It’s a tired old cliché but I’ll use it anyway: The best day to hunt for a buck this fall is any day you can get off work. But knowing that some days will be better than others we went through the calendar, analyzed the moon phases, and predicted when the weather and rut conditions will be best in the 2 big months of October and November. Plan your time off to include one or more of the top 6 days we came up with and get ready to tie your tag to a bruiser.
Why we like it: Opening day of bow season in any state is one of the best. Want recent proof? Last October 1 in Ohio, Mike Rex arrowed a 218 6/8-inch non-typical with 30-inch main beans. Two days later on the first day of the Illinois season, Brent Van Hoveln shot a 28-pointer that scored 229 2/8.
If you’ve scouted hard with binoculars and/or trail cams, you know exactly where one or more shooters are feeding and bedding. You won’t know that another day all fall, because from now on the hunting pressure will keep building the deer will catch on fast. Bucks haven’t been hunted for 9 months so they’re vulnerable to an early surprise attack. Some summer-fat big boys will waddle around for an hour after sunrise and again an hour before dark. Be out there.
Optimum conditions: It will be hot most everywhere in the U.S., with daytime highs in the 60s to 80s and warm nights. Don’t sweat it, just hunt. Of course the cooler it is with light winds the better. A light rain that knocks down some of your scent and quiets the walk to your stand couldn’t hurt. Moon is waxing toward full, but that won’t have nearly as much impact on deer movements now as they will later this month and in November.
Try this stand: Rex arrowed his giant in the type of habitat that many of you hunt: small, broken acreage diverse with crop fields, a couple of food plots, browse thickets, weed pastures, and woodlots. As the illustration shows, sneak in from the south and hunt from a stand hung on a ½-acre food strip or thicket of green browse 50 to 100 yards off an agricultural field and back in the woods. In a hidden spot like this an old deer likes to stage, grab a bite, and watch and smell other deer before he lumbers out to the nearby crops at dark. Hunt this stand for a couple of hours the first morning, too. A lot of deer going to bed in the woods will cut back across the plot or through the thicket. A southeast crosswind that blows out of the woods and away from the feed fields and main trails is best for this setup.
Why we like it: This is the unofficial first day of the “hard” pre-rut. After weeks of clover-munching, acorn-gobbling, bedded-for-hours downtime, bucks necks blow up with testosterone. They begin to move more, and they crank up their tree rubbing and scraping. Also, if you look at the historical “rut curves” assembled by biologists for the northern two-thirds of the country, you’ll see that the first 5 to 7 percent of a herd’s does come into estrus and are bred around the 21st. Good things can happen when: 1) mature bucks just start to prowl hard in daylight; 2) they chase the first few receptive does; and 3) there’s still little pressure as compared to the November or December gun chaos to come.
Optimum conditions: If it is Indian summer, sunny and warm, bucks should move marginally well. But if you’re lucky and one of the first cold snaps of fall blows in from the northwest and drops the temperature 10 to 30 degrees, you’d better risk a speeding ticket roaring out to your stand. Lows in the 30s and highs in the 50s would be prime for great deer activity. With the new (dark) moon, bucks should move especially well at dawn and dusk.
Try this stand: A 50- to 75-acre point of timber near a river or stream is an awesome spot now. The edge of the grain field and the waterway will pinch lots of deer through the point where our stand is located. The muddy doe trails that parallel the river will look like cattle runs, blazed with rubs and scrapes. In this situation, a southeast to southwest wind that carries our scent back across the water is best for either a morning or evening sit. See how we hung the stand tight enough to the riverbank so that most deer will show up off to either side or out front and not come in behind us? Access is best from the north. Ford the river, hide behind the bank, ease up, look and listen for deer, and sneak to the stand and climb up when the coast is clear. Good entry like that is critical no matter where and when you hunt.
Why we like it: “October 31 is a big trigger for us, historically kicking off some of the best action of the year,” says one of our most trusted sources, Iowa big-buck hunter Mark Drury. On this day every season he sees one or more behemoths on the move—like the 280-pound, 6-year-old 9-pointer his brother, Terry, arrowed at the bewitching hour a couple of years ago. During the two hours before he shot the beast, Terry spotted 20 does in various of stages of near-estrus with 1- and 2-year-old bucks on their heels. An 8-point stud rolled out into the field, ran off the teenagers, ripped two scrapes and bore for the does. Just as Terry was fixing to draw on him, the huge 9-pointer trotted 35 yards beneath his stand, stopped, grunted and offered a perfect shot. That hunt pretty much sums it up: On Halloween, all sorts of cool stuff goes on, so dress up and go for it.
Optimum conditions: A high-pressure weather system, a rising barometer (preferably above 30 inches), a light north or northwest wind, and temperatures in the 35- to 45-degree range. “If all those things just happen to come together, you’ll see deer moving and rutting all over the place,” notes Mark Drury. Unseasonably warm heat will knock things back a notch (true every day of the rut from now on). With the moon waxing toward full on November 5, deer should move well early and late in the day.
