Deer hunters in numerous states are being forced to shoot does before they can shoot bucks, a rule that doesn’t sit well with many hunters. Wisconsin, New Jersey, Minnesota and New York, among others, have either large-scale or limited earn-a-buck areas, and starting this season, eight Virginia counties are now under earn-a-buck regulations. Other states are considering similar measures, as well.
These doe-first rules aren’t the result of bad management. Instead, EAB regulations were borne out of the reluctance of hunters to shoot does. As a result, deer numbers are spiraling upward and the problems of too many deer in too little space have increased dramatically. In order to fix that, wildlife managers are not only asking hunters do something, they are forcing them to take a doe before they can shoot a buck.
So what’s wrong with shooting a doe? