Successfully Hunting the Calm Before the Storm

It’s that time of fall. Bowhunting season is open just about everywhere. Bucks are putting down sign, but largely at night. Food sources are flip-flopping all over the map, and difficult to keep up with. And the weather? Well, it’s the weather--unpredictable as ever, yet still dictating deer movement constantly.

Hunters and biologists can (and do) debate the existence of the October lull all they want. I don’t care what you call it, or if you believe in it. Deer are in transition now; the summer’s predictable patterns are history, the rut’s craziness weeks off. So if you’re happy with the term “lull,” use it; but even if you dismiss the notion, you have to admit that whitetails can be frustrating this time of the season. And the big question still remains: How do we hunt right now?

Video Illustration by Kagen Mcleod

I like the approach of Michelle Brantley (the better half of our Mid-South reporter Will Brantley), who chose to kill not one but a pair of does on a recent morning hunt. Many hunters (me included) often make the mistake of waiting to fill a doe tag until after the rut. This, I've learned, is like giving a star sprinter not only a running start, but a warning shot before you try to chase him down. As my one friend (a merciless doe killer and huge consumer of venison) is fond of saying that "The best time to kill a doe is any time you can."

Of course, some fantastic bucks are shot during this period, as evidenced by the report of Great Plains reporter Steven Hill, who posted photos of a giant deer killed by Kansan Curt Frazell.

What impressed me about this tale was the careful, analytic approach Curt took during this phase. After nabbing a trail cam pic of the deer, he not only drove around the property to “scout” it, he took the time to study aerial photos that helped him predict the buck’s bedding area, feeding spots and the travel routes linking them. Then he took things a step further and nailed a discrete approach to his stand (a railroad bed). This thorough approach helped him kill the buck, and should serve as an example of doing things right, whether it’s the “lull” or the peak of the rut.

Other reports highlight the importance of finding buck sign right now. My long-held theory is that the number of scrapes and rubs in an area is directly related to competition. The more bucks, the more sign you'll find as the males "show off" for other deer. I've hunted mature bucks that barely rubbed or scraped, and I believe it's because they had no competition, so they simply didn't waste the energy. As Mike Bleech notes in his Northeast report, bucks don't leave as much sign in his areas where deer densities are low.

The bad news is that it requires more scouting to locate sign. The good news? When you find a rub or scrape, it’s usually pretty significant.

South reporter Eric Bruce points out that more buck sign is being found near hot food sources, which further supports the theory. Any place deer gather on a frequent basis becomes an automatic arena of competition. Get three or four bucks hitting the same oak stand, food plot, or clearcut edge, and they're going to encounter each other (visually or by scent) and become inspired to leave their mark on the place. As we've discussed often here, knowledge of local food sources is always critical, and even more so when you're scouting for buck sign.

Finally—and very importantly--optimizing your hunting effort during this period is critical. Several good observations were made on this point. At least three reporters noted the importance of weather systems and fronts. Nothing gets a buck motivated to feed and move more than a sudden cold snap or the leading (or passing) edge of a major rain/snow event. Also, South Central reporter Ray stressed the importance of monitoring trail cams to see when a nocturnal buck suddenly moves during daylight.

When one or more of these factors are present, it’s time to get in a stand.

Big bucks can be (and are) killed during the lull, but you can maximize your stand time by waiting for the conditions that will get a big deer on his feet.