There's an old adage: If you want to see bucks, then you better be seeing does. Deer hunting seasons often get broken down into the pre-rut, the rut, and the post- or late-rut periods, and almost all that activity revolves around breeding. As far as deer hunters are concerned, the most important deer in your herd during the autumn should be adult does that are coming into estrous. Sometimes we see does accompanied by that year's fawns. This doesn't mean those deer aren't ready to breed, but they aren't always a buck's first choice. Adult does ready to breed are usually more solitary (partly because they are getting chased) or are traveling with other adults. In essence, if you're attracting does to your hunting area, you'll be on the right track and enhancing your odds of a harvest. Whether you're aiming for a big bruiser buck or have female deer in your crosshairs to fill the freezer, these are our best pieces of advice in terms of attracting the ladies.
It might sound fantastically simplistic, but deer are on the hunt for food day in and day out. Finding quality food sources that deer are using is as easy as scouting them out and placing a stand in the area, but you will want them coming back for years. Stands of mature oak trees are one of the best areas to find acorns—and when you find acorns, you will find deer.
Food plots are also a tried-and-true way to attract deer, and they work. This is a method that will require some effort, some land, and some time, but having a viable food plot can be the beginning of some of the best hunting you can have.
Mineral sites for deer may come under the auspices of food (and rightly so), but in areas where they are legal, they can bring deer in like no other. These sites are not only good at attracting does and their sisters, but they are also great places for a trail camera. Does love to travel in groups—even small groups—so when one finds a site that it likes and trusts, others will follow. Maybe the best part is that even after a mineral site is removed, deer will keep coming back long afterward. The best times to start your mineral licks are in February and March after the season is over, continuing right up to opening day.
A water source you create, or water that is local and nearby, is a necessity of life for deer and other creatures, especially during the heat of the summer. Many farm markets and even the big box stores carry the gear for people to create a drinking location, particularly rubber-lined tubs that one person can easily carry. Tubs are reasonably priced but take a little work to get into the ground, depending on your area. They are not deep enough to be considered a threat for drowning, and you may have to put water in it yourself based on the conditions. But as long as the regulations say you can do it, putting in a water source will have animals, including deer, coming in to quench their thirst.
Cutting or trimming shooting lanes around our stands goes without saying, but deer are creatures of habit and will take the path of least resistance whenever possible. In this way, it is a great idea to trim and open the trails that deer are using around your stand—in fact, your entire hunting area.
Not only that, but felling softer-wood trees will create a buffet of buds, twigs, and leaves for deer to munch on and will encourage them to come back for more. Even with their unpredictability, deer will use an area that is easily moved through and has food and water.
Use Some Rope
This is unconventional to some, but the placement of rope barriers around your property can have the effect of steering deer toward you as much as making them actually want to enter the area. This is not meant to keep them out or stop them from moving in, but simply to create a path for them that you can count on to see deer regularly. It's better to avoid open areas of your land. So if you don't currently have fences, place some strategically located ropes to leave open areas for deer to enter and truthfully escape. If deer don't think that they can get out, they won't come in.
The Mock Scrape Effect
We make mock scrapes to attract bucks that are rutting and on the lookout for does in estrous, but having an active scrape in your area will keep many deer attracted and interested. They're naturally curious as to which one of their kind made it, and which one is watching over it. A mock scrape is pretty easy to make and maintain, and it can have plenty of realism for deer if done right. Have an overhead licking branch, with scents added to the ground whether it is does in heat lure or intruder buck. One easy addition is to take a shed antler with you to scrape clear the ground with, giving it an even more realistic look.