Oak Duke: When bucks are in 'the lull'

Oak Duke

Each and every whitetail archery season, bowhunters report a lull -- a slow time when activity and deer sightings drop off.

It's significant because some archers quit hunting and think they are doing something wrong.

What's going on?

It's always fun to speculate and come up with theories and premises based on what we see.

The world of the whitetail deer is still hidden and mysterious, even though so much money and technology has been thrown his way.

The beginning of the archery season always holds great promise. Early stands show us increasing whitetail activity; rubs on the side of saplings, scrapes pawed up next to dense woods in the corners of fields and deer on the move. Scars on small trees begin appearing like mushrooms overnight. Bark is peeled off by newly polished antlers.

All of a sudden the rubs are there, white and shiny, showing us the inner core of the tree, the living part, the cambrium layer where the sapling is truly alive. Yesterday, those white scars were safely wrapped in tree armor, tight as bark. And we see whitetails on the move.

Then, one day, it seems so quiet. Too quiet. Like someone blew the whistle. Half time. All the players left the field.

Bow hunters are spectators, sitting on the sideline, waiting for the second half to start, looking around, moving too much.

And when the next day is like the last, and each slow day grows into a string of action-starved time. Our patience is tested. If we didn't know better, we would think it's all over.

With so many other pressures and desires going on in other aspects of our lives, those final fine and quickly shortening days of late October and November have precious little daylight.

We can't do it all. Leaves fall quickly. Bow hunters lose heart. Sleep in. Wait until the weekend.

Action slows down during archery season, as it always does, and the famous "lull" sets in; but there may be an understanding evolving.

The rut is usually recognized by hunters as that time when the bucks are chasing the does. The "running time," that exciting time when we have the best chance for the whitetail of our dreams. And he'll come grunting through the thorn brush and thorn apple like a bull, and foolish.

But what about "the lull." This past season I observed, from 20-feet up in a pine tree, an observation stand over a wide expanse of thick thorns and crab apple, an interesting phenomena and a pattern of behavior I never seen before, recognized or labeled, read about or even discussed.

"The lull" was just about to end. From my dawn tree stand, I heard a buck grunting (which sounds as if the buck had hiccups, or a tree creaking in the wind) about 50 yards away in a group of small pine trees.

A bit later, I watched a small doe move past my stand into the group of pines where the buck was located. And then she hopped out with the buck grunting right behind her.

But he followed her for only about 50 yards, and then turned, and went back to his clump of pine trees. Every once in a while, 10 minutes or so, I'd hear him grunt again.

Another group of does moved down from the steep ridge above, and he repeated his behavior. He scent checked them and moved right back into his little "fort" in the clump of pines. Those does were "shagged" by another small buck, but partway down the hill, before they got near the pines, that buck quit, and turned around and went back to his "fort," or hideout.

Later, from my high tree stand over the scrub brush, I saw that buck come down to a crab apple, trailing a lone doe, head down and giving a couple grunts along the way, then after a bit, he went back to his waiting spot, 100 yards from the other buck’s spot in the little pines.

And maybe that's partly what happens each bow season when there is the "lull." The bucks are not moving much. Instead, they are setting up in their favorite places in order to intercept and monitor doe movement. And they wait, actually "on stand," like we do.

It seems like wild whitetail bucks actually go through a phase of inactivity by simply staying in one spot and not moving as a prelude to the rut.

And while they are “waiting” they put down a number of rubs and maybe a scrape or two in a relatively small area.

So when “the lull” is on, we are locked into a kind of stalemate in a game of chess with the whitetail bucks. For a time during the hunting season, during the "lull," hunters are on stand in one spot and the bucks are in their “stands” too.

Oak Duke writes for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.