Try this stand: Hang a stand on a thick break-line like this where a weed pasture or CRP field abuts a block of hardwoods and hunt it morning and afternoon. If there are soybeans, alfalfa or corn nearby, better yet. A creek funnel/crossing makes the spot complete and is a perfect hub for your stand. A lot of bucks and some big ones will run that break-line, rubbing and scraping like mad. Some does and bucks will cut out across the weeds—watch for white tines bobbing out in the brush. Grunt and/or rattle to any bucks you see. Calling will remain a hot and viable tactic for the next 3 weeks.
Why we like it: Regardless of how hot or cold it is or the phase of the moon, most does in the northern two-thirds of America will be bred between November 5 and Thanksgiving—this year, next fall, in 2008 and so on. Historically, November 8 has been and will continue to be one of the top big-buck days within this window. Get this: A whopping 15 Boone and Crockett bucks were killed on November 8, 2003, by far the most of any day that fall. Why so good? Well, in two or three days most of a herd’s does will pop into heat. For these two or three days prior, the horny big boys lug around in a daze and wait for that to happen.
Optimum conditions: Ditto from Halloween—the cooler the better, with a light to moderate wind out of the north or west. But since the bucks are out of their gourds and the lure of the near-estrus does is so powerful, this is the one day when you’ll probably see a big deer even if it’s in the 60s or 70s. With the moon full and deer rutting like mad in the night glow, climb into a stand before first light and hunt it till 2:00 p.m. (if you do that, you might as well hang tight all day). Some deer that bed down after a long night on the woods will move again sometime at midday.
Try this stand: The pasture to the north and the cut corn south create a classic rut pinch in this strip of timber, which will stay pocked with fresh rubs, scrapes and doe trails for the next 3 weeks. Many of the resident bucks in the area—as well some cruisers from 2 or 3 miles away—will swing though this funnel, if not on the 8th, then on the 9th or 10th. The point is, if the northwest wind stays right, hunt here for 2 or 3 days in a row. I’ll put down money you’ll see a shooter. TIP: If you’re hunting with a muzzleloader or rifle, set up in the east end of the woods as shown. If you’re still bowhunting, move your stand tighter to the creek funnel.
Why we like it: Even though the rut has progressed to “lockdown” in some places—the phase when older bucks hook up with older does and seem to go underground to breed for 3 or 4 days—we still think this is a great day to hunt. From one of your best stands, you might catch a 10-pointer that just finished with one doe and gone looking for another…or a subdominant 3-year-old 8-pointer (a shooter!) running around and trying to steal another buck’s cooped-up doe. Or you might be able to change tactics and pull off a cool stalk, like the one the outlined here.
Optimum conditions: Ditto for November 8. Now you can start thinking about snow, which will make things better yet for seeing deer and piecing together their tracks and trails. With the last-quarter moon waning to new, the dark nights should make for good to great early-morning deer movement.
Try this stalk: Some pairs of breeding deer quit the woods and head out into grasslands, marshes, CRP fields, clear-cuts, and the like to get away from all the chasing, grunting, and fighting bucks in the woods. Glass as many does as you can from a ridge, hillside or bluff; near one of those gals you’re apt to see a good buck standing with his head down, drooling. If you circle downwind and use terrain and cover like this fence row to your advantage, you should be able to sneak within easy gun range or perhaps even arrow-slinging distance of the pair. (Be careful and watch the doe; she’s twice as likely to bust you as the goofy buck!) When you get as close as you dare, set up and wait. The doe might move and drag the buck past you. If not, try grunting or a short, soft rattling volley to make a buck stand up or turn for a shot. Fun!
Why we like it: By now most of the does have been bred, and lockdown ends. But mature bucks that have survived battles with other males, not to mention the gauntlet of hunters’ arrows and bullets, go back on the prowl for a few days for the last 10 percent or so of gals that are still receptive. This is a great time to whack a monster, like the 22-point, 221 4/8-inch Iowa giant that Brian LaRue got with his bow last November 22. The buck crossed a field, hit the woods, and cut through several thickets, rubbing as he cruised for the sight or smell of a last hot doe. Brian put an arrow in the deer’s boiler room as it swung 20 yards behind his stand. The world-class buck was 4½ and weighed less than 200 pounds. Sometimes due to weird genetics the old guys don’t weigh much. Plus, that buck had shed pounds chasing and breeding does for weeks.
Optimum conditions: Pray for daytime highs in the 20s to 40s, with lows in the 20s or teens. Cold and snow will make the thin, tired bucks move hard and early in the day near crop fields or green plots. They still want to hook up with does, but they gotta eat. The dark moon should make for perfect hunting conditions. Skittish bucks feel comfortable moving under cover of darkness and at dusk and dawn.
Try this stand: You’ll probably have a cold west to north wind, so hang a stand on the east side of a hillside where you can cover a wide swath of woods or pasture. If there’s good late-season food like soybeans or corn farther to the east or north, great, a lot of deer will move toward and past you going in that direction. Watch for a bruiser cutting from one thicket to the next, hoping to run across a last hot doe holed up in one of them. If he gets lucky you might too. If he finds a gal and runs her close to your stand, shoot straight and tag out on the last best day of the season.