Opening day of deer season is one of the most anticipated times of the year for hunters, as well as one of the most successful. During the early season, deer are acting normally because hunters haven't yet pressured them into changing their patterns.
Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for deer to become wary of hunters and daylight. This lull is probably the most talked about time of deer season, as it might be the hardest as well. Deer observations diminish and hunters go from seeing an abundance of deer to seeing none. Discouragement comes quickly when valuable time is spent in the field and there are no results.
Most hunters have at least heard of the term deer lull, which starts between October and November, depending on location. Farther north the lull will be earlier and end sooner. In the South, hunters can find the lull extending to the end of November. The lull can also vary due to weather patterns and whether autumn is early or late.
Negativity is usually associated with the lull, but it can actually be a good time to bag a trophy or fill the freezer.
"You don't always know what you're going to get in October or November," said Jimmy Riley, cast member of Mossy Oak's "Deer T.H.U.G.S." TV show. "Down here in the South, the quality of the hunt is determined by the weather patterns and sometimes it is hot and muggy during those months. That doesn't mean you don't have a chance of killing a big deer during the lull time."
Although deer sightings decline from early season, deer haven't disappeared — they have transitioned. Bucks and does are in a fall feeding pattern and are still out there every day bedding, feeding, watering and traveling between. They're simply doing it in different places than early season.
There's a combination of things that are partly responsible for the deer lull. Understanding what's taking place and recognizing what's happening on hunting property enables hunters to change tactics and adjust to what the deer are doing.
Hunting puts pressure on deer, and deer will do anything to avoid contact with humans. It is commonly accepted that deer behavior and sightings change after hunting season opens when hunters flock to the woods, and a recent study, conducted by the Mississippi State Deer Lab (MSUDeerLab.com) confirms this to be true.
"The results of the study show that deer recognize pressure after three days of hunting and alter movement behaviors to minimize their risk of predation from hunters," said Professor Steve Demarais.
Of course, it is not just deer hunters that educate deer. With fall comes rabbit, squirrel, dove and other seasons. Although the pressure on deer is unintentional, it has similar impacts, just the same as checking cameras, scouting locations and setting up stands. Any human scent left in hunting grounds can alter deer patterns.
FOOD SOURCES VARY
A major contributor to the deer lull is changes in food sources, as deer are in the fall pattern of browsing. Sure, hunters can find deer frequenting row crops and food plots, but most of the activity is well after dark.
Deer are selective browsers and will keep moving and feeding on whatever has the most nutrition. During the lull, deer are feeding on foods with more carbohydrates, getting ready for the energy demands of the coming rut.
Deer prefer acorns, particularly those from white oaks, to most other hard mast. Chestnuts are also good, but can be hard to find. Other hard mast crops to look for are hickory, pecan, beech and walnuts.
Soft mast is also a food source deer will go after during the lull period, such as persimmon, crabapple, honey locust, and domestic pear or apple. Although acorns are a staple at this time of year, soft mast is like candy and deer will devour it.
"We hunt those sweet sources of food — persimmons and honey locust beans," said Riley. "It's happened many times at Giles Island during the lull. A hunter only sees 10 deer on a three-day hunt, but one of them was a 150-inch hooking bull that came in to eat a persimmon and got killed."
BEDDING AREAS CHANGE
Bumping deer causes the animals to go to other bedding areas, as deer will not bed in areas where they have been spooked. Additionally, as the food sources change, so will the bedding areas. Deer are going to bed as close as possible to food sources to use as little energy as possible to store up fat for the rut. And food sources can change several times during the lull.
During the deer lull, bucks and does realize that the rut is not far away. Bachelor groups have busted up and mature bucks are now loners, working rub lines and laying down scrapes for the rut. Mature does are starting to leave yearlings, though hunters may find does in groups with younger bucks hanging out with them. Mature bucks will start approaching groups of feeding does from downwind.
STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS
Deer change patterns throughout the lull period. Hunters have to be willing to change as well. If a stand that was hot suddenly goes cold, it's time to move. Follow the changing food sources to be on the deer.
It's the best time of the year to hunt hard mast. Try to find fresh falling acorns with deer sign and hang stands to intercept deer as they approach. Keep predominant wind directions in mind and don't hunt directly on top of fresh sign. Deer linger when feeding, which increases chances of being seen or smelled.
If scouting or moving stands is required for a hunt, plan trips right before or during a rain to help keep any scent that could be left behind to a minimum. Also, walk, rather than driving trucks or ATVs into hunting areas, and never get too close to deer bedding areas.
Also, October and November has a number of fronts rolling through, so hunters should pick and choose hunting days if possible.
"Stay back and wait for a good weather pattern," said Riley. "If you get a cold snap in October or November, you're going to have a good hunt. You'll start to see more deer."
Most hunters do not look forward to the deer lull period. Pressure, changes in food sources and bedding areas, weather and the approaching rut all work together in a way that alters deer behavior. Understanding this will enable hunters to adjust tactics and find the hotspots on hunting property. Whether it's a trophy buck or does you're after, success can definitely be had during the lull. As a matter of fact, it just may become your favorite time to hunt white-tailed deer. \
HUNTING IN THE RAIN
Most hunters don't like hunting during the rain, but it can be a productive time to go. However, you have to be prepared and dress for the occasion or it will be unpleasant. Plan to hunt inside shooting houses or blinds — tree umbrellas work well for tree stands.
The vegetation and leaves on the ground will be wet, so your walk in will be silent. Also, the rain will wash away any scent you leave behind entering hunting territory. What you'll discover is that the deer, for the most part, will lock down during the rain. There will be minimal movement, especially if the rain is heavy.
But once the rain breaks, deer will be on the move — especially if skies clear. It's one of the best times to be in the field. If you're sitting at camp and wait until the rain stops before you go hunting, you're too late. You'll bump deer on the way in. You've got to be there and wait it out. Plan your hunt with the current weather forecast, and plan to be in the stand when the rain is predicted to end. A strong cold front after a rain can yield great results.