Does, that is. The question is about as old as the philosophy of quality deer management itself. It might just be the most debated topic in deer hunting and management but to this day a “one size fits all” answer eludes us. What works great for one property might be woefully wrong for another. For those who haven’t made up their minds where they stand on the issue, read my theories below and see how you think they would apply to your situation. I don’t believe that my answer is 100% correct for everyone and every property, but I think it will work well for the vast majority.
The basic question is whether or not to purposefully maximize the doe harvest on your hunting grounds, and if so, do you concentrate on younger does, mature “matriarch” does, or both. The most straight-forward answer to the first question is yes; by all means maximize the harvest of does, unless your current deer population is well below the carrying capacity of the land. If this is the case, let them walk for a year or so until you see the population reaching the limits of the land, and then employ a heavy doe harvest strategy. The answer to the second question is to take both mature and young does for the reasons described below.
For those of you who have plenty of, or even too many deer for your land, here are four strong reasons why you should focus on doe harvest:
1. Does with fawns will chase their young buck offspring out of their home range to prevent the possibility of inbreeding and genetic problems. If you want the young bucks born on your property to end up on someone else’s property, leave the mama does alone. They will see to it that almost every young buck leaves in a hurry. If you want those bucks to stay and grow big, harvest their mothers and your property will become their home range. Even better would be if your neighbors don’t take any does so that you get to keep your bucks and get their runaway bucks as well.
2. The land only has so much carrying capacity for deer. Taking mature does off of the property allows more of this capacity per mature deer. As a result, almost immediately after reducing the mature doe population, birth rates rise from singles/twins to twins/triplets with the occasional quad birth. The more births you have, the more bucks that are born, period.
3. It is critical in my opinion that you harvest not just old or young does, but a combination of both. It is common for young, middle aged and very mature does to come into estrus at slightly different times. This is due to a variety of factors but the result is that by having a good mix of young, middle aged and mature does on the property, the aggregate doe population is in estrus for a longer period of time. Whether you prefer to call it a longer rut, or multiple rut periods, it all equals great buck hunting. Some have said that taking a matriarch doe causes upheaval in the herd and can even force the herd to change their patterns and/or leave the area. Others will say that without the matriarch, the chance of predation on the younger deer increases. I have seen neither of these situations. In my opinion, with or without a matriarch, the deer population is drawn to the areas with the best availability to water, food and shelter with the least predation risk.
4. Finally, with less does, bucks naturally move more to find the does in estrus. This usually means greater scrape activity, more responsiveness to decoys, rattling and grunting, etc. The greater the buck movement the greater chance they will come into bow range for you, period.
Above are what I believe to be four strong reasons to commit to a heavy doe harvest and in the meantime, increase your chances of seeing the buck of a lifetime. Good luck and good hunting.