Mystery or reality: the October mini-rut

For years, I kept this information to myself, not because I was
being selfish, but because I thought people would think me crazy to
bring it up.

You see, for the past 15 years, I’ve noticed that sometime
between Oct. 11 and Oct. 15, a spurt of buck activity occurs that
has all of the classic features of the rut. I’ve seen an increase
in scraping activity, rubs, fighting, chasing, and even bucks
trailing and tending does during this short period.

But I kept my mouth shut. Then a couple of years ago, I sat down
to supper on the evening of Oct. 13 with my friend Tom Indrebo, who
with his wife Laurie, runs Bluff Country Outfitters in Wisconsin’s
justifiably famed Buffalo County. Tom is more than an excellent
outfitter, he is a serious student of whitetail behavior and knows
as much about the white-tailed deer as anyone I’ve ever met. So I
took a chance and shared with Tom what I had seen that day in
October seven different bucks, all of them engaged in some
rut-related activity. The center of all the attention was a single
doe.

She was an old doe, easily evidenced by the hump nose, sagging
back, drooping belly and stiff gait. The biggest of the seven
bucks, a dandy 9-pointer that I would have shot had he given me the
opportunity, finally herded the old gal off the oak flat I was
hunting.

Tom listened to my description of the activities of that day and
to my accounts of similar experiences on those dates over the
years. He didn’t interrupt, but I could tell by his eyes that he
recognized the situation. When I took a breather and reached for a
couple more cookies and the coffee pot, Tom, in his slow,
methodical manner, told me that I was not crazy, but that he too
had observed the same type of rut behavior during the same dates
for many years. That made me feel better.

At least if I was crazy, I now had company!

You won’t find anything in the books on this October mini-rut,
and I have not found a whitetail biologist who puts much stock in
such a theory, but then I don’t put much stock in books and charts
and never-ending studies either. I believe what I see.

My guess is that in every deer herd there is probably a doe or
two that enters estrous a few weeks before the others. Friends who
raise deer tell me this is not uncommon in captive herds. From my
experience, the doe is an old one, but I have no way of knowing if
this always is the case.

Many bowhunters consider mid-October to be a time of inactivity
in the deer woods. Often, you hear of this period referred to as
the “October Lull,” but I look forward to that short span between
Oct. 11-15. I use the same tactics then that I use during the
November rut. I grunt, doe bleat and rattle frequently during this
period.

Most of the time I hunt over a decoy during these dates,
although if I am hunting thick cover I leave it behind. I hunt over
a lot of mock scrapes and use a lot of deer scents for doctoring
existing scrapes, laying down scent trails, and applying to scent
wicks around my stand.

This October action often is isolated, so I spend a lot of time
looking for sign that can tip me off to where to hunt. Find an area
torn up with fresh scrapes or just the haphazard maze of overturned
leaves where deer have been chasing. Often I spend time in
“observation stands.” These stands allow me to monitor a good chunk
of country. On a quiet morning or evening, you can, if you listen
closely, hear a buck grunt or a doe bleat from a surprisingly long
distance. You can hear deer chasing each other through dry, or
frost-coated leaves from an even greater distance.

Two Octobers ago, on one of those chilly, calm mornings when I
could hear the farmer’s dog yapping a mile down the valley, I was
perched in one of my observation stands looking and listening when
I heard the unmistakable sound of running deer. The leaves were
dry, and the deer made a lot of racket. I was having a hard time
getting a fix on the exact location of the sound. Then I heard the
deer splash through water.

The only water was the little creek down in the pasture, so I
climbed down and headed in that direction. The racket subsided
before I arrived, but as I slipped across the creek and into the
timber on the other side, I could tell from overturned leaves that
a lot of chasing had been taking place.

A string of five scrapes pock-marked the ridge just above the
creek. All had been worked recently. I hung my stand within range
of the largest of the scrapes, put a silhouette decoy 20 yards
upwind, hung a half dozen scent wicks doctored with doe-in-estrous
urine around my stand, climbed up and settled in for the day. It
was 8:30 in the morning. By dark I had seen five different bucks.
The three smaller bucks had all come into the decoy and offered me
plenty of opportunity for a shot, but I was holding out for a
mature buck. The two larger bucks, one a 10-pointer with a broken
brow tine and the other a heavy-horned 8-pointer, were in hot
pursuit of an old doe.

Twice they trailed the old gal past my stand, but I couldn’t get
a shot either time. They ignored my pleading grunts, bleats and the
decoy.

No, I never dropped the string that Oct. 14, 1999, but I had the
time of my life.

Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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