Patterning Does to Find Your Buck

Hunters with a good idea of where the does are have the best chance of finding nice bucks, especially during the rut. Here's how to do it.

Photo by Jeff Palmer

It's often been said that if you want to find whitetail bucks during the rut, you should look for the does. During the rut, of course, the bucks are looking for does, so finding does can be a sound strategy.

There are two times during the year when locating does is easy. One is obviously during the fall when the deer are in meadows and agricultural crops taking advantage of the abundant forage. They can also be found in woods where they search for mast crops, but they are often harder to see in this environment.

The other time of year to locate does is in the spring when the leaves are still off the trees and the deer begin to look for new green growth and leftover mast from the year before. I prefer spring scouting for does because I like to devote the fall to locating the rubs, rub lines and scrapes that bucks make. Next year, use part of your spring scouting to pattern the home range of the does in your hunting area; it will pay off.

Right now, of course, it's fall, and you'll want to find does in your quest for a buck.

One of the ways to find any animal is to know what to expect it to be doing during the different times of the year. When it comes to whitetails that means you should know what to expect the does to be doing during the pre-breeding phase, the breeding phase and the post-breeding phase. Fortunately, whitetail biologists John Ozoga and Lou Verme have conducted research on doe activity during the rut; and I have been conducting an ongoing study on doe activity for the last seven years.

During my studies, I found that most of my morning doe sightings in October occurred at or near food sources from one-half hour before sunrise to one hour after sunrise, with sightings ranging from one hour before to 3 1/2 hours after sunrise. Most of my evening sightings were at or near food sources from one-half hour before sunset to one hour after sunset, with sightings ranging from one hour before to 1 1/2 hours after sunset. This is fairly typical fall deer movement. Generally speaking, in the fall, deer move farther distances per hour in the morning than they do in they evening. Which is to say that deer are often in a hurry to get back to the security of their core areas when they leave food sources as the sun comes up, and they are somewhat leisurely as they move from their core areas to food sources as the sun goes down.

However, the movement times of the does changed as they began to come into estrus in November. During the breeding phase, most of my morning doe sightings still occurred from one-half hour before to one hour after sunrise, with sightings from one hour before to 3 1/2 hours after sunrise. Most of my evening doe sightings occurred from one-half hour before to one-half hour after sunset, but I had sightings from 2 1/2 hours before to one-half hour after sunset.

Since the sky is often cloudy during the fall in my area, I suspect that the earlier movement times of the does in the evening were a result of low-light conditions (which make deer feel secure) and temperatures that were warmer in the evening than they were in the morning (which make deer feel more comfortable).

In December, most of the morning doe sightings occurred from one-half hour before to one-half hour after sunrise, with sightings as late as four hours after sunrise. I suspect that this late-morning movement was again due to cloud cover and temperatures that were warmer later in the morning than they were earlier. Some of this late-morning movement was a result of less forage availability, which caused the deer to spend more time looking for food. Most of my evening doe sightings occurred from one-half hour before to one-half hour after sunset, with sightings as early as 1:30 in the afternoon (three hours before sunset). These early-evening doe sightings were correlated with cloud cover and warmer daily temperatures, suggesting the does moved when they felt secure in low-light conditions, and when they felt comfortable in warmer afternoon/evening temperatures.

During their study, Ozoga and Verme found that does become about 28 times more active than normal one to two nights before they came into estrus. But instead of moving farther during the day, they found that does moved shorter distances, and they concentrated their activities to a small portion of their range. Most of the doe's daytime activity (when they could legally be hunted) occurred between 5 and 8 a.m. This suggests that the best time to look for bucks (that are looking for does) should be the early-morning hours.

The researchers concluded that this increased activity in a small area by does prior to and during the time they are in estrus makes it easier for the bucks to locate them. It might also explain why bucks tend to cluster their scrapes in particular areas (such as doe core areas and staging areas near nighttime food sources). The researchers also concluded that if a buck does not locate a doe by the time she is in estrus, she might begin to wander in an effort to find a buck.

I can attest to the fact that does often hang out in a small area. In 1997 I watched a doe with two fawns hang out near what I called the "Big Scrape" under a red oak for three days. I often saw the doe at sunset, urinating within 30 yards of the scrape, until a big 8-point buck found her one evening. He chased off her fawns and then went after the doe.

The areas where does are most likely to "hang out" during the time they are in estrus are their daytime core/bedding areas, the staging areas where they gather before going into open feeding areas at night and at nighttime food sources. These are the areas where bucks look for does as the does come into estrus, and they are the areas you should look for when you are trying to locate bucks. During peak breeding, bucks may also use wooded or otherwise secure "travel corridors" between the core, staging and feeding areas used by the different does.

I began looking for deer in April, by checking fields and openings at dusk. Once I find where they are, I watch to see where they come from, so I can locate their bedding area.

After I find the does in the spring, I start looking for evidence of bucks. Rubs and scrapes are still evident in the spring and it's easy to locate the buck's rub route. Once I find the rub route, I backtrack it to find the buck's bedroom. More often than not, I go into the bedroom and spook the buck, but I don't worry about it. By the time hunting season rolls around months later, the buck will have forgotten about my intrusion and I know right where to

find him.

When I look for does in the fall, I use this same technique. By this time, I know where the mast crops are and which crops the does will be using. I check the food sources, find the does and then I begin to watch them to see which foods they use and what time they use them. If I can, I sit in a tree stand, or get on a high point where I can see a lot of territory. I sit and watch the deer for the next week during both the morning and evening to determine when they are most active. Then I choose my hunting sites based on the knowledge of where the does travel, where they will be feeding and the added knowledge of where I found the buck's rub route. I also make a point of looking for bucks near their bedding areas, to see what their racks look like and which ones made it through the winter.

Once I know where the does are, what food sources they use, where the buck rub routes are and which bucks are still around, I know where to find the bucks when the rut begins. By watching the bucks from an observation point for a few days, I know what time to expect them at certain points along their rub route. Then I choose which stand site to use and which time of the day to hunt for the best chance at the buck.

As in any type of hunting, the main advantage people have over animals is that humans can understand the needs and habits of other animals and use that understanding to predict the future behavior of those animals. Patterning does during the rut is one example, and can be a big advantage to you as you hunt bucks. This year, try it.

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