It's been hot, and the mast crop has been heavy. But a big cold front is on the way, and buck sign is on the rise in the Southeast deer woods
The hunting has been pretty stale here in the Southeast, even by early October standards. We had nearly three straight weeks of mostly above-average temperatures and two weekends, Oct. 9-10, we had afternoon highs of near 90 degrees in western Kentucky. I was hunting with my 7-year-old son at the time, during Kentucky's two-day early youth season, and we saw a grand total of one spike in four sits.
Still, some adversity is good for the boy, and maybe the rest of us too, because the hunting is about to get better. It's Friday as I work on this, and raining outside. The first real front of the year is forecast to hit this evening, and there'll be a 40-degree temperature difference between yesterday's daytime high and tomorrow's nighttime low. That's going to get some deer on their feet and just in time, too, since Kentucky's two-day early muzzleloader season starts tomorrow. Rubs and scrapes aren't too tough to find in the woods right now, but I expect buck sign to really pop by the middle of next week.
Evening sits will still be the best bet, and you want to focus on the groceries. About a third of the cornfields around here have been cut to this point, so keep an eye on the combines. There's no better place to hunt in mid-October than on the edge of a fresh-shelled cornfield. Few soybean fields have been picked yet, but most of them are brown and dry and look ready for harvest. You're probably not going to see much deer action around soybeans right now.
The fall food-plot weather has been a little dry but decent overall. I sowed a half dozen plots back in late August with a mix of oats, clover, and turnips, and all have germinated well and are drawing steady deer action.
But the real story right now is in the hardwoods. We've had a bumper mast crop here in western Kentucky, with a particular abundance of white oaks. That, along with the warm weather, has definitely contributed to the tough hunting conditions seen so far.
Tennessee hunter Kerry Wix is seeing much the same. We've got a big acorn crop, and they'll walk past everything else to go to the best oaks, he said. Wix has been out of town for a week, but he made sure to set up cameras over mock scrapes before he left. Little bucks were starting to paw the ground a little bit, and I think they're going to open up those mock scrapes by the middle of next week. This weather coming in looks good.
Realtree Brow Tines and Backstrap blogger Mike Hanback lives and hunts in Virginia, and he's seeing much of the same, albeit with a spottier mast crop. We've got a good amount of acorns in the Piedmont Region, but it's spotty. One hundred miles can make a big difference, he said. Right now, I'm looking for those big rubs that let me know a mature deer is in the area. In the days ahead, you're going to start seeing more rubs and serious scrapes intensifying on those oak ridges, where the deer are congregating to feed right now.
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Hanback is predicting particularly good late October hunting due to this year's moon phase, and he even has a story in the works about it, scheduled to run next week on Realtree.com. There's a full moon coming on Oct. 20, and another on Nov. 19, and Hanback expects a pop of rut activity around both moons, with some early estrous does cueing off the October moon.
It's been stale up to now for sure, but things are about to get a lot better, he said.
Update: That front hit, and the hunting did get better. Be sure to check out this week's Southeast Rut Report, coming soon.
Will Brantley is an outdoor writer and whitetail outfitter from western Kentucky. He spends much of his fall bouncing back and forth across the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.