Back in September, we revealed the seven Best Days of the 2023 Whitetail Rut, and the first day is coming up is this week, on Wednesday, October 18. This is the earliest Best Day we’ve ever picked, so I suspect some of you may be think you could be pheasant hunting, or watching duck decoys, or getting in some fall fishing, instead of sitting in a deer stand during the so-called October Lull. But hear me out here, because you’ve got a great chance to tag a monster on Wednesday, which will give you the rest of the month or more to do those other things.
While we’re still weeks away from the peak of the rut, don’t think for a second that bucks don’t have breeding on the brain. In fact, that’s about all they’ve had on the brain since they shed velvet. Sure, eating is important through early fall, but each day we inch closer to November, the less important groceries become. Bucks have been pawing scrapes and establishing rub lines for weeks now, and this is the day they get truly serious about working them, so you should be equally serious about waiting at the right ones and catch him on a daylight walkabout. Below are morning and evening hunt plans to do just that, but first let’s take a look where bucks are at in the annual breeding cycle.
Rut Phase: Early Pre-Rut
For years, like many deer hunters, I spent the better part of October just waiting for the crazy action of November to get started. What I’ve learned since is that by the time that really frenetic deer activity begins, the window for shooting one of the best bucks in an area is already closing fast. Meanwhile, all through the end of October, those bucks were moving freely about their core areas, laying down sign to advertise their presence to other area bucks and does. To think I gave these deer a two-week free pass until November now makes me cringe.
Science has proven that buck activity steadily increases as fall progresses. So, whether you want to think of the October lull as a myth or you think of this period as the end of the so-called October lull, the bottom line is that as the 10th month inches closer to the 11th, bucks are increasingly inspired to rub, scrape, and move about their home range. If your scouting has revealed a buck’s core area, this is a great time to put a tag on him.
October 18 Morning Hunt Plan: Sit a Bedding-Area Rub Line
I first got clued into the stellar movement of this time frame on a fall turkey hunt in the morning. As I waited for the woods to wake up and turkeys to start talking, I heard something approaching through the oak flat. That something turned out to be a stellar 10-point buck, plodding nonchalantly through the crunchy leaves. I was holding my turkey gun, so I could only shake my head as the heavy-racked whitetail shuffled inside 15 yards, noticed an out-of-place blob that was me, and whirled to run. After his departure, I unraveled a rub line that followed the ridgeline to my position, and it was clear the buck had made a habit of freshening this sign regularly.
I’ve bumped into a number of these morning-walkabout bucks over the years, and they’re invariably following established rub lines back to bed. And no, they didn’t get the memo that they’re supposed to be “lulling” right now. So your job is to do some midday scouting and identify some of these morning routes, which tend to link feeding and bedding areas. One caveat here: You’re going to want a fairly bulletproof entry to your stand site; if you blunder through the bean field your buck is feeding in before laying up for the day, your hunt is over before you reach your stand. But if you can wiggle up a steep slope to a ridge-top, or follow a creekbed to your stand, you can look forward to a great couple of hours. And in my experience, that’s about all you’re going to get; daylight movement is fairly typical now under the right conditions, but it doesn’t last long.
October 18 Evening Hunt Plan: Set Up on a Secluded Food Source
I’m convinced one of the reason the October lull got its name is pretty simple; hunters are waiting for bucks at places bucks don’t want to be right now. Is it fun to watch a monster bomb across a beanfield to chase a bevy of does? Of course, but that’s not where a buck is spending his daylight hours right now. Instead, he’s munching away on clandestine food sources that can require some scouting to find. But if you find them, you’ll also find all the pre-rut activity you want.
Start with hard mast sources like red and white oak stands, as this is one of the preferred food sources right now. Also popular are soft mast sources like persimmons or pears, and, of course, any apples you can find now are sure to attract deer. Again, it’ll take some midday scouting to locate these secluded food sources, but burn enough boot leather and you’ll not only find feeding sign, but enough rubbing and scraping activity that you’ll know immediately where to set your stand. If the weather is cool, plan on getting there plenty early in the afternoon, as it’s not unusual for bucks to be bedded not from the groceries and get up early for a bite.
Hot Tip: Introduce an Intruder with Mock Scrapes
The world of a mature buck is pretty small right now, and he’s extremely aware of any newcomers in his domain. And the biggest tip-off he’s got to an intruder is the presence of fresh buck sign that he didn’t make. That’s why any time I find a fresh scrape now, I make a mock scrape or two nearby, complete with grapevines I zip-tie to the overhanging limb (a scent wick works fine if vines aren’t handy) then douse with deer scent. A local buck will usually find the new scrape(s) in short order and invariably gets serious about responding with even more sign. The introduction of an intruder buck can also get a buck more serious about patrolling his scrape and rub lines more vigorously, and often in daylight. Right where you’ll be waiting.