Bucks Are More Visible When Deer Hunters Harvest Does

November 9, 2022 By: Ben Westfall
Brandin Baird of Michigan got her first deer ever at an NDA Field to Fork hunt on the Back 40 property in 2022. Photo: Seth Vanderband

“If you shoot a bunch of does, you won’t see any bucks!” I have heard this phrase and its variations time and time again over my years as a deer hunter, land manager and biologist. While I understand what these folks are trying to say, scientific research has shown repeatedly that this just isn’t accurate. Does attract bucks during the rut, but in a local sense. Protecting and stockpiling does will not draw bucks from other areas, and having too many does around is actually counterproductive to your ability to see and hunt bucks. 

Buck Home Ranges

Bucks inhabit what are called home ranges and core areas. Home range is the entire area that a buck uses across a year, while the core area is a central location within the home range where he spends the majority of his time. In fact, deer maintain a fairly small home range and core area throughout much of the year. Home-range and core-area use and size increase during the pre-rut and rut, but overall daily movements can be fairly limited for many bucks. 

According to research by Dr. Aaron Foley and his co-researchers at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, bucks did not wander widely afield during the peak rut. While their daily movement rates increased compared to other times, they still only used about 30% of their annual home range.

Protecting does and trying to build large herds of them is a good way to ensure you see less rut activity and fewer bucks.

These bucks maintained two or more focal points of about 60 to 140 acres each within their home ranges, and they visited these focal areas frequently, about every 20 to 28 hours. These are no doubt areas within a buck’s existing home range where encounters with a doe are more likely – but these are does that already live close to the buck’s home. Since there are already does in the area, a buck has no need to travel long distances to breed.

What About Excursions? 

Yes, bucks are known to make long-distance excursions outside their home ranges during the rut. These usually last a day or so, then the buck returns to his familiar home range. We don’t fully understand the purpose of these trips and whether they are related to food, hunting pressure or breeding opportunities, but these exploratory movements are not permanent. Bucks don’t venture out and then remain in strange areas.

Put simply, deer movement studies have provided no evidence that bucks can detect greater concentrations of does at long distances – or any other resource – and then shift permanently to a new area as a result.

Home Range Size

We also know that home-range and core-area size tends to decrease slightly as bucks age, so those big mature bucks are even more likely to stay put and stay safe. 

So as long as you follow a doe harvest prescription and work toward balancing the doe:buck ratio, you shouldn’t have to worry about “buck magnets” tempting your target buck to switch neighborhoods. Especially if you are managing the habitat to provide plenty of high quality and diverse food and cover while limiting your hunting pressure. A great way to do this is to establish sanctuaries and work with your neighbors through wildlife cooperatives.

Doe Harvest Actually Helps

Not only is antlerless harvest a key component of healthy herd management, but it is something that we at NDA have promoted and encouraged since the beginning. Not everyone needs to harvest a lot of does every season, but over time, it’s a good idea for many hunters to harvest roughly equal numbers of does and bucks. This helps ensure a balanced doe:buck ratio. 

Harvesting does early in the hunting season can conserve food resources for other deer while increasing competition during the rut, making bucks more visible in the same year. Photo: Seth Vanderband

Balancing the sex ratio to 2:1 (2 adult does per adult buck) or better before the rut can greatly increase competition among bucks for breeding, and that means bucks are more visible to hunters. A balanced doe:buck ratio and complete buck age structures offers you more opportunities to witness bucks fighting or chasing does, a better chance of grunting or rattling one into bow range, and increased daytime buck sightings. Sounds like an exciting rut to me! When it comes to does, protecting them and trying to build large herds of them is a good way to ensure you see less rut activity and fewer bucks.

There are a plethora of benefits to harvesting antlerless deer, especially early in the season. On average, a deer eats about one ton of forage annually. That’s a lot of vegetation! Removing does can significantly improve the abundance, diversity, and quality of food and cover for the remaining deer. More and better food results in healthier mothers producing better milk. Healthy moms equal healthy fawns.

In most cases, adequate doe harvest is beneficial to the herd and is a great way to introduce new hunters into the lifestyle. Personally, I enjoy focusing on antlerless harvest early in the season as it allows me to fill the freezer for my family and set up an action-packed rut. 

About Ben Westfall:

Ben Westfall is NDA's Conservation Coordinator. Ben received both his bachelor of science and master of science degrees from Southeast Missouri State University with an emphasis on wildlife conservation.