Most of October is an overlooked time for gathering information that will be valuable later on, and Late October is the one time of the year when focusing on scrapes and rubs can pay off big.
By Bernie Barringer
The month of October is maligned by bowhunters everywhere as the months where the bucks disappear into thin air. It’s a transition period between the time when they are in the visible, predictable patterns of September, and the rutting chaos of November. During October, the bucks are largely nocturnal, the bachelor groups have broken up and the food sources are changing. Farm crops are being harvested; acorns, chestnuts and hazelnuts are available for short periods as they fall and are cleaned up. Living is easy for the deer and their movements are minimal and erratic.
Should you stay home during October? Absolutely not. There are times when being in a stand can be very productive, and there are other projects that can be done during this month that will increase your odds of bagging a buck later on.
The first half of October is a time when bucks are doing a lot of rubbing. These rubs provide important clues to their travel and preferred bedding areas. As a buck rises in late afternoon, he stretches and gets his juices flowing by chafing up a couple trees nearby. He may hit several trees on his way to feed. These can provide clues to help you find his beds because rubs are directional. Follow a line of rubs backwards and you will eventually end up where the buck likes to seclude himself during the daylight hours.
You might find a great place to set up and waylay that buck, but at least you will find some places to set scouting cameras and get a look at him. The information gathered will also help you learn more about the timing and direction of his movements. You can put a marker on each of the rubs using your Scoutlook weather app. A pattern will emerge right on your screen.
October is the month of scraping. New scrapes appear every day as the bucks’ testosterone levels rise. The last two weeks of October is peak time for scraping. Primary scrapes can be found under overhanging branches on the edges of open areas. These will have fresh tracks in them most every day. It’s a great time to inventory the bucks in your area with a camera.
I like to put scrape drippers on these scrapes and arm them with a Covert scouting camera. Bucks cannot resist visiting these scrapes when there is fresh new scent in them. Within three days, you are likely to have a photo of most every buck in the area. If you see daylight activity, make your move immediately.
If I find an area all torn up with rubs and scrapes during late October, you can be sure I will be hanging a stand nearby. By the time the rut is in full swing, these scrapes will get little attention, so I want to take advantage while the getting is good.
Interestingly, many studies have been done by biologists in an effort to learn how and when bucks use scrapes. They have found that by putting cameras covering the scrapes, they get photos of bucks mostly under cover of darkness. In fact some studies have shown that visits to scrapes by mature bucks will be as much as 90% at night.
I have found a flaw in these studies; however, I am convinced that the bucks are scent checking these scrapes during the daylight, but they aren’t having they picture taken. Mature bucks do not like to expose themselves on the open edge of a field—which is where most of the scrapes are found—during the daylight. So if the wind allows, they scent-check the scrape from downwind 10-30 yards, depending on the cover. Only if they smell something that arouses their urges or their curiosity will they move right onto the scrape.
This offers the hunter a unique opportunity to set up and take advantage of this behavior. Set up your stand downwind of the scrape. Additionally, adding some fresh scent to the scrape while hunting it can make a big difference. The buck may move to the scrape rather than skirting it. Use your Scoutlook weather app to mark the scrape locations, then look at the scent cone to determine the best tree for a stand.
I have fallen in love with the last week of October for hunting over scrapes and rubs, While most of my DIY road trips for whitetails have focused on the first two weeks of November, these days, I find myself leaving home to be in position to hunt a day or two before Halloween. It allows me to scout quickly and find an area that reeks of rutting activity and get right into a tree to hunt. This is something I wouldn’t do during November.
The last week of the month is also the best time of the year for calling and rattling in my opinion. Bucks in the Midwestern states where I do most of my hunting seem to come to rattling during this time better than any other time. And those scraping area are great places to rattle. The bucks come running in expecting to find some action in an area they already know is a buck hangout.
It is embarrassing how long it took me to figure out why I would see deer in the distance when I was sitting in a tree over a rutting area. Here was an area all torn to pieces right in front of me, but I would catch a glimpse of a buck moving through the trees 40-50 yards away, and they were just moving through. Once I figured out that they were moving through downwind of the scrapes, the light bulb went on. I now use a scent to spike up the scrapes and any time I see a buck, I hit the grunt call a few times in an effort to turn him towards me. It doesn’t always work, but it has brought a buck within range often enough to keep me trying it.
The chance to beat the crowds is one of the greatest advantages to hunting the last week in October. In the past dozen years, outdoor television has created a hunger for big bucks away from home, and a large number of hunters are taking whitetail hunting road trips each season. I hunt mostly public land in several states each year, and I find that the first full weekend in November is when the parking lots start to fill up. Most people have a week or two off from work so they hunt hard for two weekends and a week. By starting my hunt the end of October, I put myself in position to be driving to my next destination with a buck in the back of the truck before the competition arrives in full force.
The next time the month of October finds you discouraged, try my advice on gathering information and hunting over rubs and scrapes. You, too, may soon find yourself excited to be leaving home a few days earlier than the remainder of the DIY crowd.