November 04, 2021
In the Burkhead household right now, it’s transition time. Meaning that the Halloween decorations are still up, there’s some leftover candy from Oct. 31 remaining on the counter, and a pumpkin or two is still on the front porch.
But the signs of transition are there as the lovely Mrs. B begins the decorating transformation from trick-or-treating towards the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, now only a few weeks away.
Believe it or not, the same thing is true in the autumn deer woods right now, as the doldrums of mid-October pivot towards the crazy and glorious days of the November rut. Because as the pre-rut ramps up and heads towards the peak of the breeding frenzy, it’s transition time right now in the deer woods.
And that means that some of the fall’s best hunting is at hand, as long as you don’t make a big whitetail chasing blunder like one of these seven deer hunting sins:
1. Ignoring the Weatherman
Just a moment ago, I tried to reach out to Brian Strickland Z — my longtime friend — who just so happens to be Bowhunter's equipment columnist.
I should have known better. Strickland, like many other Outdoor Sportsman Group contributors right now, is holed up in a treestand somewhere clutching a bow and trying to separate the sounds of squirrels moving through the autumn woods and the noise of a big buck’s stealthy approach.
You'd think I'd have realized that before I texted the friend I met two decades ago on a New Mexico antelope bowhunt, because he tends to be singularly focused come November. Even so, I fired off a text that simply asked “What’s a big mistake that deer hunters should avoid making right now?”
“Not hunting weather changes,” he responded back abruptly from a stand somewhere in the Midwest. “Now if you don’t mind, it’s November!”
Well, maybe he didn’t actually say that last part, but I’m pretty sure he thought it!
2. Not Hunting the Highways
Thankfully, another OSG regular — Ralph Cianciarulo, of Outdoor Channel television fame — wasn’t as short and succinct with his answers when I sought ought his advice hours before the arrival of Halloween.
Like Strickland, Ralph was in a midwestern treestand when he answered back.
"One of the biggest mistakes you can make as Halloween comes and goes and turns into early November on the calendar is not hunting the travel corridors,” said Ralph, one half of the Cianciarulo hunting team that has filmed the "Archer’s Choice" and "The Choice" television shows for many years now.
“Of course, I’m talking about the travel corridors that exist between a buck's feeding locations and his bedding areas right now."
Such travel corridors are important right now as the transition occurs from pre-rut to full blown rut, since bucks are increasingly on the move looking for estrous does. In fact, in the coming days, they’ll all but ignore sleep and food, instead staying on their feet all hours of the day and night as the breeding frenzy peaks.
Find the highways, the funnels, and the pinchpoints that will affect a buck’s travel habits this month as he cruises through the woods, and you’ve taken a giant step towards filling the freezer and making a call to the taxidermist’s shop this fall!
3. Not Hunting Buck Sign
This might seem a little old school in today's modern deer hunting game, but don’t forget to pay attention to deer sign now showing up in the woods.
"Yes sir, I think another mistake right now is not paying attention to scrape lines, which are beginning to become more noticeable,” noted Ralph, who may or may not have been guarding such a spot as he communicated with me from the deer woods.
Obviously, scrape lines are an important piece of mid-autumn sign as bucks begin to find a tree with an overhanging licking branch, paw out an oval section of dirt below, rub their pre-orbital gland on that branch, and urinate onto the ground below.
What’s the message from the scrape making buck to any others that might come cruising by? Simple — “This is my turf, stay the heck away from it…or else!”
If scrape lines are one key piece of buck sign to focus on right now — especially if that buck is coming back by to check and freshen up such a scrape — so too are rub lines appearing as bucks start gouging and rubbing trees with their antlers.
My friend, Jim Lillis — a retired Ducks Unlimited senior regional director who arrowed a 176-inch typical whitetail a few years back — had a bird’s eye view of this last November as he sipped coffee and looked out the front window of his rural North Texas home.
When he did, he discovered that several bucks were vandalizing several ornamental red oak trees only a couple of dozen yards from his front door!
Not only did he see the tree scarring evidence — along with some broken limbs — but he also got a few interesting trail cam photos of the youngsters doing all of the damage.
“I try to only shoot mature bucks these days, but I’ve got to admit, it’s tempting to keep my bow handy next to the front door,” he said with a laugh.
Back in the day — meaning before the 21st Century dawned along with the era of game cameras — the idea of hunting rub lines and scrape lines fueled much of the hunting literature found in OSG hunting publications like this one.
