November 01, 2022
During the drawn-out Florida rut, hunting over buck sign can be decidedly unproductive. Alluring rubs and scrapes are in sight, but despite their promise of grand bucks, day after day slip past without any sightings. During this time frame, a Florida hunter is well advised to hunt where the does are, particularly where hot does are. The trouble is does in estrus look very much like other does. Occasionally a doe is sighted behaving in a manner that leaves no doubt in the hunter's mind that she is in heat, but most often we can only surmise and wait for a buck to confirm our guess.
Recognition of does in heat offers three advantages. First, does are often legal during the rut and may draw the hunter's shot, concurrently ruining his or her chance at a coming buck. Second, the doe remains in heat for about twenty-four hours so, even if she is unescorted at the time, the hunter can spend additional time in the area the rest of the day or the following day. Third, a hunter can sneak down from a stand to intercept a point on a distant doe's trail in hopes of a coming buck. This article offers five clues that can help identify does in estrus and one idea where an unseen hot doe might be found. Although the signs are fairly reliable, please keep in mind that whitetails, and all wildlife, are individuals. Trends definitely exist, but there are no hard and fast rules to their behaviors.
If you watch deer enough, you will see bucks paying inordinate attention to certain does in a group of feeding does, chasing them only to have them return to the group and be chased again by the same or a different buck. These does are likely in estrus or very close to entering estrus. Still that is the exception. Most does in heat leave their companions and wander alone. Because does are typically found with other deer, the discovery of any lone individual should signal to the hunter the strong possibility she is in heat.
At times, deer will run from food source to food source, or across areas with little protective cover. Two years ago, we had an incredible bumper crop of live oak acorns. Many of the trees were widely spaced and I was amazed how often deer raced from tree to tree as if wanting to be first at the banquet. Nonetheless, most deer move unobtrusively, demonstrating little hurry. (At times, maddeningly unhurried, leaving the hunter all too much time to contemplate the chances of a wind swirl!) Estrus does, however, are chased relentlessly. Any lone running doe should be viewed as likely to be hot.
Because of the persistent chasing, especially before they are entirely ready, does either become physically tired or tired of the harassment, and bed often. The bedding sites are typically in protected areas. In Central Florida, dense clumps of myrtle are utilized, and I've even witnessed does enter palmetto thickets dense enough you would think impenetrable to a rabbit. Just last season, a doe sequestered herself in such a patch. On that evidence, I returned to the same vicinity later in the day and arrowed a superb eight-point she led directly by me!
Does in estrus are often restless. They may feed or bed but seem to be less content, moving often. This seems out of harmony with the previous assertion of a tendency to bed, but it could be due to how far the doe is into her cycle, her own experience, or the extent bucks have harassed and chased her.
Does in estrus urinate frequently, sometimes every few minutes. A hunter should interpret repeated urination by a doe as exceptionally convincing evidence of estrus. While I have seen does squat many times, I cannot recall a single instance of one repeating the action other than when she was in heat.
One other observation can help hunters find estrus does. Strangely, I've never heard or read any mention of it, even though it occurs very commonly. Fawns, with or without spots, accompany their mother during the time of our rut. When a fawn, or pair of fawns, is encountered without an adult doe nearby, chances run exceedingly high that the maternal doe has abandoned her young temporarily while she is in estrus. Fawns, of course, frequent the territory exposed to them by their mothers. Therefore, the lone fawn or fawns' presence is indicative of both that the doe is in heat and that her core area is nearby.
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Tales of Trails: Finding Game After the Shot
Uncovering answers to questions you've never asked is always promising when you begin reading a sporting how-to book. Tails of Trails, the new release from Central Florida's Dr. Tim L. Lewis, has depth that will appeal to hunters of all experience levels. As in his previous work, Bows, Swamps, Whitetails, the author ushers the reader into the field with crisp, first-person reflections capturing deep respect for the spirit of the hunt. How to at its best. Find it on Amazon here. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine August/September 2020