We are fast approaching what is the best time for deer activity in the fall — the last few days of October and the first two weeks of November. As each day goes by, I’m getting more excited about climbing into a stand to try for a deer with my bow.
I have gone out a total of five times this season and have yet to see a deer. As discouraging as that is, I know things will change for the better starting in about a week. The deer, which move mostly at night throughout the year, will start moving during daylight hours as the rut kicks in.
Interestingly, although most deer hunters know that the rut takes place, many don’t know what exactly happens and how you can use that information to help you get a deer. I have studied it extensively through material in magazines and online. The good news is, there is no shortage of things to read on this topic!
Based on what I have read, this is what happens: Throughout the month of October, the testosterone level in bucks continues to increase, which gets them moving more and more. They begin to travel more and do things like make tree rubs and ground scrapes. Meanwhile, the estrogen level in does also increases. That is the key to rutting activity.
As that level increases in does, a few begin to go into estrous in October, triggering bucks to start pursuing them. But, the vast majority of does don’t go into estrous until sometime in November. And, it’s that event that really gets things going as far as the rut is concerned.
As that time approaches, triggered both by decreasing length of days and the full moon phase, bucks get more and more antsy. Think ADHD. Just like a child with ADHD can’t sit still, a buck can’t bed down for very long come late October and early November. He can go three or four hours and that’s about it. Then, he gets up and starts cruising for does.
This is what hunters are waiting for. By Halloween, testosterone levels are at or near peak and bucks are on the move. They cruise through the woods and check doe bedding areas both day and night. They can easily go one or two miles on their cruising routes. They follow their noses to try and sniff out the does. As they hit a doe bedding area, they root around in it and sometimes bump the does and get them moving, too.
About two days before a doe goes into estrous, she will emit a certain smell in her urine that tells bucks she is getting ready to ovulate. And, when a bunch of does start emitting this smell, the woods come alive, with bucks running all over the place trying to track down the does. They call this the chase phase. That phase picks up even more when the does actually go into estrous and start emitting an even more distinctive smell in their urine.
It’s a great time to be on stand, but it can be tricky because the deer often are moving too fast for a bow hunter to take a shot. Thus, deer sightings go up, but shot opportunities can still be limited.
That’s why the experts recommend being in the woods just before the chase phase starts. This is called the seeking phase, and the last few days of the seeking phase are now understood to be a prime time for hunting.
Troubel is, it’s tricky to know when this starts because the does will not be emitting their pre-estrous smell yet. And, it marks a dramatic transition from what is known as the October lull. For some reason, deer often decrease their activity in October for several weeks before the end of the seeking phase starts and deer get moving again.
All I can say is, pick several days in late October and go sit in a stand. You will know in just a couple hours or so if the bucks are actively seeking does. What I recommend is sitting in your stand at dawn until about 9 a.m. If you don’t see anything, climb down and come back again in a few days. Every day that passes in late October brings us closer to prime time.
Another thing to pay attention to is weather. That is a HUGE part of the equation and I can’t stress this enough. Research has shown that, while deer activity is always strong at night, it varies during the daytime in direct relation to the temperature. When the daytime temperature is 45 degrees or less, deer will be active. When it gets above 45, daytime deer activity decreases significantly.
So, when you’re planning your hunts, look at the forecast. If it is below 45 for at least a little while in the morning, get out there and hunt. If not, wait for a colder day.
Keep in mind, if the high for the day is 50 0r 55, the hunting can still be good if the temperature stays below 45 for a while in the morning. That’s why I prefer to hunt mornings at this time of year. If you look at daily temperature readings, it is always coldest in the mornings, usually right before dawn and for a bit after the sun rises.
Deer know this, too, which is why they often are active in the mornings. As each year goes by in my young bow hunting career, I gravitate more toward morning hunts.
Surprisingly, many hunters do just the opposite. Research has shown deer hunting activity is much higher in the afternoons and evenings. The weather’s warmer, hunters can simply leave work a little early, and they can walk to their stands in broad daylight.
In contrast, mornings require getting up early — often earlier than on a typical workday — and walking to the stand in the pitch dark. And, as mentioned above, it’s colder in the morning.
These factors have proved unpleasant for deer hunters, which I think explains why more people hunt afternoons than mornings.
But, I have made the adjustment to mornings. It hasn’t been easy, but doing it repeatedly has made me much more comfortable with it. One of my tricks is marking the path to my stand with trail tacks. These reflective pins cost just a few dollars per package, and they work very effectively in the dark. I have a flashlight with a red beam, which is dimmer than the regular white light but is plenty bright enough to see the tacks.
Make no mistake, it’s challenging to walk to your stand in the dark even with a flashlight and trail tacks — not to mention being a tad bit spooky. But, I have repeated the task enough times to feel very comfortable and confident in doing it. Plus, the action I’ve had on morning hunts does wonders for my motivation to turn off the alarm clock at 5 a.m. and head out into the cold. The other thing I like is that I know I will be able to track deer during the day, which I prefer over night-time tracking.
So far, things have been unseasonably warm this month, but a change is in the forecast for next week. Looks like things will start to cool off on Tuesday, and last throughout the rest of the week. I’m circling Wednesday and Thursday as possible days to hunt. On Friday, I will be on Relevant Radio in the morning doing a special show on the upcoming firearms deer opener. I will have as my guests Father Michael Becker, rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary and an avid deer hunter, along with Jon and Kalley Yanta. Jon is a passionate bow hunter, and Kalley has decided to try it. Will be fun to hear how that’s going for them.
It might be awkward for Jon and I, as we may be sitting there wishing we were in a deer stand instead of a radio studio. But, there will be lots of good hunting days ahead after that, so I’m not worried. I don’t think he is, either.
I’ve got stands set up in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and have archery tags for both states. All I can say now is: Bring on the rut!