If you hunt enough during late October and early November and really observe your buck sightings, you will start to see a pattern emerge.
At least that’s been my experience as I have targeted this time of year to get in my best spots right ahead of the chasing phase of the rut.
I went into an area that I had never hunted before on a cold morning on Oct. 29. This is a spot I had scouted during turkey-hunting season and identified a gully that runs parallel with a steep-facing ridge.
The gully is at the bottom of the ridge and is about 15 feet wide in spots. It leads back to the river, and it has has created a tight funnel up against the ridge.
Deer sign in that funnel is incredible. Three trails come together where it pinches down the tightest, with those trails coming out of good bedding cover up against the river.
This is naturally where we think of setting up for a hunt, right? A funnel with great trail systems indicating a lot of activity off of bedding. It checks all the boxes, and it’s easy to see it all.
The problem is that bucks so often don’t follow those well-worn trails, instead using the wind to dictate how they move in those areas.
How I am starting to think of mature bucks is the same way I think of hunting behind a good bird dog. You’ve seen this before, right? A young dog in his first year or two of hunting pheasants doesn’t know how to use the wind to his advantage. He’s out there running around in the CRP until he stumbles upon a rooster.
Finally, it clicks for him. By year three and four, that same dog is never hunting in a straight line. He’s quartering back and forth with the wind. He’s getting downwind of thickets that he knows have a tendency to hold birds.
This is the same way deer operate. Those year-and-a-half-old bucks will consistently use that well-worn funnel. The bigger bucks? They don’t want to travel right on those. They want to be downwind of them, so they can efficiently check an entire area in one pass.
On the south side of this gully is a flat bottom that also features some good sign. There was a few scattered beds here where you could see does and fawns had been milling around. The actual river is the south edge of the bottom here and it runs east and west with some thicker cover along the bank.
I was settled into my saddle overlooking that funnel to the north that Tuesday morning with a northwest wind blowing in my face. The morning light was only about 20 minutes old when I looked behind me and saw a good buck nosing his way along the river bank.
My first thought was, “Of course. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing to check that entire bottom.” I didn’t even realize it when doing my scouting in May, but there is one area in that gully where deer can cross over into that flat bottom.
It’s right up against the river, and it sets up perfectly for bucks to use on a north-based wind. By crossing there instead of taking those well-worn trails in that pinch point, a buck can use the most important tool he possesses, his nose, to check for does and any danger in an entire area.
This is not a one-time coincidence. This is something I have seen time and time again over the last few years when bucks are seeking those hot does. The key is getting off the incredible trail systems (man, it’s hard to do that), and really scan the area you are hunting and asking, “How will a buck use his nose to check this area.”
I got down from my tree that morning at about noon and went to investigate where that buck crossed the gully. Sure enough, there is part of the bank that has enough of a gradual decline where deer can cross. The trail there is so faint with freshly-fallen leaves that it’s hard to even see, but I’m confident that any good buck that is not actively chasing a doe will take that route on a north-based wind.
I had to trim just a few branches to create a couple shooting lanes for a tree that should work for me. The plan is to be in that tree the first week of November.
Don’t ignore scrapes right now
Another great spot to be on this time of year is over active scrapes.
Not necessarily a lone scrape you might find on a field edge, but those areas with multiple scrapes that are a hub of activity. The best scrape area I have on the land I hunt is a high, grassy area with multiple trees creating great licking branches. Ridges drop down into a creek bottom from multiple directions from this high point.
This spot is dynamite during corn years because it’s that much more secluded. There is corn there this year, and I was set up in the corn about 30 yards from the most active scrape during an evening hunt on Oct. 27. Final shooting light that day was 6:48 p.m. and a big buck showed up right on that tree at 6:40.
He was raking the licking branch, and I simply rushed my shot. All the practice of having a controlled shot process and talking myself through that went out the window in that hectic moment. It’s incredibly frustrating, but hopefully a lesson that will keep me in the moment should I get another opportunity soon.
I watched my arrow fly right under the buck’s chest with a clean miss. He ran off and stopped at the edge of the trees before he looked back with that confused look on his face.
You might hear on some podcasts or read in articles that scrapes are made at night. That they often are not worth hunting over. If you have primary scrape areas like I have described here, hunt them right now. Does and bucks of all age classes frequent them often this time of year.