October 25, 2022
Countless pages have been written by so-called "expert" whitetail hunters who twist themselves into literary pretzels in an effort to talk you into staying home in October. Granted, October in the South is a great time for house painting if you’re so inclined. However, for the avid whitetail enthusiast, it’s also a good time to ground a big deer. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as the dreaded "October lull."
Yes, you read that right. The October lull is fake news—it doesn’t happen. Now, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can do a quick bit of Google work and pull up the results of several recent studies done by wildlife researchers.
According to many experts, whitetails limit their movement in October, so much so they are nearly impossible to hunt. My Exhibit A is a study by Mississippi State University’s Deer Ecology and Management Lab performed in 2016. Researchers placed radio collars on 55 mature whitetails to log data on their movements. The takeaway? There is not a slowdown in October movement. In fact, their study found bucks moved more as the month progressed.
So, what is the deal? Why have so many hunters, for so many years, counted mid-October as one of the least productive times to hunt? Well, I have some theories on that.
TRANSITION NOT LULL
Living in the farm country of southern Michigan, I spend plenty of time scanning ag fields as I travel. I’m looking, of course, for deer. There are certain times of the year when spotting them isn’t much of a challenge. They seem to be everywhere. Such is the case in August and September. Soybean fields are lush, green and overflowing with whitetails. Come October, those fields are still loaded with deer, but a slight change has started to take place. It’s a change borne of seasonal timing, both natural and man-made.
First, those green fields of soybeans are starting to yellow down. Simultaneously, acorns are starting to drop. This is a seismic shift in the whitetail world, and its impact cannot be underestimated. In any place I’ve ever hunted, if acorns are available they are the food source of choice. Beans, corn, alfalfa and any type of super-seed food plot blend be damned.
When deer feed more on acorns, they spend more time in the woods (seems logical). And when they spend more time in the woods, they are far less visible. Thus, hunters begin to report a dramatic reduction in the number of deer seen in the ag fields or food plots they are hunting. The deer are still there and they’re still moving. And yes, they’re still moving in daylight. They are, however, moving in different areas than they were previously.
Hunting pressure plays an important role in October deer movement too. This pressure is one of the most overlooked aspects of the October transition period. And this impact is already well-advanced by the time most bowhunting seasons open in October. The weeks leading up to the opening day see a steady increase in hunting-related intrusions as cameras are checked, stands are hung or fine-tuned and food plots are tidied up. It’s happening every time you go to the woods and it’s happening every time your neighbors go to the woods. Of course, once the season opens those intrusions likely increase in frequency and duration.
All of this adds up to a change in deer behavior. Couple that with a dramatic shift in feeding patterns and you have the perfect storm for a completely misunderstood period of time in deer hunting.
DEALING WITH IT
So, how do you make the most of the lull-that-isn’t? It’s pretty simple, really. Go where the deer go. Acorns are a key piece of the mid-October puzzle, as mentioned. If you live or hunt anywhere in the Midwest, odds are very high that you’re hunting an area with oaks that produce acorns. Find those trees and you'll find the deer.
Of course, finding where the deer have moved to usually isn’t just about the food—it’s also about the hunting pressure. This is especially true in areas that see heavy hunting pressure. You must seek out the areas that deer, particularly mature bucks, feel safe using, and those areas can and will evolve as October rolls along. Pair those safe areas with newly adopted food sources and you’ll be well on your way to solving the mid-October mystery.
I rely heavily on cellular trail cameras. This is mostly because they save me time. I don’t have to make trips to physically check my cameras, I can put them in place and allow them to deliver images to me. I also use cell cameras because many of the places I hunt are several hours away from home. Checking those cameras on a routine basis simply isn’t practical. And, of course, I’m able to reduce hunting pressure by reducing the number of visits required to check the cameras.
Those cameras play a key role in solving the mid-October riddle for me. Finding those areas that are producing acorns and drawing deer is made much easier with cell cams. They’ll tell me what areas deer are (and aren’t) using. I also use those cameras to monitor hunter activity on the public areas I’m interested in. I won’t spend much time trying to work around other hunters. Experience has shown me that it rarely pays dividends. The cameras allow me to waste less time in areas that are unlikely to produce.
With camera intel in hand, I can start to piece together the October puzzle. I know deer are transitioning to different food sources and that hunting pressure will move them into certain areas near those food sources. And, most importantly, I know those deer are still active and moving. If I’m not seeing them, then I know I need to keep adjusting and keep searching.