How to Beat the Dreaded October Lull
Just because you’re not seeing bucks doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared. Here’s how to overcome what's wrongly called the October lull
Most deer hunters look forward to the “October lull” with as much enthusiasm as they would have for sharing a cab ride with a PETA member. The lull, they say, is that period of time when mature bucks stop moving, or go completely nocturnal. But the October lull—as most hunters perceive it—doesn’t exist.
For sure, there are some pretty darned good deer hunters who will tell me I’m full of it. But I can back my opinion with science-based evidence and anecdotes from experts that say the October lull is nothing more than an excuse.
We use the term to define a time when deer behavior goes through a sequence of marked changes in movement, feeding patterns, browse preference, and core areas. And a study conducted in 2007 at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma supports this very notion.
McAlester—which offers a limited-draw, traditional archery-only hunt for whitetails—covers nearly 45,000 acres. The property is an active ammunition facility, and thus access is tightly regulated. The deer, however, are wild and free ranging. That study, conducted by researchers from Auburn University as well as McAlester biologists, found that movement patterns of both young and old bucks increased steadily throughout October and November, reaching a peak just before breeding began, and ramping up again as bucks sought the last remaining estrous does.
Why Hunters See Fewer Bucks in Mid-October
So why do so many hunters subscribe to the lull theory? Probably because it’s likely there is a change that causes hunters to see fewer deer—but it’s not because the deer aren’t moving.
“I don’t think the lull is a myth. I think it’s definitely real. But I’m not sure it’s exactly what everyone seems to think it is,” says Daniel McVay of Buckventures Outdoors TV.
McVay isn’t just another TV hunter who hunts prime spots. Prior to his work on TV, McVay spent more than a decade as a guide in Illinois.
“I’d have 25 guys in the woods and none of them would see quality deer in mid-October. It didn’t matter where you sat them, they just didn’t see the mature bucks,” he says. “But I think that’s most evident in the Midwest, where you have plenty of food.”
In my home state of Michigan, where more than 300,000 bowhunters take to the woods each October, my trail cameras show a steady increase in mature buck movement throughout the month. In areas where hunting pressure is minimal, those cameras record that evidence on the fringes of daylight—classic low-light movement.
How to Hunt Mature Bucks in October
The timeframe known as the October Lull falls more or less between that golden, early season of plenty, and the crisp, energizing pre-rut, when “ghost” bucks again begin stirring—and most of us recall, once again, just how fun bowhunting can be. For some, the pre-rut action can be a long time coming. Classic lull states feature mid-September bow openers and a classic, early November rut.
Andrae D’Acquisto, the founder of Lone Wolf treestands, has always been a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to his bowhunting, and his thoughts on the October Lull certainly qualify. D’Acquisto’s ground-breaking stand designs continue their reputation as some of the best premium models on the market, and the big-buck guru has used them to take the majority of his dozens of record-book-sized trophies—during one specific month. Can you guess?
“When most guys are experiencing what they call the ‘October Lull,’ it’s actually a case of the mature deer making circles around established, over-hunted stand sites,” he said. “You think those deer aren’t still moving around? They’re just making circles around sloppy hunters. I feel the best time to kill a big deer is during the October Lull—I’ll bet 80 percent of my deer come from that time period. And in talking with some other good trophy hunters, I’ve heard pretty much the same. Because we’re always out moving around reading sign, we’re staying on those big deer. So we’re always patterning the deer—not letting the deer pattern us.”
D’Acquisto is known for hunting trophy bucks aggressively. He won’t hesitate, for example, to hang a stand in a spot where he’s just bumped a trophy buck from its bed—and wait for the animal’s return. As you might guess, D’Acquisto explained that this tactic is not as easy—or as cut and dried—as it sounds.
“Let’s say I’m going to a new property that I’ve never hunted before,” D’Acquisto said. “In years past, it would take me almost a whole season to learn that property, to learn where the deer are bedding, and traveling through. These days, I like to show up two weeks before I hunt it. I’ll walk virtually every inch of the property and learn where most every deer beds, and I’ll read the sign, and jump specific bucks. And I can learn all that I need to know in basically a weekend of tiptoeing around. And then you’ve got a lot of the information without having to burn up a whole year.
“At other times, during the rut, because I do so much scouting I’ll find where bucks have found a doe in heat, and I’ll know it because I’ll jump several bucks in a tiny area. Somewhere there will be a doe in heat bedded in there, and another indication is that the bucks won’t jump up right away and run off. They’ll kind of stand around or jog off a ways, but linger. I like to jump right on those spots, and hang a stand immediately. To have found that kind of a situation just by hunting, that would be almost impossible” to find if he was scouting remotely.
D’Acquisto believes many bowhunters have misguided phobias about bumping bedded deer.
“I get a kick out of guys who think that if you jump a deer, he’s going to run five miles away. They just don’t do that,” D’Acquisto says. “They have a home range, and if you know it, and know where he’s bedding, the better off you’ll be. That’s the best information you can have. If I know where a big guy is bedding I feel it’s just a matter of time.”
Scouting as often and as hard as D’Acquisto isn’t for everybody, but he warns that whatever your timetable, you must be smart about your approach.
“There’s a time to go running around and looking for sign like a bull in a china shop, and a time to be stealthy,” he advises. “When you don’t want to screw up a spot, and still find out where a big guy is bedded, I’m going in with the wind in my face. And as soon as I jump that deer, I’m dumping down, out of sight. Often, they won’t even know what bumped them.
“I think it’s all in peoples’ minds about not hunting where they jumped a big buck. Very few have the confidence to hunt that spot, because maybe it’s something they heard or read. Personally, I just can’t wait to dive into a new property and get in there. And a lot of it has to do with the size of the property. Maybe a guy already knows the property, and he handles it a little differently. If you only have a 20-acre area, you certainly don’t want to bump a deer onto the neighbor’s property. But when I hunt 400- to 600-acre parcels, sometimes I’ve intentionally pushed the deer and stacked them all on one side of the property. I’ve been doing this enough that I can really manipulate the deer, and how they react. Would I do that on 20 acres? No.”
For D’Acquisto, regular, intense scouting has become a way of life. As you might guess, he believes most hunters simply don’t scout enough, and get set in their ways—whether hunting new or familiar properties.
“Hunting year-old sign is one of the biggest mistakes I see, and not that year-old sign is bad, but in general most people don’t scout enough and they hunt too much,” D’Acquisto opines. “If you could hunt a day and scout two, your percentages for mature buck success would go way up. Most people find one good spot and jump right in it. I’m in a continuous cycle of scouting, then hunting, then looking for a new spot again.” —Mark Melotik
Living the Lull
What are we to do with all of this information? Well, the science is pretty clear: There is no lull in whitetail movement during October. In fact, the opposite is likely occurring. Bucks steadily increase their movement patterns as the rut draws near.
But depending on the amount of hunting pressure in your area, that movement might not happen in daylight. And, depending on the availability of preferred food sources in the areas you hunt, that movement might not happen in areas where you’ve placed your stands.
“There are a lot of changes happening in mid-October,” McVay says. “If I don’t kill the buck early, I’m going to lay off until the end of October because I just can’t risk bumping him. But in some areas where there’s less food and less pressure, I can get away with more and can still have decent hunting.”
That’s not a lull. That’s just hunting smart.