Whitetails 365 October-Cashing in on our Investment (A version of this article is published in the October 2015 issue of Iowa Sportsman)
October is about taking advantage of the hard work we put in for the past year. All the time and money (investment) we have made in our hunting grounds is about to pay off…or not! If you are a student of hunting shows you know now that killing a good buck is all but certain. The reality however is far from a guarantee. I find that many hunters enter this stage of the season having first thought about it now. Pre-planning never took place. Stands are not prepared yet. Habitat improvements took a back burner once again this year to other things because “I just didn’t have the time”.
Consistently successful deer hunters always seem to have the time to be ready by season opener. Food plots…done. Habitat projects…complete. Routes to and from ambush sites…prepared. Stands and blinds (our traps or sets)…in place and ready. If you know of a hunter that is successful year in and year out these things are continuous…or they are awfully lucky or more than likely are taking advantage of someone else’s hard work.
If you’ve followed along this year and have at least started to implement a plan to improve your hunting grounds you are far better off than you were ten months ago. Creating an awesome farm takes time. I like to think it takes me about three years to get a new farm to where I really like it; one solid weekend of work every month for three years. The bulk of the work takes place in these first three years. After that, it only takes yearly maintenance to keep a farm in top shape. All the hard work starts paying off in October when the season opens. Given access to a premium farm and most hunters will have a pretty good and memorable season. It starts now!
Preferred Fall Food Sources-All things being equal, a stand of lush alfalfa will draw more deer than any other food source. This has been my observation. Yet, I don’t always plant alfalfa food plots because of the work involved in maintaining them. But, it doesn’t really matter all that much because food plot attractiveness—what is preferred at any given time, is absolutely relative to what is available to the deer herd in their home ranges.
Most hunters don’t have access to thousands of acres of private lands to hunt in one big tract. We have “40’s” or if we are lucky “120” right? The point being that we don’t have the entire habitat available to the local deer herd. If a neighboring farm has lush alfalfa and you don’t, a good portion of the deer will be spending time near that preferred food source. However, if that same neighbor over hunts the alfalfa, it will no longer be a preferred source because of pressure. Once the alfalfa sees some hard frosts and goes dormant it will become bitter, other green plots will take over in attractiveness. Grains like soybeans and corn start to steal the show after heavy killing frosts. In every case, what is available is more important than what you actually have. So, (I hate to say it this way) but it is actually fairly easy to know and predict which food sources are the most preferred at any given time. As hunters, keying in on preferred food sources only makes sense. Keep them preferred by not over hunting them and using your entrance and exit route plans!
I often get asked what deer prefer more with a choice between one variety or another. Certain foods are just preferred over others. Early in the season I’ll take lush green food like alfalfa, clover, or even food plot blends over most other food sources. Green soybean plants are awesome. If any of these green foods become bitter due to becoming old or freezing, their attractiveness drops off. Soybeans are great when green, become less attractive when yellowing and ripening, and return to awesomeness again once the bean is ripe. Yes…awesomeness! In an attempt to make this easier for you, I created a table of sorts for you to use as a reference only. The best way to determine what is the most preferred food source is through observation at any given time. Hunting pressure and location of the food source sometimes have a greater impact than the variety of plants in them.
Preferred food sources can go away or become active literally in a day’s time. October is harvest time throughout much of the mid-west and planning for the fall harvest will save you time and could save a hunt. A cutting of alfalfa will send the deer looking elsewhere for preferred food. A thirty foot combine head will make short order of a once active soybean field. Today’s harvest equipment is so efficient very little if any left overs will remain to hunt over in many cases. Plan for and adapt to shifts in food sources during the fall harvest.
|Plant Variety and Rank||Most Attractive When…||Becomes Less Attractive When…|
|1. Alfalfa||Lush, non-flowering, before freezing||Right after cutting, mature (flowering), after freezing|
|2. Soybeans||Lush green plants or ripe beans||Yellowing/ripening stage|
|3. Ripe Corn||Right after harvest (cut corn), when on the ground as shelled corn||It’s gone|
|4. White/Red Clovers||Lush green plants||Right after cutting/after frozen|
|5. Oats||Young Green Plants||After freezing, older “woody” plants|
|6. Brassicas||After frosts, bulbs during late winter||Rotting|
|7. Winter rye||Other green plants are froze||They become older and “woody”|
|8. Winter wheat||Other green plots have frozen||They become older and “woody”|
Transition from Food to Rut-In early October, plan on hunting food sources on evening hunts, travel routes to those food sources, or better yet interior plots planted in greens. Early on, I hunt evenings only because I feel I put too much pressure on the deer herd hunting mornings this time of year. Find the most preferred food source and focus your efforts there. If you established an interior plot now is a great time to take advantage of them. Low impact hunting this time of year is best. Take advantage of the entrance and exit routes you created and have a plan for every exit on an evening hunt so that you don’t bump deer on your way out.
