Whitetails 365: October Preferred Foods and Hunting Strategies

By Noel Gandy

The time that most of us have all been waiting for is finally upon us: Deer Season 2022! While our state’s youth have been able to be in the field for the last couple of weeks of September the rest of us have been biding our time.

For an avid archer, October 1 is somewhat of a holiday. The time that has been spent poring over trail camera pictures for Mr. Big, the effort spent in planting food plots and boots on the ground scouting, and the sleepless nights strategizing over how to cross his path are all about to be put into action. The days of “practice” are over: it’s game time!

The first two weeks of October have quickly become some of my favorite weeks of the year to kill a big whitetail in Iowa. If the weather cooperates and we get a cold front then I believe that this time of the year can be just as lucrative as any when it comes to harvesting a mature animal. Some people crave that rut action of November and I cannot say that I blame them. However, I enjoy the attitudes of whitetail just a little more during early October because they seem to be a little more laid back and a little more predictable.

Let’s think about a couple of things in regard to October deer. This will hopefully give us a good foundation as we begin what can be a very long season.

One Example, Several Lessons
In 2016 I had very strategically placed a trail camera on the edge of a standing cornfield that led between bed and feed. The camera told me what I wanted to know: there was a mature buck in the area. Understanding early season behavior led me to placing a blind near a preferred water source between the bedding and feeding. I decided to hold off hunting that blind until October 7th because the wind had been wrong and it had been hot. The first North wind came in on the 7th and a 15-degree temperature drop accompanied the front. I donned my camouflage, and quietly snuck into the blind. With the help of some vigilant scent control, I arrowed my largest archery buck at that time: a 160’ ten point!

In this real life experience, I learned a whole lot about deer behavior. I confirmed what I already knew and that was that deer have to drink. No matter the time of year a deer has to drink. Setting my blind strategically between bed and feed but near the water source was the key to getting into bow range. Often times the first part of October is still warm during the daytime so that enhances the desire to get up and drink. Even though a cold front pushed through it was still fairly warm. The cool weather caused the bucks to get out of bed just a touch earlier than usual and offer me an ethical shot during legal shooting hours.

Speaking of cooler weather: I hold on to the theory that deer will move better during cold fronts in October for several different reasons. One of those reasons is because they have begun growing their winter coat. Daylight activity can be slim because they are in the in between stage of hot and cold weather. Temps warm during the day and cool during the evenings and nights. Therefore, winter coats in summertime weather make the big boys warm! This means that when those first cold snaps pop throughout October the deer will find welcome relief and be more apt to get on their feet. During daylight hours, bucks can be found in lower lying areas that are heavily wooded or shaded. Sometimes they might be on a preferred food like acorns but often it is because they’re trying to beat the heat.

I also had other suspicions confirmed: deer are much more laid back during the early season before they have been harassed by hunting pressure. Even in instances that we don’t observe deer activity when we go afield you better believe we leave behind information that deer collect on us. Scent control products help – and they help A LOT. However, we cannot become completely invisible to a deer’s nose. We leave ground scent as well as air scent that alert deer to our presence. The less of that scent that they detect in a certain area the more comfortable they will be. I believe this lack of pressure increased my odds of getting into bow range of a less than wary buck.

A Buck’s Gotta Eat
When I’m hunting early season it is always done around a preferred source or at a minimum, as in the instance above, on a travel route to food. I prefer low impact hunting where I can have very clean access in and out of a certain area. I either like a green food plot or soybeans that still have some green left in the leaves. On the rare occasion that I take to the timber it is always because an oak is dropping a fresh crop of acorns.

Water, again, as stated above, should never be overlooked. The summer in Iowa showed drought for the most part this past year. Hunting near preferred water could be a little easier this year because there is so much less water to go around. Deer have to eat, but more than anything, they have to drink. What’s my dream scenario before October 15? Give me a green clover food plot on a high pressure, bluebird, type of day where the temperature has dropped 15+ degrees. At best, I arrow the buck I’m after. At worst, I’ve spent some awesome time in God’s great outdoors.

This is not always a popular opinion but it is one that I stand on: if the conditions are not right during the first part of October, then I suggest you stay home or at most do some long-distance observation sits. I believe your time will be better spent hunting great conditions during this early season. There will be plenty of time to pull those all day sits whether it be hot or cold, rain or shine, during the last 7 days of October and all of November. For now, though, pick and choose when and where you hunt based on what food sources you have and what the temperature seems to be doing.
It’s here! We made it! Happy Hunting Iowa!