By Mark Kenyon
With the approach of fall a certain shift occurs. Deer change their patterns, relocate and adjust their behaviors during the couple weeks of late August and early September, and as hunters with our seasons about to open, we must shift with them.
Last week in Part 1 of our series on “The Shift” we discussed the importance of adjusting our trail camera strategy for fall, and now today we’ll discuss how the transition of bucks from summer to fall ranges will effect our scouting and hunting strategies.
The Big Move
As many of us know, a large percentage of bucks relocate each year from their summer ranges to a new fall range right around the time they shed their velvet. That is happening right NOW. The question many have though, is why? In an article from earlier this year that I’ve quoted below, I explain the hypothesized reasons for this transition … (Where Do Those Giant Bucks of Summer Go? )
“First off, during the fall, a large number of yearling bucks disperse from the areas they were born. It is believed that this yearling dispersal occurs either because aggressive females drive them away to prevent in-breeding or because competition from other bucks pushes them to explore new territories. Regardless the reason, it is well documented that a significant number of 1.5 old bucks relocate during the fall each year.
That said, back to the big summer bucks you’ve been watching and why they relocate. It’s hypothesized that some of these deer were originally yearling bucks that were born on your property but dispersed at 1.5, and now they’ve come back to summer on that original range. When fall again arrives, they’ll head back to their new spot.
Another reason for the fall disappearance could be simply due to the fact that bucks simply need to move farther apart from their old bachelor party buddies, to establish their own areas and breeding rights. Inevitably this means some of the bucks on your property will need to move elsewhere. With increased testosterone in the fall, mature bucks are much less tolerant of other bucks, and therefore must move to new places to establish their own territory away from the competition of other bucks.
Finally, the fall relocation is also in part due to changing food sources. Many times, during summer, bucks will be living near to great summer-time food sources like soy-bean fields or alfalfa, but as soon as these crops start to turn, those deer will move in search of better food. These new fall food sources could be acorns, corn fields, food plots, etc.”
A perfect example of this was shared in a recent article for QDMA.com which featured the findings of a research study conducted in South Carolina where deer movements were tracked with GPS collars.
In the photo above, you can see the plotted locations of a 2.5 year old buck, who for most of late August and early September spent his time near a soybean field to the North, but around September 12th his range switched and he moved primarily down to the southern portion of the 6,400 acre study site.
How does this impact scouting?
Not all bucks are going to “shift” in this way, but given my own personal experiences and what I’ve heard from others, it seems that each fall somewhere around 1/3 to 1/2 of bucks will relocate to a new fall range. This might mean you’ll lose a few bucks or you might gain a few bucks. Either way, your strategy and scouting plans for the coming weeks needs to adjust to this new reality.
First, let’s talk scouting. During the summer, most of us were running trail cameras all over the place, tromping around our hunting properties looking for sign and hanging stands, and glassing large open crop fields. Most of these tactics are now going to need to change. Now that most bucks have relocated to their final home for the Fall, you need to realize that anything you do now will be impacting the deer that will be hanging around (hopefully) during hunting season. You might have been able to get away with a bunch of funny business during the summer, as many of those bucks you impacted have moved to greener pastures and some new bucks have arrived. But if you mess things up with the bucks present now, they’re going to catch on to you and that will severely impact your hunting season. That said, low impact is the name of the game when it comes to scouting at this time.
So what does this mean for in-the-field scouting? Well, simply, your scouting tactics need to change. During the summer you probably visited your hunting spots frequently, scouting for sign, conducting various projects, checking on old stands, clearing lanes, etc. That needs to stop. As I warned in our Wired To Hunt Weekly video yesterday, if at all possible, stay out of the woods! The final weeks before the season opener are not the time to be in the woods, unless you absolutely have to be. Scouting trips, stand prep, trail camera work and any other intrusions into your property can and will impact deer movement which can hurt you chances of success once you start hunting in a few weeks. If you have to scout in-the-field right now, maybe because you just picked up permission, be as careful and scent-free as possible. Be quick and if possible, try to time your visit with some rain that might help wash away some of your scent.
Rather than in-the-field work, my preferred type of scouting at this time is long-distance observation. If you can gain a vantage point that allows you to see into distant openings or fields, you can observe deer behavior and gain valuable insight without putting undue pressure on those deer. One thing to keep in mind though, as deer shift to new ranges in the fall they also shift to new food sources. Soybean fields will be losing their attractiveness and deer will now be turning to green food plots, corn, acorns, and other mast crops. Keep this in mind when attempting to scout, whether that be to relocate a buck that has “shifted” or if just trying to pin down the specific movement patterns for the deer in your area.
Now, as far as scouting with trail cameras, your strategy needs to change drastically as well. If you missed our first article in this series on cameras, be sure to check that out now.
How does this impact hunting?
Finally this brings us to hunting. How does “the shift” impact hunting strategy?
The biggest thing, in my opinion, is this. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Many of the bucks you scouted and obsessed over all summer may have disappeared because of the shift. And now you have two options. You can either seek out that buck wherever he has relocated to, which could be miles away, and try to gain permission to hunt there. Or, you can accept the hand your dealt on your current property and adjust expectations accordingly. Of course, anything can happen during the rut, but for the most part the bucks that are on your property in mid-September will be the deer that you’ll most likely be hunting come October and November.
Finally, follow “the shift” when planning your strategy for the first part of the season. Those summer patterns you’ve observed over the past few months most likely will not be holding true any more. You need to adjust. Identify or hypothesize what the new fall travel patterns, food sources and bedding areas will be and then adapt your plan.
Things are a’changing in the whitetail woods right this very moment. And therefore we must change right along with it. With bucks moving to new ranges we need to be smart about adjusting our scouting and hunting strategies accordingly. So keep these ideas top of mind over the coming weeks, put together a smart strategy for the first few hunts of the season, and go make your dreams come true!
Any other thoughts on this topic? We’d love to hear about your own experiences or advice regarding the shift from summer to fall ranges!