KODIAK — October is an important month for road system deer hunts.
Not only is it the last month of the season, it also marks a notable change in the hunts. October also spells out what much of the hunting will be like when you venture beyond the road system to hunting through the end of the year.
For one thing, the leaves are starting to fall now, and by the end of the month they’ll be gone.
Once we get out first frost, along with additional heavy rains, the grass will also collapse to the ground.
It’s just a lot easier to hunt deer when you can see them!
Many experienced Kodiak hunters don’t bother to hunt deer until October simply because the hunting is easier.
There is more going on than a mere change in vegetation, however.
For one thing, the days are getting shorter as the nights get longer. Deer are highly nocturnal, and they’re active for longer periods as a result. In my experience they’re also active longer at the beginning and end of each day.
Since they’re up and moving around for longer periods in daylight hours, you get additional opportunities to see them in open terrain.
And most important of all, the bucks in particular are getting restless with the approach of the rut.
They can be spotted moving around rather than bedded almost any time of day, especially around the full moon at the end of the month.
There’s little doubt the peak of the rut occurs with the full moon in November.
But decades of my own experience and anecdotes from others have convinced me that there’s an “early” rut in October.
Whether the does are receptive or not, the bucks are ready and ever hopeful. They seek out does in October and even do their best to assemble them into loose herds.
When I see lone bucks in October, they’re almost always on the move. And when I spot does late in the month, there’s almost always a buck or two hanging nearby.
It’s a little early for that to start happening so early in the month, but the pattern will become more and more overt as the next few weeks pass.
In the meantime, the extra hunting pressure of October changes the distribution of the deer.
Repeated encounters with people send the deer further back into the hills and often higher.It’s likely to snow in the high country between now and the end of the month, but in my experience the snow has to get ‘belly-dragging’ deep before it forces deer to lower elevations.
You’re likely to see October deer anywhere at any time, but the further inland you travel and the higher you climb, the more you’ll see.
As a matter of course I start my October hunts well before daylight, just to be further back in the hills once shooting light arrives.
And as a consequence of the longer walks, I tend more often to get caught by darkness come evening.
That translates into lots of time with a headlamp, always stowed carefully in my daypack along with spare batteries and a spare bulb. If a trusted headlamp is getting old and creaky, I also pack a spare headlamp.
Flashlights are fine, but traversing steep terrain often requires the use of both hands. A flashlight just gets in my way. I keep a fairly powerful version in my daypack for occasional looks beyond the range of a head lamp, but it’s by no means my first choice for travel.
Since October weather is so unpredictable and can change so quickly, my daypack is pivotal, even more important than earlier in the season.
I’m more likely to need additional warm clothing and rain gear, and I’m here to tell you that I eat more in a day simply because I’m out and about longer.
I’m not as likely, today, to get stuck overnight in the hills as when I was younger and walked lots further, but those early adventures taught me important lessons.
It’s a whole lot easier and more comfortable to spend an unplanned night when you’re warm, comfortable and well fed.
In addition to carrying more food than I think I’ll need, I also carry a portable stove to heat water for coffee, tea and hot soups. Since untreated “wild” water sources on Kodiak are not safe to drink due to giardia (or beaver fever), the stove is also a handy backup for boiling water if my water filter should fail.
And believe me, they do fail.
I don’t rely on the stove for personal warmth because adequate clothing is far more effective.
But a hot cup of anything is especially welcome in the morning after a long overnight, as well as a highlight for my midday meals.
With the deer so scattered and mobile, it also pays to carry great glassware. You not only need to see deer at greater distances, it’s also very nice to be able to see horns before stalking a half a mile or more into shooting range.
I carry a good spotting scope as well as my lightweight 10x binoculars. I spot most deer with the binoculars, but the spotting scope braced over my pack is often needed to tell me whether to begin a stalk or keep walking.
If that’s starting to sound like a heck of a load for a daypack, you’re getting the picture. My October daypack is larger than what I carry earlier in the fall.
The extra bulk is certainly a factor, but so is the weight. I want a more sophisticated array of straps and buckles for carrying a heavier load.
Because encounters with October deer can be so varied in distance, I also choose my rifle and scope with care.
The combo has to be versatile.
I need to be ready for long shots, even as I need to be able to make quick short shots on deer that can seemingly appear from nowhere.
My personal choice is my ancient and much-beloved 7mm Remington Magnum launching 160 grain premium bullets at around 3100 fps. It’s proven itself plenty flat shooting for shots out past 400 yards, but due to construction the bullets are neither too destructive on close shots nor likely to come apart when called upon to break larger bones or penetrate deeply.
That’s my personal choice based upon affection for a venerable old rifle, but almost any rifle with the ballistics of a 30-06 or better will do fine in my experience.
The real key to versatility is in your choice of glassware.
I’ve hunted repeatedly with scopes having lots of power at the top end, but it comes at the price of low-end field of view.
I’ve found 9x plenty for shots well past 400 yards, while the 3x at the bottom end of a 3x9 scope has a field of view as small as I’ll accept for those close, quick shots.
In my view, I’m already carrying binoculars and a spotting scope for examining deer at long range and I don’t need more than 9x power to make long shots. Meanwhile the extra field of view at 3x is priceless for moving shots at close range.
By talking about rifles and glassware, I’ve moved into a highly personal realm where your own choices are yours to make.
But don’t overlook the change in conditions out there starting in October.
Your personal comfort and safety are even more important than your game shooting potential, so put as much thought into your personal gear as your choice of rifles.
And carry lots more in your daypack than you ever think you’ll need.