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By on September 1, 2016

Plan Your Schedule to Match Season in Your Area


If you can get off the road and into the woods on at least one or two of these days, you’ve got a good chance to bag a buck.

A good day to hunt this fall is any day you can park your truck and get into the woods. But knowing that some days will be better than others—I checked the calendar and took into account the historical rut patterns of whitetail deer across the U.S.—I predicted when those best days should be. Plan your days off accordingly and get ready to tag a buck.

October 21

Since you’re on the road a lot and don’t get many days off to hunt, I’d wait until later in October to go, and here’s why.

After lazy weeks of fattening up on grain and acorns in summer and early fall, bucks get antsy and start to move around more in mid-October. Historical “rut curves” assembled by biologists over decades show that five to seven percent of a herd’s does are bred by bucks around October 21st. That’s not a lot, but good things happen when bucks start to prowl for the first estrus does. The more bucks move, the better your chances of seeing and shooting one.

A Bonus: There’s little pressure in the woods as compared to what you’ll find later in November. I’d rank October 21 as ninth best in our survey, but it’s worth a shot if you’re off that day.

Best Conditions: If the first cold snap of the year blows in and drops the temperature 20 or 30 degrees, perfect. The cooler weather will kick the deer into moving more.

Best Stand: Hang a tree stand on a ridge within 100 yards or so of a corn, soybean or alfalfa field. Set up near a well-used deer trail or creek crossing if you find one. Some deer will browse on the ridge before moving out to the crops at dusk. Be ready.

Best Tactics: Try setting two scent wicks near your stand, one doused with buck urine and the other with hot doe. When bucks start to prowl, they may circle in to either lure, to fight a rival or love on a gal. Have your grunt call ready and blow it occasionally. A buck might hear it and veer over.

October 31

Deer2“Halloween is magical and kicks off some of the best action of the year,” says Outdoor Channel television star Terry Drury. “On this day, we start to see the buck action really ramp up. Cool stuff happens on Halloween, so dress in camo and go!”

Best Conditions: Hope for a cold front followed by high-pressure weather and temperatures in the 35- to 45-degree range.

Best Stand: A killer spot is the corner of a woodlot where an overgrown pasture and a crop field come together. Bucks will travel the diverse edges, rubbing and scraping as they make for the feed in the afternoon. Some does and bucks will cut across the weed pasture, especially in the mornings, so watch for tines and flashes of hide in the brush.

Best Tactics: Grunt and/or rattle a pair of horns. Calling remains a hot, if unpredictable tactic for the next three weeks.

November 5-8

Regardless of weather and other conditions, the vast majority of does in the northern two-thirds of America will be bred between November 6 and Thanksgiving. That was true 50 years ago—will be true this year—will be true 20 years from now.

Historically, November 5 to 8 have been some of the best big-buck days within this window. A random check of the record book reveals that 15 Boone and Crockett bucks were killed across North America on November 8, 2003 alone. That many monsters are apt to be killed November 5-8 this year, or next.

Why so good? Most bucks haven’t bred a doe for a year. They wander around in a testosterone stupor, waiting on the first does to pop into heat any day now. These four days are some of the best of the year to see a big buck on his feet in daylight. Take off if you can!

Best Conditions: Ditto from Halloween—the cooler the better, with a light to moderate wind out of the north or west. But since the bucks are out of their gourds and the sweet smell of does is so powerful, you are apt to see a big deer on the move even if it’s in the 70s. Just hunt!

Best Stand: Scout in the timber 100 to 150 yards off a corn or alfalfa field, and zero in on a spot with buck rubs and scrapes and maybe a doe trail. Set a stand where one or more ridges converge into draws and a creek bottom. Many bucks will swing through these corridors either trolling for does or chasing them—if not on the 5th, then maybe on the 6th, 7th or 8th. Hunt a spot like this for two days in a row, and I’d bet money you’ll see at least one buck.

Best Tactics: It is prime time for rattling horns, which works best in the mornings. Grunt at any buck you see. Hanging hot-doe wicks near your stand can’t hurt.

November 15-17

If you’re off the road from November 9-14, hunt as much as you can because you might spot a big buck cruising around or chasing a doe anytime. The rut is on, and it’s all good!

But, those are typically days of major “lockdown” in many places. By that I mean older bucks hook up with does, push them to remote hideaways, and seem to go underground to have their fun for a few days. Big buck sightings decrease noticeably during lockdown, and the woods can be still as a tomb.

This season, I think you’re better off to push your days off back a few days if possible, until November 15th. Bucks that were locked down with does begin to free up and start roaming again.

Keep in mind this is a big hunting week. There will be an army of hunters with both bows and guns out in many places. If you can find private ground to hunt with minimum pressure, your odds of getting a buck go way up.

Best Conditions: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you want the weather cool to cold. But don’t let a heat wave stop you. One November 15 in South Dakota, with the sun burning the prairie at 80 degrees, I stalked, sweated and shot a great 8-pointer tending a doe out in the open grass at 2:00 p.m. When you hit it right, the power of the rut is amazing!

Best Stand: Look for a timbered ridge flanked by a crop field on one or two sides and interspersed with heavy cover. The more rubs and scrapes on the ridge, the better. Heavy cover near your stand is crucial, because with any hunting pressure in the area, old bucks will move in or near the thick stuff.

Best Tactics: I’d back off rattling because bucks have heard clashing antlers, both real and fake, for weeks. But keep grunting; those calls won’t spook deer. Get to your post at daybreak and hunt till dark if you can; a rutting buck might come by any time of day.

November 27

Most does have been bred by now, and bucks are tired and run down from chasing the girls and eluding hunters. But the survivors know the chance to breed a doe won’t come around for another year, and they prowl for the last five percent of does that might still be receptive. They move mostly at night, but a buck might slip up at dawn or dusk, so be out there.

The day before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest hunting holidays of the year as family and friends fan out across the woods. This is another reason to go. Those other hunters moving around might drive a buck right into your lap.

Best Conditions: Hope for daytime highs in the 20s to 40. Light snow would be great.

Best Stand: You’ll likely have a chilly west or north wind, so set up on the east side of a ridge where the wind is right, and where you can cover a wide swath of woods below. Watch for a buck cutting from one thicket to the next, hoping to run across a last hot doe, or sneaking away from pressure.

Best Tactics: This late in the season, the deer are spooky and unpredictable. Your best tactic is simply to go to your best spot and hunt hard. Stay positive and be ready. Your chances of tagging out on the tenth best day of the 2016 season are better than you think. Good luck!

About the Author: Mike Hanback has been hunting deer for more than 30 years. He is host of the award-winning BIG DEER TV on Sportsman Channel and writes about deer hunting daily at bigdeerblog.com.

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