Return to Hunting Articles   

Hunting Transitional Bucks (mid-September to mid-October)

A Deer Hunting Article

Written by T.R. Michels


In many areas mid-September to mid-October is a time of transition, for both the deer and the habitat. As summer rains decrease some food sources become dry and unpalatable to deer, and other food sources (such as nuts berries and agricultural crops) start to ripen, making them more palatable. October is also when temperatures may begin to drop and the wind speed increases, which means the deer may begin to look for core areas more suitable to colder, windier weather.

The result of these seasonal forage availability and weather pattern changes is that the deer may have from one to four seasonal home ranges; spring summer, fall, and winter. In many areas the deer begin to shift from their summer home ranges to their fall home ranges from early September and late October. Sometimes the deer (both bucks and does) will use the same core areas for different seasonal home ranges, but they use different portions of their home ranges for different seasons.

To be successful as a deer hunter you need to find out where the core areas of the deer are during the time frame you are hunting them, what the deer are eating at that time, and determine when and where the preferred foods become available. Since the weather affects both the suitability of daytime core/bedding areas and the availability of preferred forage, you need to scout regularly to determine where the deer spend the day, where they forage at night, and which travel routes they use between those two areas, in both the morning, and in the evening. Then setup accordingly.

The Dispersal Phase
October is also the time when the deer are preparing for the rut. During late August and early September bucks often hang out in bachelor groups. Shortly before and after the bucks shed their velvet you may see them traveling or feeding together, and participating in sparring matches in preparation for the rut. But, within weeks of shedding their velvet the buck's testosterone levels rise to the point where they will no longer put up with each other.

Once this occurs the older bucks will start to become solitary, and begin moving to and/or establishing their fall breeding ranges. Depending on forage availability, whether or not deer use the same core areas in late summer as they use in the fall, and the distance between summer home ranges and fall home ranges, it may take a week or more for the bucks to move onto and establish their fall breeding ranges. When the bucks do move to different areas, be prepared to go looking for them.

If the deer in your area regularly breed from early to late November, the buck groups often begin to breakup between mid-September and mid-October. In many areas above the 40th parallel the bucks will be on their fall breeding ranges two to three weeks before the peak of the rut. If you want to know when peak breeding occurs in the area you hunt check the Rut Dates Chart on my web site at
You can usually tell when the bucks have moved onto their fall breeding ranges by the appearance of new or fresh rubs and scrapes, in areas where they have not previously occurred that year. Once you start seeing new rubs and scrapes after mid-October you can begin watching the area to see which bucks have moved into the area, which bucks are traveling near the rubs and scrapes you've found, and what time of day they are near them.

Pre-Primary Breeding / Scraping Phase
In the northern and mid-latitude states the first does may come into estrous as early as the middle of October, and scraping may peak from late October to early November, depending on the latitude and the age structure of the bucks in the herd. All of the deer should be on their Fall Home Ranges by this time, and the bucks should be on their Breeding Ranges. During the Pre-Primary Breeding / Scraping Phase the bucks may semi-regularly travel their rub routes and visit rubs and scrapes, and doe use, feeding, and staging areas.

Pre-Primary Breeding / Scraping Phase Hunting Techniques
This is when you should setup along a rub route or near a scrape in a wooded area that the bucks use during the day. When I am hunting a previously patterned buck during this phase of the rut, near a rub or scrape, I am confident of the trail the deer uses and I don't need numerous scent dispensers. Because I have patterned the buck, and I am hunting before the breeding period, I'm fairly sure the buck will come by me sometime within a 3-5 day period, unless it meets an estrous doe first, or is spooked by another hunter.

I am basically using the scent to position the buck for a clear shot. The scent also gives me a chance to bring in any other bucks in the area. I hang up one or two felt pads with buck urine or doe estrous scent, but I don't leave them out when I'm not there. If a buck comes to doe scent and doesn't find a doe it probably won't fall for it again. By taking the scent out every day you don't educate the buck.

You can also hunt near a scrape, or make your own scrape. I make a mock a scrape with the heel of my boot, rattling racks, or a stick, under an overhanging branch. I pour forehead scent on the branch and tarsal scent in the scrape. Then I hang an Ultimate Scrape Dripper with Golden Estrus or Active Scrape from Wildlife Research Center over the scrape, or near my stand in a shooting lane. This combination of buck infringement scents and doe in heat attract the buck out of the urge to exert dominance or to breed.

If you don't know exactly where the buck's bedding area is you can setup on the rub route at the first scrape the buck makes as it comes out of its core bedding area by using this same techniques. If you don't know where the core area is you can setup near a staging area or food source that the does are using. When I am not setup along on a rub route or near a scrape I use several film canisters spread about 10 yard apart to attract the buck over a wider area. If you know the buck is traveling after sunrise in the morning you can use this same technique on the rub route back to his bedding area.

Bucks may be traveling, scraping and looking for does during this time; so long loud rattling may attract these wide-ranging bucks.