If you’re a bowhunter looking to tag a bruiser white-tailed buck, the dreaded dog days of mid-October are upon us. Gone are the heady days of the early season in late summer and early fall when a big antlered buck, some still wearing fuzzy velvet headbones in a few places, visited a food plot, an agricultural field or a natural food source with clockwork regularity.
As for the topsy-turvy days of the whitetail rut, those glorious November days with a full bore breeding frenzy are still a few weeks away in most of deer country. Heck, even the encouraging days of the late October pre-rut are still a week or two away for most us.
Meaning that what’s left at the moment for many bowhunters is the annual time of hit-and-miss whitetail sightings that most of us grow accustomed to at this time of the year. It’s a time of the year when big deer that were showing up on camera or in front of our stands with some regularity seem to go nocturnal at best or all but disappear from the face of the planet, at worst.
To maintain your hunter’s sanity and find a way to tag a buck these days follow these five tips designed to get you in – and keep you in – the big buck game during the so-called October lull.
First, hunt the local chow hall during the evening hours. The last two bucks I’ve killed while bowhunting both came into range as the last few moments of shooting light faded from the October sky. On both occasions, the bucks were working their way towards a food source when my antlered opportunity presented itself with a close range shot.
I’m not alone in this endeavor either since my two longtime bowhunting pals, Brian Strickland, a Colorado bow-bender and the back page columnist for Bowhunt America magazine, and Casey Ingold, a longtime stick-and-string enthusiast from Kansas, have both used this tactic to tag their own October bucks in the Great Plains and the Midwest.
While morning sits, especially near bedding areas, can be a risky proposition right now, putting in some time on an evening stand near a preferred food source can help turn the dreaded October lull into an exciting speed-dial phone conversation with your taxidermist.
Second, use the terrain of your hunting property to your advantage at this time of the year. Specifically, position a stand in a narrow bottleneck corridor that helps to funnel deer traffic between a preferred food source and a difficult to hunt bedding area on your hunting property.
My friend Ronnie “Cornbread” Cannon, a longtime official measurer for the Pope & Young Club and operator of Hole-N-The-Hide Outfitters archery shop in Oxford, Miss., has used this tactic to tag a number of bruiser bucks from hunting spots dotting the map from northern Mississippi all the way north to Pike County, Ill.
“Sleep, sex and sustenance, those are the three things that drive a deer’s life,” said Cannon. “If you can put a stand somewhere in between where he does a couple of those things, then you can be in business.” Even during the month of October.
Third, be patient enough to wait for big changes to happen on the local weather map, the kind that can shake a slumbering whitetail out of his mid-October doldrums and get him up and on his feet.
“Wait for a major cold front to come through,” said Mark Drury, longtime Outdoor Channel personality and co-host of several shows on the network including the new show Thirteen. “Otherwise, don’t intrude on your (best) stands.”
Drury knows full well what he is talking about, using his PSE compound bow to arrow a bruiser trophy buck in Texas a few weeks ago. The Columbus Day whitetail, which sported a 152-inch rack, was on the move as a huge front charged through the Lone Star State with heavy rain, severe weather and strong winds changing to a northerly direction.
Mark Drury loves the month of BUCKTOBER, especially when he can get the drop on a good Midwestern buck like the one shown above. Drury, who has two recent kills because of the following tip, says to hunt the strong weather fronts that roll through during the month of October. (Photo courtesy of Drury Outdoors)
Just a few days earlier, Drury used the same tactic in the state of Iowa, knocking over a 6 ½-year-old whitetail with a 152-inch rack. The grizzled mature buck was on his feet in the Hawkeye State after one of the season’s strongest fronts had blown through and was ushering in chilly air across the Midwestern landscape.
“I love BUCKTOBER!” texted Drury as I inquired about his success.
Fourth, stealthily use your trail cameras to dictate where your best sits are going to be right now.
Case in point was Terry Drury, brother of Mark and another longtime Outdoor Channel personality and show co-host.
“I was fortunate enough to connect with an awesome 7 ½-year-old eight-point buck a couple of days ago that I had been chasing for a long time in Missouri,” indicated Terry.
“I used two tactics during this phase of the fall to get this buck. First, like Mark, I was able to make my strike (thanks to) a weather front. And second, I moved my Reconyx camera to a scrape that he was working.”
Using the intelligence gathered from that trail camera, Terry was able to quickly put himself into position to make a lethal bow shot with his PSE Dream Season EVO compound.
The result was plenty of backstrap, an increasing taxidermy bill and the tagging of a great Midwestern buck that has been on the Drury Outdoors hit list for quite a while.
Fifth and finally, since the best hunting of the fall is still at least a couple of weeks away, don’t go all in and cash in all of your deer hunting chips just yet.
“My best advice is to get all of your projects done now and work overtime so that you can spend more time in the woods next month,” laughed Major League Fishing pro Brent Chapman.
“That’s my theory, anyway. I know that people do kill big deer in October, but I try to play the odds and get things done now so that I can be in the woods next month when things are really smoking.”
Major League Fishing angler Brent Chapman shows off one of several monster Kansas whitetails he has harvested over the years. (Photo courtesy of Brent Chapman)
Chapman, who has quite the growing trophy buck collection, said that nearly all of the big whitetails he has killed near his Kansas home have been tagged during the month of November.
“You are playing with fire where I hunt if you hunt heavily in October,” he said. “You can hunt them earlier in the month, but once the acorns start dropping, they tend to get scattered out here and they are harder to pattern.
“And if you happen to bump one now, then you run the risk of getting him educated in October. And I don’t have to tell anybody that you don’t get many too many chances with a mature trophy buck.”
This isn’t to say that Chapman totally ignores the month because he doesn’t.
“I usually target the time around October 25th as the start to my buck hunting season,” said the former B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. “Once the last few days of October arrive and the pre-rut kicks into gear where I live and hunt, then I’ll be slipping out into the woods as the main show approaches.”
While the rut’s main show is certainly during the month of November for most hunters, that’s not to say that October’s warm-up act is something that should totally be ignored by bowhunters in deer country because by carefully employing the tactics listed above, it is possible to slip in and get the job done long before the curtain comes up next month. All as the month of Bucktober continues to roll right along all across Deer Camp nation.