Many of us are looking at our trail camera pictures this late September and early October and scratching our heads. What’s with all the abrupt big buck pattern changes? The big bucks we thought we knew and the bucks we didn’t know are doing everything we never expected. For the most part, hunters across the whole country are experiencing this. This time of year sees the biology of the rut forcing a drastic change in the psychological behavior of big bucks.
I find it kind of funny when I hear about people getting a head start on their season by doing things like tracking bucks in late summer. Of course, finding new areas and setting stands is a good summer project. But when we track bucks in the summer, what we’re essentially doing is gathering false intelligence. Summer patterns are not the same as early fall patterns. We’re going to take a major blow to our confidence when we experience the big buck breakup.
The bachelor groups of big bucks will break up to spread over a wide area in order to stake claims to rutting launch grounds. I call them launch grounds, because there is only a small window of opportunity before these claimed grounds are abandoned again in the frenzy of a full blown rut. Grounds only become as relevant as the doe that is in heat on them.
The best thing to do is relax, because we’ve done this before. Look for a pattern to start forming. Recognize that territorial dominance for the rut and changes in available food sources like acorns can influence these abrupt changes. For this reason, October can be a very successful month in hunting mature whitetails. Now is the time more than ever for us who have been lazy to kick our cans into motion.
The Window of Opportunity
Trail cameras are among the most effective tools everyday hunters can use to manage their time. It’s an investment that makes good use of the limited time we have as those with full time jobs. Hunters generations before us could only dream of such a tool. It allows us to peer into the calm before the storm. Once the rut does kick off, we can be sure that chaos is just about the only pattern we’ll find.
When we find a pattern in the big bucks we plan to target, we must hunt and not wait. The window of opportunity will probably be gone around the middle of November. In some cases, it could be sooner. Identify a pattern. Hunt.
I know some of you will say, “I have had plenty of bucks stick to an area all summer and fall.” It might be true. The fact is that, like humans, whitetails have a wide array of personalities. Some can be severe creatures of habit, which is something I discuss in a section of The Urban Deer Complex. Nevertheless, the majority of bucks will still have a personality consonant with the enigma of big buck breakups.
When you keep in mind that whitetails have different personalities, we relieve a bit of the confusion we face in big buck breakups. As a final piece of advice, I encourage all of us to find order in the pattern changes this fall by learning the individual personalities of whitetail. We will only struggle to find order if we lump them all into one group with the same simple cut-and-dry behaviors.
A.J. DeRosa founded Project Upland in 2014 as an excuse to go hunting more often (and it worked). A New England native, he grew up hunting and has spent over 30 years in pursuit of big and small game species across three continents. He started collecting guns on his 18th birthday and eventually found his passion for side-by-side shotguns, inspiring him to travel the world to meet the people and places from which they come. Looking to turn his passion into inspiration for others, AJ was first published in 2004 and went on to write his first book The Urban Deer Complex in 2014. He soon discovered a love for filmmaking, particularly the challenge of capturing ruffed grouse with a camera, which led to the award-winning Project Upland film series. AJ's love for all things wild has caused him to advocate on the federal and state levels to promote and expand conservation policy, habitat funding, and upland game bird awareness. He currently serves as the Strafford County New Hampshire Fish & Game Commissioner in order to give back to his community and to further the mission of the agency. When those hunting excuses are in play, you can find him wandering behind his Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in the mountains of New England and anywhere else the birds take them.