Last week we looked at how to identify doe bedding areas. To recap briefly, does claim the best habitat possible in semi-open areas that offer some cover near prime feed sources. These might be corn, alfalfa, soybeans, acorn-laden oaks, food plots or orchards. Whatever the major food source is nearby, that's where you'll start searching to find doe bedding areas.
If you want to tag a female deer and help improve the buck-to-doe ratio, get out in the early season and simply hunt the trails and transition corridors between these bedding areas and food sources. You'll find it relatively easy to punch a tag there and fill the freezer with some delicious venison.
If you're interested in a buck, however, particularly a mature one with thick bases, a main beam 20 inches or longer and eight or more points, concentrate on these doe bedding areas later, when the rut approaches. That's when bucks will gravitate to them, leaving their thick, late summer core home areas.
The matriarch doe and her offspring in a particular group may come into estrous at a slightly different time from other doe herds in the area. A good strategy as the rut approaches is to rotate hunting different doe groups to try to pinpoint one that's in or just about to go into heat and set up there.
Pinpoint a large doe that's particularly active, pacing around a lot, possibly with her tail crooked to the side or straight out and glancing back over her shoulder. Find that and you've pinpointed a group to focus on.
If the does seem nonchalant and mostly interested in eating, with no edgy, nervous demeanor, look for another, more active female group. But check back on that cluster of does in a couple of days.
Mature bucks don't just barge into a herd of does trying to roust out a ready mate. Instead, they scent check the group from the downwind fringe first, searching for does secreting pre-estrus pheromones. If they smell a ready female or see an interested mate from that location, then they move in, begin showing their rack and courting the estrus doe.
Take your cue from this and hang a stand downwind of the doe bedding area.
Also try setting up on trails between different female groups. Bucks will be continuously moving from one doe bedding area to the next as the rut gets closer and after they've serviced the ready females in a particular group.
Look for large tracks and fresh rubs along possible routes between doe bedding areas that offer the bucks some cover as they travel their circuit. This can be a strip of dense saplings and shrubs, a brushy hollow, a dip or swale in open terrain, an overgrown fence row or perhaps a stand of low-growing conifers.
Set up on the downwind side of that route and watch all day. A buck could show up just as likely at noon as at dawn or dusk when the rut is approaching or in full swing.