Almy: Focus on all edges for deer
It’s common wisdom among veteran hunters that edges make good spots to hunt deer. The edge of woods and fields, clear-cuts and mature timber, swamp and dry land are prime examples.
One important edge you might have overlooked, though, is the edge between buck and doe living areas. Other than during the rut, when they hang out in doe areas, mature bucks live mostly segregated from female deer.
There’s doe territory, and there’s buck territory. Hunting the edge where those two intersect can be a hot payoff tactic during early season, before bucks totally change their behavior patterns and camp out in doe areas once the rut begins.
Usually in early October, as nights cool and daylight hours dwindle, bucks begin skirting the edge where their territory edges up against doe habitat. Eventually they’ll make brief forays into the female territory. There they’ll leave sign in the form of rubs and scrapes as they initiate the first tentative courtship of the breeding cycle.
To identify the buck-doe edge, the first step involves pinpointing doe habitat. This will be lower, flatter and gentler terrain than bucks use. There will be some cover but not thick, congested areas.
Look for shrubs, tall grasses, honeysuckle and sumac. Open stands of pines and soft slopes sprinkled with cedars are prime doe hangouts, especially when near major feed areas.
Confirm that these areas are being used by finding sign, and then highlight them with a marker on your topo or a map of your hunting land. Now back away from those locations to look for buck hangouts.
These will be more remote, often with close contour lines indicating steep terrain. Home in on clear-cuts, areas with windstorm damage, dry humps in swamps and rugged, high elevation spots that are hard to reach. Also look for dense cover–tangles of olives, raspberry, blackberry, greenbrier, grapevines and stands of pines wrapped in weeds and brush.
Once you’ve delineated the two types of habitat, the doe-buck edge starts to pop out clearly. It won’t jump out as an exact spot or sharp line, but rather a swath or strip where the habitat gradually changes.
Still Hunt: At times the best tactic is to walk slowly along the buck-doe edge. Check the wind and slowly work along these edges.
During hot weather bucks will hunker down well back in their living zones. But on days with a cool breeze blowing, cloud cover or drizzle, and also very early and late, they’ll prowl this demarcation, pausing to make scrapes or rubs.
That’s why a still hunt is a good approach for your first edge hunt. It’s possible you’ll come upon an early-prowling mature buck. But it’s also a productive way to scout and discover the really hot spots for a stand hunt later.
Take a Stand: Keep track of where you find scrapes, rubs, nipped browse and lightly-outlined trails. Be especially alert for places where the sign breaks through this edge and penetrates softer female zones. This often takes place where there is a thick hollow, overgrown fence row or strip of security cover. Hang a stand there.
Be there in the morning, but only when the wind is blowing towards the buck area. The intrusion he makes into female territory is often at night. You want to catch him coming back through to return to his daytime bedding cover.
In the afternoon, pick a spot where the wind is blowing from the buck territory towards the doe zone. He’ll be coming out of the bowels of rough buck habitat to skirt the edge and possibly forge into the doe zone.
But whether he just swings along the perimeter or plunges in won’t really matter. In either case, you’ll be there waiting for him.
*If you plan to hunt quail this year in the Virginia, you’ll need lots of luck. The populations of these birds have dwindled steadily over recent decades.
But at least there’s some good news. Marc Puckett, small game project leader for Virginia, says landowners and game department staff are hearing more quail this year than any time in recent memory.
Because of the late spring and cool weather in March and April, he believes breeding took place two weeks later than normal, but was very successful. You might find a stray covey or two in the Shenandoah Valley, but for the best luck, head east and hunt from Fredericksburg south and east towards the tidewater. That’s where the most birds are available.