Hunting does will make you a better buck hunter.
I took this late-season doe at the conclusion of an intense encounter.
ALTHOUGH I'D HAD HIGH hopes, when I got to the river bottom things just weren't right. The wind had seemed all right out on the timber's edge, but down inside the woods it swirled badly, and my wind-feather jogged laps around the upper limb of my longbow. With the best part of the season still a month away, I really didn't want to jeopardize this prime spot, so my internal debate was a short one. A lazy weather pattern and fickle breeze made it a no-brainer.
I got my stuff together and trotted back up the lane I'd just tiptoed down so carefully. Out on the edge, I climbed up in a windswept cedar that bordered a large cornfield. A rather consistent location to see does and yearlings headed to fill their bellies, it was indication enough that I'd aborted my original plans and was now enacting Plan B -- an antlerless hunt. Just like a batter given the green light at the plate, it was time to "swing away." It was Doe Day.
I wasn't even totally situated when I noticed movement back in the cedars where deer often stage before entering the corn. A mature doe moved cautiously down the trail. Beaten down through frequent use, the trail cut to the ag field just before the end of the brushy finger where I sat, safely crosswind from her in the last tree.
It was the first time I'd ever hunted this stand, specifically set up to intercept does and to take advantage of Nebraska's relatively new bonus antlerless tags. These "season choice" permits, issued for specific areas with high deer densities, could be used during any season (archery, rifle, or blackpowder) to trim herd numbers and curb landowner complaints.
The doe quickly offered me a shot, and I loosed a Wensel Woodsman-tipped shaft from my White Bison longbow, perforating both lungs and leaving me a great blood trail with plenty of good sunlight left to snap some photos. Indeed, I'd soon be headed to the check-in station, and then the butcher's, with the sun still above the horizon.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADDITIONAL deer tags are on the rise across America. Many states that formerly limited hunters to one or two deer now let hunters put more meat in the freezer. The advantages of liberalized harvest regulations are many, but one especially important to bowhunters is simply the chance to experience "the moment of truth" more often.
I thought about that quite a bit in my early years of bowhunting. I quickly got hooked on the sport and, becoming more proficient and particular, I was soon putting in 80 to 100 hunts during Nebraska's 99-day bow season. I consistently took decent bucks, but there were also misses and other blown opportunities at "clutch time."
With experience, performance in the heat of the moment generally improves, but taking just one or two shots a year doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Even veterans know that once a decision is reached to shoot an approaching deer, heart rates often accelerate. Just because the hunter can drill 10 in a row in practice doesn't mean he won't drop his bow arm or use the wrong sight pin when it really counts.
That's where antlerless tags can be a bowhunter's windfall. They allow more "live" action without having to punch one's primary buck license or end the season prematurely. They can also allow you to be a better friend to the landowner.
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September and October are great times to take advantage of antlerless tags and sharpen up for taking big bucks.
I know a landowner, who in 2001, expressed concern about his burgeoning deer herd. While I didn't feel the deer were any thicker than in recent seasons, it was another year of drought, and with his center-pivot irrigation system running all summer, I'm sure he winced every time he saw a deer. He asked if my partner, Pete Jessen, and I could shoot more deer, and, of course, we said we'd oblige. We also explained that with each mature doe we took, we were removing the equivalent of three deer (the doe and the two fawns she'd likely bear next spring), which seemed to resonate very well.
That season turned out to be a watershed of sorts for me. Up to that time, I'd taken only four does in the previous two decades, all during the last week of the season to fill my second either-sex tag. But the three mature, antlerless deer I took that season were followed by three more good does in '02. Throw in two bucks taken during that time, and I effectively removed about 20 deer, and Pete did about the same. Without those does, our take would have resulted in just two deer each.
The benefits were not limited to the landowner. Try as one might, it's hard to simulate the pressure of placing an arrow in the boiler room of a fidgety whitetail. You can pound arrows all summer into a 3-D deer target, but it's different in the field with swirling winds and variable temperatures, an unpredictable quarry, and different layers of clothes each time. The more you actually go through the process for real, the more likely you will be to find success when that long-hoped-for buck finally shows up.
Also, excitement returns to the hunt when it's more likely that you'll see something to shoot at. I've noticed that whenever I decide it's "doe day," my level of excitement seems to approach that of opening day or early November. The likelihood that you'll have a shooting opportunity brings a keener edge to the outing.
