Archery deer season is just around the corner and soon you will be in your stand waiting for a shot. For many the October first opener signals the beginning of buck season and when the bucks get rockin’ hordes of Michigan archers refer to the season as “Buck-tober.” After a long wait they are fired up about the opportunity to finally go afield in search of a dandy buck. But what about you, are you fully prepared for the upcoming season? Here are some tips to make your 2016 Buck-tober hunt a success.
Begin by getting out your archery gear and taking practice shots. This is the ideal opportunity to check cables, strings, scope mounts and make certain your archery gear is ready for opening day.
Got broadheads? Is it time to replace the silencers, cables, fletching on arrows and much more. How sturdy is your treestand, is it time for a new one? Do ya need a safety cable, binoculars, rainwear, rubber boots, face cream or mask? Some hunters are going bonkers over Ozonics Scent Eliminator Devices and action cameras are all the rage for those interested in filming hunts. Is it time to upgrade from the old faded camouflage clothing to new clothing or footwear?
Michigan has a good mast crop this fall and you can expect excellent opening day hunting if you set up over acorns. The trick is to scout early, locate oak trees covered with mast crop and find a location where acorns cover the ground. Before you hang your stand place a trail camera over likely deer hot spots. If the camera captures no images of bucks move it to another acorn grove and check it in a few days. The idea is to use modern electronic trail cameras to capture images of bucks.
Savvy hunters use several scouting cameras to locate deer and identify travel corridors. There are several quality scouting cameras available and my choice is the Stealth Cam which is easy to set up, compact, photos are tagged with time, date and moon phase and they take beautiful images. Most sell for around $100 but I like the Stealth Cam G45NG 14MP Trail Camera with video capability. Don’t overlook Cuddeback with ¼ second speed and 20 megapixels or Cabela’s Outfitter, Browning, Bushnell and many more. The idea is to set up cameras and record images of bucks prior to deciding where to hang your tree stand. Let the cameras do the scouting for you without walking through your deer hunting territory and stinking up the area and blowing bucks over to the neighbors. Once you have dandy bucks recorded make a hit list and decide which bucks are ranked at the top and which are shooters and how many you prefer to pass.
You can put a trail camera just about any place. Likely spots that draw bucks include over mock scrapes, overlooking mineral licks, under apple trees, near water sources, looking over food crops and more. Today’s archers use electronics to locate, identify and categorize bucks. In some cases finding a surprise buck that you did not know was in your hunting area can ignite a flame under you that will get you organized for Buck-tober very fast. Just seeing antlers can provide the adrenalin rush to get you motivated.
Just when I thought there were no more bucks in my hunting area a huge, wide 10-point shows. What a shock to see his 20-inch wide spread with tall brow tines that come together and form a perfect diamond shape when he is looking directly at you. One glimpse of the big buck got me fired up. That night I had trouble sleeping because my mind drifted to the sight of the huge deer. By noon the next day I had all my archery gear in order and I was shooting hell out of the bull’s eye. Next, I set out scouting cameras and began nightly tours in an effort to get a glimpse of the beautiful rack. I immediately got serious about preparing for hunting season and gathering intelligence about the boss buck.
One of my favorite tricks is to sweeten the pie by placing food close to sensitive scouting cameras. Not just any food but I gather fresh apples and toss them in the area. Close to the apples I place a homemade tube feeder filled with a special mix of corn, deer pellets, sunflower seeds, bird seeds and Kaydee’s bird mix that has a strong cherry odor. Sometimes I use a few drops of cherry extract along with food. Bucks go nuts over apples and the smell of fresh cherries draws them for miles. The idea is to get images of the bucks and gather reference photos of deer in the area. In southern Michigan this tactic is deadly under oak trees, along fields, corn field edges, travel routes, watering holes and alfalfa fields where bucks stage at night prior to rutting.
The idea is to inventory deer on your hunting grounds. Scouting with modern cameras will provide visual images of animals where you are hunting. You get a good idea how many doe and fawn, young bucks and big bucks are available for hunting. Modern cameras also capture images of raccoon, coyote, bear and other animals in addition to trespassers. Once you determine where a shooter is located you hang a tree stand overlooking the hot spot. Most savvy archers hang several stands so they have hunting opportunities regardless of wind direction. I hate hunting more than 25 feet off the ground and most of my stands are not that high, although sometimes you have to get elevated to avoid detection.
By hanging several stands you can switch locations depending on wind direction or when you want to hunt a fresh location. Smart hunters don’t use the same sight over and over until deer stop showing because they know they are being hunted. Smart old bucks are experts at patterning hunters and avoiding locations that are hunted. Use a stand only once or twice per week, although pounding rain and cold weather can reduce human odor in areas you frequent. North American Whitetail interviewed successful buck hunters and discovered that most trophy deer fall victim to hunters using a stand for the first time. Fact is the more human scent or human intrusion in a particular area the more deer detect your presence and avoid the location.
