By Mark Kenyon
It’s here. The dreaded “October Lull.” If you’re an avid, or even an aspiring whitetail deer hunter, you’ve likely seen this term tossed around a lot. But what does that actually mean? And what should a hunter do with themselves at a time like this?
First things first, I personally would define the “October Lull” as the perceived decrease in visible deer activity that many hunters experience during mid-October. Notice a few things in that sentence though – a “perceived decrease” and “visible deer activity.” While many deer hunters believe that deer don’t move much at this time (since they’re seeing fewer deer and experiencing poor hunts), science has actually shown that buck activity increases steadily throughout the month. But for many, that doesn’t translate into success in the field. Why is this?
It seems that this experienced “lull” isn’t actually due to a biological reduction in deer activity, but rather a behavioral shift by deer which many hunters simply don’t adapt to.
The most notable reason for this shift in behavior is the sudden influx of human activity in the woods caused by the opening of most deer hunting seasons in late September and early October. After a few days of hunter activity, mature bucks wise up quick. Secondly, there are a lot of changes going on in a deer’s habitat that impact where and how often he might move – those being changes to food sources and to security cover. Crop fields are maturing and/or being harvested, acorns are filling the forest floor, apples and other soft mast trees are dropping fruit – and as for cover, with leaves beginning to fall, a once thickly veiled forest can quickly lose it’s appeal to deer when only bare branches remain. With all of these changes in the woods, whether habitat or hunter induced, it’s easy to see why many hunters experience a decrease in activity on their mid-October hunts.
But does it have to be that way? And if not, what should you do to make the most of mid-October?
Based on my own experiences and the lessons I’ve learned from interviewing dozens of the nation’s best deer hunters on the Wired To Hunt Podcast I’d say there are five different high-level options worth considering at this time of year. Some are quite conservative, others are pretty darn aggressive. Take a look at the options listed below, from most conservative right on down to most aggressive, and then, depending on your confidence, circumstances and skill level, pick the right option for you.
1. Catch up on the honey-do list: Given the factors listed above, for many hunters the preferred option during mid-October is to play it conservatively and avoid hunting at all when the odds for success seem so low. To hunt blindly in mid-October without a well though out game-plan can lead to educating deer of human intrusion, without there ever having been a realistic chance of getting a shot at a mature buck in the first place. If you feel like you’re in this boat, without a good handle on how your local bucks have shifted in mid-October, you might want to play it safe and just work on cleaning the barn, or mowing the yard, or fixing that leaky sink.
2. Hunt does: Another option, if you can’t bear the idea of staying out of the woods at this time, is to do some doe hunting. Now is a great time to trim the herd, fill the freezer, and fine-tune your hunter’s edge. Try to do this in an area or on a property where you will have a low impact and where you’re not worried about spooking a mature buck you might be hunting later in the season.
3. Hunt low impact/observation stands: Along similar lines, if you have multiple property options, now is a great time to get out and hunt one of those lower priority locations. If there’s some public land you’ve always been curious about or some other spot that you don’t hunt often because it just doesn’t seem that good, well now’s a great time to get out there and try it out. Your best bets at this time will often be hunting within cover, near buck bedding or isolated food sources – ie. a loaded apple tree or a small stand of oaks dropping acorns. By doing this you can essentially enjoy a risk-free hunt, since you won’t be mucking up your prime spots during the “lull”, but you can still enjoy a day in the woods hunting. And you never know, you just might be surprised.
4. Wait on a cold front: The one factor that can flip the whitetail woods on its head, at any time of the season, is a cold front. Even if the calendar date shows “lull” and you don’t have a firm grasp on what the bucks are doing in your neck of the woods, when a significant cold front moves through in October all bets are off and the action can ramp up quick. You don’t necessarily want to blindly run into your very best spots, but you can at least get out on your better properties and put yourself in a position to take advantage of the cold front induced action (again, think cover and isolated food). Even in mid-October, cold fronts can produce great days of hunting.
And speaking of rare opportunities to take advantage of, if you happen to get a handful of daylight trail camera photos of a mature buck in mid-October, similar to a cold front, this is a time to ignore the calendar date and just get in there after him.
5. Hunt specific buck beds: And finally, for some very well prepared hunters, mid-October can be a quality time to aggressively target mature bucks by hunting near their beds. This is a high risk/high reward type of hunt, but if you’ve invested the time in the off-season to thoroughly scout your hunting properties, have identified multiple buck beds, and know how to properly set-up very close to these locations and intercept bucks just as they’re starting to get on their feet in the evening – it can certainly be done. Guys like Dan Infalt and his “disciples” have brought a lot of attention to this style of hunting, and have shone a bright light on what can be achieved in mid-October contrary to most “expert” opinions. To learn more, listen to our interview with Dan about the “october lull”.
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