Early October will still normally find deer on their summer feeding habits, and hunting can be great at this time of the year. As the month progresses, and deer get out of their routine, and buck sightings decrease it can be tough hunting during the “October Lockdown.”
When the October Lockdown approaches, forget your early season and rut stands. This type of hunting requires a whole new approach to what you have done up ’til now, and what you will do later to tag a buck. The most important thing to remember is not to let the tactics you use now hurt your hunting later in the season. To make a hunt during the lockdown work, hunters have to know what the deer are doing as they change from their summer routine.
The first few weeks in October still provide hunters with a good chance at tagging a buck, as they’re still feeding at their summer feeding grounds. But that won’t last long. Where I live in South Central Illinois, the chase phase of the rut begins around the last week of October. The time between when deer stop feeding at their summer food sources and when they start thinking about chasing does is the hardest hunting you will experience all month long. Deer are beginning to feel the pressure of hunters. Food sources are changing and they have to find new ones. Not only that, but the bucks are gradually changing their thought process away from food to sex. Bucks are still going to eat, but not where they are highly visible. This means daylight sightings are tough to come by.
Just because you’re not seeing bucks during the lockdown doesn’t mean they’re not around, or that they’re not active. It simply means you’re hunting in the wrong place. As deer move from their summer feeding routine into their fall routine, the only thing that changes is what and where they’re eating. They’re not eating any less at this time of year.
One way to find what a buck is eating is by shooting a doe. Shoot a doe and take a look at her stomach contents. Not only does this make for some good venison, but whatever she has been eating will tell you what the bucks have been eating. If you’re not able to kill a doe, you probably know someone who has. Ask to see what the doe has been munching on and hunt that type of food source.
There is no doubt that deer seem to have fallen off the face of the Earth come the middle of October, as compared to their high visibility just a few weeks earlier. The biggest reason is that instead of feeding in the wide open, they’re now deep in the woods, feeding on hard mast and browse. Take some time to scout for what they’re eating and set up accordingly.
Deer love acorns, especially from white oaks. White oaks produce an acorn that is sweeter than that from a red oak. White oaks usually drop their fruit before a red oak. Persimmons are another favorite of bucks. Search for fresh rubs, scrapes, and other buck signs either in close proximity to, or at, a feeding area. Determine the predominant wind; plan an entry and exit route to your stand that will not disturb deer. Now all that’s left to do is hunt some very active whitetails.
Besides pattering deer and what they’re eating, there is another tactic that can be used for hunting during the lockdown. It’s such a hit-and-miss tactic that it can feel impossible to master. But if a hunter is able to be in the right place at the right time, and with a little luck, one can take advantage of the early rut.
Around October 15 there is an early rut when a handful of does come into estrus. It will not last long. If lucky, a hunter might be hunting where there is a “hot” doe. Chances are that it will only be one doe that has come into estrus and she probably has several bucks chasing after her.
Just like hunters should not think the rut ended when does are not active at peak estrus, hunters should not mistake one doe that is ready to breed as the beginning of the rut. The early chase phase will on last for one or two days. This early in the season, bucks will not feel the need to chase does like they will in another couple of weeks. Most does are not ready to breed yet.
Anything that resembles breeding will get a buck’s attention. Hunters can use this to their advantage to pull a deer within range, one that otherwise might not come close enough to offer a shot. When you have a buck upwind of your position, give a few contact calls and a couple of buck grunts to get his curiosity up. If these calls are not enough to entice a buck to within range, try a buck-growl or snort-wheeze call. For added realism, throw in some rattling with your calling.
A buck will show if he has heard your calls and if he’s interested. If the buck responds to your calling and begins to head towards your position, stop calling. You don’t want to expose your position and get busted before you gat a shot opportunity. On the other hand, if the buck shows no interest in your calls, stop calling. A hunter doesn’t want to educate a mature buck to your location and calls. That will be a sure-fire way to ruin any future chance you might have.
The October Lockdown might have some hunters ready to pull out their hair. Don’t go to that extreme. Employ the tactics I’ve given you and you’ll see a lot more deer. Who knows… perhaps the buck of a lifetime will find itself on the business end of your arrow!
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