The September Change
Don't look now, but it's already September!
For many hunters across America, that means hunting season is very near. Some of the earliest seasons are already open, while others are looking at a September 1 kickoff. The rest of us are in the dreaded pre-season waiting period for those late-September or early-October openers.
Thus, it's important to realize that what I will say in this article can change drastically by region. If you are lucky enough to hunt a state where your hunting season kicks off in August or very early in September, you can kind of bump this timeline up by a month. Remember that I am speaking in general terms about the majority of whitetail archery seasons in America, which largely open in the middle or end of September.
You can kind of draw that line a month ahead of your respective season opener. Just remember that it's important to draw some kind of a line. I'll explain.
September 1st is a definite turning point in my deer hunting world. With Ohio's archery season opener kicking off annually on the last Saturday in September, I circle the first of September as a time to cut off my pre-season prep activities and I really cut back on my overall access to my hunting spot. I cannot tell you if that truly helps me or not, but it's a ritual for myself and many others.
Now, I have to say that I am rarely perfect with my pre-season quiet period. There's always that one camera that needs its batteries changed, a last-minute stand hanging, or something that pulls me to the property. But in general I like to stay away as much as I can. Largely because I realize that whitetails are starting to change, and they're changing fast.
Before we discuss how important that early-September period is when it comes to changes in deer, let me hit again on the fluctuation between season openers. If you have a September 1 season opener and prefer a month-long quiet period during August, it's going to be more about human intrusion than accounting for changes in deer behavior. I obviously have not studied whitetails in every state in the country, but I would venture to say that most deer are still on summer patterns in August.
It certainly won't hurt if you walk on eggshells throughout August in anticipation of a September 1 opener. Less pressure is always going to be best. I suppose that I am just saying that being cautious in August is less important than being cautious in September, and that is only my opinion.
Back to whitetails and the big change that happens around the first of September, which is the basis of why I really look at September 1st as a massive turning point. As bucks begin to shed velvet and those red-colored summer coats are shed for fall colors, deer experience certain and undeniable changes. Horns harden, summer ranges are traded for fall and winter ranges, and the overall psyche of a whitetail changes.
For years, hunters have been saying that hard-horned whitetail bucks and velvet bucks are two different animals entirely. Those same guys generally follow that sentiment up with telling you how it's possible to get away with anything so long as bucks are still in velvet. I don't necessarily believe that, but I have always noted distinct changes in bucks when the velvet comes off.
But I personally believe that change has everything to do with the year coming to a close, days getting shorter, and the overall life purpose of a whitetail buck changing. Deer are slowly but surely starting to feel those physiological changes that indicate the upcoming rut. They are still very much focused on that bed-to-feed cycle as they pack on the pounds for the rut and winter ahead, but the overall level of seriousness is ramped up.
I believe that whitetails are genetically engineered to prepare for the big changes ahead. September is one month closer to the rut and the brutal winter. It only makes sense that a whitetail will experience changes. Changes that spawn the seemingly different creature that we all pursue in the fall and winter versus the tolerant summertime animals we've been used to.
We also have to touch quickly on the changes in habitat that lead to the differing summer and fall ranges for deer. Not all whitetails have varying fall or summer ranges, so don't take this the wrong way. A lot of deer, and we're talking about trophy-class deer included, stay on the same range for the bulk of the year. At the same time, habitat almost always forces some kind of a change in range for a whitetail.
Again, I have to encourage you to note the massive difference in region across the whitetail's range. Defoliation, or the changing of the leaves, in my area of Ohio may occur much earlier than it does in Georgia or Alabama. Regardless of where you live, the defoliation process will occur at some point as summer gives way to fall and then again as winter arrives.
When you can see the brush turning brown and leaves transitioning into fall colors, it's important to realize how this light-switch event can impact deer movement. One farm may have old-growth timber that facilitates a ton of shade and a nice breeze to keep deer cool during the summer. Another farm in the same area may have a ton of good food and thick cover that keeps cool fall and winter winds manageable for the deer.
Whitetails are experts at locating the best habitat and food in a given area. As the fall and winter transition occurs, it only makes sense that deer will follow the optimal habitat and food sources for that given period. So your farm that was largely vacant in August can become a hot-spot in October or November- if you have good fall habitat and food sources.
You can look at September or October as the moving period for deer, and we're not necessarily talking for big bucks. A mature buck tends to be a true homebody. Doe family groups generally trigger this move from summer to fall ranges. But we all know that does will hold the key as we approach the rut. As a general observation it seems that as doe groups move into their fall and winter ranges, the rest of the herd will follow.
So we have a potential change in living ranges occurring alongside a certain physiological change as deer prepare for their most active time of the year. It only makes sense that we should alleviate as much human intrusion and overall pressure as possible. And there you have the reason why myself and many others look at September as a true turning point.
September may still feel like summertime across most of the U.S., but it's important to realize that whitetails are wild animals that are extremely in-tune with the subtle changes going on. You may not notice the slight change in daylight, but deer do. You may not feel the rut and a harsh winter getting closer, but deer do.
For me, the September turning point has less to do with my activity and more to do with the changing landscape in the whitetail world.
So get out there and finish up those intrusive summer tasks with caution as the month of September looms. I won't be the guy to tell you that you have to completely stay away and quarantine your hunting property until that very first hunt, but I also have to say that it's time to watch your step.
It is getting close to the time where you should only access your property during the middle of the day, pay close attention to your scent control, and stay out of those intimate areas for deer. You should always be mindful of those things, but it gets more important as the days move us closer to September.