The First Hot Doe
One deer hunter's experiences when hunting during the rut have recently led him to a new way of thinking. This new strategy has been slowly taking shape and now he has drawn a conclusion that will forever change the way he deer hunts this exciting time.
Before we get into the specifics of this new approach, first we want to explain some basic buck behavior that will make this clearer. There are two ways to look at the deer rut, depending on what kind of buck you are trying to shoot. If you are just trying to shoot a buck, the entire rut is good. Every day there are some bucks on the move looking for does.
However, if you are trying to shoot a big-antlered mature buck, the rut is not as cut-and-dried as many believe. What few dominant bucks there are in your deer hunting area are likely tied up with does just as soon as they all start to come into estrus and so those bucks don’t move much during the daylight.
This makes them tough to see even when they are around, but to further complicate things, they don’t get nearly as wound leading up to the start of breeding as the younger bucks that have never been there before. For this reason, mature bucks can be tough during all parts of the deer rut.
That brings us to this new approach in rut hunting. When trying to kill a truly spectacular buck, you have to target the most mature buck in your hunting area. We know that we have to be out deer hunting at the time when these mature bucks are most active. But when is that? That prime time is a two or three day window surrounding the day when the first doe in the buck’s area comes into estrus.
Most deer hunters naturally think that the best time is when the most does are in estrus. During that time, the mature bucks are tied down with does nearly non-stop and they simply aren’t moving much. All the intensity and all the preparation for the rut culminates with the first estrous doe. She is the first and only show in town and even the mature bucks can’t resist acting the fool in trying to find her. Here are a few examples.
Experiences Tell The Story
This deer hunter spends most of his rut days hunting Iowa each year. In that state you can deer hunt the entire month with a bow so there is no opening day of gun season to force bucks off their natural behavior. Being out there every day gives this deer hunter a frame of reference and after a few years, you start to see trends develop. Here is a recap of several of his best buck sightings and hunts during the past decade. As you read these, you will start to see the same similarities.
This deer hunter shot one of his biggest bucks on November 7, 1995. Three days earlier, he saw the same buck cruising through that area by himself. So he moved his tree stand and came back when the wind was right. That morning, he came past at first light trailing a doe and constantly chasing off a smaller buck. It was obvious the doe was just coming into estrus.
This deer hunter shot another buck from the same tree stand on November 4, 1998. He was also a fully mature, bull stud of a buck. Again, at first light he was chasing a doe around the small five-acre clover field that borders the narrow draw in which the tree stand hangs. He followed her across the draw to the edge of a small wheat field on the other side. While she fed, he bedded and then fell asleep. Four hours later, he woke up and literally tore the area up looking for that doe. He covered so much ground that he was sure that he would have had a shot at that buck no matter where he was sitting within a 40 acre area. He was determined to find that doe, so he knew she had to be very close to estrus.
My friends and this same deer hunter had an amazing hunt during the first week of November in 2002. They shot four bucks with an average gross score over 170 inches between November 2 and November 5. All the trophy bucks were glued to the tails of does when we shot them.
The deer rut of 2003 was tough in the area where this deer hunter hunted, but on November 1, he passed up a big mature seven pointer. He was one of those old block-headed bucks with a wide dark forehead and Roman nose. He was dogging a doe up and down the ridge he was sitting on. They covered a lot of ground in a short time. He should have shot him; he just didn’t want to be done deer hunting that early. Despite being just a seven pointer, he believes he would have scored nearly 150 inches. He was the only mature buck that came within bow range that year.
He had a very similar experience with a much larger buck on November 6, 2004. That buck was also covering a lot of ground. He saw him three times that afternoon going in different directions – all over the place. Again, he thinks he could have had a shot at him from almost any tree within a 30 acre area. He messed up and didn’t get him, but the next day he found him again and he was holed up with a doe, keeping other bucks away. It was obvious that he had eventually found the hot doe he had been looking for so feverishly the day before.
That was a buck that I had some experience with, having hunted him hard in 2003. He had never appeared to be anything but cautious in the past. But when he realized there was a hot doe around and he couldn’t find her, he came unglued and really acted stupid.
What These Bucks Have In Common
There are many more hunts that followed this same model for this deer hunter. In fact, most of the mature buck sightings he has had in his life took place right at the very start of the breeding phase of the rut. To be fair, he has also seen a few dandies at the tail end of the primary rut, but have seen very few during the middle of the rut.
All of these experiences have two things in common. First, all the bucks were uncharacteristically active – overactive even. Most mature bucks are very reclusive and don’t move much during the day. However, these bucks were moving so much and with so little regard for their safety that you could even say they were acting stupid. They were totally out of character in their quest for the doe that they were either following or that they knew was in the area.
The second thing all these bucks had in common is the most important one. This deer hunter firmly believes the does they were trailing or searching for were the first estrous does in each buck’s primary core area for that year. These does offered the first opportunity to breed after the long rut buildup and the mature bucks in those areas were determined to be the ones to breed them. Later in the rut, when lots of does are in estrus, mature bucks lack the same sense of urgency they have when the first doe is coming into heat. Later in the rut, they tend to be more cautious in their search. The edge is off their frenzy.
How To Hunt Them
Most importantly, you need to be in the woods at the time when this first deer rut window opens. You can not know how long a certain buck will search for the first hot doe. He may get lucky and find her immediately and you won’t see him, or it may take him a couple of days to catch up to the action. That is the best case scenario.