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Pick Your PUNCHES: Patience is Key When Hunting October Bucks.

When it comes to bowhunting, October is a month for picking your punches. Be patient and watch like a hawk. When your opponent is off-guard, bring on the right cross! I have had great success the past several years shooting big deer in October, but I may only hunt a few days all month. In fact, in 2011, I only hunted two days in October and shot a great buck on the second try. There was certainly some luck involved, but I knew he was there and I was careful not to overhunt him --just going after him when the conditions were perfect. A similar scenario played out in 2016, when I shot another awesome deer in October on only the second or third time I hunted him.

In this article, I will cover the steps and strategies that went into both those hunts to see if there is something we can learn. Obviously, I should already know the lessons, but every hunt (successful or otherwise) has something to teach, and I look forward to seeing if I missed anything.

2011: The Hunt for Daggers

Daggers first showed up on my radar in 2009 when he was 2 years old. He was a good young buck that I mistook for possibly being a 3-year-old. In many parts of the country, the story would have ended there, assuming I made the shot. But I am fortunate to live in an area where deer like this have a chance to get older. So, I let him go that evening. I got a few trail-cam photos of him during that fall, but he completely disappeared the following season.

I remember wondering what happened to him in 2010 when he didn't show back up, but I had other deer I was hunting, so I gave it only passing interest. It is rare that the bucks on this farm disappear and then reappear a year or two later. So, I figured he either moved away or died during the winter. The more I follow specific bucks, the more surprised I am at how many of them actually die of natural causes; basically, they kill each other--either quickly while fighting or from wounds that get infected.

So, I was very surprised when a great buck showed up on my trail cameras in September 2011 on the same ridge where I had passed Daggers. It took a few weeks before I put the pieces together, but then it was obvious this was the same buck. However, now he was a giant I named "Daggers" because of the long sticker points jutting forward from his antler bases.

I had hunted this ridge many times over the years, so I had a good feel for how the deer moved along it and how I could get in and out without them knowing. As a result, I didn't have to set a stand; I already had a good spot in play. I just needed to wait until the right time to go in and hunt him. Keeping a close watch on my trail camera, I found that the buck was moving well in daylight in September, but if I remember right, I captured no daylight trail-cam photos of the buck in October.

This is common in my experience. Every buck is different, but for the most part, they don't move nearly as much in daylight in October as they do in September (especially compared to early September). I have heard biologists say that there is no such thing as the October lull, that the bucks still spend the same amount of time on their feet. Based on what I have seen on my trail cameras over the years, I disagree.

Anyway, Daggers was the standard mature buck on my farm--little or no daylight movement in October. That left me with the challenge of trying to figure out when to start hunting him. This is October's toughest question and the real backbone of any October hunting strategy: when to start hunting a specific buck or when to start hunting your best stands. My options with Daggers were the same as those you will face.

Option 1: I could just start hunting him because I really wanted to --and just hope for the best. That is the temptation/option that generally results in disappointment.

Option 2: I could wait until he started to show up on my trail cameras in daylight and then go after him. The problem with this approach is the fact that maybe he never will, or maybe he will but only for a couple of days and by the time I realize it, he is nocturnal again. I like Option 2; it is safe and smart, but unfortunately, some bucks (most bucks) just don't cooperate.

Option 3: I can hunt him on any passing cold front during the second half of the month, even if I am not getting daylight photos leading up to that day. I really like this approach because it gets me into the game at a time when the odds are at least decent. If the buck is going to break his nocturnal pattern for only a day or two, it will most likely be around the passing of a late-October cold front. The potential payoff here is worth the risk of possibly educating a few deer.

Option 4: Wait until right before the rut kicks in and start hunting him then. I also like this approach because, again, this is the time when most nocturnal bucks break their pattern for a few days. They are still fairly close to home, so you can hunt the best stands near the area where you were most recently getting nighttime photos of the buck.

With my hunt for Daggers, I went with Option 3 and Option 4. I am never a fan of Option 1, and I never got any daylight photos of him in October, so Option 2 never presented itself. I hunted one evening when a cold front was going through in mid-October and then waited until the 30 before hunting him again. The rut was kicking in, and Daggers was on his feet.

The buck showed up just cruising down the middle of the narrow field on top of the ridge with about a half hour left in legal shooting time. He grabbed a bite here and there, but his agenda seemed to be focused on making the rounds to see if any local does were hot.

I only hunted him twice but ended up putting my tag on a great buck. Interestingly, when I sent the incisors in to be sectioned and aged, I learned he was only 4 years old when I shot him. I thought he was 5.1 don't think it would have made any difference back then, whether I knew his true age or not. But man, that buck was going to be a real giant (with all those sticker points) if he had lived for another year.

