We’re in that odd period of the deer season where a lot of good things happened a few weeks ago and more good things will happen a few weeks from now, but this moment in hand is probably slow.
It’s the dreaded “October Lull” and it hits you some years harder than others. Or, it may smash you every year. It depends on where you’re hunting.
Because the deer rut and other timing issues like the availability of crops or natural foods vary across the state, and because the start of various seasons and the pressure that comes with them is like a wave rolling in from east to west, locating your hunt for an area’s favorable timing is not unimportant.
I’ve had many productive hunts in the eastern part of the state at this time of the year when I probably would have been stinking it up in Chatham County. Hunt some parts of our sister state to the south and you can get a jump on October bucks compared to Piedmont, NC, too, I believe.
In fact, late-September through late October is a good time to do a little hunting and exploring away from home. It prevents you from burning out your home territory at a time when bucks might not want to move on your schedule in your locations. It also keeps your enthusiasm up and your skills sharp to be hunting new ground instead of putting in your third or fourth consecutive unproductive sit on your home field. After bucks have quit their late summer feeding pattern or have been spooked at their feeding site once too many times, you need a change of scenery.
But whether hunting home or away, how you hunt and where and when will determine your success, especially during the “lull.” I don’t mean “how” as in gun vs. bow, or ground blind vs. treestand, or any of that. I mean “how” as in putting forth the effort (or not) to identify different types of habitat and then getting in and out of the right ones without putting deer on high alert and ruining the location for the year. Deer are still moving during this period. It’s just called a lull because they often aren’t moving in the areas you’ve been sitting in for the last few weeks.
Where you should look for deer and where you hunt them may be two different things now, as bucks bed before you make it to your stand in the morning or only get up after you’ve left at dark. With the benefit of open terrain you may be able to determine where deer are feeding in the early evening and then make a guess as to where they are bedding. Unless you can get out of that feeding area unnoticed at the end of the hunt, though, or if your buck will not arrive there until dark, leave that feeding area alone and back track for a good ambush closer to the bedding area. You may be able to see where bucks emerge from bedding edges if you are in the right place at the right time with the right optics.
The same location technique can be done in the very early morning but it’s more rarely successful, especially outside of the rut. Not only are bucks mostly bedded by the time you and I are creeping around in the pre-dawn, but when they’re not—mostly during the trailing and chasing periods—a buck you see exiting one field or patch of woods could be a mile away by the time you set up on him, even if you do it that day or the next. The nice thing about the rut is that bucks are on their feet. The bad thing about the rut is also that bucks are on their feet. They cover a lot of ground and are at their most unpredictable as they trail does hither and yon.
That said, if you saw a buck trailing or chasing in the pre-dawn I think you’d be kinda nuts not to try for him when the sun came up. If a hot doe is in the area, she’s your bait and she may be unwilling to go far, thus keeping Wandering Boy close to where you first saw him. If they take off across the country, they take off across the country. You gave it a shot. But to twist the old fishing rule: Don’t leave bucks to find bucks.
Whether outside of the rut or in the heat of it, it would be nice to identify the feeding and bedding areas and just get in-between. It’s not as simple as that, of course, particularly outside of farm country. It’s particularly tricky in more heavily wooded areas. It takes more scouting and the knowledge that deer may bed and feed anywhere in this kind of environment, but the saving grace is that you can count on the better bucks bedding in the most optimal locations. Leave the scrub bucks and the more marginal bedding areas alone, and see if you can figure out where the big boss would bed.
He didn’t get big by putting his hide at risk. Focus on the thickest, nastiest, most inaccessible spot in your hunting territory, and then figure out if there is a travel route a smart buck would use to approach a primary feeding site or to scent-check for traveling or bedded does.
This is not a particularly easy or obvious way to hunt, particularly with a bow and especially when there are (seemingly) so many attractive alternatives with the deer sign to make them even sexier. Some hunters make the mistake of hunting at the food source in the evening, without thinking how they will exit, and they alert all the deer in or coming to the area as they’re bugging out.
Others will try to set up in the morning in areas deer already occupy, thinking that it’s a funnel when it’s just a congregation area that the deer never really ever fully funnel out of. A third group will invade a buck bedding area and booger it up with a lot of noise and coming and going a couple of times a day.
You don’t get a lot of second chances doing any of these things.
Much better is to watch carefully for areas that deer travel through consistently but do not spend much time in, either bedding or feeding. It’s usually better to be on the bedding area side of things than closer to the feeding area, because you put yourself in a position to catch a buck in shooting light that way. Nothing is more frustrating than being located in a stand that a big buck will walk by, but either too early in the morning or too late in the evening.
Ask me how I know.
Find the true transition areas and travel corridors, make sure you can get in AND out undetected, and tuck in on the bedding site side of things. Insist on set-ups that feature *all* of these and you will eliminate a lot of frustrating ground. Almost by definition, you should be able to beat the October lull this way, and position yourself well for the height of the rut