Picking Up on Subtle Changes in September Whitetails
September is definitely a month of change in the world of whitetail deer hunting. Seasons across the country begin to open, velvet sheds away from antlers, and the overall psyche of deer begins to change.
The subtle changes are difficult for us humans to pick up. Sure, we start to feel fall in the air and those way too early fall decorations start coming out. But we really cannot feel the changing of the seasons like a deer or any other wild animal can. They live in the natural world where every change in the environment is accounted for. We live in a largely man-made world.
The first few days of September may be a far cry from the first days of November when we can really note changes in the behavior of whitetails across much of the U.S. However, there are subtle changes going on. Changes that can be important for the observant hunter awaiting their early archery season, or even more so for those of you who have September 1 season openers.
I really got thinking on these subtle changes in deer after pulling my trail camera cards over the long Labor Day weekend. Obviously my first chance to observe any September whitetails on our Ohio farm. It really struck me how much things have changed over the last couple of weeks, and it struck me how easy it was to pick up on the changes by simply looking at collections of trail camera pictures.
My first surprise came from seeing a handful of bucks without velvet on their antlers. No bloody velvet hanging off. Meaning that those bucks dropped their velvet pretty early. As an Ohio hunter who truly has no chance at killing a velvet buck, it didn't break my heart. Our season never opens until the last weekend of September, so a velvet buck is a pipe-dream.
Nonetheless, it was a change that I noted. More on the behavioral side of things. I feel as if a buck gets much more serious once the velvet drops. Trail camera pictures actually backed that up a bit. Here are two loner bucks that were in hard-horns before Labor Day. This is a post we made on the AO Facebook.
Maybe it's just me, but I see big changes in whitetail behavior once the velvet comes off. We will never know what drives a deer to do one thing or another, but I believe the shedding of velvet is the first sign of the approaching fall for them. Which really means that it's the first sign of the approaching rut.
The velvet drop is obviously a huge event in the whitetail world as September arrives, but I also noted a lot of buck-and-doe interactions in my trail camera picture sets. Yes, early-September is way too early for bucks to start running does around and thinking about the rut. But I noticed a changing tune when it comes to interaction.
I was actually a bit shocked by the number of pictures I obtained of running deer over the last week. Pictures where I could clearly tell that a bachelor group of bucks was running a group of does off of a food plot or field. Something that usually does not happen when deer are on their summer patterns.
We still have several bachelor groups of velvet bucks rolling around the area, but they seem to be drawing a line in the sand when it comes to the ladies. Whether they are scent-checking and nudging them around or simply running them away from their food sources, I'll never know. But I can definitely see a change in behavior there.
From years of watching whitetails, I also know that does begin to treat bucks differently as September arrives. They will share a field or food plot with a buck or two, but they avoid close interactions. Almost as if they know what lies ahead as bucks begin chasing does in another month or two.
Maybe I'm just crazy, or maybe I'm not. I know the rut cycle is way, way off. I'm not saying that I can see deer displaying rut behavior when it's 90-degrees on September 3, but I do notice a change in the overall tone. There is no doubt that things are changing, and hunters need to note that change.
The changes will begin to occur rapidly over the next two or three weeks. Bachelor groups will dissolve, daylight hours will drop increasingly and the overall level of seriousness changes.
I think that we can all agree that an October 4th whitetail is a much different animal than a September 4th whitetail. Just as an August 4th whitetail is much different than a September 4th whitetail.
Deer certainly don't have wrist watches or calendars, but they make subtle changes as the year goes on. There's no doubt in my mind that September is one of those months of major change. Possibly the month of the most major changes.
For those of us watching from the sidelines in anticipation of hunting seasons opening around that last week of September, this is just a sign that the season is closing in. It's also a sign that we need to watch our step when adjusting stands or changing trail camera cards. Things are getting serious, and mistakes can be made by accessing your spot too much.
For those of you lucky enough to be hunting right now, these small changes are everything. Maybe your target buck is getting ready to drop velvet. Maybe he's making an early split from his bachelor group. Any of these changes can drastically impact your hunting, so take note.