The simple pleasures of punching doe tags.
For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with antlers. Even as a young boy, I remember admiring the "horns" on the bucks my neighbors would bring home each fall.
Doe hunting is a great way for new bowhunters to taste success. Peggie Claypool poses with one of the numerous does she has taken over the past few years.
When I finally started deer hunting in my late teens, I had a burning desire to attain some bone of my own. But it would be four years before I took my first buck.
During those four years, I learned to appreciate the does. This was a necessity in the area where I grew up, because does outnumbered bucks by a large margin. I clearly remember the years I would go hunting with no real hope of even seeing a buck, much less killing one. Hey, there were years I hunted all season and never had a buck in bow range! If it hadn't been for the does that fell for my primitive efforts, I might have given up completely. After whacking the occasional slick head, I would haul my trophy around in the back of my old truck to show off my hunting prowess. I was darn proud of my bow-killed does; in those days, they were very hard to come by!
When I finally began to take the occasional buck, they were always young ones. The first buck I took was a forkhorn, and I couldn't have been more proud. I showed my trophy to everyone who wanted to see it -- and a few who didn't. At the harvest of my first mature buck, I became obsessed with big antlers. Ever since, I've pursued big-antlered bucks with a passion bordering on fanaticism. All through these trophy years, however, there's always been a special place in my heart for does. It has been the females that have stocked my freezer each year. It has been the females that have given me good action when the going is tough for big bucks. It is the females that provide me with fodder for the beginning bowhunters I mentor.
Let's Get Real
When we watch hunting videos, or all the hunting shows on television, we're fed a steady diet of "monster buck mania." It seems big bucks abound, and are all that matter, while does are to be avoided like the plague. How's that working for you? Not very well, I suspect. In the blue-collar bowhunting world I live in, these shows are about as far from reality as it gets.
For the average do-it-yourselfer, doe hunting must be a vital part of time afield. We must focus much of our hunting time on the females or we'll soon become very dull boys and girls. And quite frankly, bowhunting does is nothing to be ashamed of. Hey, harvesting a mature doe can be every bit as daunting (or arguably, more so) than taking a mature, rutting buck. Harvest an old lead doe and you've accomplished a truly top-end challenge.
Harvest a young doe and you've just attained some of the finest venison imaginable.
Looks like a win-win situation to me!
Long-range observation is a great tactic to employ when you find a new hotspot of doe activity. By observing the deer's pattern from a distance, you can plan your first hunt with virtually no disturbance.
Breaking It Down
Most whitetail bow seasons start at a time when bucks are in peak survival mode. The testosterone levels of the males have recently increased, they are at peak body weight and moving very little during daylight hours. All this combines to make bucks -- especially mature ones -- a tough egg to crack. On the other hand, while the big boys are lounging around guarding their topknot, the girls are having an early autumn party. The heat of summer is dissipating, food is plentiful and few people have been in the woods for months. All this leads to a good amount of daytime movement for the females -- a certain recipe for good bowhunting action.
Early fall is the time when crop harvest begins, and this provides an abundance of new grain on the ground for deer to eat. Mast crops also begin to drop at this time, and deer focus heavily on this bounty. Bucks have been grouped together all summer, and this has left the females to their own devices. We all know what that means; girls will be girls!
The family/social groups of does are moving about freely and interacting with few cares.
Fawning is long since over, and most fawns are weaned. It only makes sense that the savvy bowhunter will take advantage of this great resource, ripe for the harvest.
In early October of each year, I make a few scouting trips into my hunting areas to find the main food sources of the local does. Whether it be man-made or natural, it's a sure bet the does will be concentrated on the best grub available. Once I find a few of these "hot" feeding areas, I immediately place stands and hunt as soon as feasible. Primary food sources can change rapidly at this time of the year, so I'm diligent in my efforts to stay abreast of the changes. Often, I find myself quickly relocating to a new location. A little boot leather goes a long way.
With this approach to October doe hunting, you're certain to have some excellent bowhunting action. Buy those doe tags, knock the rust off your hunting skills and enjoy this beautiful time afield. Spill some blood, fill your freezer with meat and get the "deer fever" out of your system. With all this accomplished, you'll be a much more effective buck hunter next month.
A Different Mindset
We all know November is considered the prime month for whitetail bowhunting, and rightly so. After all, the weather is cool, vegetation and insects are down and the rut is starting. What more could the discriminating buck hunter desire? Oops, did I say buck hunter there, right in the middle of a discussion on doe hunting? Sure I did -- bucks are unavoidable in November, so we'll just have to put up with the stinking things for a while. Now, let's get back to the girls.
In November -- if you want to save yourself a lot of heartache, frustration and boredom -- stick with the does. Could I be bordering on sacrilege here with my advice to keep whacking does in November? Well, give me a second, and I'll try to regain the respect of all you trophy hunters out there. Here goes.
Focusing on doe hunting and letting the bucks "fall w
here they may" keeps frustration to a minimum and puts plenty of lean meat in the freezer!
OK, we all know November is the month for big buck hunting, and I'll be the first to admit I'm a big follower of this fact. On the other hand, how about looking at November from a slightly different perspective? How about implementing a new mindset that might just make you more productive on big bucks, yet help you retain your sanity at the same time? What do I mean here? Once again, give me a moment to explain.
How about looking at November as primarily a doe-hunting month, and secondarily as a buck-hunting month? Doesn't it go without saying that if you're hunting the does in November, you're hunting the big bucks also? Get the idea? It's been my experience that when we hunt for only trophy bucks, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. More often than not, this leads to disappointment and a bad attitude. Wouldn't it be better to go into November simply trying to harvest a few does -- no pressure -- and let the chips fall as they may? And to top it all off, one thing is certain; by hunting the dames in November, you'll get a trophy buck just as often as the guy who goes out with a "big buck only" mentality. See the light!
As the melee of November winds down, it's time to adopt a much more laid back approach. The rut is over, winter winds blow and many bowhunters lose interest. All this combines for some excellent doe hunting action for hardcore bow toters. At this stage of the game, spend a lot of time scouting, a little time hunting. The remaining deer -- and there are plenty -- will be in great need of good food, yet such food sources will be in short supply. At no other time of our seemingly short season can we finally fill those remaining doe tags more dependably. Local deer will concentrate around the best food available, providing us with some very predictable hunting action.
In the late season, winter wheat fields can be a real goldmine of deer activity -- especially ones located close to thick, remote cover. Find such a place and you very well may find some of your best action of the year on does, and consequently, the few horny bucks that remain. When such a feeding area is found, long-distance observation should be the first tactic employed.
By studying the predictable movement patterns of the herd from afar, you can make a well-planned first intrusion. When a prime ambush spot is observed, slip into the area with all your gear and quietly erect a treestand. Climb aboard and get ready for the show! Often, late-season hunts provide bowhunters with close encounters with multiple does at one time. If you're "tagged-up," and if it's legal in your area, it could be possible to fill two or three tags in one sitting. I'm talking from experience here, fellas!