peak is in the last half of October in most traditional whitetail zones, thus beating the first estrus does by nearly two weeks. This leaves them charged and ready but with unwilling dates.
They burn off this sexual aggression by setting the pecking order with their bachelor friends, sparring with summer associates, rubbing trees to relieve tension and establishing scrapes around a home territory. All of this leads to an increase in movement with added minutes during the opportunistic hours of dawn and dusk.
Testosterone is reason number one to hunt the latter half of October. Bucks are anxious, moving and becoming increasingly more visible.
LESS HUNTING PRESSURE
As you consider the possibilities of bucks running amuck, you should also be perceptive of hunting pressure. According to labor statistics, any given day there are approximately 150 million Americans taking part in the nation’s workforce. The majority of those 150 million receive two weeks of paid leave in addition to emergency and sick leave. When these workers begin to divvy up those days off between vacation, family necessities, holidays and other essential duties, there are very few days left for hunting except weekends.
There are no hard stats on how many hunters take vacation during the peak of the rut, but from years of hunting that period and counting vehicles parked off of farm roads it appears that late October may be overlooked for mid-November. You also may have taken workplace unratified polls showing that your buddies are likely taking more time off to hunt in November than October. If you’re getting this empty-field feeling like me, it means less hunting pressure for you. Whitetails may be less likely to move only under the cover of darkness, and you may not bump into as many hunters on public lands. All of these add up to higher success for you – if you’ve done your scouting.
Putting in your scouting time should reveal this next benefit to hunting late October: predictability. You’ve all heard stories of the dreaded lockdown and bucks disappearing into the hinterlands with estrus does. There’s truth to these stories, and you’ve likely experienced the worst of the rut.
Typically a buck will trail a doe for an entire day as she enters into estrus. Once estrus advances, he’ll shadow her another day as breeding takes place. Afterwards, he may stay the course for one more day or less before hitting the trail to hunt down another doe.
Breeding deer go underground and out of sight. They do this to avoid competition from other bucks. They don’t want to share, be challenged or lose their opportunity at breeding rights. On the flip side, bucks in late October rarely find a willing partner. Of course the testosterone surge keeps them looking, especially 3½- and 4½-year-olds who dominate the breeding scene.
Luckily they understand that does aren’t in estrus so instead of straying boundaries they just pace home territories, increase rubbing and plaster scrapes everywhere along their routes. They visit food sources on a set schedule to check does, maintain fat and to continue their dominance proclamation. All of this equals predictability that goes out the window when the first November does comes into heat.
Lastly, if you enjoy hunting whitetails while using some of the latest and greatest ruses, grin a bit more. Nervous, restless, aggressive and enthusiastic qualities of pre-rut bucks equal success with some of the most exciting tactics of the time.
First, mock scrapes created with the use of high-quality scents can give you a shot at a distracted buck investigating a mock olfactory flavor. I rarely hunt a trailside stand without hanging a Wildlife Research Center Magnum Scrape Dripper over a scrape, natural or mock. By adding Golden Estrus scent into the dripper that is activated by the heat of the day, I can be assured it leaves traces of a would-be doe only during shooting light.
You can distract a buck with a mock rubbing post as well. Studies prove whitetails are attracted to the most aromatic trees in the woods for rubbing so take a cedar post to your hotspot and plant it upwind of your stand to lure in a jacked-up buck. This is best done in the preseason, but you can also slip in on a windy or rainy day and get the job done quietly if needed.
Finally, buck decoys and calls can work wonders in flipping the negativity switch on a dominant buck. If your target buck hears sounds of fighting or another in his territory, and then spies a defiant male he’s likely to walk right in to shooting range. Better yet, he’ll have his full attention focused away from your stand site.
As does come into estrus it’s not uncommon at all to have bucks ignore calls, not hear them and even walk by decoys in a rush to find the next hot opportunity. On several occasions while hunting on the ground I’ve nearly been run over in late October by bucks charging to rattling. I also note a steady decline in calling effectiveness as the days slip by in November. Bucks have too much female focus to be sidelined with boys at play. October calling is simply better than during the peak rut.
Hunts that include calling always top my list of memories and more often than not the wildest calling situations played out in October. One drizzly, October evening I spied a buck rubbing saplings across a woodland glade. I grabbed his attention with three simple grunts and a minute later he was under me at 12 yards for a no-miss Mathews ending.
So if you’re thinking of asking your employer for time off during the November rut you may want to think again. October may be the new November. Try it. You’ll like it.