The month of October seems to be the forgotten month. Just stop by an archery shop, flip through the pages of your favorite whitetail magazine, or even browse the thread topics on any message boards and you will discover this fact. For the most part, bowhunters want to tell stories and talk about tactics specific to the rut crazed month of November. It seems that in the mind of many, October is not only the prelude to the rut, it is basically just a time to fill doe tags; with little to no emphasis placed on arrowing big bucks.
The author’s track record definately speaks for itself. Just days ago, he took this fine “October” buck.
Well, I am here to tell you that to be successful at consistently attaching your buck tag to a nice set of whitetail antlers, maximizing your time afield is a must. Furthermore, the month of October offers some schematic advantages that November doesn’t. The following is my personal break down of those advantages as well as some tactics I have found to be very effective when trying to tag an “October” buck.
Here today and gone tomorrow; that sounds all too familiar when it comes to November buck sightings. However, that’s not so in October. The greatest advantage that bowhunting in October holds over November is that you know that summer bedding and feeding patterns are still the same. Bucks are typically using the same tracts of land you scouted them on in the summer. Apart from the obvious advantages, this sort of info will also give you more confidence. Confidence is a huge part of deer hunting. For example, it is a lot easier to get up extra early and sit a little longer when you know you have a target animal(s) regularly using the land you are hunting; rather than wondering if they are still around or a mile away chasing a hot doe.
Although the RUT gets the lions share of attention, bucks are usally very unpredictable and their travel range is typically widespread during this timeframe.
These early October bucks may have does on their mind to some degree, however they are not totally blinded by the urge to breed….yet. And while they may be spending the vast majority of their time bedded, once they rise from their beds much of their time is spent feeding, socializing, rubbing and scraping. Some effort is also spent establishing a pecking order among other bucks in preparation for the impending rut; but the vast majority of that behavior is yet to come.
The author with additional “October” trophies.
So what does all of this mean? It means that a buck’s predictability is at an all-time high…. as far as hunting season is concerned, during the month of October! And, since we already know what early season bucks are doing (bedding, feeding, watering, scraping and rubbing) we can formulate a game plan to execute and capitalize on some of those behaviors, more specifically, the feeding and scraping behaivor.
Utilizing those Advantages
There is no other food source that I know of that has the drawing power of acorns during the early season. Hungry bucks will spend a good deal of effort in October trying to pack on as much weight as possible in order to survive the upcoming rut as well as the harsh winter. Acorns are high in calories and fat as well as offer good protein content. It is the perfect food source at the perfect time of year.
As the deer spend their time during day light hours bedded, oaks drop their bounty to the forest floor; accumulating a large cache of acorns. One advantage to hunting in an oak flat or between a bedding area and a stand of oaks is that acorns are served on a first come basis. This is very much unlike the crop fields or browse areas whose abundance is on display at all times. Essentially, this creates “competition” for the available acorns within the herd and deer know that arriving to the oak trees early in the evenings offers them the easiest pickings. This creates a scenario that can greatly favor the savvy bowhunter. If you know where your target buck(s) are bedding and conduct your hunt properly to account for variables such as wind direction and entry and exit routes, you could be in for an October hunt to remember.
Despite the popularity of food plots, deer can’t resist fresh acorns. Usually, hunting this early-season food source can pay off in a big way. The author is shown here with a buck taken while hunting nearby acorns.
Once a buck has tended to his nutritional needs, scrapes become the second most important subject on his mind. Consequently, I have found scrape hunting to be the most productive October strategy. Sure it is cool to see a big buck come into an oak tree setup, but it is nothing compared to seeing him scent check a scrape from a distance; slowly approach, then hit the licking branch and clear the scrape. Those are images that will be burnt into your memory bank for years to come.
The Right Scrape
Not all scrapes are created equal. In fact, some scrapes will lower your odds of seeing a buck working them during daylight hours. For example, in most areas that receive a great deal of hunting pressure, it is probably best to abandon any thoughts of hunting field edge scrapes. Big bucks do not get old by making poor choices like showing up on field edges during daylight hours to make a scrape. Those types of scrapes are usually constructed, and refreshened, under the cover of darkness. Bucks that do come into such a setup in daylight either live in low pressure areas or led a very short life.
Experience has taught me that genuine whitetail scrapes are the best and most active scrapes to hunt in early October. Also, I do not add any foreign odors to scrapes at this time: this includes bottled deer scents or man-made synthetic scents. I do not believe these early season scrapes are used for breeding purposes. Instead, I have concluded that they are used as a social calling card or are “territorial” in nature.
When considering what type of scrape to hunt over, it is hard to beat the real thing. However, timing has a lot to do with scrape activity and which ones offer the best chance of arrowing a buck.
These social scrapes, otherwise known as community scrapes, are an excellent place to setup, as many bucks will be visiting them. Often, you can find multiple bucks made up of different age classes at these social scrapes at the same time. This is much like what you might find at the water cooler of an office. If you have a scrape of this nature, without a doubt it is the place to be during the early season.
Another reason I avoid adding anything to these early-season scrapes is due to the fact that most bucks usually just work over the licking branch then move on. Occasionally, they will paw at the scrape but not very often. Also, I rarely notice bucks actually urinating in these scrapes in early October. However, I am not implying that mock scrapes will not work in the early season, but if I am going to spend my time hunting them then I prefer the real thing.
Mid to late October is a different story when it comes to scrape hunting. As October starts coming to an end, the urge to breed begins to take its hold on bucks. This causes them to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Not only have I had success hunting over genuine scrapes doctored with doe urine at this time, but I’ve also achieved great results from hunting over mock scrapes that I made with estrus doe urine. The estrus doe urine is often more than a buck can resist and causes him to commit to your setup. After that, the rest is up to you to make good on the opportunity.
Mock scrapes, when used at the right time, can be the “fatal attraction” that brings in that trophy buck for the shot.
If you do your job and get close to a bucks bedding area without being smelled, heard or seen, then these estrus scrape tactics, coupled with one well-placed arrow, can lead to an October big buck photo shoot you will never forget. Best of luck!