October is deer season on the Kodiak road system.
The season actually opened way back on Aug. 1, but most of us are just too busy with fish to wander into the woods for deer.
There’s also the question of hunting conditions. Until now, the brush has been thick and the bugs bad, but with the cool weather in October, both improve.
October on the road system is so different in fact, that it’s fair to call it a season unto itself. The rapidly shortening days and cooling weather are a nice transition toward hunts in more remote regions of the island, even if you have to contend with more hunters than you’ll find off the road system.
But along with the changing conditions, you’ll have to contend with changes in the habits of the deer themselves. You’re likely to see does and youngsters closer to the road, but in a bucks-only road system hunt you’ll have to work harder to find horns in October.
But with insights into the activities of the bucks and a little planning you can improve your chances, even without long walks and steep climbs to finally reach the bucks.
In my experience, weather, tides, time of day and time of the month explain most of buck behavior in October.
In a nutshell, no deer likes heavy weather. When the wind howls and the rain is driven sideways, they go looking for cover. Bucks that have been sticking to the high country descend into the brush and sheltered draws, often bringing them closer to the road.
The trick is finding them and getting close enough for a shot in thick cover. I look for them on the downwind side of any mountain or ridge. I drive to my chosen area, then move directly into the wind.
But be really careful about setting your sights on the ridge top and moving too fast. Often they drift into the cover where the shelter is best, which puts them much closer to the road than you might guess.
As you’re moving, pay special attention to locations that are sheltered from the wind yet give a good vantage for watching the area in front of them. As I move, I’m keeping close watch on the brush in front of me, but with frequent study of the overlooking ledges and gaps in the cover.
Strange as it may seem, deer also respond to the tides. Early morning low tides draw them downhill like a magnet. They may never reach the coast, but even far inland you can expect to find the deer down low on early morning low tides.
And of course deer are highly nocturnal, and their nightly wanderings often carry them far from their daily resting spots. You’re more likely to see deer up and moving in the morning than at any other time of day.
Time of the month is a little-recognized influence on bucks in October. While the main rut won’t occur until November, the bucks don’t seem quite willing to accept that. Around the full moon in October (Oct. 29 this year) their hormones start to stir, even if the does are nowhere near as interested.
You’ll notice an increase in activity, and even what looks like an increase in buck numbers late in October, simply because the bucks are beginning to wander in search of receptive does. They’ll be doing their best to collect a harem even if the does think they’re nuts.
Stir all that in a pot, and your odds of finding bucks closer to the road are higher late in the month with a storm in the high country and a low tide in the morning.
But there’s one “little” factor I’ve left out.
You’re not the only hunter in the hills!
Deer, and especially bucks that have had a close call or two, are especially sensitive to the increased presence and activity of hunters. If there’s been a lot of foot traffic and wheeled traffic in an area, you can expect the bucks to be elsewhere.
The trick is finding the “where.”
I have my best luck when I avoid all the places where I’ve seen hunter vehicles parked by the road and discover lots of human tracks in the terrain. I concentrate on areas where I’m pretty certain no one else has been recently. The deer that have lived there all summer are likely to be there, even as other deer from nearby arrive to escape the human pressures.
If you’re like me, as you read this you’ll be picturing various locations on the road system that call for your attention when the conditions are right. And you’ll also be assembling a gear list for the trip.
You have to be prepared for shots measured in feet and those that stretch to hundreds of yards. And you have to be prepared for rough weather and for retrieving deer from rough terrain.
I prefer “double duty” rifles that perform well in close terrain as well as for long shots in open terrain. For me, the sighting equipment and balance of the rifle are more important than the size of the hole in the barrel.
I have much better luck using low-powered scopes at long range than using high-powered scopes at close range. For that reason, I tend toward 2x7-power, and even better, 1.5x5-power scopes for my double-duty rifles. You can get by with a 3x9-power, but you’ll have more use for the low end of the range than the high.
And I want a rifle that handles quickly and balances well for offhand shots. That means it fits me perfectly with the sights lined up right in front of my eyes with no shifting and adjusting when I mount it to my shoulder. And it will be a little heavy in the barrel to steady the rifle when I take an offhand shot.
That doesn’t mean it won’t also shoot well with a rested shot at long range. Heck, most rifles will do that, with caliber choice and sight-in being important factors. I want a round with enough velocity for shots out to 300 yards or so, and I sight in my rifles for the job. With that sighting they still do well up close, as well.
Because so many of my shots are made up close, I opt for “premium” ammunition and bullets simply to help hold them together and limit meat destruction on close shots. There’s a fleet of them to choose from today, whether you shoot factory ammunition or reload your own.
In most cases at lower elevations on the road system you’ll be dragging out your deer rather than boning it. I’ve dragged enough over the years to value a simple drag harness with shoulder straps, instead of simply grabbing a leg or a horn for the trip.
I’ve tried a coil of rope and even my belt, but nothing works quite so well as a harness with shoulder straps. It frees up your hands for negotiating brush and holding a rifle. And no, I don’t hang my rifle on my shoulder while dragging a deer. This is bear country, after all.
Always be bear aware in close cover, especially when you have 100 pounds or so of fresh meat on hand.
To round out your October deer hunt, take a hard look at your rain gear. It will be handy for cutting cold winds while keeping out the rain. But it will also be as noisy as a brass band in the brush if you don’t choose wisely.
I’m simply amazed at the varieties of “quiet” raingear available today. They’re not cheap, but their superb performance pays back your investment in a hurry in the challenge of October hunts on the road system.