Bestul: Look Where the Does Are

Oct. 13: Not long ago, I sat in on a seminar done by my friend Sam Collora, an expert whitetail hunter from Iowa. Sam's topic was hunting during the rut, and he started by asking the audience a simple question. "Raise your hand if you believe this statement to be true: Bucks control the when and where of the rut."

Many hands shot up immediately. I was among those trying to wrap my mind around the question when Sam's trademark mischievous grin spread across his face. "OK, while you're working on that one, here's one just for the married guys: How many of you control the when and where in your household?"

I laughed as hard as anyone else, but I never forgot Sam's simple point: Too many hunters get tunnel vision during the rut, believing that if they know where this buck sleeps, or that rub line lies, or that super-scrape got laid down, that they've got all the info they need to shoot a giant. And sometimes, of course, they are correct.

But far too often we forget to keep tabs on the does in our hunting areas. I call this "getting sucker-punched by buck sign" and it's happened to me more than once. Rubs and scrapes are awesome, exciting, and inspiring. But buck sign mainly tells you where a buck has been. As rutting activity heats up, we need to know where he's going…And where he's going is to the does.

Right now--with peak breeding weeks away--is the perfect time to find where does bed, travel, and feed. The doe in this photo is munching heartily on an apple from a small, secluded orchard on one of the farms I hunt. I've had a camera in this spot for most of the summer, and I have dozens of doe photos. And even though I've "shot" only a few small bucks, I'm very, very excited about this spot. It's a prime feeding area for antlerless deer, and I have no doubt that when the big guys start trolling, they're gonna visit the orchard, hoping to find a doe thats ready to discuss the when-and-where.