Another positive twist is that bowhunters, who were previously viewed by DNR's as a group maximizing recreational opportunities with little effect on the resource, are now being seen as hunters who can do their fair share in managing wildlife populations. If archers don't step up to the plate on this, they may face yielding these opportunities (and part of their seasons) to weapons with longer ranges.
This is not to say that does are easy to kill. A mature old baldy can be just as cagey as a big old buck, but most herd ratios are such that there are simply many more does and, thus, many more shooting opportunities. I certainly gained a lot of respect for does after I began hunting them more. Far too often what seemed like an easy task has turned into a chess match worthy of a bruiser buck. Old sway back does sure don't miss much, and your technique had better be sound or you'll never let the air out of one of them.
Because I'm still after Mr. Big, I try to cull does with as little intrusion as possible. Field edges ar
e prime spots, largely because the obvious trails are often made by the does. But I especially prefer these locations because I can usually blood trail, field dress, and load the fallen deer without much penetration of the main timber. Other things I shoot for (pardon the pun) include not taking does after sunset (more complicated trailing and retrieval), passing on does when bucks are very active, and trying to take only adult deer.
This latter concern is due to paying a minimum butchering charge, regardless of animal size. Taking yearlings in for commercial butchering is not very cost-effective. I'll also admit to having a bit of a soft spot for young deer, but harvesting young animals is proper conservation as they'd often be the first taken by other predators. If you do your own butchering, those yearlings should especially be targeted, though you'd best let button bucks walk for obvious reasons.
I most often try to fill doe tags very early and then again late in the season. If you are concerned about taking out does that may serve as "bait" for rutting bucks later, then postpone your antlerless harvest. But also realize that, at least in my neck of the woods, deer become a lot more cautious and difficult to tag once the gunners have had their turn.
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One great time to punch anterless tags is in the lazy days of the early part of bow season. Pete Jessen used a Pronghorn longbow to take this Nebraska doe in September.
Fallen antlerless animals should be treated with respect even though they're not trophies for the wall. While landowners may regard them as pests for good reason, I have a great deal of admiration for all wildlife, and especially for deer. I don't ever want it to get to where I shoot a doe, gut it, and then throw it in the truck unceremoniously. All bowkilled animals deserve our respect, and in my case, a quick photo session to mark the event. Besides, a lack of respect for wildlife doesn't leave a good impression on those who may someday decide the fate of hunting.
Antlerless tags can be a real boon for bowhunters who take advantage of them. And our willingness to fill them allows us to play a more effective role in game management, to hone our hunting and archery skills during "the moment of truth," and to show farmers that we empathize with them and care about more than just putting antlers on the wall. Plus, the increased likelihood of getting a shot certainly makes each hunt more exciting. Doe hunting is also a great way to gain access to new properties, extend your season after you've killed your buck(s), introduce kids to bowhunting, or make your first attempt at videotaping a hunt of your own.
For me, the best analogy is still a batter at the plate. With three balls and no strikes, tactics often dictate the batter not swing at the next pitch in hopes of drawing a walk. As a coach, I can appreciate that as sound strategy, but it's frustrating for the batter to then see the pitcher serve up a meatball right down the middle of the plate.
Well, sometimes we bowhunters take pitches all year, hoping for that big buck. It's much more exciting to swing away now and then. Declare a doe day, and see if it doesn't liven things up for you. It works for me!
If you plan to take advantage of extra antlerless tags, make sure you know what you're going to do with the meat. Some families can eat several deer a year, so that's not a problem. But for other families, such as mine, one or two deer is plenty, so I arrange for co-workers to receive my additional deer.
Be sure to check your state's regulations regarding this type of arrangement. I'm pretty sure it's illegal to sell wild venison anywhere in America, but most states, like Nebraska, allow a hunter to give meat away. If you have folks in mind who cut up their own deer, things are really easy.
Since my fellow teachers don't butcher their own, I present the deer to my local butcher along with the recipient's name and phone number. Then that person is told to call the butcher within two days to explain how they want the animal cut up. Our state also requires a note explaining the gift with the hunter's permit number on it.
