Most of the year, mature bucks live apart from the ladies. There’s buck turf and there’s doe turf. During the rut, bucks move right in with the does. But for about two weeks before the breeding season, the periphery is the hotspot.
Find the Edge
To identify the buck-doe edge, first pinpoint doe habitat. This will be lower, gentler terrain than what males use. There will be cover, but not the gnarly stuff bucks love. Look for shrubs, tall grasses, honeysuckle, and sumac. Open stands of pines and soft slopes sprinkled with cedars are also prime doe hangouts, especially if they’re located near major feed areas. Check for sign to confirm that these spots are being used, then highlight them with a marker on a topo map.
Now back away to look for buck spots. These will be more remote, often in steep, rugged terrain. Home in on thick clear-cuts, hummocks in swamps, windblown hillsides latticed with blowdowns. Seek out tangles of raspberry, blackberry, greenbrier, or grapevines, as well as stands of pines ensnared with weeds and brush. Then look for buck sign; if you find it, mark the area.
Once you’ve delineated the two types of habitat, the buck-doe edge will pop out clearly. It won’t be an exact spot or sharp line, but rather a swath or strip where the habitat gradually changes. That’s where you want to be.
Take a Walk
If the season is open, I still-hunt and scout at the same time. On cool, cloudy mornings, bucks prowl the line, pausing to paw the turf or rub a sapling. With luck, you can catch a buck on his feet. At the least, you’ll spot his sign.
Keep tabs on the rubs, scrapes, nipped browse, and trails you find along the edge. This is where you want to hang your stand, at midday. Keep it toward the buck side of the line.
Come back to hunt in the morning if the wind is blowing toward the buck area. A trophy’s intrusion into female territory usually takes place at night, and you want to catch him coming back to his daytime bed. If the wind is blowing toward the doe turf, hunt in the evening instead. When a buck leaves his rugged haunt to skirt the edge or cross the line into the zone, you’ll be waiting for him.