Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

Male and female whitetails are as different as night from day in their use of habitat, in their feeding habits, in their reaction to disturbance, and in their display of personality. In fact, for much of the year, bucks and does should be considered two different species.

Unfortunately, when we observe the habits and habitats of whitetails, we’re likely to see two to three times more does than bucks. So, many of the conclusions we draw from our observations may be teaching us how to hunt does when it’s bucks we are after.

Does, for example, need better nutrition than bucks because of their double burden of feeding fawns and fattening themselves for winter, a time when feed may not be plentiful. So does select habitat that is gentler and has more varied and concentrated feeds than the habitat bucks choose.

Bucks, on the other hand, can get along in harsher environments at the edges of doe turf because their nutritional demands are not as great. Their main concerns before rut are conserving energy and sizing up other bucks. To accomplish these goals, bucks don’t move around much, and they eat large quantities of lower-quality foods. They don’t compete with does for food because they are on separate and less productive parts of the whitetail range.

Lesson No. 1:_ Do not assume you are going to find bucks in what looks like prime whitetail habitat. It may only be prime doe habitat._

There are other behavioral differences between bucks and does that may be the result of their personality traits. According to deer researcher Dave Pac, “Just about the same differences exist between bucks and does as exist between male and female human beings. The buck is the one that takes more chances. He is more aggressive. When you see deer pioneering new territory, for example, it’s the male that arrives first.”

Lesson No. 2:_ Look for bucks to be pushing the envelope of known whitetail distribution. Whitetails have a long history of settling new territory, and bucks will lead the way into those new places._

Although bucks take more chances than does by being the first ones to move into areas whitetails have not previously occupied, they are just as wary as females. In fact, they are usually more cautious during a bucks-only hunting season.

Researchers have found that in areas where bucks are hunted exclusively, they do most of their moving and feeding at night. Does, on the other hand, remain quite visible during the day and are not easily spooked.

Lesson No. 3: _Bucks know we are after them, and does know we are after bucks. Therefore, you’ll have to hunt bucks at first and last light if you hope to catch them out. _

“I don’t think that we give enough credit to the conditioned responses that occur in deer populations as a result of hunting,” notes Pac.