Coping with mature does: how to beat the best of the best.
I can't tell you how many times a mature doe has spoiled an opportunity for me to ambush a super buck. Sometimes I witnessed the event. Then there were times it happened behind the scenes. You know how it works; a doe detects you, blows the whistle and heads for parts unknown. Who knows what was following behind? Yes, veteran bowhunters are fully aware they must beat the does to tag an educated buck.
Cause for Concern
Although any mature doe is cause for concern, it seems those accompanied by fawns makes the situation tougher for any bowhunter. It is a known fact that a doe accompanied by fawns will sharpen her survival senses.
Big bucks are not always a few yards behind a doe, even if the rut is in full swing. They could follow the trail of a doe several minutes or hours later. Thus, it becomes vitally important that the doe get past your ambush site, regardless of whether you see a buck in pursuit of the doe.
Consider a doe I encountered a couple years ago. She scented me as she walked through a crosswind 30 yards from my stand. Then she snorted and snorted and snorted. I'm not sure how many times she blew, but the ordeal lasted a good 10 minutes before she finally ran out of view and started blowing again. That was bad enough, but things got even worse when I spotted a huge buck 50 yards to the left of the doe as she ran away.
Although some does that detect you will simply run back the way they came, others will make it a point to let other deer know you are there. Typically, it is the snorting that bothers us most. It seems to send a high-volume warning that is sure to spoil our day. Then comes the stomping. When does detect us, they commonly stomp the ground, which releases a scent from the interdigital gland between their toes that alerts other deer.
Before offering a few tips that will increase the odds a mature doe will get past you even if you are detected, let me first say that you could find yourself dealing with the same cranky does throughout the season.
Biologists have determined that does and fawns usually have a smaller home range than bucks. Home range size could vary considerably, since food sources, predators and human encroachment could become factors. One study in Texas on the Welder Wildlife Refuge indicated the home range of does ranged from 60-340 acres, while bucks ranged from 240-880 acres. Other studies have reported similar statistics, with the home range of does being smaller than that of bucks.
Nevertheless, if you hunt often, you could encounter the same does over and over. Moreover, once a certain doe discovers your presence in a given area, she could be looking for you each time she passes through. Veteran archers often claim they see does looking up as they approach their tree-stand. These does are obviously educated and looking for trouble.
Many avid bowhunters have even come to know some home-range does personally after bumping into them repeatedly.
My good friend Tim Hilsmeyer owns a small farm in southern Indiana. Tim has taken several trophy bucks, and he's encountered his share of resident does. He calls these does "corporate members." He sees many of the same does consistently, sometimes while hunting and sometimes near his home while taking care of the farm. Tim and others do harvest the does occasionally in an effort to keep the buck-to-doe-ratio on track. However, he claims that some corporate does seem to handle hunters better than those that seldom come into contact with people.
Like Tim, I also encounter corporate members near my Illinois home. Although I don't own a large chunk of land, I am fortunate to live in the woods where I see many of the same does. I've found these does are usually more tolerant of my presence than those that don't often encounter humans. That's not to say the corporate members are totally easy going, however. They are still wild, and they snort and stomp like any other doe. Nonetheless, I've found that the resident does handle me better when on stand, particularly after I encounter them more than once.
I named one corporate member Patches. The old doe had a double white patch on her throat, and she always snorted, regardless of whether she caught me outdoors working in the yard or sitting in a treestand.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you can get by with much while hunting close to corporate members. However, I cannot deny that these does become more used to people than some does that seldom venture close to me. Unfortunately, many bowhunters who do not hunt in the suburbs or urban areas where corporate members are found must cope with the most uncooperative does.
Dealing with Obnoxious Does
Getting past the eyes, ears and nose of a mature doe is difficult. Personally, I would rather have a showdown with any buck than an old doe. But there are a few suggestions I could offer to help you beat the best of the best.
I'm sure you are already aware that scent-eliminating clothing could help. Additionally, you probably know you should hunt smart and set up where the wind is favorable. However, it's also important that you switch stands consistently and avoid hunting the same stand two days in a row. You have to keep the does guessing if you are to ambush a buck. If you burn up an area early in the season--and you will if you are detected often by does--the does will not be using those trails as the rut progresses. As the breeding is about to begin, bucks will search for hot does in areas does are using, not where they once were. Setting up several stands in a given area will provide you with the option of changing ambush sites often.
The best method I've used to cope with mature does is to let them know precisely where I'm located. I'm speaking about does that have scented me and are about to become unglued. Now, before you label me a lunatic and think I've went off the deep end, please read on.
For instance, just before preparing this article I watched a doe and two fawns approach my stand from the north. With the breeze blowing out of the southwest, I knew I was in trouble. Moments later, the doe approached within bow range, stopped and threw her head up. A stomp and gentle snort followed. Without hesitation, I looked behind her in the open hardwoods to make certain I saw no bucks approaching. Then I smacked my lips gently, which sounded something like it does when you attempt to get your dog's attention. After a few gentle arm gestures and whispers, she had me pinpointed. The doe never blew again. Although she didn't come closer, she did bypass the stand and get past me.
This was not the first time I've used this technique to let a doe know precisely where I was. In fact, I've used it numerous times with great success. Granted, it's not a foolproof tactic. If it fails, the doe usually runs back the way it came and stops snorting. However, more often than not, the doe is satisfied knowing where I am and will usually get past me without further harassment.
When a doe detects your presence by smell, it drives her nuts not knowing where you are. This is precisely why many circle you and blow the whistle repeatedly. But if you let them know where you are, you might be surprised how quickly they move on. I don't consider this tactic risky. In fact, I believe I have nothing to lose.
Some mature does snort more than others, and then pass on this trait to their fawns. Thus, you could consider shooting a problem doe. It might not help if you are waiting on a big buck, but it does remove her from the area.
I don't look forward to my next encounter with a mature doe, but I know this season she will be there waiting to spoil my opportunity to tag a trophy buck. Perhaps, though, that's not necessarily bad news. You see, mature does are the reason that many bucks become trophies.
Archers often hear deer short at a distance and wonder if they were detected. Surprisingly, snorting does not always occur because a deer detects the presence of a human.
Several years ago, after leaving my stand one morning, I walked the edge of a harvested cornfield back to the vehicle. I spotted no less than five bucks in pursuit of a doe. Then they stopped and encircled her. The doe then broke away from the bucks and ran hard, snorting in frustration all the way.
Only last season, I heard a deer blowing hard and coming closer. Then I spotted a mature doe as she passed within 40 yards of my stand with a young buck chasing her.
Deer often snort out of frustration and anger. I've witnessed them snort at housecats, raccoons and many other smaller mammals we often encounter. Other times, I've watched one deer snort while others appeared unbothered and continued feeding.
On one occasion, I spotted a doe snorting and stomping as she stared across a field the opposite direction of where I was located. I had no idea what had her in a dither, but moments later a buck showed up and approached her.
It does appear that during the rut, a buck could be attracted to the sound of a snort, hoping that it will lead him to a doe. It also appears that mood plays a significant role in snorting.