After many weeks of daydreaming about trophy bucks, it's all too easy to put your doe tag on the back burner when the season opens. Trouble is, a lot of those tags go unfilled as a result. Who among us hasn't put off targeting antlerless deer until after the rut—only to discover that by then the does have become as difficult to find as the bucks?
Avoid going without venison by hunting antlerless deer early this year. Your freezer will be stocked. You will have fulfilled your duty to further proper herd management. And you can turn your full attention to bucks for the rest of the season. In addition, does are more active and less wary now, and hunting them can often be done in areas that won't disturb buck activity. Here are three solid strategies:
EVENING AMBUSH Early in the season, whitetails typically cluster in small, same-sex groups. If you did any preseason glassing for feeding bucks, you might have noticed does feeding in distinctly separate areas. If not, take an evening or two to glass feeding areas (especially alfalfa and soybean fields and soft-mast sources such as apples, persimmons, or hawthorn) to learn precisely where doe family groups are fattening up. After locating the main entry point to a field or the most heavily used trail leading to soft mast, return at midday to hang a stand close by. Unlike bucks, early-season does are apt to arrive at evening feeding areas with shooting light to spare.
MORNING VIGIL Early-season bucks typically return to their bedding areas before first light. Does, on the other hand, usually dawdle before bedding down, making the morning an excellent time to intercept them. Set a stand inside the woods between a food source and a thick bedding area, and you'll be in perfect position to see steady doe activity through midmorning.
If you're worried about spooking bucks with a predawn approach, sleep in and wait for morning's pink light before hunting. This tactic not only gives bucks time to bed down for the day, but it also allows enough light for you to quietly still-hunt to your stand. Keep an eye out for feeding does, and you may well fill your tag before you climb into your perch.
STILL-HUNT THE EDGES Because does are much more likely than bucks to be exposed during shooting hours in the early season, a highly successful tactic right now can be still-hunting or stalking the fringes of feeding fields, abandoned apple orchards, re-generating clear-cuts, water sources, and similar open habitat.
Bring a pair of binoculars and hunt during the prime hours around dawn and dusk. Then keep the wind in your favor as you use fringe covers, such as brushy fence-lines, to keep hidden while you sneak and peek. This provides a welcome change of pace for stand hunters—and the rubs, scrapes, and tracks you'll likely come across as you hunt will help you fill that buck tag.
FIRST DEER: Fill the freezer, then hunt a buck.