Every year, by about October 20th, there is a good chance you might start seeing a mature buck showing up during daylight hours on your cameras or on your plots. By October 25th, whether you see them or not, there are big deer on their feet during daylight hours. Each year, I will start hunting mornings by this time…but the game plan remains basic. Hunt preferred food sources and interior plots on evening hunts. Hunt travel corridors, downwind sides of bedding areas, and of course interior plots on morning hunts. For mornings, I concentrate my efforts on stands I can get to the best without bumping deer.
If you sense you are putting pressure on the deer…you are! Back off. Take a few days off from hunting. I like to hunt the best days during this time frame so that I don’t burn out my hunting grounds. The best times are during changing weather and on evening hunts during a rising full moon.
Evening Hunts with a Rising Full Moon-I’m not a big moon believer. I’m really not. Years ago when a hunting group I was part of started to consistently kill mature deer a trend started to evolve in the bucks we were taking during October. Without a doubt, and beyond coincidence, we were seeing above average sightings of mature bucks on evening hunts with a rising full moon. These are the days leading up to the actual full moon of October. Why? I have absolutely no idea but over 20 years of making this observation and it can’t be coincidence any more. My game cameras even pick up higher amounts of action on these days during day light hours. In 2015, the October full moon is the 27th. Already a great time of year, I would plan on hunting the week leading up to the 27th on the most active food sources.
Changing Weather-Unlike the moon, I’ll actually give you my opinion as to why I think deer move more when the weather changes. Here goes…Deer don’t have weather forecasts. They only have their instincts. Changing weather causes stress on deer in that they sort of panic not knowing how long or bad a front is going to be. Any long stretch of low or high pressure gets deer in a lull where they feel comfortable and thus feed less—they get lazy. Change the weather and they are on their feet feeding. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen deer movement taper off and slow down only to come back strong with an approaching low pressure front. The same is true with days of lingering low pressure; those days of clouds, misting, raining weather that last longer in the fall. Bring in that brisk north wind and high pressure and once again the deer are active. My point is this…most of us can’t hunt every day. And because we hunt small tracts or farms we shouldn’t probably hunt every day. Therefore, we should hunt the most promising days. For me, in October, this is a rising full moon on evening hunts and any time the weather changes.
First—Do No Harm-I’ve said this before but it bears repeating often. Hunting shows and outdoor writers are literally running out of material to entertain us with. I know—it’s ironic an outdoor writer is telling you this right? Once every hunter has the newest and greatest grunt tube…a newer and greater one hits the market. The fastest bow is slow 5 years from now. The latest scent removing technology is old news in a couple years. To be sure, products are getting better…but gadgets get us to literally make mistakes by tempting us to concentrate on things that will have very little impact in making our hunts better and more successful. Gaining access to quality hunting grounds will improve your hunting season astronomically—creating your own whitetail mecca will make it that much more satisfying. Whitetails 365 is about making your hunting grounds better, even exceptional. This fall, keep it simple and use some good basic hunting techniques when pursuing your whitetail. Take advantage of the hard work you’ve done this year and reap the rewards of your investments. Don’t get caught up in all the hype and I can assure you it will make for more consistently successful hunts.
In October of this year, the key areas on my farm that will be hunted are my interior plots and man-made bedding areas adjacent to those plots. My food plots of soybeans, cereal grains, clover, alfalfa, brassicas and corn will draw deer before and after the fall harvest and killing frosts. It looks to be another great year!
November’s article will be a continuation of October’s. The fall harvest is complete and habitat in combination with hunting pressure will start to impact the deer herd. November starts off with us concentrating on rut tactics and ends with us coming back to food sources.