It’s not all gorging, though. Bucks are setting the pecking order as they gather at food hotspots. Although all-out brawls are still 2-3 weeks in the distance, bucks lock antlers while feeding to let each other know who’s who, and who’s going to rule the roost when the rut fires up.
Your hunting focus should be on the presence of bachelor group patterns because during early October whitetails are still traveling and feeding as buddies. This group-like bonding has been going on since spring and makes bucks more visible, and more patternable. Take advantage of it because it will soon be gone. You’ll likely see solid bachelor group behavior for the first 2 weeks of October. Focus your efforts to take advantage of bold bucks feeding in the open and feeding in plain sight on prime foods.
Trail cameras and good optics can help you keep tabs on the boys. Food preference varies across whitetail country, but soybeans, clover, alfalfa, winter wheat and other cash crops lure bucks looking to pack on the pounds.
Bands of bachelor bucks look easy to target, but before you barnstorm in after them consider the security factors they have in place. First and foremost, there is more than one set of eyes. Getting away with movement on one buck can be easy, but trying to pull a fast one on 12 eyeballs takes special consideration.
First, never hunt a bachelor group unless conditions are perfect. If they catch hint of an ambush, they might continue to visit a prime field, but they’ll likely switch their pattern, visit it later or become nocturnal. Wait for the right wind and stay away if any element of your attack could leak your secret. I also hang my stands slightly higher and try to have blind spots such as large trees in front of me; that way when a buck does pass by I can draw when the buck’s eyes are blinded by the tree trunk.
Next, design ways to enter and exit fields without spooking whitetails in a game-changing manner. That’s the reason many bowhunters hunt only afternoons during early season. Slipping into a field-side stand is easy before the deer arrive, but try pulling that same stunt in the dark of the morning when deer are still milling on fields. You’ll likely scatter deer and alter patterns. Instead, consider afternoon-only hunts and placing your treestand just inside the timber so once the bucks enter a field you can leave via a backdoor, timber exit. Or consider having a buddy pick you up with a truck or ATV. Deer routinely dodge traffic, yet return immediately once the engine noise disappears.
Hunt hard the next 2 weeks because whitetails are notorious for pulling a disappearing act later in October before the heat of the rut brings them back into view.
Bonus Video: What’s Up With Your Hunting Property?