It starts with the best of intentions. At the start of the season you tell yourself, “This year, I’m going to fill every doe tag I can get.” Then, for any number of reasons, those tags remain neatly stacked in your license holder come the end of the season. If you’re still hunting, now is a great time to fill doe tags. Here’s why you should.
As hunters, we should be actively engaged in the proper management of the resource we love. For decades, deer numbers in many areas have been higher than ideal. What’s ideal? That’s a somewhat loaded question, and any answer is sure to generate plenty of debate. But it’s safe to say that a properly managed deer herd is one that’s at or slightly below the carrying capacity of the habitat. Defining the carrying capacity of the habitat you hunt is harder to define, but the answer should be based on solid, science-based data. That data is readily available from state wildlife agencies. It can also be obtained by conducting your own trail camera surveys. These, combined with in-field sightings, can give you a pretty good idea of the deer numbers in the area that you hunt.
Be honest about what you see. If you are seeing many more does than bucks, you likely have a skewed sex ratio (which is not uncommon in areas with heavy hunting pressure). If you’re seeing a few deer every outing, you likely have plenty of deer. If you go days without seeing a whitetail, doe harvest may not be necessary.
Understand Population Dynamics
You must also understand how deer populations grow. In areas with good habitat and winters that don’t produce long periods of lethal conditions, whitetail populations will increase every year. Does will commonly drop more than a single fawn each year, thus giving the population the potential to at least double each year. Yes, predation will take a role and natural fawn mortality will occur. But, by and large, population growth will occur.
Filling antlerless tags now can mean a more intense rut next fall. Studies have shown that when sex ratios are as close to 50/50 as possible, rutting intensity increases as there is more competition for the available does. If you’ve ever hunted an area where buck-to-doe ratios are closely maintained, you’ve likely encountered far more cruising and chasing activity than in areas where bucks have little competition for does.
Hold More Bucks On Your Property
Keeping your doe population in check can also result in more bucks in your area. Yearling bucks instinctively disperse to areas away from their birth mothers and siblings. It’s nature’s way of protecting against incest. When doe numbers are controlled, studies have shown buck dispersal is less pronounced. In other words, taking does can make your property more attractive to more bucks.
Yes, it is possible to overharvest an area. But it would take serious and intense effort (and lots and lots of doe tags) to have a negative impact in most areas of the country. Don’t be afraid to fill those doe tags. Use the knowledge you’ve gained from your trail cameras, as well as in-field sightings, to guide your management decisions. And by all means, trust in your state wildlife agency. No matter what the guys at the local watering hole say, game biologists are on your side and they set harvest guidelines that are in the best interests of the resource. —Tony Hansen
About the Author: Tony Hansen manages for and hunts mature whitetails in his home state of Michigan, where sweating the details is the only way to succeed. When not hunting his own properties, he can be found pursuing deer on public land throughout the whitetail’s range. Tony’s writings have appeared in Outdoor Life, Traditional Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, and Bowhunter.