Lynn Burkhead — Trick or Treat time arrives for local monster bucks
As I wrote years ago during my time with ESPNOutdoors.com, there’s much to love about the month of October.
From the Texas/OU football game to 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.
And that’s as a deer hunter too, since the last few days of the month are actually some of the best times of the autumn season to chase a monster whitetail in the southern Great Plains. With any luck, if you play your cards right, you can treat yourself to an October whitetail that has antlers of scary dimensions.
If you play the right tricks on him, that is. And here are a few to consider:
Sit a waterhole — Sure, there's already been a few chilly mornings this fall, even here in Grayson County. But there’s also been plenty of warmth in the Red River Valley’s deer woods, something that has made daylight movement of whitetails scattered at best.
But when October warmth enters the picture on the local scene, keep in mind that deer aren’t only interested in eating, they are also interested in slurping down some H2O. In fact, waterholes aren’t just a dove hunting tactic for the deer hunter in the know.
Case in point is our former Texas state record bow buck, which fell to the old waterhole trick a generation ago. That whitetail, a monster nine-point Texas buck net scoring 173 7/8 inches, fell to Vernon, Texas bowhunter John Wright on the first weekend of October in 1998.
Where was the "Wright" spot for the Lone Star State's one-time Pope & Young typical bow buck record? You guessed it, a waterhole!
Hunt the edge — As I’ve noted before, it pays to hunt the highways, deer highways, that is. In other words, the game trails, funnels and bottlenecks that whitetails use daily to traverse between feeding and bedding areas.
Where are such spots typically located? Oftentimes, on the changing edge of habitat types, because as famed wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold noted in his 1933 classic “Game Management,” “Game is a phenomenon of edges.”
How do you find a busy thoroughfare on the edge of the deer woods where a whitetail is keen to travel? Observe first from a distance, then hunt later says my longtime bowhunting pal Jim Lillis.
"You can scout and use your binoculars a lot and look for traffic," said Lillis. "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."
Oftentimes, especially in more open areas of Texas, that will be along a fenceline, along the edge of a field or woodlot, or near the edge of an agricultural field or food plot. Find such an edge supporting high deer traffic this month, and you might want to clear some room in the freezer.
Find the chow hall — Speaking of the freezer, like many hunters I know, most whitetails are always on the lookout for a good place to eat.
Lubbock area bowhunter Ronnie Parsons, who has more Pope & Young whitetails on his woodsy resume than any other stick-and-string enthusiast in Texas, has used this tactic to his record book advantage for years.
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," said Parsons in an interview I once conducted with the state’s Pope & Young king. "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."
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 25-100 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," said Parsons. "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. And 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," said Lillis. "It's pre-rut and a lot of bucks are on the move and they haven't been pushed heavily."
Hunt the weather changes — If there’s one thing that modern deer hunters have figured out, thanks in no small part to the deer hunting success of Mark and Terry Drury, it’s to hunt early season weather changes.
If you’ve paid any attention to the Team Drury program on Outdoor Channel entitled “Thirteen,” or the clan’s great DEERCAST deer hunting app for your smartphone, then you’re probably familiar with this idea.
Put simply, when the weather goes from warm and muggy to cold and stormy, big bucks often respond by getting up and moving onto their feet. And that's not just true in the Midwest where the Drury's hunt, it's also true here in Texomaland.
No matter where you hunt whitetails, if there's a big cold front coming, it's a great time to be in the deer woods. That’s true early in the season, but it’s certainly a bedrock hunting principle as October prepares to turn into November on the calendar. And coincidentally enough, there’s a huge cold front on the 7-day weather forecast over the next week with temperatures in the upper 30s, 40s, and lower 50s and a chance of chilly rain as the cold north wind blows.
Which means that my column in this space is likely to be late next week — the weather’s changing, October is ending, Halloween is coming, and it’s time to go trick-or-treating in the local deer woods.
With any luck, I’ll show you a few pictures of a scary big monster whitetail one week from today.