October 20, 2016
Like a heavyweight boxer charging into the middle of the ring when the opening bell sounds, there is an understandable rush into the deer woods when the law comes off of the annual autumn bowhunting campaigns around the country.
After all, it's been the better part of 10 months since most archers have climbed into a treestand with an unused deer tag sitting in their back pocket.
And every autumn, social media lights up in those first few days of the season with photos of gloriously big bucks that some lucky hunter has knocked down. Be it a post on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Twitter, the onrush of big buck images seems to literally send Deer Nation into a big antlered frenzy.
David Blanton, longtime member of Team Realtree and the producer and co-star of the Realtree Outdoors television show on Outdoor Channel, fully understands that, having tagged plenty of early-season big whitetails himself over the years, monster bucks that help stir up the big deer social media storm.
In fact, Blanton says there isn't a much better time than the season's first days for tagging a big deer. He should know, having tagged plenty of monsters at such early season hotspots as northeastern Wyoming, eastern Montana and southern Kansas to name a few.
"October can be dynamite early on," said Blanton. "Deer can be very predictable with (early season) food sources."
Likewise, Blanton is really high on the big buck potential of the last few days of October as Halloween approaches.
"That last week of October can get really good (too)," said the Georgia resident. "Really good, that is, if you don't have warmer than normal temperatures. When you do, warmer than normal weather is about the toughest thing I know of to combat."
Toughest thing to combat, that is, unless a hunter is talking about the middle of October, the warm, lazy and hazy days of meteorology's so-called Indian Summer season when the weather is good, food is readily available and the Hunter's Moon is blazing bright and full in the nighttime sky.
Add in the fact that crops in many areas of the Midwest are being harvested and the situation is compounded as social media big buck reports begin to seriously dwindle away.
No wonder deer hunters tend to ruefully call this time of the year the dreaded October lull.
What's one way to deal with the slow hunting conditions often found during the mid-season of most early bowhunting campaigns? By being patient and not becoming overly aggressive during the so-called October lull. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
"There's definitely a big lull in the middle of October (most years)," said Blanton.
"That lull, you can't combat that," he added. "Every year, the deer seem to go underground at this time of the year.
"And when they do, deer hunters seem to panic and become more aggressive in their hunting tactics. They'll push tighter into a bedding area, push deer around and end up spooking deer."
And the problem with that is a hunter, if they aren't careful enough, can actually blow their season's ultimate potential to smithereens.
"You've got to understand that this is the lull," said Blanton. "The bucks are waiting for the pre-rut to kick in (in a couple of weeks) and then they'll start checking things (out), rubbing more trees, laying down scent to establish their territory, etc."
What is the key for frustrated hunters at this time of the year? Like a boxer in the middle of a 15-round title fight, patience says Blanton, plenty of patience.
"Don't panic during the lull," he indicated. "Don't get discouraged and most of all, keep hunting smart."
Ralph Cianciarulo, Blanton's Team Realtree and Outdoor Channel counterpart, agrees.
"Earlier in October is important for us as our season (in Illinois) opens up on the first and we can still get the regular deer movement (going on) that we've been seeing on our game cameras for several weeks," said Ralph, who along with his wife Vicki, co-hosts Archer's Choice and The Choice television programs.
"But after the first couple of weekends, with everyone out hunting, the buck movement tends to slow down in the middle of the month and we do the same."
Ralph's better half agrees, noting like Blanton does, that patience is the name of the game during the October lull.
"We try to not pressure our (hunting) areas because we know the best time is yet to come," said Vicki. "So many hunters just keep on hunting during the lull and don't realize that they are pushing the deer movement back to where it is all nocturnal."
Deer going nocturnal is bad enough, but hunters also run the risk of forcing a good buck out of his core range and onto surrounding ground that either can't be hunted or is actually being hunted by someone else.
Mid-October isn't the time to call aggressively. But as October ends and November begins, the time to empty a deer hunter's bag of tricks is approaching. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
The best way to combat this possibility in Blanton's mind is to not force the issue in the middle of October when the full blown big antlered glories of late October and early November are on their way.
"I tend to rely on knowledge I've picked up over the years from some of the (people) we know in the Midwest, people who are just incredible hunters like Don (and Kandi) Kisky of Whitetail Freaks," said Blanton.
"To quote Don Kisky, if I may, he says that if he had to pick one day that he really starts to get serious about hunting whitetail bucks, it will be October 28."
Why is that?
"You've got to understand, that from the time a buck loses his velvet in early to mid September, every day from that point on, his testosterone levels are increasing each day," said Blanton. "It builds and builds and builds as the rut approaches."
And what happens at the end of that process?
"By October 28, according to Don, that buck is wanting to breed, he is increasingly aggressive and he can't wait for that first doe to come into heat, even though it is still a couple of weeks away in many places," said Blanton.
"So that (particular) buck gets frustrated, he starts scraping more and more, he is fighting other bucks and he is beginning to rut," said the co-host of Realtree Outdoors.
So what does that mean for a bowhunter? That it's time to begin digging into the bag of hunting tricks that we've left unused all fall.
"This is when people like Don – and guys like me who pay attention to what they say – start to get aggressive with their hunting tactics," said Blanton. "It's time to start calling because the pre-rut is actually the most effective time to call in a whitetail buck.
"Now is the time to start rattling, to start grunting or even throwing out a snort-wheeze, even though you normally do that later on (during the rut) when a big buck is within eyesight across a field."
While daytime buck movement is often sparse during the middle of October, that changes as the month reaches its conclusion.
"By the end of October, bucks are cruising more, though it's still early and late," said Blanton. "There's still not a lot of midday activity like there will be in the middle of November, but in my opinion, the end of October during the pre-rut, it's one of the top times to kill a mature buck."
He then emphasizes again the reason why it is the most effective time for a bowhunter – or a muzzleloader hunter – to lure in a buck sitting on edge thanks to his rising testosterone level.
"Once the does go into estrous and lock down in November, you're not going to typically call that buck in," said Blanton. "But at the end of October, the only game in town for that deer is to fight with other bucks.
"And that's when I like to take advantage of that with calling."
Meaning the best way for a frustrated bowhunter to deal with the October lull is to simply bide their time and be patient.
Because deer season’s best time to deliver a big buck knockout blow is literally just around the corner.
With a set of huge headbones as the antlered payoff, something far more worthy of display than some sort of manufactured prizefighting belt.