While archery seasons are in full swing in many states, hunters in several others celebrated their opening weekends just recently. And if one thing stood in last week’s rut reports, it’s this: shooting does is an often-overlooked, yet important part of a successful season. We celebrate big bucks here, and do so without apology…Yet doe harvests are just as wonderful, and our rut reporter team did an excellent job of pointing that out this week.

Southern rut reporter Eric Bruce showed us his first doe of the season, and his hunt serves as an excellent example of why focusing on antlerless deer makes us better hunters. Eric did a fantastic job of adapting to a fluid situation by altering his approach to his stand to avoid spooking deer, then made a great shot on a fine doe. His harvest illustrates a critical aspect of shooting does; nothing prepares you for shooting a big buck better than shooting a lot of deer, and antlerless deer often provide that opportunity. Of course, Eric also helped with herd management and put some great meat in his freezer.

Mid-South rut reporter Will Brantley brought up two other important benefits of focusing on antlerless deer: doing so not only keeps you plugged in to the hottest food sources, but it also keeps you tuned in to where family groups of does are located. As the breeding urge intensifies in bucks, they will focus their activity near these pockets of antlerless deer. If you’re not aware of their locations, you can spend the better part of the rut a half-step behind. Trust me, I’ve been there!

Great Plains rut reporter David Draper had a great photo of a happy hunter with a super buck, and the hunt tale also revealed something very important. Though the rut is weeks away, this hunter found several fresh scrapes, set up on them, and shot his buck. It’s amazing how many hunters spend too much time over-analyzing deer sign, especially spoor like scrapes and rubs in the early season. Because they realize the rut is still to come, they ignore fresh buck sign, thinking it must be made at night, or the buck isn’t serious because the rut is far off, or…well, let’s just say I speak with authority because I’ve made the mistake myself. These days, when I find fresh buck sign, I look for a good stand or blind location!

As always, Western rut reporter Jeff Holmes brings some great observation from guides and expert hunters in his reports. This week he provided a slug of great field photos from successful hunters at Montana Whitetails. This is an operation that clearly focuses on details, such as how outside factors like heat and moon phase affect buck activity. Observing these regional details is so critical to consistent success, and at least one reason why I’m such an advocate of keeping a detailed hunting journal where we can record the environmental details that can affect our hunts. Northeastern rut reporter Mike Bleech notes the same in his report; scouting for the presence (or absence) of hard mast crops like beech and acorns can be critical to success, whether a hunter is concerned about getting into deer this weekend…or weeks from now when the bucks move big.

Finally, rut reporter Brandon Ray notes that Texas’ season is drawing near, and how much he looks forward to the camaraderie of his hunting companions. Like harvesting does, this is an aspect of hunting that can get short shrift when all we focus on is antlers. I treasure the friendship and knowledge that my hunting companions provide me each year, and their enthusiasm and support can keep me energized when bucks can make me feel like a rookie! Knowing Brandon, he’ll be sending multiple hero shots from his hunts this fall, but it was great to hear him talk about his excitement of another season spent with great friends!