Something I cringe at every time I hear it is when someone says, “Those mature does are impossible to kill”. Now, I will admit they are very wary! A mature doe is a seasoned veteran at avoiding predators, winter severity, cars, hunters, and even the occasional pack of wild dogs. However, a mature doe typically lives in a “doe herd”, which means they operate virtually every day within a pattern of “herd mentality”. What is herd mentality? Well, have you ever seen video clips of herds of wildebeests jumping off the riverbank into the jaws of the huge crocodiles waiting below with jaws open wide? That’s herd mentality. At the same time, if you spook the herd they will react with a herd mentality and can often leave your land for safer pastures.
Mature does typically think as a herd, flee as a herd feed as a herd, travel as a herd, and bed as a herd. Outside of the peak of fawning and hunting season a doe herd typically focuses on two things: Bedding and food. A mature buck on the other hand thinks very independently, especially the older he gets. A mature buck is unpredictable, values very private and secure daytime cover away from all the stresses of deer and human pressure, and seems to focus a lot more on survival than the daily rituals of simply bedding and feeding patterns.
So when I hear someone say that those mature does are tough to kill I can only help but think it’s because their daily routines have been tampered with so much that simply don’t feel comfortable within their typically predictable patterns. The great thing is, that what your neighbor’s are doing often has little negative impact on your own land. Instead of your neighbor’s spooking the does on the land you hunt, I’ve often found just the opposite to take place! The local deer herd can quickly recognize the difference in the security of one land (hopefully yours), across the fence from the other (your neighbors).
What I’d like to share with you are a few mature buck hunting techniques that I enjoy while consistently having opportunities to non-invasively harvest mature does on the parcels I have hunted around the Midwest. Doe staging areas, lengthy browsing areas, and late morning movers can all be a part of a collection of highly effective tactics for doe harvest success, while at the same time targeting your next mature buck!
Doe Staging 101
Except for the late season, I rarely hunt over food sources for a doe because I do not want to risk establishing a negative tone for the entire parcel, as seen by the local deer herd. Most likely the easiest way to spoil a parcel is to start whacking the local doe herd on your small food sources. That activity quickly alerts the entire herd, and sets a pattern of negative use for the rest of your parcel. When someone states that the local mature does are tough to kill, this is the #1 culprit by far. When I am finished buck hunting on the land I greatly enjoy targeting does on a food source, but until that time I prefer doe staging areas.
Only 1 of my mature bucks has fallen on a food source and it’s not because I don’t occasionally hunt them on a food source, it’s because a mature buck is so much easier to kill before he gets to the food source. That means setting up either on a travel corridor leading to the food source, or a staging area. I like hunting the sides of a staging area, within stand positions that allow me to access without spooking deer within nearby bedding areas, or food sources. This is a great location to kill a mature buck because he is in his comfort zone, within a secure gateway of cover before entering his evening food source. But at the same time, what a great spot to kill a random doe!
Picture it’s getting late, a few deer have already passed, it’s a warm night, its early Oct. and it just doesn’t make sense for a mature buck to show his face (or antlers). All of sudden you hear the crunch-crunch of an approaching deer. She’s alone or with a couple of fawns and moving slowly towards the field. It’s about 10 minutes before the end of shooting light, you are 75 yards off of the food source, and it’s really quieted down. “WHACK”, and you take the opportunity with your bow. She runs back towards the way she came, you hear a crash, the woods are silent, and the food source is preserved.
Long before a mature buck gets to an evening food source he is typically working his way along a thick travel corridor of browse and cover. It’s early season (I strictly avoid the period surrounding the entire Rut), a buck is doing his best to build fat reserves, and even if he is moving his big ole body before dark, he is doing it slowly, deliberately, and most likely feeding along the way. This is one of my favorite early season sits for a mature buck because it may be 150 yards or more off of a food source he is traveling too, but still far enough away from his bedding area.
