It’s a simple concept, right? Just go hunt where the does like to be and soon enough you’ll be covered in bucks. If you’ve got a 10-acre food plot that is a destination food source and the family groups of does show up each night like clockwork, then by all means, carry on.
Ditto for those hunters who have a locked-up piece of ground and haven’t overhunted the edges of the best agricultural fields on their properties. For those bowhunters, the does will be reliable and so will the bucks.
But what if you’re hunting a 20-acre parcel of woods in Michigan and have no food plots or ag on the ground? Or what if you’re a public land hunter in Pennsylvania where the average doe makes the smartest Iowa buck look like he’s been fed a steady diet of paint chips his whole life?
The thing about broad, generalized whitetail advice is that it can’t take into account the nuances of hunting from state to state, spot to spot, and even stand to stand. There are too many variables to allow for any type of blanket statement to mean anything to the masses.
This doesn’t mean that focusing on doe hangouts is a bad idea right now, it’s not. It’s a good one. It just means that you’ve got to consider your individual hunting situation to figure out how best to do that. And this starts with your past observations.
Where Were They?
Where did you see does all season long? Some were most likely observed on food sources in the evenings. These might matter to you now, they might not. If the food source has changed (very likely) or there has been enough pressure to push the ladies off of the groceries during daylight, then you’re out of luck.
Think about the other does you saw. For me, this often goes back to my morning sits. I’m not one of those hunters who won’t sit mornings during the early- and mid-season. I love trying to find transition routes and staging areas that deer will use when they leave the food and meander their way back to bed.
Any does you saw in these types of spots provide solid clues to where the does will be now. Again, that destination food source may have changed, but the bedding area probably did not. Last season I ran across this situation with an individual doe that I almost shot on opening morning. I gave her a pass and as the season progressed, I realized she was living near one of my stands. Fast-forward to Halloween weekend and that doe led a great Minnesota buck past my stand — a buck that ended up on my game cart shortly after.
Where you’ve observed does in the cover is where you should start looking again. They are creatures of habit, and if you occasionally saw a doe or a doe group hanging around an old homestead or a overgrown plum thicket, you can bet the local bucks know they’re using those spots as well.
Go Mobile & Tweak
When you start moving into security cover that the does favor, you might not get it right on the first try. This is why I always move in with the plan to observe, and if necessary, move. I do this on large properties, both public and private, as well as my small properties that might consist of 30 acres or less. Oftentimes, it’s a matter of moving 75 yards that can make all of the difference.
Knowing this, it pays to slip into an area and pay attention. My general strategy is to carry a stand into a likely spot for an evening sit. When I leave, I tack a trail out with the plan to return in the morning. I like to give my stands an evening and a morning to prove themselves. If I don’t see what I’m looking for on the morning sit and I feel like I didn’t bump a bunch of deer or get winded, I pull my stand and move.
If I repeat this process over a long weekend, I can cover a lot of ground and fine-tune my setups. Oftentimes, the original observation stand will result in a close call and the next setup will be a kill spot. And remember, while you’re looking for bucks, you’re also looking for does.
Just because you had a few ladies walk by today with no boyfriend in tow doesn’t mean that’s how it will shake out during the next sit. Anytime you can be around relaxed does in November is a time when things could go from relatively quiet to adrenaline dumping in a matter of seconds.
Does this strategy seem kind of boring compared to rattling, decoying and all of the other rut tricks we employ? It can be, so if you just need to do some calling and decoying, consider using a bleat call to lure in does. The ladies are way more callable than most bowhunters think. If you see some does, give them a bleat or three. They might come although the easiest lady to call in is the loner, so if you see her, start talking.
If you absolutely have to decoy, listen up. You’re probably not going to have a doe get anywhere near a buck decoy, so forget that. You’re also not going to have a doe approach a doe decoy that looks like she is on red alert and ready to blow the whole field out.
Use either a feeding doe decoy, or a bedded doe decoy. The body language must say that she is totally relaxed. If not, forget it. I’ve had a lot of does see these types of decoys and seem jittery at first, only to feed their way closer after a few minutes. Occasionally, they drag in a buck when they do.
If you’re wondering how best to hunt your way through November, consider a find-the-does strategy. This will require you to think back to earlier hunts and the doe sightings that occurred. After that, get mobile and if you really have to, get vocal or employ the right decoy. If you do all of those things correctly, it won’t just be does around your stand for long.