Whitetail hunters have long obsessed over November as the pinnacle of deer hunting. We fantasize about it, countdown the days impatiently to its arrival, and pin our hopes and dreams upon it. But times might be changing.
With the popularization of the patterning and hunting of specific bucks and the improvements in scouting tools like cell cameras and predictive deer behavior apps, the madness of the rut is becoming somewhat less desirable. In its place, late October is rising in notoriety and receiving a new level of adoration in the deer-hunting world. Could late October be the new November?
November is hyped for good reason. At no other time is the unlikely more possible than during those magical days of peak rut. Bucks are on their feet more than at any time of year, they’re cruising for does, chasing females, and fighting back anyone who dares compete with them. This is exciting stuff! The downside though is that all of this madness is hard to predict.
When the rut arrives many bucks break away from their traditional patterns and expand their travel range to visit new doe bedding and feeding areas. This means visits to new places, via new travel routes, and all of it at new times. Throw in the grenade of a buck possibly getting on a hot doe and chasing her to lord-knows-where, and you can basically wave your “patterns” goodbye. For someone attempting to kill a certain buck by predicting his specific movements, this is not great news.
“I am one of those guys that much prefer hunting October,” Mark Drury said on a recent episode of the Wired to Hunt Podcast. “Because the way I hunt, I hunt based on expectation and data and data points, rather than hope. When you get to November and they start spreading out and home core ranges go to a much more shotgun approach, it gets much tougher to kill a specific deer, which is what I'm typically trying to do.”
On the flip side, late October might be the absolute best time of year for this kind of hunter. The first part of what makes this period so great is that during those last ten days of the month most bucks are still sticking to their general bed-to-feed pattern. If you know where a buck prefers to bed at this time of year and can make a good guess on the top food sources he’s visiting, you’re in the money.
“I definitely prefer the last two weeks of October, preferably with some cooler temperatures, if I’m after a specific animal and I have his location dialed,” world-class bowhunter Andy May said. “They relate to some sort of manageable pattern in a lot of cases still in that late October time frame, and they’ll often bed in the same couple spots yet move further in daylight and lay down more sign.”
Andy nails part two of what makes late October magic. The extra pre-rut movement and sign-making. As we near November an increasing number of bucks are getting on their feet earlier and more often as they start seeking out those first available does. Mature bucks know that a few does come into heat early each year and they aim to snatch them up first. This is like an appetizer to rutting activity but done in a predictable way and place.
Imagine a Venn diagram, you know, one of those intersecting circle things. One circle is labeled “Highly Patternable Deer,” and the other is “Increased Daylight Buck Movement.” Late October is when these two circles intersect. It’s a best-of-both-worlds type scenario where you can enjoy predictable buck behavior and the possibility of increased daytime movement. It’s a truly special thing if you’re prepared to take advantage of it.
The general prescription for hunting bucks in November is sitting in a funnel or bedding area and putting in the time. But if you’re switching your vacation dates to the last week of October, this is not the strategy to put in place. Late October done best requires specific knowledge of a specific buck or bucks. This is where the true masters at scouting and patterning deer prove their mettle, and where aspiring October hunters should focus.
In a perfect world, you’ll have been collecting trail camera data throughout the month of October and observing your hunting area through a few careful hunts or observations from afar. Cell cameras or standard trail cams in easily checked areas alongside food sources can be an invaluable tool at this time. The best place for these are on scrapes, as multiple studies have shown that scraping activity annually peaks at this time of year. I like to place standard cameras on natural or mock scrapes made along the edge of secluded food sources and good cover—ideally, locations that I can drive a vehicle or bike to for low-impact SD card retrieval. If cell cameras are available, I’ll consider placing these further back in the cover in transition areas or even on the edge of bedding areas, but only if I had the chance to place these many weeks or months ahead of my planned hunts.
One specific trail cam strategy for this time of year made possible with the advent of cell cameras is one referred to as “putting them to bed,” which has been popularized by Mark Drury and his team. The idea here is to have cell cameras placed along the edge of food sources tight to bedding and to keep an eye out for a target buck heading back into the cover in the AM during daylight. If a trail cam picture comes in showing that buck “going to bed” late, the Drurys like to go right to that food source the buck was photographed on for a hunt that afternoon. The theory here is that if you can confirm that a buck was headed back to bed and walking past that camera in daylight or near to it, he’s likely bedded quite close by. Knowing that a buck is bedded close to a particular food source makes for a reasonably high chance that he’ll return to feed or check for does in that location in the afternoon.
Historical photos or observations are also worth considering as you put together a late October plan. Mature bucks have a tendency of doing similar things at similar times year after year. Drury, in the most recent episode of the Wired to Hunt Podcast, noted that historical trends are still one of the most important data points he considers when trying to pattern deer. If a buck you’re targeting traditionally starts moving in an area in late October or begins showing in daylight when a certain weather pattern arrives at this time, take note and consider if that might happen again this season. This historical info can help you predict deer movement before it happens and “be the camera,” as Drury calls it.
Your goal here, whether it be with cameras or observations or historic patterns, is to be narrowing down on areas where you think a buck is most often bedding, determining what food sources are most attractive as the month moves along, and discerning preferred travel routes in between the two and a guess as to when he might pass through any of these locations. You want a full portfolio of data to look at leading into the last week of the month when conditions are most likely to get that buck you’re after moving just a little more.
Use this information to hunt in or around your target buck’s top food sources in the afternoons when camera or historical trends point to him being likely to daylight. And focus on morning hunts nearest the bedding areas he most often haunts.
November is wild, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But if you’ve been working hard to dial in a plan for a specific buck, November might be too late. Get out there in Late October and take a swing at him. It might be your best chance all year.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.