Thirty years ago this Halloween, I watched my cousin shoot the biggest buck of his life. The massive whitetail chased does like a demon for a half hour at daybreak, then made the mistake of trotting under my cousin’s stand. Just a few hours later, we were dragging out a giant Wisconsin 14-pointer.
It’s no secret that Halloween can offer up a goody bag of amazing hunting, and many bowhunters consider it the kick-start of the rut. Their belief is backed up by statistics. While doing research for the story “The 200-Inch Club” (Sept. 2016), I asked Boone and Crockett to find the statistically best day to kill a 200-inch whitetail. The No. 1 day—Nov. 21—was no surprise, but second place was Oct. 31, proving that even as an adult, you can get good things on Halloween.
But that doesn’t mean hunting is a slam dunk. The day is truly a mix of tricks and treats, depending on conditions, and those conditions should dictate the approach you take to a hunt. Follow the tips below and you might arrow a buck so big it’s scary.
The Treat: The Start of Great Midday Hunting
If you’re smart, you’ve been pacing yourself this month: hunting mostly afternoons, with an occasional morning thrown in when there’s time and the setup is right. But with the typically cooling temps of late October, bucks are not only moving farther but throughout the day. Now is the time to be in a stand every available moment, because you’re as likely to encounter a dandy at midday as at the crack of dawn or in the last sliver of light. This increase in prime hunting hours is one of Halloween’s greatest gifts.
The Trick: Warm Weather
Late October is often downright chilly, except when it’s not. If Indian summer temps persist in your region, concentrate on morning and evening hunts, especially in stands located in cooler areas: swamp edges, creekbottoms, and shaded valley bottoms.
The Treat: Calling and Rattling Work Now
Bucks respond to clashing antlers and tending grunts throughout the season, but the days leading up to peak breeding are prime time for this tactic. If you’ve been shy about running your rattling horns or blowing your grunt call, this is when you should get serious about using them. Bucks are never going to be more determined to check out the competition than right now.
The Trick: Unbalanced Deer Herd
There’s no arguing that your rattling and calling success will be higher in places with a buck-to-doe ratio approaching 1:1, and a decent number of more mature bucks. If your herd is unbalanced in either respect, tone down the volume and intensity of your calling.
The Treat: More Bucks in Good (For You) Places
Across much of the nation, Halloween marks the start of the seeking and/ or chase phase of the rut, during which time bucks will be nosing around does. And does are always going to be near food sources in the evening—places that bucks, especially mature deer, are loath to visit in daylight. Testosterone changes all that, and food plots and fields that were only good for doe sightings a week ago could cough up a giant buck well before dark now.
The Trick: Covert Food Sources
It’s human nature to want to sit on food plots (we’ve planted them, so we want to hunt them) and fields (where we can see better). But in years when the acorns drop, or when a young clear-cut is the hottest salad bar in town, those cultivated food sources are simply not going to be as attractive to does. If hot buck sign is lacking near your field-edge stands, look deeper in the timber to find out where the pre-rut is happening.