Whitetail nuts make a big deal about the calendar flip to November, and with good reason. But there is something magical about the day before. It makes no sense that one particular day should be on fire, year after year, no matter the moon phase, etc.—but I’m hardly the first deer hunter to notice that Halloween is, well, scary good.

Of course, a lot of it simply has to do the part of the breeding cycle deer are in this time of year. Peak breeding is not far off now, and buck activity is ramping up by the day. I absolutely love the bubble we’re resting on right now; bucks are largely sticking to their home ranges but are still stuck in that happy chaos of continually checking and making sign, yet still working hard to investigate the readiness of any doe they see. The testosterone pot is simmering hard and about to come to a boil. Bucks are eager to find other deer right now, and you need to get out out and capitalize on the action.

Related: The Best Days of the 2021 Whitetail Rut

Rut Phase: Late Pre-Rut/Seeking

If you ask a biologist, the seeking-and-chasing phase is all one thing. Bucks seek does and chase the ones they find. But as is often the case, hunters have a more nuanced practical understanding of things. There is a point when bucks are simply doing more seeking than chasing, when they are on their feet and looking, but not yet running wild. They are still checking scrapes, but spending less time making sign and more time seeking the real deal. That’s where whitetails in most of the country are at right now. (If peak-rut dates are a little earlier or later than average where you live, it’s not hard to extrapolate when this period hits for you.)

By now, a doe or two have come into estrus, and their scent is in the air, goading bucks into more active searching. Meanwhile, many bucks are uber-competitive at this stage; if they sense that rival bucks are beginning to breed while they’re still waiting, they’re primed to go to battle over breeding rights. All of it just adds to the frenzy. So, with all of that going on, here’s how to take advantage.

October 31 Morning Plan: Set a Rattle Trap

whitetail deer hunter rattling
Today is a great day to rattle, but be sure to set up so that circling bucks can’t get your scent. Drury Outdoors

If you haven’t been banging the horns yet, today is the day to start. If you have, today is the day to get more serious about it. And it’s critical that you set up right for it. That means hunting from a no-bust stand where, no matter how a deer approaches your setup, including from downwind, he’s not going to wind you. My favorite spots, especially in the morning when bucks are cruising back to bedding areas, are ridge ends, the top of a wash (or gully), and a hogsback on a ridge where several trails intersect. In these high spots, all you need is a wind that blows out over the valley and even if a buck approaches from downwind or circles downing of your rattling (as they tend to do), the elevation change will keep your scent well above him. While I prefer to rattle to deer that I see or hear, I do rattle blind right at first shooting light, then about once every hour until late morning. I’ll stay in the saddle as long as action is good, but if it’s a warm day, I’ll bail when action slows and head to an afternoon setup like the one below. 

October 31 Evening Hunt Plan: Raid the Salad Bar

One of the most common mistakes of rut hunting, and one that I made for far too many seasons, is focusing too heavily on buck sign and buck activity. Sure, it’s important to read this spoor, but never forget that the entire aim of that sign, and the bucks that make it, is to find does. And does are never far from prime food, especially in the evening. So it’s time to sit on the hottest food source, because bucks know that’s the most target-rich environment for finding a mate.

My favorite setup in a good mast year is an oak ridge; I’ll usually slip in at midday, hang a set, and ride out the rest of the day there. If does are hitting a secluded food source like a log landing that you’ve planted to rye or brassicas, this is the time to get in there early. If you’re hunting a picked corn or soybean field, sit over the entry trails that feature the best buck sign; this is where your giant is apt to slide into the feeding action to find company. 

That takes care of you for Halloween, and make sure you get out there, because it promises to be especially good this season. That said, it’s worth noting, going forward, that knowing where does are feeding and bedding is only going to get more important as the rut progresses. If you’re not sure where that is, re-focus your scouting efforts to find the best doe hangouts on your hunting ground. It shouldn’t take long to find them, and when you do, you’ll be in the driver’s seat as the rut heats up.

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