A focus on food is front-of-mind during September bowhunts. But what about October? Well, here’s your whitetail hot tip of the week: Deer eat in October too.
I’m not sure why deer hunters seem to put food on the back burner when the calendar flips to October. It’s a mistake. While it’s true that the rut is inching ever closer, so much of that classic pre-rut buildup will be focused on areas that are directly related to a key food source.
Scrapes don’t just happen in willy-nilly locations. They pop up in places where bucks know other deer will see, smell, and visit. Those other deer are there because they’re headed to or from food sources. So, let’s dive into some of the top October food sources.
Acorns This one shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone. Acorns are the king of October for a good reason. They are the food source that hits at the ideal time—right as most agricultural crops are hitting harvest stage.
It is my belief that acorns are the primary source of the so-called “October lull.” Study after study has shown that whitetails do not reduce movement during the month of October. In fact, there is a steady growth in activity throughout the month as the rut draws closer. So why is this notion of a lull in activity so prevalent? Well, I’d wager it’s because deer that were readily visible in crop fields throughout the summer and into September are suddenly no longer as visible. That’s because they’re in the woods, eating acorns.
In many areas of whitetail country, targeting deer on acorns isn’t as easy as targeting them in open crop fields. If you’re lucky enough to find a woodlot that has just a couple of oaks that are dropping acorns, the results can be fantastic. But when you’re dealing with a forest filled with acorn-laden oaks (which is most often the case), feeding activity is anything but concentrated and deer movement can seem sporadic at best. Regardless, when the acorns are dropping, deer are eating them. Guaranteed.
Corn I realize my views on deer hunting tactics might be much different than others. My view on corn is definitely not the norm. I love to hunt standing corn. I’d much rather have a field full of standing corn than one that’s cut. I’d love to see that corn standing throughout as much of deer season as possible too.
Yes, standing corn can hide a lot of deer and they will definitely spend a fair amount of time in it. This can make them tougher to hunt. But I think deer spend far less time hanging out in cornfields than we think. I’m basing this on personal observation from a lifetime of hunting in corn country.
I’ve seen plenty of whitetails, including some big bucks, working the edges of cornfields. They make scrapes along them. They use the cover as a travel route between woodlots. And, they most definitely stop and eat it.
What I haven’t seen is a lot of evidence of deer moving into (or out of) standing corn in a way that suggests it’s a primary bedding area. In fact, I’ve seen far more deer bed in security cover adjacent to a standing corn field than in the corn itself.
In October, standing corn is one of my preferred setups. I hunt it as a food source but mostly as a travel corridor. I look for active scrapes along the edge near thicker blocks of timber. This can play earlier in the season as well but seems to really take off in mid-October and I believe it’s because the attraction of the corn as a food source is much higher than it is earlier in the season.
Greenbriar and Other “Green Stuff” I’m not a botanist so you’ll have to forgive me; I can’t name every single species of plant in the woods. But I do know this: When October rolls around and crops start coming off, deer still eat an awful lot of green stuff.
Greenbrier is easiest for me to identify. In many areas of the Midwest, greenbrier is a dominant woodlands species. It looks a lot like multiflora rose but without the sharp, cuss-inducing thorns. Greenbrier does have thorns but they’re soft. Deer devour the stuff and it’s a primary October focus for them, especially in areas of substantial timber cover.
But in areas without greenbrier, there’s still a heavy focus on anything green. Natural vegetation is so often overlooked by hunters and that’s a mistake. In fact, in many ways, I think native vegetation actually might be more attractive than forage planted specifically to feed deer.
I don’t plant many food plots anymore but when I did, I saw nearly as many deer feeding in the weedy edges along the plot as I did in it. If you hunt big timber areas, you’ve seen deer pound a patch of weedy growth, the edge of a cutover, etc.
Deer aren’t terribly different than humans in some regards. Just as we like some variety in our diets, so do deer. And green foods are killer in October.
Feature image via Matt Hansen.