It's really not fair, I suppose, the trickery that whitetail hunting can bring local deer hunters waiting in a treestand with a bow in their hand as mid-October arrives on the calendar.
For months during the heat of summer, those archers have dutifully honed their bow shooting skills, pounding the 10-ring on big buck 3-D targets sitting in the backyard.
And then the season starts, with local bucks mainly nocturnal, except for a few still locked into their late summertime patterns. For a few fortunate archers, there's always a chance for some early season big buck glory, but probably not like there is further north where early archery season weather isn't plagued by daily highs well into the 90s.
By the middle days of October, the air is finally cooling off, meaning that deer hunting should begin to pick up, right?
Not so fast, Fred Bear wannabes. You've forgotten all about mid-October's infamous lull, a mild weather time where big bucks still play it safe and often remain nocturnal.
“There's definitely a big lull in the middle of October (most years),” said Realtree's David Blanton in a conversation we had a number of years ago about bowhunting at this very time of the year.
Blanton, as you'll recall, has a treasure trove of big deer hunting experience as an on-camera star and producer of the highly successful Realtree Outdoors and Realtree's Monster Bucks television shows that air on Outdoor Channel and Sportsman Channel respectively.
“That lull, you can't combat that,” added Blanton. “Every year, the deer seem to go underground at this time of the year. And when they do, deer hunters seem to panic and become more aggressive in their hunting tactics. They'll push tighter into a bedding area, push deer around and end up spooking deer.”
And the problem with that is a hunter, if they aren't careful enough, can actually blow their season's ultimate potential to smithereens long before the best days of the whitetail autumn even begin.
“You've got to understand that this is the lull,” said Blanton. “The bucks are waiting for the pre-rut to kick in (in a couple of weeks) and then they'll start checking things (out), rubbing more trees, laying down scent to establish their territory, etc.”
So how do Texomaland bowhunters handle this dreaded slow-down in the October whitetail woods, even in the days after last weekend's unusually chilly weather and frost?
“Don't panic during the lull,” notes Blanton. “Don't get discouraged and most of all, keep hunting smart.”
According to my longtime pal Jim Lillis, a very successful deer hunter in his own right, both here in the Texoma area and out in West Texas on a big lease he hunts near Sweetwater, one way to hunt smart during the mid-October lull is to be patient and stay back.
Meaning that it's often a mistake for hunters to try and rush in, setting up right next to the chow hall in the first half of October, especially when game cameras are filled with good buck photos.
“Yeah, you'll want to have your stand around staging areas,” said Lillis, the retired Ducks Unlimited senior regional director who lives in Sherman. “You'll probably want to back off the food source for your evening hunts, moving back a couple of hundred yards or so.”
Why is that?
“Because this early in the year, a mature buck may hang up on you in the late afternoon and evening hours, staying in staging areas a couple of hundred yards away from the food source,” he said.
“That's something that I've learned on my West Texas hunting lease over the years, where you can really see across the terrain.”
Lillis said that does and younger bucks may venture into a food source as the daylight starts to wane on an October afternoon, whether that food source is a corn feeder, a green food plot, a harvested agricultural field, or even an oak tree starting to drop acorns.
But the big boys with the heavy antlered headgear that most bowhunters seek, the ones making a few appearances now and then on game cameras? Well, not so much.
“Out in West Texas, those bigger bucks will tend to hang back and not come into a feeder during daylight hours,” said Lillis, who tagged Grayson County's largest hunter harvested typical bow buck back in 2007 when he arrowed a mid-170s giant at Hagerman NWR.
“And the same is true around here — they're very content to let the younger bucks come in while they hang back until the sun goes down.”
Lillis does note that in a few more days, things may change quickly when local acorns begin to rain down. That's especially true if a bowhunter has a white oak tree or two on their hunting ground.
That leads to a couple of different strategies, either putting up a stand near the oak tree raining down the sweet acorns, or better yet, putting a stand up on a trail leading to that tree or perhaps in an area that pinches, or funnels down, deer movement in the vicinity of the food source.
“That's always a good strategy, as long as you always play the wind right,” said Lillis.
But for now, don't take too many big, aggressive chances on your hunting property. Instead, play the October lull odds just right by hunting evening food, staging areas, and travel corridors, remembering that the best hunting action of the year is still a few weeks away.
And by then, the big buck of your dreams will have love on his mind as his testosterone levels redline, enough for him to throw caution to the wind as he trots by your stand without so much as a second thought.
All you have to do then is get your bow drawn back and put months of practice to good use, shooting straight when the moment really counts!