Mid-October is officially pre-rut and time to put the pre-rut whitetail hunting tactics to work.

This is the time when bucks begin to create scrapes and rubs because of their increased testosterone levels. Their necks double or even triple in size as their body changes in preparation of the upcoming rut. The bucks are left feeling a little anxious as they are ready to breed, but the does are still a couple weeks away from estrus. With all this sexual tension built up, bucks take it out by engaging in aggressive rubbing, scraping, and fighting.

The pecking order of bucks is figured out at this time. If the buck-to-doe ratio is almost even or a couple of does per buck, there tends to be more fighting between bucks. If there is not lots of hunting pressure, a good tactic is using calls, decoys, and rattling antlers.

Some hunters refer to this particular part of deer season as the “October Lockdown.” Deer sightings are down and some hunters believe deer stop moving during daylight hours.

The deer are still moving during daylight. The problem is that hunters are not hunting in the right places or reading the sign correctly. Also, the deer are likely to be feeling the pressure brought on by other hunters.

Whitetails are going to spend a lot of time feeding now. During the fall, several food varieties are available. Not only do some foods ripen at this time, but other foods disappear. Crops are harvested, causing the deer’s summer feeding patterns to move from open grain fields to mast like acorns, apples, and persimmons.

The problem with mast, especially acorns, is that one year the oak trees could produce a bumper crop and nothing the next year.

If several hunters hunt the same tract of land, the deer will feel it. The deer will spend little time in the open and more time in dense vegetation.

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 the hunter to decide how close you should get, though. To keep from bumping deer the hunter can set up in 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 pre-rut buck headed back to bed.

As bucks begin to change the way they act, you need to change the way you hunt, and as food sources change, you need to move to them. When doing so, be careful not to make to much of a disturbance.

RUBS

It is hard to say why bucks make rubs. It could be to only strip their velvet and nothing more. Maybe they do it to mark their turf. Whatever the reason, the rubs are a great indication of a buck’s pattern and travel routes.

Rub lines often follow a route from a bedding area to a feeding area. If you come across a line with the rubs all on the same side of the trees, you can narrow down where they are going and coming.

A single rub by itself does not mean a lot to me besides telling me there is a buck in the area. A rub line on multiple trees done over a period of time shows me a pattern.

If you intend to hunt rub lines and be successful. do not wait too long. Once the rut starts, bucks stop following the rub lines and start following the does. Every day closer to the rut the less time a fresh rub line is a good choice.

SCRAPES

After the rubs, scrapes will start showing up in earnest. These start showing up about the time the pre-rut is ending.

A buck is sending a clear message every time he marks a scrape. Depending on where the scrape is located dictates what the message says.

The scrapes you find on the edge of a large field or clearing are known territorial scrapes. They are normally just used by one buck and are not more than a foot or two in diameter. They are close to buck’s food sources and are used to say, “You’re on my turf.” Bucks do not always urinate in these scrapes and are often made when other deer are around so the buck can show his dominance.

Another scrape is the breeding scrape. My heart skips a beat when I locate one of these large scrapes that range from to 3 to 5 feet across. This type of scrape normally has several bucks working it, and it is visited by does.

It is thought that does are letting their breeding status be known and bucks are showing their dominance. You will likely find their scrapes in thick cover near bedding areas. But you will occasionally stumble across one on the edge of a field.

CONCLUSION

Pre-rut bucks are thinking about breeding, but they know the importance of putting on weight before rutting activities take a toll on their body. As the food sources change, you will need to change where you hunt to find the deer. Rubs and scrapes will provide information on patterns as well as core areas. This is the information you will need to have to pinpoint where the bucks are, whether they are sleeping or eating.

As you make out your game plan, put all the pieces of the puzzle onto the table. With the rubs, scrapes, and feeding patterns, a hunter can put together a good strategy that will increase their odds of success.

Pre-rut bucks are not an easy animal to hunt. As long as the hunter puts in the time and effort to gather information and spends the time hunting, it will come together for the hunter sooner than later.

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Jason Houser
Jason Houser is an avid traditional bowhunter from Central Illinois who killed his first deer when he was nine years old. A full-time freelance writer since 2008, he has written for numerous national hunting magazines. Jason has hunted big game in 12 states with his bow, but his love will always be white-tailed deer and turkeys. He considers himself lucky to have a job he loves and a family who shares his passion for the outdoors. Jason writes full time and is on the pro staff of two archery companies; in his free time, he fishes and traps as much as possible.