Hunters often wonder, “Should my strategies differ when pursuing does or bucks?” Although food, water and shelter needs are similar for both genders, the when, where, why and hows of hunting them can differ.
To review basic strategies for hunting does and bucks, we spoke to outdoor writer Bill Winke, an accomplished bowhunter and founder of the online show Midwest Whitetail.
Winke said bowhunters focus on does for three reasons. One, they love to hunt, and does give them more hunting opportunities. Two, if they shoot a doe in the early season, they can “bank” the meat and hold out for a big buck. Three, by shooting does they help keep the herd in check by removing fawn-producers. Concentrating on does also helps reduce mortality rates for bucks.
Winke said hunters enjoy pursuing bucks for similar reasons, including their meat. An added bonus is their antlers, which hunters enjoy admiring long after they consume all the meat.
“People just love antlers,” Winke said. “There’s something about antlers that goes to the heart of hunting. You see it throughout history; people displaying antlers. They’re so unique and beautiful that it’s a true wonder to put your hands on them.”
No matter which gender you hunt, you’ll likely find deer where they have access to food, water and cover. These necessities dictate habitat preferences.
To find popular deer hotspots, locate food sources, such as mast trees with acorns, pecans or apples; or food plots and farm fields with corn, clover, alfalfa, soybeans or other nutritious plantings. Deer also eat the stems, twigs, shoots and leaves of trees and shrubs. You’ll also find deer near springs, ponds, lakes or rivers; and places with thick vegetation or undergrowth that protects them from sun, wind and predators.
Winke hunts does and bucks in the same areas. “I hunt feeding areas early and late in the season, because that’s where both bucks and does are at those times,” he said.
Scout and use maps and aerial photos to locate ideal deer habitat. Then place your blind or treestand along natural edges or funnels to get within bow range. If you’re in a good area, you’ll see does and bucks.
Anytime you can hunt is a good time to hunt, of course. You can’t see deer, nor can you shoot one, if you stay home. If you can only hunt a few times each year, however, you must be strategic about when you hunt.
Winke suggests hunting does in the early season, when bucks tend to be more nocturnal. Plus, he sees a small biological benefit to shooting does before the mating season, aka the rut.
“By shooting does early, you reduce the number of does the local bucks have to breed, which reduces their stress,” Winke said. “It also potentially (gives) does that make it through the rut (a better) chance of being bred by the most dominant buck.”
When hunting bucks, the best time to be afield is during the rut, which is typically the last week of October through the first half of November in much of the U.S. and Canada. During this time, bucks get active during daylight to chase estrous does.
“There are times when you can catch a buck on a daylight pattern early or late in the season, but that’s more hit and miss, and requires a lot of scouting to get it right,” Winke said.
Also consider when to hunt each day. Deer are crepuscular, which means they’re most active at dawn and dusk. Therefore, hunt sunrises and sunsets as much as possible. Read Bowhunting 360’s article, “What Time of Day Should I Bowhunt Whitetails?” to learn more.
Winke said the key to killing a big buck is knowing where it lives and what it’s doing. He uses trail cameras to identify patterns and unravel buck movements.
“When the buck starts to show daylight movement on your cameras, it’s time to hunt him more aggressively,” Winke said.
Winke focuses on hunting food sources when targeting does. “If you find the food, you’ll find does,” he said. However, does often go into hiding during the rut to avoid harassment by bucks.