I’ll resist the urge to say that Halloween is going to be scary good for deer hunters, but there is something about the last day of October that feels like the end of the pre-rut and the beginning of the rut proper—the start of the most frenetic deer hunting action of the year. That’s why I’ve picked it (as I have in the past) as a day you’ve got to be out there. Back in September, we revealed our seven Best Days of the 2023 Whitetail Rut, and Best Day No. 2 is Tuesday.
October 31 is not just Halloween, but the eve of the deer hunter’s most hallowed month. Bucks are on pins and needles now, waiting for early-estrus to pop, and they’re pacing around their home range like boxers waiting for the bell to ring. Every year, in every area, a handful of does will come into heat before (and after) the understood breeding peak, and Halloween falls in that exciting window across most of deer range. And wether bucks find an early doe or not, the key thing to remember is that they’ll be on their feet looking for one. So here’s how to take advantage.
Rut Phase: Late Pre-Rut/Seeking
In most parts of the whitetail range, bucks are going to be right on the bubble of increased activity around their core area and pushing outside those core areas in search of early does. Which means that they’ll be more visible and active then they’ve been all year up until now. If a doe or two do come into heat in a given area, the scent of estrous is in the air will have bucks running at every female they see to check her availability. But even if that first estrous doe is yet to occur, bucks have been feeling the testosterone surge for long enough that they’re downright restless now; they’ll be checking and re-checking rub and scrape lines, as well as starting milk runs of known doe feeding areas. So, while buck core areas can still be hotspots; it’s time to start hunting doe feeding and bedding areas too.
October 31 Morning Hunt Plan: Hunt a Transition Funnel
When daybreak arrives, does will be filtering off feeding areas and moving toward bed. One of the favorite pastimes buck this time of year is to cruise the funnels used by does to travel from feed to bed in the morning. Since most does won’t be ready for breeding yet, bucks will check out any available females in one area, then zip off to the next, hoping for better luck there.
Your job is to catch a buck as he snoops around these doe groups in the morning, and one of the best place to do so is in one of these transition funnels. In farm country, a creek bottom that connects several known bedding sites (spur ridges, swamp/marsh edges) is really good, and in more timbered country, search for flats where two or more bedding ridges connect. Slip into your setup before dawn, and plan to stay until about mid-morning. All-day sits can produce at certain stages of the rut, but it’s a bit early to pull one off right now.
October 31 Evening Hunt Plan: Try a Field-Edge Scrape Ambush
Bucks will be checking and re-checking popular doe feeding areas in the afternoon, and so you want to be waiting when they show up. Your trail-cam photos should reveal which plots are getting hit hardest now, but if you don’t have cams out, don’t fret; simply visit some of the known food plots (or oak stands or clearcuts in the big woods) midday and walk the edges. Abundant tracks and feeding sign should tell you where does are dining, but even if that sign is hard to pick up, field-edge scrapes will be the big reveal; bucks will scrape the edges of the best plots and fields with abandon now, and you should set up within range of the hottest scrape. If there’s no stand tree to suit your needs, plant a scrape tree (see below for hot tip) within range of the stand tree that works for you, and make some big, very visible mock scrape below it. A buck that’s already been scraping the edges of the plot won’t be able to resist checking out the new sign. Keep your ears alert for the sounds of deer moving nearby, and don’t hesitate call or rattle to attract nearby bucks that might not commit to the plot otherwise.
Hot Tip: Plant a Scrape Tree
One of the most frustrating parts of hunting a big ag field or food plot is that bucks typically have multiple entry trails to the food, and sometimes the most popular ones aren’t in range of a good stand site, or feature tricky wind directions that make set up difficult. The key here is to make bucks come to you by putting a scraping tree in range of a setup where all the advantages are yours. All you have to do is cut down a sapling with a nice overhanging branch, dig a shallow hole, planting it within range of your stand or blind, and making a mock scrape or two under it. Bucks can enter the field from anywhere and, while they may feed or dog does out of range for awhile, eventually they’ll spot the scrape tree and trot over to check it out.
Gear Tip: Get a Portable Scrape Tree
Cutting down a scrape tree and planting it by your stand requires a little sweat equity and time. If you don’t want to spend either, get the BuckStik, a portable scrape tree that is not only lightweight, but also collapses nicely for easy carry. Simply place this mock tree within bow range of your stand or blind, and you’ve got just the visual cue bucks need to wander within range of your setup. The BuckStik has strips of frayed rope that are perfect for applying scent that can pull in a curious buck. And when you’re done with your hunt, simply pull your tree out of the ground, tote it out with you, and use it on your next hunt.
Read Next: 50 Expert Tips for Hunting the Whitetail Rut