As long as your stand entry is secure without a chance of destroying the bedding area, you can experience a very productive sit! Unlike a staging area, where the area you are hunting is more of a “hub” of trail networks coming into a single food source entrance, a browse line travel corridor is often a single trail exiting a bedding area and the deer have many options other than just that one trail. What is advantageous about a situation like this is that if a buck is in this location, you typically have an opportunity at him prior to dark. But what makes it a good mature buck sit…makes it a great doe harvest sit too! Since we are talking about an early bow season, if a mature doe is using the trail to get to a food source, a mature buck is typically not. Why? Because doe family groups and mature bucks rarely bed within the same locations during the entire season, especially in the early season. What that means is if you don’t think that late evening doe is going to get back into that bedding area and cause a mess of human intrusion when you have to retrieve her…shoot her! Opposite of the doe staging area harvest, I like to wait until the doe passes my stand site so that she has less of a chance of spooking back into the bedding area.
This type of set-up is an exceptionally non-invasive harvest because any doe that you may arrow, often ends up far away from the bedding area, and still a long ways from any substantial evening food source. If you add the potential for elevation changes away from the food source and bedding area so that a a doe will actually run downhill and away from the line of deer movement you are watching, that’s even better!
Both of these previous examples are of evening hunts and can actually be very poor for morning harvests. The first example is too close to the food source to risk getting into a stand during the morning hours, and the 2nd example is too close to potential bedding areas to risk a mid-morning shot at a doe that might run back into the bedding area. One of my favorite all-time doe harvest opportunities has been taken advantage of by targeting does, just prior to getting out of a stand for breakfast.
Late Morning Mover
What is your longest line of movement between bedding and feeding areas? 100 yards…400 yards? Well, for most doe harvest opportunities, the longer the better! The reason longer is better during most hunts is because the longer the length of travel between bedding and feeding areas, the lower the liklihood that you will spook a deer in either location. This also applies to a morning hunt! When you are moving into a morning stand for an early season mature buck he is typically already into his preferred bedding area. At the same time, there will be a few stragglers left on the food sources that have a habitat on a calm morning of not leaving until after first-light. In the early season it’s really tough to access a stand near a bedding area to hunt a mature buck because he is often already there, and if you travel to close to a food source you run the risk of spooking doe family groups that are still lingering to feed. However, I love taking stand position on a long line of movement, directly between daytime security cover, and food!
Setting up in the middle can sometimes lead to mature buck success, in particular when major cold fronts have recently passed, but often it leads to a great time to harvest a doe between an hour and 3 hours after first light. With doe family groups still in their lazy modes of summer, a few may file by still under the cover of darkness, while others are still feeding. Some of the pre-dawn movements may even be from mature bucks moving under your stand locations, but if you have entered your stand appropriately and the morning thermals are on your side, you are ready for the harvest!
As in the case of the other two examples by first hunting a mature buck, a doe often presents itself. The great thing is that during the warm weeks leading up to the Pre-rut, your best chance at a mature buck often takes place right at first light. This leaves the entire rest of the morning to non-invasively use your antlerless tag! Your opportunity often starts with a doe slowly nibbling towards your location, a couple of hours after first light. I have a GREAT spot like this in which the does are typically pointed downhill towards the truck, its early season, and I feel like getting out my stand anyways. What an outstanding situation to take an early season doe for some early season backstraps!
Do you have any food plots tagged for doe harvest? In the past I did, but I have found there are many better options during the early season to harvest a doe without pressuring the rest of your parcel. It’s an incredible feeling to go out in late November and to see the bulk of the local doe herd feeding on your food sources 3 hours before dark because your neighbors have practiced more doe harvest techniques, than mature buck harvest techniques. When you preserve the movements to the food sources on your land, great things can happen. That doesn’t mean that you can’t hunt the movements for a doe, just that you practice doing so withou infringing on the security of the bedding area or food source.
Although a mature doe herd might not exactly display the characteristics of the seemingly suicidal wildebeest herd, they are very predictable in their movement patterns unless food sources or cover options change…or more importantly if we as hunters practice poor hunting techniques. Although I typically do not target a doe during the last 1/2 of October and all of November, these early season mature buck tactics can lead to great, non-invasive doe harvest opportunities. If you hunt early in the year for a mature buck on your parcel, try enjoying these quiet tactics for doe harvest success at the same time!