The warm sunshine of a late September afternoon had faded away. Cool air settled into the hillside flat where my ground blind stood. After scanning the area around my blind, I slowly stretched to pull on a heavy shirt. "Whew, whew," echoed through the woods. I had been busted by the dominant doe of a small herd of deer which regularly used my small food plot.
Leaves crunched underfoot as several deer slowly walked back down the hollow, the way they had come. Experience had taught me to sit tight. The deer had not been badly spooked and I silently hoped that they would return.
Less than 20 minutes later I heard the unmistakable sounds of deer walking in the dry oak leaves east of my blind. Sounds of acorns being crunched assured me that the band of does had calmed down and once again felt safe.
Peering through the weeds and brush with the aid of my binoculars, I caught a glimmer from white bone — antlers. A pair of large ears appeared next, alert and upright. The dominant doe lead the pack, as usual. She stepped into the food plot first, perhaps 35 yards away.
A plump 5-point buck followed. I scanned its antlers looking for a brow tine on the 3-point side of the rack. No such luck. I live in Phelps County, Missouri, where a 4-point rule applies. That buck would be safe until youth season arrived.
Two more does fed into the far end of the food plot, well over 40 yards away. All of the does fed behind the 5-point buck, making it impossible for me to get a shot with my crossbow at the nearest doe, which had fed to within 25 yards of my blind.
The big doe nearest my blind, obviously served as the boss doe of the bunch. Her blocky body supported a long, strong neck and a "mule head" with a Roman nose. She portrayed the perfect example of a dominant doe.
The dominant doe kept snapping her head to the alert position and staring at my blind. The other deer, including the 5-point buck, never looked my direction. Instinctively, I knew it would only be a short period of time before the big doe would bust me again.
Her nervous demeanor intensified as she fed across the food plot. She stared at the blind every minute or so. Ten minutes after entering the plot, her rump hairs began to flare. She curled her lip and licked her nostrils, testing the air for any telltale signs of danger.
She slowly raised her long flag to full mast and it tick-tocked back and forth as she slowly headed back across the food plot the way she had come. All of her subordinates followed suit. The dominant doe had busted me for the second time in one afternoon.
I still sat tight, hoping for one more reprieve from the curse of the old doe before nightfall enveloped the food plot.
With 20 minutes of daylight left, boss doe returned for the third time. However, she elected to hang out in a spur of the food plot which was screened by a thin layer of brush between it and my blind.
The 5-pointer returned as well. It stared to the south. Soon, a respectable 11-point buck sauntered across the far east end of the food plot and hooked into the brushy area with the other deer. I recognized the big buck from trail camera photos.
My heartbeat rose and fell with the movements of the big buck. I tried not to stare at its big rack. The buck calmly fed on white oak acorns only 35 yards away. However, one small hickory bush covered its vitals.
The light slowly faded away. I enjoyed an especially smug feeling at having enjoyed an afternoon in a ground blind with deer very nearby. I stayed in the blind for 30 minutes after legal shooting time so as not to spook the herd. Once I heard them slip away into the hollow below, I silently left my hide and followed the wooded lane back to the house.
I laid a plan for the next day. I would set up another blind closer to the point where the dominant doe entered the food plot. I desperately wanted to take her out of the herd. Being the boss, she stayed on alert almost constantly.
She made all of the decisions and led the herd to safety every time she detected danger.
What to Do About the Dominant Doe
Rifle hunters with multiple antlerless, or any deer tags, can often make multiple kills by shooting the dominant doe first. It is best to drop her in her tracks. High shoulder shots are recommended to accomplish this feat. Subordinate does often will freeze, because they are not accustomed to making decisions. The extra seconds allow for a second, or maybe, a third shot. Even if the subordinates do run, stay prepared. They may not go far.
Stay put even though the subordinates do run off. There is a high probability that they may circle back shortly to see what happened to their leader. Also, deer are very curious about other deer laying dead on the ground.
If you hunt the dominate doe in a given area, you also greatly improve your chances of seeing the dominant buck in the area. Watch where the dominant doe enters and leaves feeding areas. Follow trails to her bedding area, which will usually be much thicker vegetation. You can find buck bedding areas by studying topo maps to discover the buck's security areas. Look for areas with lots of blowdowns, brushy ridge tops and swamps. Next, determine how the buck travels from his security area to that of the dominant doe. Look for weedy ditches, saddles, brushy draws, light rub lines and dark timber. Hang your stand accordingly and ambush the bruiser.
The Next Day of Hunting
I set my second ground blind early the next afternoon and entered it around 5 p.m. The dominant doe came from the east like clockwork. However, she spotted the new blind and busted me again. Fifteen minutes later I heard her leading her troop around the new blind to the north. They entered the food plot from the northwest.
Within 10 minutes the old boss fed within 30 yards of my new blind, but I did not have a shot. She continuously eyed the blind. Curiosity finally got the best of her. She circled and hooked into the brush screened spot at the east end of the plot. She paused, broadside, at 20 yards to inspect the blind closer. I put an arrow right on target.
By removing the dominate doe from the herd, I had accomplished several goals:
- Reduced the herd by taking out the most reproductive doe;
- Took out the leader, leaving the other deer more vulnerable until they learned the ropes;
- Eliminated the most cautious deer of the herd;
- Found the dominate buck;
- Put tenderloins in the freezer; and
- Had a great time outdoors executing my well laid plans.