October 06, 2015
By Bill Winke
I don't care what anyone says; there is an October lull, a time when the bucks seem to go underground. We see it every year on our trail-camera photos. It exists.
I have shot a few mature bucks in the October lull, but to be honest, I have shot far fewer in October than I have in November. My friends and Midwest Whitetail pro staff members also struggle to connect with mature bucks in October. So, it's not just me.
Watching trail-camera photos of the bucks I hunt, there is definitely a drop in daylight activity once the calendar flips over to October. This can't be caused by hunting pressure, because I'm the only one hunting these deer and they still do it. It has to be something to do with their physiology. In early September, they would be very killable — even up to mid-September. But once we get into late September and October, things often change dramatically.
That is where we find ourselves as we head into the month of October; we know the deck is stacked against us, and the way I see it, there are five things to consider.
Hunt and Hope
First, we can just go hunt the October lull and hope we don't wreck our area. We can hunt as often as possible, in the best spots we know of, and hope to get lucky. It can happen. Some people do kill nice bucks in October, after all. Why not us? In our enthusiasm to the get the season going, we make a big mistake.
The most likely outcome of this path is that well alert the deer we are hunting. The more we hunt, the more the deer realize we are sneaking around (they are very good at figuring this out) and the less likely they are to move in daylight, or possibly even to stay in that area. Though tempting, this is not a good path.
Skip the October Lull
Second, we can skip the October lull altogether, preferring instead to wait until November while we save our hunting area from the impact of any human activity. This approach keeps the deer from being educated until the bucks are more likely to be on the move.
As long as they are moving naturally, there is a decent chance that they will slip up and move in daylight when we are there. So, the primary goal is to keep them moving naturally. What better way to do that than not hunting them at all?
Surprisingly, this is not a terrible strategy. I used to hunt this way every season. I would pursue other game in October and focus on getting my work done as I kept all my best whitetail spots fresh for the rut.
However, skipping the October lull is not a good option for most people. Not everyone has the option of hunting other game in other areas. We really love to bowhunt and we have been waiting all year to get back out. It's a beautiful time to be in the woods. Though it works, I don't like skipping the October lull.
Hunt Your Worst October Lull Spots
Here is another strategy I have used in the past. I only hunted my poorer spots. That was back in the day when I was glad to shoot any decent buck and didn't really have any targets in mind when the season opened. So, without really knowing what was there, I just hunted the areas where the deer numbers were lowest. There could have been a giant living there that I spooked the first day — I never had any idea.
It's not a bad path, but it's also not the most efficient way to shoot a mature buck in the October lull. If you're really serious about shooting a nice buck, you can't hunt blindly. You can't assume that just because a certain area has fewer deer that it can't also have a good buck.
As my goals and strategies have changed, and I've started to hunt specific bucks much more, this doesn't make any sense at all. I might have a handful of bucks frommy trail camera scouting or from summer glassing or even from past year's hunting that I really want to shoot. I don't want to fill my tag with any other bucks. So, it doesn't make any sense to hunt somewhere else where those bucks aren't living.
The real game changer has been the growth in affordable trail cameras. Now we can eliminate areas before the season even starts and focus our time in areas where a target buck lives.
Again, this option might work very well for you if you don't have specific bucks you are hunting. If you are just hunting to shoot a buck, this is probably the best path.
For example, maybe you hunt public land during the October lull and then save your small pieces of private land for the rut. As long as you aren't picky, that will work great. But there might be an even better way.
Pick Your October Lull Spots
I'm sure you guessed that I like this option the best, and it's the one I am going to write about in the rest of this article. There are a few opportunities in the October lull when the bucks will move in daylight. These times aren't as numerous as they will be a month later, but they do exist and we need to know when they occur so we can be there.
I'm going to break down the month of October based on what I have seen on trail cameras — and from sitting in treestands — and give you my best advice on how to hunt it most effectively.
Bucks are individuals: Not all bucks act the same in October. I have run trail cameras on all parts of our farm now for the past seven seasons and it is interesting to find that some bucks move in daylight in the October lull and others don't. It is impossible to anticipate ahead of time which ones will exhibit which behavior.
They are individuals. However, interestingly, this behavior can change from one season to the next. One year a buck can be reclusive, only moving at night, and the next season he can be a daylight mover all through the season.
I believe it has to do with age. Believe it or not, bucks seem to become more active in daylight as they age. Middle-aged bucks seem to be the hardest to kill, but once they get past that stage they tend become easier to kill. I have had bucks that went from being ghosts one season to being the first ones to come out in the fields the next season during the October lull.
My point here is that you can't assume anything and you can't just make a blanket statement that all bucks are affected by the October lull equally. While most of them will tend to be primarily nocturnal through much of October, not all will be.
The goal is to find those bucks that are still moving in daylight and target them immediately. There is only way I have found to do this effectively and that is with trail cameras. I move mine around a lot in the October lull until I find a nice buck moving in daylight. As soon as I find that, I wait until the wind is right and then hunt him.
There is only one reason to be patient once you find a buck on a daylight pattern, and that is if the buck isn't consistent. If he is only showing up in daylight occasionally, but most photos are at night, there is still a good bit of risk in hunting this buck because he may figure out you are after him before he shows in daylight. I will come back to how I hunt these bucks, but first let's focus on the easy ones.
A few bucks will be moving consistently in daylight. When you see this, go after them right away — as soon as the wind is right. There is no reason to wait any longer. Every season, it seems that I have at least one buck like this in my hunting area. The pattern may not last for more than a week, but these bucks do exist and I have killed a few of them.
October lull cold fronts: These cold fronts are the real paydays in October. The best ones are the ones that come through the last week of October. They are like switches that turn on the buck movement.
You can be really aggressive around these cold fronts during the October lull. Plan to hunt any buck you have been watching on trail cameras, whether he is moving in daylight or not. The first time he likely will break out of his nocturnal pattern is the day the cold front is going through or the day after. If you aren't hunting then, you are likely to come back and check your trail camera and see that he was out checking scrapes or feeding an hour before dark.
The stand you hunt doesn't have to be anything sophisticated. The buck likely will keep doing in daylight what he was doing in the dark before the cold front came through. If you had a rough idea where the buck was moving, where he was bedding and where he was feeding, you can just hunt anywhere along his travel route. You can even guess at this if you aren't sure. Just stay away from his suspected bedding area until the October lull is over.
Risk vs. Reward
Here is the short summary of this article. Bowhunting is all about playing the balance between risk and reward. Every time you hunt an area, you risk educating the deer that live there. You don't want to take risks when the potential reward (seeing the buck in daylight) is low.
You should always be looking for times when the potential reward is great enough (when the odds are at least sort of on your side) to make it worth the risk of educating a mature buck by going after him. The reward is almost always high enough during the best days of the rut (more about the best days in next month's issue), but in the October lull you have to be more careful.
There are only three times when it makes sense to be aggressive this month. The first is when you are hunting an area you don't plan to hunt later in the season and don't really care what you shoot. The risk doesn't matter then.
The second time is when you have a buck on a consistent daylight pattern. Get after him as soon as it makes sense. This is a gift for the October lull; don't waste it.
The final time is when there is a cold front coming through. Hunt the day the front comes through and at least the next day, possibly even longer if it stays cold.
If you work hard to find those cooperative bucks and then stay disciplined and not hunt them until the time is right, October does offer some good bowhunting.