OPENING DAY - EARLY OCTOBER
October 1st - 10th +/-
Every year, October 1st marks the opening of the whitetail archery season here in Iowa. Now, you don't catch many non-residents hunting here at this time unless they own land, have it managed, and have patterned a big buck in daylight during recent days. This isn't the best time of the year to hunt compared to the rut, and when waiting 4-6 years to hunt, it's more reasonable and rational to put your apples into the rut basket. Most of the people bowhunting this early do not have a buck patterned in daylight, but because they're residents and local to their hunting area, they go out. After all, you can't kill them on the couch. Some guys get lucky. Most don't though. This is arguably the trend from October 1st to the last 7-10 days of October. Why? I'll explain further below.
Photo (above): This photo was the closest to nocturnal that I ever got of him all year until October. This is the most patterned buck we have ever had in early October by far. 100% daylight pictures multiple times, sometimes 5 or 6 days a week from July on through the entire month of September and into early October. The quickest that I could get my only Zone 6 hunter in on him was October 12th, the day after I got the first nocturnal picture of this buck all year. He never reappeared in daylight the rest of the year, and he seemed to wander off quite a bit make very large passes compared to the little 3-5 acre bedroom I captured him in. Actually, we believe that he was shot or poached by a neighboring Amish or local. We ended up hunting a different Zone 6 farm and killed a 160" 10pt stud that we had history with. With one hunter for Zone 6 in 2018, we never hunted this farm after October 14th, and my camera never captured a daylight pic of a buck here on this part of the farm. The activity went dormant, but on the other end of the farm, things lit up with scrapes, plenty of mature bucks from 140-160, with half being in daylight and the other half being completely nocturnal.
Photo (above): This buck is a completely new buck to us that showed himself only once so far, highlighted above by the screenshot of the video captured by my Spartan GoCam VZW overlooking a scrape and food plot. My boy and I actually walked right here in front of the camera 3 hours earlier on the last day of youth season. He was late to the party! Yet, this shows us that bucks can start changing patterns as early as October 4th which most believe happens a week or two later in October starting which is known as October "Lull" and the changing patterns leading to the pre-rut. I haven't seen this buck again yet on my cell cam, but that doesn't mean he has emerged on one of the non-cell cameras. We will see! He's a stud!
MID-OCTOBER - OCTOBER "LULL"
October 10th +/- through October 20th +/-
Some years, we are blessed with a cool/cold front in the opening week, and with a hopeful shooter still on a summer feeding pattern with an identifiable home range, you can get onto that deer by the 7th of October. If not, we start talking about the October "lull" or mid-October. Bucks have shifted causing does to shift. This is when some of our farms seem to "stack" with does leading up to the pre-rut and rut. Their fawns or yearlings are still with them. Bucks come and go a lot more spontaneously. Again, you always have to be on the lookout here for a pattern-able daylight shooter. It's random. They aren't always in their home ranges at the start of this mid-October section, but they will be heading that way. This is when the majority of the movement turns nocturnal, if it hadn't done so already. Some scrapes will start up, but none will truly light up yet unless you are in the particular buck's bedroom (a 5-10 acre section of the home range). This is still a hard time to kill a great buck unless he's already made a mistake in your favor. Most do not. This is why so many hunters refer to mid-October as the "lull" or the calm before the storm (the pre-rut and rut). It's a tough hunt & scouting mission, but it's still southern Iowa and anything is possible.
I don't have many pictures during this stretch of October worth sharing. Maybe there is something to this "lull" topic... If I find one quick, I'll update the post with it by next week.
LATE OCTOBER - PRE-RUT
October 21st +/- through October 31st +/-
Near the end of mid-October into late October, bowhunters start getting excited. The rut is approaching, but first, we get the pre-rut. Hunters set out to find an incoming cold-front bringing freezing or near-freezing temps into at least the morning hours of the day. If so, the barometric pressure will be the next factor to look at (look for 30.00 and rising), and then of course, the wind direction at first hour of the day and last hour of the day to see if your particular spot is in play. Over the years, we have seen some new faces in this stretch, and most of them have been killed by us in the rut. Those deer represent 20-30% of the deer that we have killed with at least some history, and in this instance, very short-term history. Yet, we have never killed a buck this early. Most hunters who are local to their hunting area claim they love hunting late October up to Halloween as you catch pre-rut activity and maybe even catch a shot at a local big boy before the rut craze begins. I can attest to this, this is a very fun time to hunt before things get crazy. Depending on the farm, the neighborhood, the weather conditions, and the moon phase, the deer will be spreading out with notice. One second they're still there. The next second they're gone. That's late October, which ironically, is very similar to how the rut starts and works into the peak of the rut... bucks on the move & moving more and more each day!
Photo (above): This bruiser showed up on October 18th, he was nocturnal and not busted up (his right brow actually had a three-point crown with one being 7" long and the other being 8" long). I am currently looking for a pic of him while I write this in-between sentences. He only appeared on one camera two different times in late October, about a week apart, and then gone. He appeared back on camera in early November once on one end of the farm, and this hunter shot him on his first night in the farm. He rough taped at 165 and change but actually taped out at 168 and change. Imagine those extra 15" now! STUD!
Photo (above): FOUND IT! Well, this isn't the one photo I was looking for, but this is one from that set of pictures. We had a cold front hit the next night, the 19th, I believe. 70-degrees at 4:35am is pretty warm for October. The approaching cold front in combination with the normal cycle of deer movement (spontaneous relocating) helped make this possible. It's really a toss up. Don't let anyone tell you different.
Photo (above): Here he is the morning of November 1st walking by my corn plot and ground blind at 30 yards... My hunter moved to a different spot upon his request (and against my gut and recommendation). Luckily, my hunter killed a nice 155" stud in the coming days, our 1st buck of the year. This buck was killed a few days later, our 2nd buck of the year. You never know what these bucks are going to do nor when they'll do it. It is a chess match with a blindfold.
ANALYSIS OF OCTOBER
October can be a great time to kill a big deer, but this is usually not the time when bucks make the most of their mistakes in daylight. Yet, it takes one buck to do something that patterns him for an attempt. It usually happens in late October, but it also happens in early October. Point is, it can happen! This is why I ask that my hunters be able to come in on a cold front if we have a buck patterned. Since 2016, I think we have had two bucks truly patterned this early. One vanished into the November rut never to be seen again. The other was killed in November during the rut. There are a few others that were debatably patterned, but not to the consistency that you'd want before driving 12 hours to come hunt them for 2-3 days. Why only 2-3 days? Bucks are changing a lot in regards to their patterns at this point, usually shrinking back into their old home range or their newly adjusted home range... and doing such in a very spontaneous nature for no reason. So, if you catch one to hunt right in this stretch of the year, between opening day and Halloween, get on him quick! If you are unable to do such due to distance or your schedule, it's okay. Good hunting opportunities should be approaching with the rut. For this particular year, 2020, we have had a lot of shooters temporarily relocate to their home ranges (new and old), so we have not patterned any mega giants yet to hunt right this second. That could change between now and Halloween though. We will see... Still, this is turning into a very traditional season with a superb moon phase approaching between Halloween and November 14th (the rut), and that's the basket we have put all of our apples.
Thanks for the read!