It is common for whitetails to have patterns they follow year-round. Some patterns are good, like their summer feeding patterns that helps hunters see what deer survived the previous season and winter. Another good pattern are the trails does use to enter and exit fields. But, the worst pattern of all is the one that causes deer to practically vanish around mid-October.
Bucks leave their bachelor groups and begin to focus on territorial boundaries, and putting on weight before the rut begins. Small bucks will still offer shots as long as they do not feel pressure, but mature bucks will go off on their own and seemingly vanish. Welcome to the “October Lockdown”.
Just how hard it is to find a buck at this time depends on several factors. Pressure from bowhunters the first few days of the season has a lot to do with it, but do not rule out available food, habitat, and even other deer.
If several hunters hunt the same tract of land, or your neighbors has lots of hunting activity on their land, the deer will feel it. They will spend little time in the open, and more time in dense vegetation. Bucks do not have to spend time eating during the day when they are most vulnerable. Instead, they can eat grains, mast and food plots under the safety and cover of darkness and bed back down when the sun rises.
During the fall, several food sources are readily available. Not only do some ripen and are ready to eat, but other go away. For instance, last year I hunted a soybean field on the morning of October 11th. I witnessed lots of deer activity, including six different bucks by eight in the morning. My plans were to return the following morning, and hopefully fill one of my buck tags. As it turned out, the next morning proved to be completely opposite from just twenty-four hours previously.
As the darkness changed to a blue hue in the eastern sky I noticed the soybean field I was hunting over was gone. Ten minutes after eight I saw my first deer of the morning, and did not hesitate filling my doe tag. What a difference a 24-hour period can make.
If you want to kill an October buck from the middle of the month until the rut begins, focus on the food. Not only are the deer putting on weight for the upcoming rut, but also for a long winter.
A buck can lose as much as 25-percent of his body fat during the rut. Even a healthy buck that is not prepared will suffer, and could even die. For that reason, it is not likely to find a buck walking about aimlessly, but instead at a food source close to last light.
Apples, acorns, turnips and even persimmons are a favorite food in the forest during mid-October. Deer will be searching for foods like those that provide lots of energy through their carbs.
You might be able to catch a buck on a trail near the field’s edge, but if you can’t, you might have to go deeper in the forest where the mast is. The problem with mast, especially acorns, is that one year the tree could produce a bumper crop and nothing the following year. Also, be careful not to go too deep in the woods and end up too close to the deer’s bedding area.
As far as bedding grounds are concerned, you can still arrow a buck as he makes his way to and from his bedroom. It is solely up to you to decide how close you can get though. To keep from bumping deer, you can set up on a pinch-point or funnel located in a small patch of timber connected to the bedding area. Even creeks, draws and thickets connecting travel corridors would be a good spot to ambush a buck headed back to bed.
Unfortunately, hunters often overlook their entry and exit strategies. A hunter can’t leave his stand at night and cross an open grain field and expect not to spook feeding deer. In the morning, the entry is vice-versa from the night before. You can’t cross an open field full of feeding deer as you head to your stand and not expect to bump them.
It might be necessary to take the long way around to get to and from your stand. But, if you are serious about killing a mature buck you will do what it takes.
As you scout for stand locations near food and bedding grounds, part of that will include looking for trails. But, keep in mind deer will travel for food. This means more trails and corridors to choose from, and you do not have to be right on the edge of a field or bedding ground.
As each day passes, bucks will begin to leave behind more and more sign. Scrapes and rubs will begin to show up along trails. Use your trail cameras and scout from afar to get a better idea of what the bucks are doing.
If you do not kill a buck during the October lockdown, all is not lost. Hunting is about to get a lot better. As October begins to come to a close, rutting activity will increase. Rubs and scrapes will become more noticeable, and bucks will start searching for and chasing does. Bucks that were invisible just a couple weeks before will be out in the open at any time of the day.