One needs to be sure to dot their I's and cross their T's according to their state's regulations. For instance, I've had folks want to buy a license or at least pay for mine, but I steadfastly refuse. Though well intentioned, any end run around the rules is poaching in my book, and with resident deer tags quite reasonable, I simply consider it the very cheap price of recreation for me. Another solid option is a donation program for the homeless.
The author is a resident of Fremont, Nebraska. He has written numerous features for Bowhunter dating back to 1993.
Equipment Notes on the next page -- click on page link below.
|EQUIPMENT NOTES: SCENT DISPENSER|
By Brian Fortenbaugh, Assistant Editor
These products will put your does -- or bucks -- right where you want 'em.
1) Tink's Trail Pack Combo comes with a Drag Rag, a Boot Pad, and a Scent Bomb. The Drag attaches to your belt loop and stretches far behind you for continuous scent contact with the ground. The wide Boot Pad holds more scent and won't slip off. Pour some scent into the plastic Scent Bomb, place it near your stand, and get ready for action (Tink's, 1-800-624-5988, www.tinks69.com).
2) Wildlife Research Center's Quik-Wik makes little scent goes a long way. Dip its felt wick in your favorite liquid scent until saturated, let it fall back into the plastic container, and then screw on the airtight cap. When you reach your hunting location, unscrew the cap and attach it to the Velcro dot on the front, let the wick drop down, and hang the unit about 5 feet off the ground. When the hunt is over, reverse the process and the Quik-Wik is preloaded for your next hunt (Wildlife Research Center, Inc., 763-427-3350, www.wildlife.com).
3) Buck Bomb, Inc.'s Buck Bomb is an aerosol fogger containing 1 ounce of whitetail urine and 2 ounces of CO2. When activated, the urine is turned into a gas that will cover a huge area and sticks to everything it touches for hours. It's available in five whitetail-attracting scents (Buck Bomb, Inc., 1-866-850-6653, www.buckbomb.com).
4) Pine Ridge's Wick Stik is a 4-in-1 scent system for transporting and dispensing liquid scents. Once filled with scent, you can drag it with its 6-foot drag cord, hang it, stake it, and even use it as a yardage marker. It has o-ring seals in every threaded fit
ting to prevent leaks while in use or in storage (Pine Ridge Archery Products, 1-877-746-7434; www.pineridgearchery.com).
5) Hunter's Specialties Retract-A-Drag is a self-storing, retractable drag that also doubles as a scent post. Simply pour liquid scent on the absorbent drag head, attach it to your belt, and start walking. When you reach your honey hole, just reel the drag head back into its container and snap the airtight lid closed. It comes with three replacement heads (Hunter's Specialties, Inc., 319-395-0321, www.hunterspec.com).
6) Mrs. Doe Pee's Powder Puff is a powder wind checker with a twist. Each 2-ounce bottle contains unscented wind-direction powder and freeze-dried whitetail doe estrus urine. Squeezing the bottle dispenses the powder mix into the air where it will tell you wind direction while drawing bucks to your stand. You can also use it to lay a long-lasting scent trail (Mrs. Doe Pee's Buck Lures, 319-385-3875, www.mrsdoepee.com).
7) Code Blue's Double Drag System consists of two drag rags attached to the same drag cord. By pouring estrous doe urine on the rag closest to you, and buck urine on the second rag, you can put down a buck-following-a-hot-doe scent trail no rutting buck can resist. Then, hang it in a shooting lane to stop him for a shot (Code Blue/Pradco Outdoor Brands, 479-782-8971, www.codebluescents.com).
8) Buck Stop's Scent Pump is a 2-ounce spray pump bottle that turns your trusted liquid scents into a fine mist for greater coverage. Use it to spray scent wicks, drags, scrapes, boot pads, and even foliage. Also look for this company's Gel Patch; a pre-measured patch that holds 40-50 drops of liquid scent for long-lasting attraction (Buck Stop Lure Company, Inc., 1-800-477-2368, www.buckstopscents.com).
9) ThermaCELL's ThermaSCENT Scent Dispenser gets your favorite hunting scent into the air fast. Pour 1/2 ounce of scent on one of the supplied mats, insert the mat in the unit, and turn it on to begin heating the scent-soaked mat. It comes with one butane cartridge and three mats for up to 12 hours of use (ThermaCELL, 1-866-753-3837, www.thermacell.com).