There were even a few books written about the topic like Greg Miller’s "Rub-Line Secrets," a classic deer hunting tome still available at Amazon and other online outlets. If that name sounds familiar, it should because Miller was a longtime TV show host for OSG’s family of networks, as well as a regular print contributor.
Greg’s out-of-print book is still worth finding and reading, by the way, because as my friend Jimmy can attest to, bucks are still going to work daily in November to mess up a few trees. Especially as October turns into November and their testosterone levels continue to rise!
4. Forgetting the Does
Right now, the whitetail buck’s world is all about the does, even at the expense of food, sleep, and safety. In other words, find the does in November and you’ve almost certainly found a buck or two somewhere nearby.
"No doubt, that's another big mistake to avoid, forgetting about where the does are and what they are doing right now,” said Ralph. “Why? Because bucks right now are starting to pretty much have one thing on their mind! And that’s does!"
As late October turns into November, mature bucks are starting to become increasingly active and mobile during the daylight hours in most areas as their interest in does starts to redline and go off the charts.
"And in some cases, there's still good foliage on the trees to conceal us, so from now on, it's time to either be hanging in a tree or sitting tight in your ground blind," laughed Cianciarulo.
5. Not Hunting All Day
Just a few days ago when Halloween jack-o-lanterns were still being carved, one of the standard deer hunting rules to follow would be to find an evening food source and hunt a staging area set back in the October woods. Or maybe make an early-season gamble and set up a stand near a morning bedding area.
But few experts would have told you to hunt all day long in October, because the time just simply wasn’t right.
But from Halloween until Thanksgiving, the time is increasingly right to fill your deer hunting pack with food, water and snacks and go to a stand in the middle of a high-travel corridor. You have to be more than willing to exercise patience and mental toughness to hunt all day long, from dark until dark.
Why is that? Because right now, with the rut ramping up, bucks are on their feet and moving at all hours of the day, desperately seeking out any and all does in estrous.
Put simply, you need to be there when the sun is shining and the law allows this month, because you just never know. In fact, one of my best archery bucks ever fell on a mid-November day right around the 1 o’clock hour as I was tucking the remains of my lunch away in my hunting pack!
6. Staying Quiet
Normally, it’s a virtue to be church mouse quiet in the deer woods. But not right now.
"Not having a set of rattling antlers or a grunt tube with you, that's definitely a cardinal sin right now,” said Cianciarulo.
My friend Lillis certainly agrees, having used grunt tubes to lure in several big bucks over the years, some he shot and others he never got a clear chance at.
“(On one memorable hunt years ago) I called up a 160-class buck when I was trying to calm down a young deer that was blowing,” said Lillis. “I was using a bleat call to do that and this buck came in trying to see what was going on.”
Jimmy is also a huge believer in antler rattling right now. While it doesn’t always work, there’s a better than average chance that it will in November!
7. Forgetting the Wind
Sure, go ahead and wear scent control garments, use ozone products, and keep bottles of scent eliminating spray handy in your pack.
But even with all of that working in your favor, never forget to play by the rules — especially the No. 1 rule in the deer hunting playbook.
And that’s rut or no rut, gadgetry or no gadgetry, to always keep the wind in your favor. Even if that means making a mid-day shift in stand locations, ignoring your best stand on your day off, or simply going out of your way to get into and out of a stand location.
Because no matter what, modern times or not, you’re very rarely going to trick a big buck’s bird-dog like nose!
8. Not Using a Decoy
Right now, a big buck is susceptible to two things in the whitetail world. One is a winsome doe coming into estrous — or about to do so — and the other is a tough guy buck about to steal her away.
That’s what makes the decoying tactic such a deadly tool for a hunter to use in November. While using a decoy isn’t always foolproof, it can result in some amazing hunting memories that you’ll remember forever according to longtime television personality Stan Potts.
In fact, in a previous story for Game and Fish, he recalled a few of the great bucks that had fallen to one of his favorite post-Halloween deer hunting tricks.
"I killed (one such) buck on Hunter Specialties' Primetime 7 DVD," said Potts. "He was a big 9-pointer that I killed using a decoy. It was warm and on the 9th of November. That big buck came out about 4:30 in the afternoon. When he came out to cruise across the cornfield and saw my decoy, he just couldn't stand it."
And if you put an arrow through such a big bruiser, you won’t be able to stand it either after filling the freezer with lean and mean venison, sending another big buck to the taxidermist’s shop, and getting plenty of fuel to claim the bragging rights in your deer hunting camp for the next year to come!