Brandon Butler: October the best outdoors month in Midwest

From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, the Midwest is at its peak in October, including trout fishing in Wisconsin.Photo courtesy Brandon Butler.

If I were in charge, every month would be October — except for April. There is not enough time in October to scratch the surface of all the outdoor opportunities the month offers across the Midwest. If you’re like me, it’s the best month to do what you love in your home state.

Keep in mind, though, it’s the best month for the outdoors in every state.

Many of the year’s best fishing opportunities are competing with open hunting seasons for big game, small game, waterfowl and upland birds. From the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, and through every forest and on each lake in between, October is a Midwest sportsman’s dream.

Maybe it’s the stress of 2020 and all my lost travel — I had so many incredible trips canceled — but I can’t stop thinking about loading up a bunch of gear, hitching up the boat, and heading out to fish and hunt my way from state to state. Here are a few of the places I’d go and why:

Kentucky

Fall turkey with crossbow

My buddy, outdoor industry photographer Bill Konway, built a beautiful home on a couple hundred acres in southeast Kentucky. He’s invited me for years to come hunt and stay, but time just hasn’t allowed it. I’d really like to see his place and catch up with a great friend. Plus, I’ve never killed anything with a crossbow, and I’d like to harvest a fall turkey for my Thanksgiving dinner.

Although crossbows are not legal during the archery-only season for fall turkey in Kentucky, there is an overlap period from Oct. 1-18 when they’re allowed. Konway said, “Hunting the fall turkey crossbow season is just another opportunity to enjoy my property. They may not be gobbling like spring, but fall birds taste just as good.”

The Kentucky fall turkey season has a four-bird bag limit. Only one may be a mature gobbler, and you can only take one bird per day.

Michigan

Ruffed Grouse

I did finally slip away for one short trip this year and visited Gaylord, Michigan, for a few days, and I hunted grouse right after the opener when the foliage was still green and thick. Hunting will be so much better in late October when the leaves are off the trees, and the temperatures will be much cooler, making the brush busting marches it takes to flush ruffs more bearable.

Michigan has a healthy population of Ruffed Grouse and plenty of public land on which to pursue them.

Nick Green, editor of Michigan Out-of-Doors Magazine, said, “In Michigan, we are currently in a boom at the top of a cycle. Years that end in zero are usually the best years of a decade.”

The Huron-Manistee National Forests offers hunters nearly a million acres of public land across the northern portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan.

The Ruffed Grouse season is open the entire month of October.

Nebraska

Prairie Chickens

My favorite author, Jim Harrison, loved the Sandhills. I understand why. My travels across this vast expanse of broken agricultural land and prairie have built my own affection for a way too often overlooked region. Long hikes where you can never reach the horizon are worth the trip alone. Shooting a few chickens is just the cherry on top.

Prairie chicken numbers have seen better times across most of their original range. Numbers have crashed to nearly nonexistent in Missouri and Illinois. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, populations appear to be most secure in Nebraska and South Dakota.

With the season open the entire month of October across the state, Nebraska is a top choice to chase these gorgeous prairie grouse. Load up your canine companions and head to the Sandhills. The Open Fields and Waters Program has made 346,000 acres of private land accessible for hunting. A map is available on the Nebraska Game and Parks website.

Wisconsin

Trout fishing

I was introduced to the Driftless Area last year. It was love at first sight. The rivers and streams running through the unique landscape offer what I like most about trout fishing — beautiful scenery, intimate waters and healthy, hearty fish.

Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets in trout fishing is the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin. The Driftless has more than 13,000 miles of trout water flowing through scenic coulees and wooded valleys. There are brown and rainbow trout, but the native brook trout are a special draw.

“Angler-friendly access laws and easement agreements with landowners help ensure great public access to these amazing spring-fed, cold-water creeks, some of which don an astounding 2,500 fish per mile,” said Jeremiah Burish, director of Sports at Explore La Crosse.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler can be reached at bbutler@driftwoodoutdoors.com. For more Driftwood Outdoors, check out the podcast at www.driftwoodoutdoors.com.