You've spent the entire summer carefully glassing him near sunset from the distant safety of a hedgerow surrounding the soybean field of your farm hunting lease. His almost daily appearance out of an almost indiscernible trail opening at the northwest corner of this field is so predictable that you feel you could almost walk up to this particular buck and hand-feed him a fistful of acorns. You've even given him a name; he may as well be your pet, his routine is so predictable.
You strategically wait for the middle of a rainy preseason day to venture to a tree close to 'ground zero' to erect a lock-on stand, surgically trim out a few shooting lanes, and then get out of there and let the rain do its natural job of washing away any evidence that you were even there. Perfect! Now all you need is for opening day to come...
Opening day bow season finally comes and goes, and you are able, between your full time job, the never-ending honey-do list and helping the kids with their homework to make it out into your new ambush spot a handful of times by October 1. He appears a couple of times, as expected, but you are never able to get a shot off for one reason or another, but you keep optimistic because it is still very early season and there are plenty of opportunities left. Then, all of a sudden, he just.............VANISHES!
So just where do these easy-to-spot summertime bucks that you have watched all summer long and claimed as 'pets' go when October 1st rolls around? It's almost as if someone flips a switch and they go from being as laid-back as a Zach Brown Band concert patron to totally recluse, social introverts never to be seen again.
I believe the primary answer to this frustrating scenario that we all experience at the beginning of each fall lies within some basic deer physiology.
As the month of August gives way to September, the whitetail buck is still very much oriented to his bachelor groups and summer schedule. But as September moves along and summer wanes, the deer's lighter, reddish summer coat is steadily replaced by his thicker, coarser and darker wintertime coat. This new coat is not yet as fully thick as it will be by the time winter has arrived, yet thick enough to keep the animal comfortable in the early-autumn cool nights.
October is a transitional weather month, much in the same way March is at the opposite end of the year with its windy cool fronts, still summer-like strong sun and comfortably cool to cold nights. Daytime temperatures in the mid-atlantic region, depending upon where you live, can be in the upper 40's one day and then soar to the mid and upper 70's the next. That's just the way the month of October is. The advantage that you and I have during this roller coaster weather ride is that we can wear a tee shirt one day when the sun is strong and temperatures are up, and then turn around and throw on a comfortable sweatshirt the following day to keep warm when the temperature struggles to get out of the low 50's.
A deer obviously cannot do this. By the time October is half way through, with his winter coat almost fully grown in, and with a day of strong sunshine and warmer than normal temperatures, his only defense to stay cool and comfortable is to bed down in the relatively cooler temperature of a shaded thicket and make his only daytime excursions to a nearby water source. Imagine going about your normal daily routine on a warm October day wearing your heavyweight wintertime hunting gear. In October, a deer constantly has the same winter-weight coat 'on' during the height of a warmer than average day that will also be keeping him warm enough to survive the coldest temperature extremes later on in the season with two feet of snow on the ground.
So with October's majority of warm days, the same deer that you were seeing and scouting all summer long are by all means still around, you're just not seeing them during legal daylight hunting hours because they may be moving primarily nocturnally when it is much more comfortable to do so.
Another reason your buck may be "M.I.A." in addition to the weather differential is that he may have already made a fall pattern and core area shift. I personally do not have experience to claim or substantiate this concept as a regular behavior, but I have read literature from very legitimate and respected resources and spoken with some wildlife biologists about this that firmly stand behind it. I have noticed several different, particular 'hometown bucks' that claimed residence on my own property over the years completely disappear for several weeks, but this usually happens later in the season around the first to second week of November, only to have them eventually reappear later in the month after the peak of chasing and breeding. I attribute those excursions directly to rutting behavior though, and not to any seasonal pattern shift. Again, not to refute that concept from such respected sources, I just have never personally witnessed it.
The third and final reason I may suggest for a lack of deer sightings in general, including your target buck, is mast crop timing. If there is a stand of mature white oaks that begin dropping their delicious acorns, whether it's the first or third week of October, and your tree stand is nowhere near them; well, here's your sign then. Consider a stealthy move closer between a bedding area and the white oaks, or moving in with your climber stand if you have one, for an ambush. Food and sex drive are two main reasons a mature buck is on his hoofs during daylight, and acorns definitely fill the bill for one of those.
As beautiful a month as October is to be in the autumn deer woods, it can also be a downright frustrating time of the season. But, with a little thought and understanding of this incredible animal's motivation, you can surely come up with a plan that will put you at a better advantage of filling your tag this month.
Enjoy the colors, and best of luck!