Deer movement in South Carolina can occasionally be predictable, but those times are few and seldom last long, especially if deer get pressure from hunters. They generally occur during the very early season when deer are still in their summer pattern or very late in the season when hunting pressure often dwindles in remote areas.
During October and right on through November, deer are on the move and not always easy to monitor. First, it’s pre-rut, and that’s immediately followed by the rut. A lot of hunters believe the rut is the prime time to kill a big buck, while others believe the time they’re moving the most in a localized area is a period of about two weeks in early October pre-rut when bucks are ready to breed and most does are not.
Once the rut occurs, with the peak from mid-October to Mid-November according to Charles Ruth, deer project supervisor for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, deer movements continue, but bucks and does are in more-specific areas for breeding purposes.
Ruth said that early in October, deer are moving a lot, looking for receptive partners. He said the early part of the month can be awesome if you transition with the deer from early season to pre-rut habitat preferences.
Bill Geddings, a surveyor and long-time hunter, farmer and trapper from Williamsburg County, said that keeping up with deer movements at this time of the year is almost an art form.
“Hunters around the state have to contend with different habitat, and that makes a great deal of difference,” he said. “First of all, when bucks go on the move, you’ve got to understand the habitat you have available to hunt and move where they want to go. Many times, deer will leave the heavy thickets or at least work along the edges more.”
Geddings said it’s essential to understand that bucks moving more will also cause does to move.
“A lot of the doe deer are not ready to breed and thus, when a buck approaches, they will walk, trot or even run away,” he said. “This can create probably the most-exciting time of the season for a hunter. Both bucks and does are moving, and you’ve got to be hunting in the right place or you will not see many deer. But if you get it right, there’s action aplenty.”
Geddings said one of his favorite afternoon places to see deer is around large agriculture fields: soybeans, peanuts or cut corn once the corn is harvested.
“I prefer a stand that allows long-distance viewing, such as across a big bean field that adjoins a wooded area,” Geddings said. “It’s even better if the adjacent land is thick, swampy woods, I know my odds of seeing deer are good.
“First, deer love to eat soybeans or corn, and some deer will almost certainly be there to feed, especially if you hunt the back pockets and corners of these fields where they seem to feel less conspicuous,” he said. “A lot of times, these places are best in the evening, and deer, mostly does, will move out to feed earlier than bucks. A quality scope gives you an edge, as does the use of binoculars. Also, knowing distances to various places is important so you have a reference distance to the deer. But the bucks will be looking for receptive does, and despite the fact that they’re not many does ready to breed in early October, the bucks will have that desire to check them out.
“If I‘m patient and have the wind to my advantage, odds are good that once I see does, it won’t be long until I see bucks,” he said. “Typically, I’ll see smaller bucks first and watch these small bucks spar and chase each other and does around. That’s entertaining and educational because you’ll learn a lot about deer behavior.
“Sometimes, big bucks will walk out quite early in the afternoon at this time of year, but not frequently. If you have the patience to wait until later in the evening, it’s often right at dark when the big bucks move into the open edges. I think they’ve probably been just inside the woody edge line for a while, but they’ll often move to check out the does while still legal shooting time. When that occurs, you can often get the shot you want. It also emphasizes the need to hunt as long as you legally can unless your ability to see becomes too poor because of terrain or other factors.”
Geddings said during the morning and mid-day time periods, areas with smaller areas of vision are often best.
“This is where scraping and rubbing signs will be prevalent and are keys to finding buck movements and whereabouts” he said. “By checking (trail) cameras, I will be able to literally see when the first bit of activity occurs and make my plans to get in there to hunt. Using cameras enables hunters to know what the really big bucks in an area look like if they are waiting on a real trophy. A picture of a really huge buck in a certain area helps anyone be a lot more patient, letting other bucks pass, if that’s the goal.”
In early October, Geddings prefers small food plots for morning and mid-day hunting, plus open, grown-over fields or cutovers near thick cover. Bucks will look for does in those kinds of places, and that can occur any time of the day.
“A lot of times, big bucks move right in the middle portion of the day,” he said. “I see that while surveying and while driving around farms. Another tactic we use is to hunt different stands to occasionally check and see if deer are moving in those areas. Sometimes it’s not productive, but often in October, a hunter may be first to sit on a real hot,spot that’s just got covered up with deer. It’s important to have stands in a wide variety of areas for seasonal deer preferences.”
Bill Cline of Fairfield County is a very successful hunter from the upper part of the state. He’s a dedicated bowhunter, but when he does gun hunt, he still uses his bowhunter mentality to help him be in the right place at the right time.
Cline said one thing that hunters, particularly gun hunters, seem to do during the pre-rut and rut is think they get a free pass on a deer’s use of scent or movement.
“Just because it’s October and deer are moving and the pre-rut and rut is occurring doesn’t mean we can relax our planning and strategy,” Cline said. “It doesn’t mean we can quit doing all the things we normally do, such as use the wind to our advantage, be quiet, move sparingly in the stand and not over-scout and leave human scent all throughout the area you hunt. While bucks do move more during this time of year, big bucks especially are still ultra wary. It is our best chance of the year to kill a big buck, and we can enhance that opportunity if we continue to keep all the odds in our favor. Never relax the high standards of keeping wind to your advantage and your movement to a minimum. If anything, I work harder at it because the rewards may be greater in October.
“Plus, at this time of year, there are more deer moving, and often they come from a direction I may not anticipate,” he said. “But if I am doing things right, the deer may be close before I see it, but I still see the deer first. That’s the whole advantage in a nutshell. I’ve taken some really nice bucks in October that came from directions I did not anticipate, but because I never compromise my wind and other essential components I was able to get the shot.”
Cline said human movement is another key; it needs to be minimized at this time of year.
“You do need to scout and check cameras if you use them, but if you walk around too much, you’ll literally walk up on a deer, and unless you get very lucky, he’ll elude you,” he said. “Plus, you leave more scent in more areas, and with deer moving, you increase the odds it’s going to cause you a problem. These problems will often be ones you never see, as in deer you don’t see because you left too much scent in areas you’re hunting.
“I suggest you scout some during mid-day but don’t overdo,” he said. “I’ve seen red-hot fresh scrapes, and when I do, I just get out of the area, select a good climbing stand tree as I go, and come back with the same day if the wind is right. This ability to adjust quickly improves my odds of seeing a buck as he moves through checking his scrapes.”
Cline said that if you hunt hard and hunt smart, the next few weeks may be the time you harvest that buck of the year or a lifetime.
He said if you can get out, hunt now. Sit in that stand longer than normal.
“Dawn and dusk don’t mean as much to deer right now,” he said. “If a buck is on the trial of a doe that’s ready or nearing being ready to breed, he will follow the scent whether it’s noon or midnight.
Just do your part right and score on a big buck now.