Gerald Almy: Finding right group of does
We’ve all read in articles that when the rut arrives, as it has right about now, you should hunt where the does are. But the truth is you need to find the right doe group.
Different clusters of does, even in a small hunting area, cycle at slightly different times. If they didn’t, the main estrous period would last about 1 ½-days instead of 7-10 days.
By finding a doe group that’s cycling or just about to, you can up your success odds dramatically.
Mature bucks monitor the status of females constantly as peak rut approaches. While visiting the different doe groups, they watch for visual signs and sniff for pheromones that tell them exactly which doe is ready and which are a few days away. Once the first group comes into full heat, though, this traveling mostly comes to a halt.
It may sound like a small difference, but if you sit near a group of does that won’t mate for another three days, you could have a long cold wait. And you could be missing hot action taking place around another group just a quarter-mile away. Bucks sense time is of the essence if they are going to service as many does as they can during the brief breeding period.
Using this knowledge that different doe groups cycle at different times has helped me immensely in my hunting. I know that herds in cool, higher elevation areas always seems to breed early, so I set up there for my first rut hunts.
Once they finish, doe groups that hold near prime feed areas in the lowlands come next. They are followed by does in middle elevations ranges with poorer quality food.
Once you pinpoint such a pattern on land you hunt, whether it’s public or private, you can use it to make a schedule for future years on where to expect the rut to kick at various times.
Even if you hunt different areas and it’s not practical to work out a “rut schedule” for cycling does, being aware of the signs of when a particular doe group is coming into heat and likely to attract bucks will definitely enhance your hunting success.
There are several climate and habitat conditions that will help you predict which area’s does will cycle earlier or later. And there are behavioral and posture traits that will tip you off on whether does are close to cycling when you encounter them.
First of all, if one part of the property you hunt is cooler than another area because of elevation, those does may tend to cycle first. Check out the highest ridges and peaks for the earliest breeding females.
Lacking any measurable temperature differences, look to the habitat quality. Where are the most desirable foods and best living quarters located? The oldest doe and her offspring will typically claim that spot and she will often cycle before younger does.
Find the location with the best feed and also good nearby cover in the form of low brush such as autumn olive thickets, tall grasses, scattered trees and edible shrubs like honeysuckle, blackberry, greenbrier and raspberry. That’s where the oldest and earliest cycling does should be. Expect the herds hanging around less desirable food sources to breed later.
Other factors may be involved, but these are a few I’ve found that influence when particular doe groups in a given area cycle.
You can tell when it happens, though, by the females’ behavior. As their hormones build up and they approach estrous, does become restive, pacing more. They won’t travel out of their home turf. They’ll simply walk around more because they’re restless and also to waft out their “I’m almost ready” pheromone scent.
Ready does tend to look back over their shoulder more. Their tails may stick straight out or crooked to the side.
If the animals you see look relaxed and mostly interested in food, with no nervousness or edgy demeanor, search for another group. Also, if they kick at bucks that approach and sniff them, look for another cluster of females, but make a mental note to check back on them in a few days.
A doe that responds by running playfully from approaching bucks, but not really trying to get away is what you want. Within hours that doe will not even be running but rather slipping in the brush with her chosen partner to breed.
Find her, then camp out downwind of her group’s primary bedding location or between there the closest feed spot. You’ve pinpointed the hottest doe group, and that’s where the biggest bucks in the area are going to be for the next few days.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.