How to Deer Hunt in October

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October is a time for patience and strategy. (Shutterstock/Jim Cumming photo)

Similar to September, the month of October is full of change in the deer hunting world. But as for that October lull, it’s a big pile of nonsense. Instead, it’s actually a misinterpretation of perceived deer behavior. When reality is much different.

Food sources continue to change. Deer behavior and travel patterns change with it. Hunting pressure is becoming more of a factor. Bucks’ testosterone levels are rising. Deer are preparing for the rut. It’s a momentous — and crazy — time in the deer woods.

But one thing is for sure, there is no lull. In fact, the science shows that deer activity (including daylight appearances) actually increases throughout the month of October. So, think of October as a slow progression. Here’s how you can take advantage of that and approach it on a week-to-week basis this season.

October 1-7

We might as well still be hunting in late September. Things haven’t changed much from the last week. Or have they? On the surface, it’d appear as if they haven’t. But I assure you that isn’t the case. The wheels are turning, bringing us closer to the rut.

There hasn’t been a huge change in food sources. Deer are still transitioning off some of the lush, green food sources they’ve been feasting on and are now seeking out pockets of hard mast and other fall food sources. Transitioning with the deer is key to success.

The biggest change? Bucks relocating to their fall ranges. About half of all bucks will spend the fall in a different location than they did summer. This behavior started happening in late September and should continue to occur until the middle of the month.

Rut sign is also becoming more prominent across the landscape. Now is the time to really get out there and (carefully) scour the landscape for fresh rubs, scrapes and tracks. Use what you find to help paint a picture of what the deer are doing at the time.

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October 8-14

Things are a little more heated now than they were a week ago. But we’re still a couple weeks out from the real October action. That said, it doesn’t mean you can’t score during the middle of the month. I killed a very mature 8-pointer toward the latter end of this week last season.

My advice for hunting this period? Continue to focus on food. That’s key regardless of the week or phase you’re hunting. Don’t camp out over rut sign unless you know deer are frequenting it during daylight. Instead, use it to help connect the dots.

Also, think about the weather and temperature. The first true cold front and temperature swing of October can be a prime time to kill a reclusive deer. There’s just something about it that gets deer on their feet. Be prepared to sit in the tree when you see these conditions on the horizon.

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October 15-21

Again, things are ever-so-slightly warming up. I said it’s a slow progression. And most years, a slow progression it is. Patience is the key when hunting during the month of October. Don’t rush things. Don’t get super aggressive. Bide your time. Move in and strike when the conditions are right. Stay back and observe from afar when they aren’t. Truly successful hunters are incredibly adept at recognizing a window of opportunity.

By now, most bucks have relocated to their fall range. And interestingly enough, most bucks are loyal to and won’t leave their home range by mid to late October — even if pressured and bumped by hunters. On the flip side, I’ve experienced numerous times that the same amount of pressure can uproot a buck prior to the middle of October. I don’t fully understand why this is the case. Maybe they’ve invested in the area and don’t want to leave it this close to the rut. Maybe they feel as if their security measures were successful since they detected you before you killed them. Regardless of the reason, the results are often the same.

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During this week, continue to focus on food. But avoid the major feeding destinations and focus on smaller, more secluded food sources. I also like to set up in or near staging areas. This has proven to be a very useful tactic throughout my years in the deer woods.

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October 22-28

Now we’re starting to see a little action. Younger bucks are starting to chase does. Big bucks haven’t really started chasing, but they’re certainly up on their feet more — checking scrapes, freshening rub lines and searching for that first estrus doe.

The end of October (and beginning of November) is generally when you’ll see the most rut sign. Bucks are completely frustrated by now. Their testosterone levels will soon peak, but does haven’t become very receptive just yet. It isn’t uncommon to catch bucks on their feet in daylight because of it.

Personally, I continue to hunt during this seven-day period exactly as I did the week before. Things haven’t really changed except the likelihood of seeing deer in daylight has increased. And remember, continue to be patient. Things are about to bust wide open within the next two weeks.

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October 29-31

Weather and temperature permitting, these are the best three days of October. Halloween day hasn’t received the grand reputation it holds for nothing. This is the time to be in a tree if you’re a bowhunter. Bucks are on the move. And if they aren’t, it’s likely because temperatures are higher than average and the weather has been stagnant.

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In most places, bucks still haven’t ventured far from their home ranges or core areas. But the likelihood of seeing them in daylight near their core area is high. You just have to be in the right spot at the right time to intercept them. And don’t be afraid to implement tactics including decoying, calling and rattling.

For those who have kept tabs on a specific buck, now (and the first few days of November) is the time to strike. It won’t be long before bucks start covering every inch of their home range, and even venturing outside of it. If you have a deer pegged, and the conditions are right to move in, do so. If you don’t, it won’t be long before you run the risk of another hunter killing it on a neighboring property.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>