2016: The Hunt for Lefty

Lefty was for sure a 5-year-old buck. I had enough history with him to know his age very accurately. In fact, I was sorely tempted to try to kill him in 2015 when he was 4 years old. He was really impressive. But I resisted the urge. Not that it would have made any difference; I hunted near his range often for other bucks and never saw him. So, even if I had been after Lefty in 2015, I probably would not have gotten him. But that is not the point. The point is what happened in 2016; how I played the same four October options on this buck that I had with Daggers five seasons earlier.

Lefty was more accommodating than Daggers. He was showing lots of daylight activity all through September but started to shut down just prior to October. Of course, our season opens Oct. 1. I got a few scattered daylight photos of him during the first 10 days of October on two different cameras about 250 yards apart. It was enough to get me to hunt him once near an open gate that he occasionally used to enter a small field to feed.

I believe that first hunt for Lefty was around Oct. 13. Nothing showed up--not even a doe. So, I went back to waiting and checking my cameras. I was still getting sporadic daylight photos--maybe a photo of Lefty going through the gate right at the end of legal shooting time every two or three days.

Studying all the photos I had gotten of the buck, I figured (based on the direction from which he approached the cameras) that he was bedding somewhere in one block of timber. That helped me know which wind to play, at least.

I had an ace in the hole on this hunt. There was a small, two-acre cornfield within 150 yards of where I was getting those photos of Lefty that also bordered the same block of timber where I guessed he was bedding. I knew that once the farmer picked that corn, all the deer would hit that field hard for a few days mopping up any easy waste grain that the combine missed.

I hoped the combination of some daylight activity and the harvested cornfield would be enough to create a killing opportunity. So, when I heard the combine go rumbling by on Oct. 16, I jumped into my truck and pulled a Redneck Blind into the field on a trailer. I love trailer blinds because they are so flexible--you can move them quickly and easily. Plus, the deer would think of it as a piece of farm equipment left over from the harvest. They aren't afraid of farm equipment left out in fields, but once the field is harvested and they get used to it being empty, bringing the blind in would have caused alarm--at least initially.

By bringing the blind into the field the same day the combine pulled out, the deer never thought twice about it. It was just a weird-looking grain wagon. In fact, when I went back two days later (as soon as the wind was right) Lefty never even looked toward the blind when he stepped out of that block of timber at 40 yards.

The key to this hunt was the combination of Option 2 (wait for daylight activity on the camera) and a little luck with the harvested field. Oct. 18 was a warm day, so it was by no means a cold-front event. Nor were we anywhere close to the rut, really.

Lefty was unique. I don't know why he was out there. In fact, it was so warm that day that no other deer had entered the field prior to Lefty stepping out 10 minutes before the end of legal shooting time. I was just in the right place at the right time. However, it was more than just pure luck. I hunted the deer carefully, only when I felt the odds were pointing my way and then only after I had some idea he was daylight active.

Keys to October Success

As I mentioned at the start, October is all about picking your punches. You can swing wildly all the time, but you are going to get knocked out. That is Option 1. Any of the other three options are all good strategies for October success.

Of course, in no way am I suggesting you sit at home when you could be in a treestand or ground blind. Hunt your marginal spots or fill a few doe tags as you wait for the right time to hunt your best bucks or your best stands. If you play it right, not only can you sometimes take a great buck in October, but you won't mess up your hunting area for the remainder of the season while trying.

I used to tolerate October waiting for November and the rut, but I love October now. It is an awesome time to be in the woods. Just pick your punches.

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#DeerWeek, brought to you by Academy Sports & Outdoors, Leupold, Kimber, Can-Am and Old Trapper, runs Sept. 17-23 on Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel. Each night from 7 p.m.-midnight, you'll find the networks' very best deer-hunting shows. Additional #DeerWeek programming is available on the MyOutdoorTV mobile app, and a wide variety of #DeerWeek videos, articles, hunting tips and prize giveaways can be found across our social media platforms. For full schedules, contest info and more, visit

Caption: October can be a great time to kill a mature buck, but it only makers sense to hunt when the odds are in your favor. Monitor your trail cameras for daylight movement or wait for a passing cold front before hunting your best stands.

Caption: Trail cameras are the key to October success--all your best options come from what you learn on the cameras.

Caption: Field Editor Bill Winke captured this trail-camera photo of Daggers on Sept. 14-about six weeks before he killed the buck on Oct. 30.

Caption: Field Editor Bill Winke captured this trailcamera photo of Lefty on Sept. 16, about a month before he killed the buck on Oct. 18. Trail-camera information is vital for identifying a buck's core area during the pre-rut period. With that information, you can watch for cold fronts and other triggers to indicate it is worthwhile to go in and hunt a particular buck.
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Author:Winke, Bill
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Oct 1, 2018
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