Mid-October this year should be a sweet spot for bow hunters here throughout the Northeast and the Midwest because the first rut peak is timed to fire up then.
But bow hunters are an independently minded group, not all using the same tactics at the same time.
Many of us focus on food sources as holding the magical combination to bring a whitetail within bow range, while other archers focus on rut sign.
Whether we are in one camp or the other, we can only hope that the daytime temperatures are average for October, and not in the high 70s and even 80s F for an extended period of time.
Deer movement, whether to feed or to breed, will be depressed when it's hot, becoming mostly nocturnal, reticent to move for the most part until only after sundown.
Unseasonably high temperature days make late afternoon/evening stands pretty much an exercise in futility, though a good way for us to become the biting bug’s smorgasbord. Daytime temps are just too much for deer with those new, thick heavy winter coats.
Morning stands are best then.
If mid-October is warmer than usual, the best time to hunt is from dawn into those first few hours of daylight.
Hopefully too, the monsoon-like weather pattern of last spring that saturated the ground for months will not repeat this fall.
I for one, hate bow hunting in the rain. Not all agree. But tracking a deer can be difficult under the best weather conditions. Throw in a downpour that washes the sign away, off the leaves, and our level of anxiety and angst increases exponentially as we try to piece together the trail.
And secondly, rain literally washes away the rut. Trail camera evidence shows that traffic at scrapes drops dramatically after days of rains. And a rut peak never seems to be evident or evolve. We say the scrapes have gone dead.
We can assume the deer are still breeding because estrus is still happening … but then again, maybe the rut drama is shorted out, and there are more barren does as a result, at least until the next estrus cycle.
Whitetails are often harvested in the early going of the season over food sources, and it is easily argued as the No. 1 successful tactic for archers.
But there is just something magical about rutting deer that I find most fascinating and exciting to hunt and strategize about.
Maybe it’s because the first flurry of rutting activity, replete with scrapes being opened, saplings and trees being trashed and torn up with glimpses of big boys on their feet during the daytime gets my heart pounding.
Some say, “The rut is overrated. The deer are crazy and unpredictable at that time. Give me deer coming into a food source anytime.”
These early bow hunters prefer to try and pattern feeding movement; over food plots, crop fields, apples and acorns, or to and from the bedroom to the kitchen.
And if I had to fill an antlerless tag, it might be the best way, day in and day out, more productive.
The food source hunters make a good point.
Trying to take a buck early over augmented scrapes, those doctored with scents is not easy and fraught with frustration.
But does come into these early scrape setups too and more than one has found itself neatly tucked into taped packages in my freezer.
Bucks will be on their feet in the daytime, opening their scrapes, during the middle of the month, as October’s full moon this year lands on the fourteenth.
I have been augmenting my favorite scrape sites this past summer and early fall with the terminal ends of licking branches from other scrapes by zip-tying these clipped branches off active scrapes to other scrapes on other properties. Both bucks and does hit the overhanging branches at the scrapes not only harder, but with more frequency too as evidenced by trail camera images.
And then, as October ticks on, we will have to face that perennially dreaded time, the famous “October Lull” with its typical lack of deer activity as the mid-month flurry of scrape action subsides.
Hopefully this year the Lull will be shorter in duration than usual.
And then it seems early November never gets here soon enough as the whitetails prepare for their major rutting time.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.