LAST UPDATED: May 1st, 2015
The pre-rut. It’s here ladies and gentlemen. The month of October can be a tough time to hunt — especially the first half. Numerous transitions in pattern and behavior occur throughout the month which often result in what many refer to as the October Lull. I hate to break it to you, but it doesn’t exist. Numerous studies have proven buck activity increases throughout the month of October. This lack of sightings is a direct result of hunting pressure, less cover, and changing food sources.
Many hunters ineffectively hunt the pre-rut. They find a scrape and camp out over it for three weeks straight. Others hunt a rub line and get as close to the food source as they can. The rest of them find the biggest field they can find to hunt.
Now there are places that are good to hunt during the pre-rut. There are also places that are bad to hunt. The key to being successful is finding the spots that produce. Here are 7 of those.
Whitetails are edge animals; meaning they like areas where different types of habitat meet. Many hunters think of edges in terms of fields however an edge can be almost anything. It just needs to be a location where the habitat transfers from one type to another.
Whether they are field edges or simply changes in habitat or terrain whitetails love traveling along natural edges. These can be a great place to ambush a pre-rut buck.
One of my target bucks from last season provided a great example of this. A large 160-inch main frame 10-point was following his typical pre-rut pattern. He stayed in a block of timber that was half hardwoods, half cedars. This buck frequently used this dividing line where the two types of trees met as his travel route from his bedroom to his dinner table.
It’s not just him though. Most of the resident bucks on this property seem to do this exact thing. There is always a big rub line that follows this habitat edge each year, and it has proven to be an excellent spot to hunt throughout October.
Hidden Agricultural Openings
This doesn’t mean to hunt 100-acre fields. It mean what the heading says — hidden agricultural fields. The smaller the better. The further from civilization the better. The further from hunters the better. It needs to be in close proximity to a bedding area and does not need to see a lot of hunting pressure.
Hidden agricultural fields can be a great spot to tag a pre-rut buck. Photo by Josh Honeycutt
Some of the biggest bucks I’ve seen have been in hidden agricultural openings. Pressure dictates just how visible these bucks will be. If hunting pressure is minimal it’s not uncommon to catch a pre-rut buck feeding in the open.
Secluded Food Plots
Small secluded food plots are very similar to agricultural fields. However they differ in that they are strategically placed close to bedding areas which makes them hot ticket items. You can’t beat them during the pre-rut. Bucks feel secure because they don’t have to travel far to get there and this puts you in a position to kill a buck right outside his bedroom door. The best food plots are those situated between bedding cover and a major food source. Deer will often use these as staging areas before moving out into the open after dark.
This Heartland Wildlife brassica plot is strategically placed close to 2 different bedding areas. Throughout September and October it regularly sees daylight activity from bucks 3 1/2 years and older making it a pre-rut hot spot.
One of my top five bucks was shot in a ¼-acre food plot situated just off the edge of a bedding area. Planting these small “kill plots” can be a surefire way to put a buck in range before the sun goes down.
Secluded Buck Sign
A good rub line that weaves its way through heavy cover is a travel route many bucks will use during daylight. The same goes for scrapes. Rut sign in open timber and close to field edges will not see as much action during daylight hours. Rut sign way back in the thick stuff can be a great pre-rut hotspot as the bucks feel more comfortable using these areas during daylight hours.
Locating fresh buck sign that is adjacent to security cover or a bedding area is a great spot to ambush an October whitetail. Hunter seen wearing Lost Camo.
I found one of these subtle rub lines last season. My tag didn’t get spent on that buck but my trail cameras showed me the buck used it (during daylight) on three days I was not able to hunt.
The acorns are falling like rain drops this year. It’s been a bumper crop for sure; most years are not like this. A lot of the time acorns are cleaned up by the time November rolls around. I doubt that will be the case this year.
Acorns have lead to the demise of quite a few October bucks over the years. After all, they are one of the whitetail’s preferred foods when available.
Acorn “pockets” are what you find when acorns aren’t so abundant. These pockets are where the last remaining acorns are. It might be an oak that dropped late. It might be an area deer avoided when they first started dropping. Regardless, these acorn pockets can be great pre-rut stand locations.
Open Decoy Setups
Use decoys if you like to hunt open areas and it’s the only option you have. You never know. A buck might slip up and hit the food sources early. Seeing your decoy in the field might be what it takes to get him in range. It might even give him the confidence to abandon cover and enter the open sooner than he would have.
It can be tough hunting wide-open fields. Use a buck decoy when you do.
I was using a decoy when I shot my Kentucky deer last season. He didn’t come running in with guns blazing. But he did enter the field early in the afternoon. I think my decoy gave him the confidence to come on out instead of waiting at the edge until dark arrived.
This is a tricky one and I don’t always recommend it. That said, it can be a great tactic under the right circumstances.
Water holes can be great spots to try during dry times. Photo by Josh Honeycutt
If it’s been pretty dry or warm, it can pay big dividends to hunt over a watering hole. Don’t try it if you’ve seen rain lately. A buck will sip water from a puddle if it means he doesn’t have to travel to a water source.
The pre-rut is a magical time to be in a treestand. Hunt the right spots and a mature pre-rut buck is not out of reach. The big dance is right around the corner. Buckle down and focus. You’re window for capitalizing on pre-rut behavior begins right now.
It’s not hard to hunt this window. Focus your efforts in these high-odds locations. Photo by Chantal Honeycutt