COL Late October? Grab your bow, NOW
That buck you've been watching is about to go crazy: Be ready for him
On my calendar, the last week of October is always reserved for bowhunting. I've enjoyed some of my finest days in the woods during this week. In fact, the best day I have ever had in Minnesota took place on Oct. 31 near Lanesboro. My journal reminds me that I saw 23 deer that day, and 10 of them were bucks. Halloween has been very, very good to me over the years.
So why is the last week of October often so good? Because the whitetail breeding season, or what is commonly called "the rut," is drawing near. In Minnesota, most of the does are bred during the first three weeks of November. By the last week of October, the testosterone is flowing like a lava river through the systems of breeding-age bucks.
There are no does ready to breed yet, so the bucks take out their frustrations by beating up hapless saplings and sometimes each other. They paw out scrapes under overhanging branches and then go through an elaborate ritual of urinating in each bare patch of earth, while rubbing their faces and antlers on the overhanging branch.
It's a whitetail's way of announcing to any doe who cares that he is now ready, willing and able to stand at stud. The scrape is also a display of dominance directed at rival bucks. Some mature bucks will paw out a hundred or more scrapes, many of them during this hectic week. They won't revisit all of them, but they will check on enough of them to make hunting over a hot scrape a worthwhile tactic this week.
Never waste your time on one scrape: Look for a scrape line with six, eight or more scrapes staggered in a rough line. If one of those scrapes is substantially bigger than the others, hang a stand within range and sit tight. Most scrapes are made and visited at night, but about 30 percent of the scrape activity will take place during shooting hours, so get comfortable and wait him out.
Prime time? Anytime
Usually the first and last hour of the day are prime time for catching a buck checking his scrapes, but I've shot more than one buck as he stood in his scrape in the middle of the day. I hunt all day every day this week. If you can, you should too, because you never know when a buck is going to show.
Many bowhunters simply sit quietly in their treestands or ground blinds and wait. I do a lot of that myself, at other times of the season, but not this week. During the last week of October, I pull out all of the stops. I rattle a lot. I grunt and doe bleat even more. Bucks are on the prowl looking for girls or trouble, whichever comes first. I want to send them an invitation to the party, and rattling antlers and deer calls help me do just that.
Deer scents come into play big-time this week. I've lost track of how many bucks have followed a scent trail I've laid down with a sweetened drag rag as I hike into my stand. Dozens more have come to my mock scrapes, or maybe to real scrapes which I have doctored up with a little doe-in-estrous and buck tarsal gland scent.
Something to look at
This is also the time of the year when I do a lot of my hunting over a deer decoy. Most of the deer which come into my decoy have first responded to my rattling or calling. When they get close, they want to be able to see the deer they heard. A decoy provides that visual confirmation they seek.
Three things to remember if you use a decoy:
First, make sure that it is free of all human odor. Handle the decoy with gloves and then spray it down with an odor neutralizer.
Second, use a decoy only in places where a deer can see it from at least 50 yards away. If you hunt thick cover, forget the decoy -- it will scare deer.
And third, always place the decoy upwind of your blind or treestand. I like mine about 20 yards away. If you use a doe, face it away from you, and if you use a buck, face it towards you. When a buck comes into a buck decoy, he is interested in the head end, where those lethal weapons called antlers are located. When a buck comes into a doe decoy, he is interested in the other end.
If I have to explain that any further, you are probably reading the wrong page.
When a buck comes in to a deer decoy, he will usually circle downwind of the fake deer, which puts him between you and the decoy. If everything goes as planned, he should present an easy shot at close range.
If you cannot find a string of scrapes and do not have any mock scrapes that are being hit, don't despair. Hunt funnels or near doe bedding areas. Funnels are simply any natural or manmade object that restricts a deer's travel options.
A fenceline or a narrow strip of woods connecting two larger tracts of timber would be a classic funnel. Because bucks are on the move much more now than they were just a week ago, these funnels see a lot of traffic.
Most bucks are traveling during daylight hours to check on does. Bucks know where the does like to bed down for the day and where they like to feed in the evenings. They will travel from one group of does to another, pestering them some, hoping to find one ready to breed, and when they do not, they'll move off to check out the next group.
If it's a buck you are looking for, you can do worse than to hunt the places does frequent, and if it's a fat doe you prefer, what better place to hunt?
The last week of October is a special time to be a bowhunter. And you know what the best part is? The last week of October leads right into what I consider to be the best week of all for bowhunting here in our state, the first week of November.
Gary Clancy of Byron has been a weekly feature columnist for the Outdoor News since 1997 and is the author of seven books. Look for his features on hunting and fishing each month on this page.