Shifting Into Whitetail Hunting Mode

Patterning whitetails as the season changes in early season bow hunting 

By Joel Herrling | PUBLISHED September 5th, 2022 

With football kicking off across the country, it signifies the final stretch as hunters scurry to finish preparations. Some have even already started to pursue whitetails. Labor Day is when I look forward to fall and flannels, however the pumpkin spice phenom must be discontinued. Shifting from golfing, and other summer activities to watching my beloved Green Bay Packers despite living in New York, there is quite the noticeable change in deer behavior as well. With daylight decreasing and availability of food sources changing, both movement and feed patterns are modified. 

September food plots for whitetails

Mature bucks are downright lazy during the summer months, who can blame them? Hanging with other bucks while taking full advantage of a plethora of quality forage that exists everywhere, life is good. In most places, ample foliage provides superb cover, allowing a sense of security while also providing relief from warmer temperatures. Having an uncluttered understory provides a great spot for bucks to hang out as they try to limit the damage done to velvet antlers. The openness also provides better opportunities to observe predators, however, is not beneficial to fawn survival. 

As the autumn leaves drop from the trees, mature bucks start to feel exposed, so they retreat to areas of tall grasses, pines, and shrubs. Throw in the start of hunting season which leads to more human intrusion, this causes them to seek out a completely different set of habitat conditions. Soybeans start to turn yellow which leads to a frenzy of harvesting from farmers. Add in the expansive acres of corn getting picked and whitetails are forced to abandon summer ranges in search of nutrients to survive the upcoming harsh winter. 

deer hunting in fall

Not comprehending this fall shift that’s about to occur is where some hunters can get led to a false sense of confidence. Spending summer nights glassing mature bucks in bean fields thinking they have the deer patterned can lead to disappointment once the season starts. Setting up trail cameras, getting a handful of photos and the activity stops abruptly or they stop seeing deer from the stand. Most want to blame it on the infamous “October Lull” but in truth it’s because of a change in food sources and habitat that causes the disappearance in my opinion. 

On the other hand, you haven’t been getting trail camera photos during the summer, but once fall comes it can change instantly. This is the case for one of the parcels that I hunt. After hunting several years, I understand it. My emotions can be kept in check when I only getting very few photos in the summer. I rely more on in season scouting for intel. 

If you’re fortunate to be able to manage your property or plant food plots, the effect of the shift can be minimized. Adaptation can be pivotal in getting the opportunity at harvesting a whitetail during this period as well. Monitoring what fields have been cut, looking for locations that could hold a mature buck can be critical factors in having success once patterns shift.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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