Watch Lon E. Lauber as he defies the October lull to take a truly respectable whitetail under typically tough conditions.
It's the middle of October, but you'd swear it's April because you feel like a fool. That big buck you've been watching on camera all summer, the one you've christened with a special name like Blades or Butch or High Rise, has dropped out of sight.
Deer movement is low, and the excitement of opening day has fizzled as you watch that same grey squirrel sift through the leaves at the bottom of your stand for the umpteenth time. Maybe Blades got hit by a car, or maybe he's already fallen to another hunter. Or maybe you're just cursed.
Never fear. You're deer is probably still there, and although his movements have changed that doesn't mean you should give up. Instead, change your tactics. Any lucky soul can have a big buck amble by during the rut, but the October lull requires a special skill set to succeed.
In fact, the October lull may be the best time to kill a whitetail if you know where to find them and what to look for. Here's a look at six tips that will help you find your deer after you thought he'd disappeared.
Prepare for Change
Trail cameras offer great intel, but they can also force you into hunting patterns that aren't going to result in success. At the end of September the life of a whitetail buck begins to shift — bachelor groups are breaking up as testosterone levels rise, food sources have changed with the seasons, and deer are move into fall patterns.
Fundamentally, this is the reason we recognize an "October lull" in the first place. From the end of summer until the pre-rut begins in earnest, deer are in a totally different pattern than you'll see in either September or November.
To remedy this, don't be a slave to the information you've gathered during summer. Instead, use that info to map out the buck's home turf with the understanding that things will change.
Some hunters are so dedicated to hunting a deer in the same place he and his buddies were hanging out in September that they simply can't wrap their mind around the fact that he is no longer there.
Know Your Autumn Food Sources
Everyone where I hunt can tell you where the deer will be in July when soybeans, corn, and alfalfa fields are readily available. But what happens when those fields are empty?
Deer switch food sources with the seasons, so spend your time in summer preparing for a fall hunt. During the October lull, identify paw paws, oaks, greenbrier, and poison ivy patches as these will provide the nourishment bucks need at that time of year.
Bucks are in the process of building fat reserves for the rut and the upcoming winter, and fall is a critical time for foraging.
Understanding the key food sources is critical to placing your October deer stand, and focus your attention on areas that offer good bedding close by. Or, if you don't want to rely on natural food sources€¦
Plant October-Specific Plots
If you manage your whitetail habitat don't overlook fall food sources during the October lull. Sure, it's important to plant blends that will keep the deer close by in summer and will provide bucks with ample forage for maximum antler growth, but not all food plots are created equal.
Two key plants to include in your October plot are oats and brassicas — the oats should be planted so that they begin to provide forage in the middle of October, and brassicas are a great all-around late-season food source for whitetails, so they should always be included in your management plan.
It's also critical to plant October plots in the right area so that bucks feel comfortable coming to feed. Focus on planting near sources of cover, and your plot doesn't have to be huge. A few strips along cover will prompt a buck to get out of bed for a bite to eat, and that's when you'll be ready.
Hunt the Thermals
October bucks haven't abandoned their defenses in search of does quite yet, but by the time the pre-rut is in its earliest stages bucks are already beginning to establish territories. The first stage of this process involves marking areas with scent and monitoring other bucks, so bruiser whitetails will be checking wind currents.
As the temperature cools in the evening air begins to flow downhill, and bucks who are just up from an afternoon nap are taking advantage of the molecular data that is flowing down into river bottoms and draws. At last light, you're likely to see a buck creeping along these bottoms with his nose in the air, checking for signs of other deer and predators.
In response, you need to intercept the deer along these travel corridors, which are usually the lowest drainages near a bedding areas. Be sure to get into the woods well before last light, get high in your stand, and reduce your own scent as much as possible.
Don't Be Afraid to Call
Will Primos is a student of deer vocalizations, and he says that the notion that whitetails won't respond to a call before the rut is a myth. Much of the time Primos is doing what he dubs "calling blind" — vocalizing to a deer that he has not seen but suspects is there.
In the early season, Primos suggests a doe bleat can. The idea of the bleat is simply to wake the buck up, to arouse his curiosity and prompt him to begin moving out of cover. Sometimes, he'll also use a wheeze call, which is louder and has a different pitch that is easier for some bucks to hear.
The bottom line, Primos says, is not to be afraid to call. You're trying to prompt that buck to come and take a look, and it might just be the trick that brings him into range.
This is the hardest tactic of all during the october lull, especially when you haven't seen deer for some time. But if you know you're in a buck's home range, you know where the food sources are located, and you are hunting the wind properly you've done what you can.
This is the hardest tactic of all, especially when you haven't seen deer for some time. But if you know you're in a buck's home range, you know where the food sources are located, and you are hunting the wind properly you've done what you can.
Odds are he's there, closer than you think, and it may just be a matter of time before he crosses your path. If there aren't any deer around, use that time to scout from the air.
Get to know every square inch of your hunting area, and hang in there. Sooner or later ol' Blades will make an appearance.