Climber stands are a great way to slip into a buck’s core area. Often you will spot a buck that constantly is in a particular location, often slightly out of range from your existing stand. By using a climber you can quickly get down and move at lightning speed, slip into the hot locations and ambush unsuspecting whitetails. Arrowing a big buck often hinges on your mobility, ability to identify travel routes, bedding sites, core areas and move where bucks live.
October is a fantastic month for deer hunting. The woods are beautiful with brightly colored leaves that are fast changing color and falling to the forest floor. The odor of Michigan’s great outdoors in fall is another appealing attribute that sharpens your senses and brings out your hunter instincts. October is highlighted by rapidly changing weather from warm sunny days to overcast skies, cold rain and frosty mornings when bucks get frisky as testosterone levels soar. What actually happens is late October is highlighted with drastically changing weather from hot to cold with plenty of frost and rain and daylight shortens. As daylight diminishes the amount of sunlight that passes through a white-tailed deer’s eye diminishes which causes the pituitary and pineal glands to kick out rut hormones triggering does to go into heat and bucks go absolutely crazy. This is an ideal time to be on stand.
Most Michigan hunters join family and friends for the October opener, which falls on a Saturday this year. There are many rituals associated with opening day. There will be campfires lighting the skies the Friday night prior to opener as men clad in camo celebrate Buck-tober. Many will share hunting stories, fondle new hunting gear, discuss hunting strategies, talk about bucks and antler size and prepare for the hunt. Others will dance around the fire, drink and and war hoop at the stars.
For many October is the beginning of hunting season. They celebrate by dining on wild game, fish or fowl, most eat venison steaks fried golden brown in sweet onions. Smart hunters hit the rack early and are fixing breakfast long before daylight. Come dawn they are on stand, waiting to see their first deer of the new hunting season.
With fond memories I recall opening day with several Michigan Outdoor Writers including Fred Trost, one time Michigan Outdoors TV Producer. Fred needed a place to hunt and I set him in a stand overlooking a rye field. Come daylight Fred used a wooden longbow to put a Fred Bear two blade broadhead through a spike buck but he got so excited he could not track the animal. While Fred was the greatest at keeping an eye on how the DNR is ripping off sportsmen he lacked hunting and fishing skills. We slowly followed the blood trail through a thick cedar swamp and eventually stumbled on the dandy prize. It was Fred’s first buck and he celebrated by frying back straps in real butter seasoned with garlic for everyone in camp. The meat from the young deer was delicious and that night we all congratulated Fred and a roaring campfire at our camp lit up the northern Michigan sky as if to announce our hunting success.
I’m a bit of a buck hunting junkie and learned at a young age how to score on adult deer with impressive headgear. Now that I’m a retired archer I’ve turned into a complete bone collector. To me deer hunting is all about the rack, the bigger the better and I go all out to scout year round, categorize bucks with photos and I’m after critters come October 24/7. But I must admit that October has been a bit of a disappointment when it comes to harvesting trophy bucks. So, I don’t take the opening weekend too seriously and spend more time foolin’ around than on stand. But then the season quickly changes, days become shorter, crops are harvested, geese migrate and leaves begin to fall as warm weather gives way to frosty mornings. Long ago I discovered that Michigan bucks increase their activity as late October arrives. All of a sudden pre-rutting bucks go bonkers and soon chasing leads to full blown tending as the rut swings into high gear.
If I had to pick the best day in October to arrow a buck it would be Halloween, especially if the moon is full. Actually what happens is the shortening of days, less sunlight impacts the pituitary gland of deer and they become sexually active. Now you are talkin’ buck hunting time and you greatly increase sightings and hunting success if you concentrate efforts in late October. You see the beautiful leaves and sunny weather of early October give way to cold weather, leaves falling, days shorten and the bucks go bonkers. For many, October switches to Buck-tober as heavy racked deer come out of the swamps, brush, standing corn and roam the countryside in search of a mate. Look for buck activity to increase in your area starting October 20 and the hunting will simply get better until gun opener.
Hey, guess I’m saying have fun and enjoy the opener but when the bucks get rockin’ in late October spend more time on stand. The transition from October to Buck-tober is easy to identify by the drastic increase in rubs, scrapes and buck sightings. As buck activity soars you will see them more frequently as they are moving more often, constantly licking their lips, fleming or scent checking to see if does are receptive, and chasing does. This provides a narrow window of opportunity to score on a buck of a lifetime as buck activity kicks into high gear. Many times peak activity follows a mid-October lull when bucks seem to disappear. But the dead days of the month are quickly replaced by buck activity that is impressive.
What about you? Do you have your gear ready for the hunt? Do you understand white-tailed deer and their habits good enough to get quality scouting camera photos? Do you understand the mating ritual of deer and are you shifting hunts to take advantage of increased activity in late Buck-tober? I hope so!