I love the month of October. From the first frost on the pumpkins to the raking of leaves to the sipping of hot apple cider to the sounds of wild geese migrating overhead to the doorbell ringing thanks to trick-or-treating children, the 10th month on the calendar just might be my favorite.
It's also one of the best times of the year to chase a monster whitetail buck in many parts of deer country. If your intent is to treat yourself to an October whitetail complete with a gnarly rack of scary dimensions, here's a list of tricks to play:
Sit a waterhole
Sure, there's already been a few chilly mornings this fall in much of deer country, but, in many locations, Indian summer remains in command.
When October warmth enters the picture, water is often a key consideration for deer hunters hoping to quench the thirst of a big buck once and for all.
One cool move to consider making is to hunt a waterhole, particularly in the arid Great Plains and Rocky Mountain West, along with the warm and muggy forests of the Deep South.
In fact, at least one state record bow buck I know of fell to such a trick. That whitetail, a monster nine-point Texas buck net scoring 173 7/8 inches, fell to bowhunter John Wright on the first weekend of October in 1998.
Where was the "Wright" spot for the Lone Star State's top Pope & Young typical bow buck? You guessed it, a waterhole!
Hunt the highways
Deer highways, that is. In other words, the game trails, habitat edges and funnels that whitetails use daily to traverse between feeding and bedding areas.
How do you find such a busy thoroughfare in the deer woods without bumping a buck into nocturnal seclusion? Observe first, hunt later says my bowhunting pal Jim Lillis.
"You can scout and use your binoculars a lot and look for traffic," Lillis said. "Then I'll set up in those areas, trying to get on the travel routes and corridors between their feeding and bedding areas."
"I'll spend a day on a high spot if necessary with my binoculars just to get a feel for how the deer are moving."
Find the chow hall
Like many hunters I know, most whitetails are always on the lookout for a good place to eat.
Texas bowhunter Ronnie Parsons, who has more than a dozen Pope & Young whitetails on his woodsy resume, uses this tactic to his record book advantage.
But just finding a spot with potential whitetail grub isn't always enough; Parson believes that a hunter must find the preferred food source, too.
"There are some acorn trees that seem to produce a sweeter acorn," Parsons said.
"The deer know which acorns are the best. There may be one deer around one tree and ten around another. That's the one you need to be at."
If the deer on your hunting ground don't key in on acorns, they still are likely to have a preferred food source.
Find out where the most popular October whitetail chow hall is where you hunt and you've taken a big step towards filling the freezer with venison.
Locate staging areas
One key to effectively hunting October food sources is often to simply back off a bit.
Why? Because while some bucks will slip into a feeding area before darkness descends, more often times than not, the biggest bucks will often hang back inside some type of staging cover as they wait for the shadowy evening curtains to fall.
Such areas can often be discovered by quietly slipping into the woods during midday hours when bucks are bedded down.
When you find an abundance of buck sign including early rubs, scrapes, tracks, and droppings anywhere from 25 to 100 yards away from the food source, start looking for a place to set up a stand.
"You can get lucky and shoot a big buck in a place where you shoot does and other deer," Parsons said.
"But if you want a big buck, you've got to hunt with a big buck mentality."
Follow the does
While the full-blown madness of the rut can still be weeks away in many locations, by mid- to late October, it's at least on the mind of nearly every buck in the woods.
Bucks that were nocturnal apparitions earlier in the month will suddenly be more visible during daylight hours. The first rubs and scrapes are beginning to appear, and at times, frisky bucks will even pester and chase a few does.
The later in the month of October, the better as bucks begin to look for and chase does just prior to the full-blown rutting frenzy.
"The last week of October is always my favorite time," Lillis said. "It's pre-rut and a lot of bucks are on the move and they haven't been pushed heavily."
Got a deer tag in your back pocket this October?
Carry this bag of tricks into the autumn woods and you just might treat yourself to a whitetail of monstrous proportions that casts plenty of eerie antler shadows upon the wall.