Not much bothers me more than sitting in my tree stand, bowhunting and sweating. Perspiration is not only uncomfortable, but carries odors that deer can smell at some distance. For early October bowhunters it is just one of the little problems that must be tolerated.
Another is ... bugs. Early fall is prime time for hungry mosquitoes. Being buzzed, and not being able to swat, can drive an otherwise even-tempered archer into a frenzy of waving arms and four letter words. Just last year a move to "smack" a skeeter on my nose cost me a shot at a nice deer.
But with all of that, there are still many good reasons to hunt in October, before the rut begins. Bucks are easier to pattern before the breeding instinct disrupts their routine. During the first three weeks of October, Whitetailed bucks are feeding machines. They instinctively react to the coming breeding season by laying on fat in late summer.
Finding established feeding patterns is not difficult, even for mature bucks. Even though big bucks are still very cautious, younger, less educated males often accompany them this time of year. Often a smaller buck will give away the location of his bachelor group. It is very likely that this group contains at least one shooter, if not more.
The reason that these groups of three to six or eight bucks exist this time of year is not to feed together. It is the development of the social structure within the herd, to establish breeding rights for later on, that brings these male deer together. Placement in the "pecking order" is a very important trait in deer behavior, because every effort, all year long, centers on the rut.
During the late summer, the very vascular antler covering, called velvet, dies, dries and is sloughed off. For years hunters thought that tree rubbing was a method by which bucks removed the itchy velvet. In fact, there is no feeling in a buck's antlers, much like there is no feeling in your thumbnail.
Bucks rub trees to leave both a visual and a scent marker of their chosen breeding ground. Trees are rubbed to mark secure trails and to leave scent from glands on their foreheads for other bucks to recognize. If velvet is rubbed off in the process, it's merely coincidence.
As male white-tailed deer end their summer and begin their trek into autumn and eventually into the rut, their need to establish dominance increases. This time of year, sparring is common because a buck must find his place in the social order. Every buck in the area is instinctively driven to seek out any and all other bucks.
These sparring matches are usually only shoving contests and shows of strength. The really brutal, knockdown dragout fights will come several weeks later, at the peak of the rut.
As these pushing matches are in progress, the bucks become familiar with each other's scent. This happens from the same supra orbital glands that marked the trees during rubbing. In this fashion one buck can recognize another simply by smelling the tree the other buck has rubbed. For big bucks, knowing whose property you are trespassing on can be very helpful.
As for a smaller, immature buck, being able to recognize the big 12-pointer that dominated him in October by getting a whiff of his rub, is much easier and much less painful that accidentally stumbling into his bedroom. Nothing is more easily irritated than a dominant white-tailed buck in the presence of an estrous doe.
• Next week in part two, Mike talks about learning a buck's established pattern, depending on various conditions.