By Bill Lytle

Well as we all know some parts of the state have had their first frost and with this first frost comes many things. We start to lose some of those mosquitoes that have been a pain in our butts the first few weeks of the season but also we need to try and reposition ourselves ahead of the deer. That is, unless you were one of the many who tagged out already.

We have all had this happen to us in the early fall. We spend countless hours scouting and watching in the summer and as we change the month on our calendar and we get the wind finally blowing right and have the chance to sit in your stand…poof…their gone like the green in the leaves. The bucks and the does. You hunt your stand twice in a week without seeing much action.

You now find yourself back to square one and in search of deer and some kind of pattern right when some of the best bow hunting of the year is happening. But, that was last year and this year you are going to be one step ahead of the dance. It is Fall Festival Time.

The best bow hunters understand that as the season changes from summer to fall that so does the plant life, thus changing the eating habits of the deer. They move away from the types of plants that they fed on during the hotter times of summer. When the summer heat is tough, they will try to avoid exposure to keep their body heat down. Now they're switching to a cooler fall feeding pattern because of the change in temperature. During the now cooler fall patterns bucks are really eating for two main reasons:

- Preparation for the stresses of the rut

- Preparation for the stresses of winter

Now food patterns are not the only thing changing in a deer's life at this time. There has been allot more action in and around their feeding and bedding areas by upland hunters and farmers alike, not to exclude ourselves from that group either. So their relatively relaxed and unstressed "world" of summer has taken on several new interruptions as of late. They may no longer be using those large expansive alfalfa fields that they frequented on the opener. They have traded that for a deeper spot or headed for thick brush with smaller less accessible feeding areas. This means that the stands that we hung at the beginning of the season that were just a stones throw from those field fringes may not be adequate anymore and will need to be repositioned to where the deer are now in their fall patterns.

As mentioned before, the second most important change in the deer during the fall transition period is food. During most of their summer they have gotten their bellies fat by gorging themselves on beans and alfalfa without any fears of feeding in these open spaces. Now though as we approach October, the air temperatures drop and days shorten as the row crops are getting ready to be harvested, weather permitting. This as we all know destroys a very large portion of the deer's cover and food source leaving them scrabbling to find new cover and a place to fill their bellies. As many of us have witnessed the past few years though, as long as the crops remain standing, the deer will continue to use them for cover and will just start coming out later and remain fairly nocturnal.

This leads us to scramble to find the new fall food sources. This can range from the food plots of corn and sunflowers to a secondary browse just beyond their bedding areas where they will stage before venturing out into those cut corn and sunflower fields after dark. Another food source that deer will switch to during this period will be a hard mast source, such as acorns and those apples that have been hitting the ground. Bucks will again start finding food sources where they had not before and this will of course affect their feeding and bedding patterns until late in the fall.

The third change causing the fall transition is of course their new velvet-less antlers. After a buck loses his velvet it does not take him long to remember what they were meant for and he begins looking at his buddies in a different light. Their natural aggression will begin to build and those bachelor groups will get broken up after a few sparring matches get a little carried away. This again affects deer movement just from the distribution of bucks since they no longer tolerate each others presence they will begin to spread out and develop more defined territories. This initially begins not by all out fights, but more of an uncomfortable presence for each other (bucks) as they prepare for the up coming rut and they become more cautious in their environment. Bucks then will begin to harass does, not in an all out chase but enough to let the does know what his mind is on, partially. They are beginning to be more aggressive in their sparring and broken tines are not too uncommon now. But these bucks will not pursue anything yet, they still need to gain some more fat in order to survive the upcoming rut.

Some Suggestions:
  • Hunt heavy cover….this is always a good first choice. You must locate the bucks bedding area.
  • Locate rub lines leading into these thick areas that the deer are using as bedding areas and set your ambush between the food source and the bedding area. Allot of bucks follow patterns from previous years, with the main idea being identifying where these rub lines are leading to and from.
  • Early in the fall, the first rubs are generally a marker or boundary for a buck's territory. This will give you a good idea of his range, but remember big bucks make big rubs. They may make smaller rubs, but not as likely.
  • Once you have identified the deer's bedding area stay outside of it. Try not to walk into his bedding area but use distance to observe his movement.
  • Find the easiest way in or out of your stand area that makes the least amount of disturbance. If you go in and spook a big buck, you have just made it very hard on yourself to take him.
  • Locate an area with multiple food sources. During this time of year deer are centering their choice of foods on high protein content to pack on the pounds.
  • Deer will frequent areas with a "buffer zone" between the bedding and the feeding areas. This area can be a 30 yard wide strip of overgrowth or a dry creek bottom. They will use this as a staging area from which they will stop before/after feeding and will become a great place for them to chase does in the ensuing rut.
  • Scent Control, Scent Control, Scent Control!!!!!
Above all, prepare yourself now for their transition and you will beat them to the punch. By being one step ahead of his movements you will have a great seat for the events that unfold in the pre-rut activities of these fall pattern bucks.

2nd Image is copyright of the ND Game & Fish Dept.