Every week this fall, I’ll be providing updates on whitetail buck movement for the entire country. These reports are based on intel from whitetailers in each region and my own observations as a traveling deer hunter. For more info like this, subscribe to the Rut Fresh Radio Podcast and Whitetail Weekly Newsletter. No one covers the rut like us.
Right now is many dedicated deer hunters’ favorite time of year to tag a mature whitetail—even though we’re still two weeks out from the best rutting activity. The reason is that these next 10 days are when homebody bucks will get out of their beds a little sooner in the evening, freshen their favorite scrapes in daylight, and start checking doe groups for those first willing females.
Last week, those wise bucks would still have been following their nocturnal tendencies. Next week, they’ll give into restlessness and make some extended walkabouts. The week after that, they might follow some hot doe into the next county to shack up—never to be seen again. That’s why the end of October gives data-driven bowhunters the best chance at killing familiar deer.
If you want a shot at one of those whitetail bucks you’ve only seen in nighttime trail cam pictures, focus on staging areas near bedding, hot food sources where does congregate, and fresh sign that will peak in the coming week.
This is also a great time to utilize your rattling antlers and grunt tube. I killed one of my biggest whitetails on October 25th by challenging a buck that was just out of range at sunset. The broken-up 10-pointer was walking away from me at 60 yards when I stopped him with one series of grunts, changed his direction with a second series of grunts, and slipped an arrow into his heart as he arrived at the base of my tree.
Here’s how each region breaks down for the coming week.
A God-sent cold front will hit most of the region on Saturday or Sunday. After recent, unseasonably warm temperatures, there will be a 40-degree mercury drop for parts of the East this weekend. Now, this won’t kick off the rut early or anything like that, but it will be a catalyst on a catalyst that will make mature bucks stir crazy.
As I said in last week’s Rut Fresh Report for the South, my contacts in the East noted that 2020 has brought a weak acorn crop. This can be a positive for hunters. If you’re able to identify a hot oak tree that is in cover near scrapes and rubs, you’ll be in the right position for a buck to walk by.
The rut in the South is all over the map this time of year. While you have deer in states like Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas that follow a more Midwestern rut, herds in places like Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida are well behind. They won’t rut for another month.
If you hunt a place that has deer in all phases of the rut and you aren’t sure how to target them, make food your focus. You can’t go wrong by hunting food sources during any phase of the rut and the South is no exception. The same goes for rubs and scrapes—whether the deer you’re hunting are in pre-rut or summer patterns, fresh sign is always relevant.
Similar to the East, most of the Midwest has a dramatic cold front arriving on Saturday. Hunters should be as or more aggressive than they’ve been all year. This means hunting mornings and getting tight to bedding. I’m not saying you should be in your best-of-the-best spots that you normally save for November, but you should make your sits a bit longer and get a bit deeper in the cover.
Contacts in multiple states have been sending me pictures of big (and I mean big) bucks with broken tines already. That’s common for October, but it shows that mature whitetails have been doing more than just sparring lately. With that said, I wouldn’t hesitate to do some blind rattling this weekend. You might only get the attention of frisky 2.5- and 3.5-year-old bucks, but it just takes the right deer in the right mood to make everything change fast.
While cold weather is a boon for whitetail movement, the front that’s about to hit the West is on another level. Temps are going to dip below 0 degrees for most of the region, with complementary snow and wind. Bucks are still going to act like bucks, but they’ll also be more inclined to follow their stomach (which is exactly what does will be doing).
Expect deer to temporarily congregate on the best available agriculture. If you have a luscious green field of hay or a fresh-cut corn field, plan to spend your evening hunts there. The does will be the first to arrive, with mature bucks showing their faces around sunset. They might push around doe groups, but likely they’ll just keep their head in the food and check on community scrapes in the open.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.