By Will Allen
Killing a mature whitetail buck is no easy task. There are many seasoned deer hunters that go several seasons without a buck and some that have never put their tag on heavy antlers. There is a lot that goes into taking a buck, but finding them is usually the first step. Most hunters look for rub lines, scrapes, big clumps of scat, and monster tracks. Those can be effective ways of finding bucks. But one often overlooked strategy is patterning does.
Does are easier to spot than most bucks. First off, there are more does and antlerless bucks around. They feed in fields well before dark. What’s most important is they go where the food is. Many intensive land managers use trail cameras to inventory the deer using their property. Invariably, there are deer killed every year that never showed up on cameras. “We have never seen that deer,” is what they say. Bucks are tough to pattern. They travel for reasons we don’t fully understand. However, does often live out their entire lifecycle on the same property or small chunk of property. The buck that wasn’t seen all year is almost always following a doe that was photographed dozens of times.
Does don’t travel out of lust. They go where the highest value food is. They hit bean fields and clover when they are at their best. When acorns drop you can find does on hillsides covered in hardwoods. After the beans are picked, you will find does hitting the corn crop. Because their survival depends on it, does are feeding in places most nutritionally beneficial at any given time. You can bet bucks are feeding in those same places. However, they are usually more discreet about it. Once you’ve found where does are feeding, pinpoint transition areas surrounding them. That is where bucks will be.
There is one word that stirs the imagination of deer hunters like no other, “rut”. It’s that glorious time of year when bucks throw caution to the wind. Concerns about staying hidden during daylight hours are washed away. Lust takes over. Feeding is no longer a priority for bucks. But does think only with their stomachs. They will still be feeding on the best available forage. Bucks will be in the same place sooner or later.
Knowing the habits of does in your area can be far more effective than hunting buck sign. Rub lines go cold. Scrapes are deserted. Bucks have large territories. But anyone can pattern does. Find the food, find the does. Find the does and bucks won’t be far behind.