October's answer: when acorns are hitting the ground and bucks are hitting the scrapes, it's time for you to be hitting those oaks.
In an effort to determine buck activity in September and October, here in eastern Kansas I usually set my trail cameras to watch trails, fence crossings and acorn-dropping oaks. My bowhunting success has taken place on acorn ridges that from years of hunting I know are main travel corridors and are heavily marked with scrapes. Keying in on these early scrapes and acorns has been huge for me at this time of year. In fact, in recent seasons I've taken a couple great bucks on this pattern.
CONCLUDING A QUEST
In July 2012 I checked my camera and saw what I'd been waiting for: a once-in-a-lifetime buck. He was a 3 1/2-year-old typical 12-pointer. That season I had him within bow range three times, but I never shot; I knew he needed at least one more year. I was hoping he'd elude the neighbors the remainder of deer season.
Running trail cameras most of that following year, I saw he survived and was still hanging around the area. In 2013 he was even bigger and still a beautiful typical 12-pointer. I was unable to get him patterned, but I hunted hard for him September through November. In that span, I laid eyes on him only once: for about two seconds through the trees.
I'd told my family I wasn't going to shoot a deer that fall unless it was the big 12-pointer or some unknown giant that happened to cruise through before he did. Well, I played that hand to the end and lost; the 2013 season ended with my still having that buck tag in hand. But I wasn't all that upset. While out checking traps in late January, I twice caught glimpses of the buck, so I knew he'd made it through the season again.
He was the first deer to show up on my trail camera in June 2014, and over the next couple months looked to be growing well. Just before bow season began, I positioned my stand at a 3-way intersection, on a north-south fence with a gate that runs from a hay meadow to a pond off to my east. Deer use this area heavily when the acorns are falling, and I usually find a lot of scrapes along the fence. Put all of this together and I think you'll understand why this is one of my favorite stand setups.
Opening morning of archery season, the buck stepped out at 60 yards behind me, where there was a scrape with a licking branch overhead. I wasn't going to take the chance of wounding this once-in-a-lifetime animal, and he came no closer.
I didn't see the buck again till the following week, when he stepped out in the same spot again. Once more I was offered nothing more than a sighting.
To this point I'd only been hunting the big buck in the mornings, because that's when I'd always seen him. I was trying to keep the pressure to a minimum when hunting this caliber of deer and was being extra careful. But finally, after seeing him for the fourth time at that scrape 60 yards from me, I knew I had to make a move.
I hung a trail camera over that scrape to see what the buck's true pattern was. After five days, I checked the camera and found he'd been visiting the scrape about an hour before dark every evening. So at midday on Friday, Oct. 17, I went in and hung a stand borrowed from my cousin.
I hunted the new setup the next evening with no sighting of the buck. The next afternoon, Oct. 19, I climbed in around 2:30, even though the temperature was nearing 90 degrees.
As the afternoon went on I saw three does off in the distance, but no bucks. Then, about an hour before dark, out on the pasture horizon about 600 yards away I could see a big, dark-bodied deer. Through my binoculars I realized it was him--and he was walking my way.
As the buck walked, I soon lost sight of him behind all of the oak leaves around me. Time crawled by. Then, after eight minutes that seemed like hours, I saw deer legs coming straight toward the scrape. As the buck stood broadside at 26 yards with his nose in the scrape. I touched off my Hoyt.
After watching him run only 35 yards before going down, I sent a text to my parents and fiance to let them know I'd just shot the giant I'd been hunting so hard for. He ended up having an unofficial Pope & Young net score of 191 1/8 typical.
My 2015 buck I also had a lot of history with. In fact, his story started in 2009, with trail camera pictures and several encounters. At the time, he was a really nice 3 1/2-year-old. The next summer, after seeing numerous trail camera pictures of him growing in velvet, I put him on my 2010 hit list. But he managed to elude me all fall.
The buck then disappeared, as the property owners to the north took out all of the trees that had formed his bedding area. Finally, after not seeing the buck at all for two years, in 2013 I spotted him almost two miles away from where his old bedding area was. Although his rack wasn't as big as it once had been, he was still on my hit list.
At this point, the buck I ended up arrowing in 2014 entered the picture and became my focus. But with him finally on the wall, in summer 2015 I turned my focus back to the old-timer. And I got many trail camera images of him, as he seemed to be quite regular around one of my stand locations. But as bow season neared, photos of the buck became less frequent in my hunting spot. A neighbor was now the one getting quite a few pictures.
I continued to bowhunt October's warm days. There were several active scrapes around my area, and surely it was just a matter of time before this 9 1/2-year-old buck came by to check them in daylight.
Temperatures were hovering in the 80s on the afternoon of Oct. 25, with a slight wind. As sunset neared, I'd seen only one small buck that evening. Then I heard a twig break and had that feeling something was about to happen.
I could barely see the legs of a deer through all the foliage. So I grabbed my binoculars and tried to keep an eye on it. The instant the whitetail hit a small opening, I knew it was the buck I'd been after all those years.
The deer was walking right up the fenceline, which I'd ranged at exactly 40 yards. He stopped to freshen up one of the scrapes along the fence, just as I'd hoped, but the path he was on only allowed me a small window of opportunity. As he continued into the small clearing, I grunted twice to try to stop him... but he continued on up the fenceline. My heart sank as I realized that might be my last chance at him.
Still at full draw, I picked a small opening about the size of a dinner plate just up the trail ahead of the deer. Maybe I could halt him there. I grunted one last time, and the ancient beast stopped perfectly. Aiming with my pin on the tense deer's heart, because I felt it likely he'd jump the string, I released the arrow. I could see it pass through him right where I'd placed my pin. Sure enough, he ran just 30 yards before I heard him go down. I can't describe how awesome that feeling of success was.
As I approached this monarch of the oak woods, I realized that once again my early-season patterning and scrape hunting had paid off. With neither of these bruisers had the weather been ideal for hunting, but the bucks were still out there, checking and marking their territory before the rut kicked in. Being in the right spot in the oaks and having patience in tough weather had made all the difference.
BY COLZIAH JONES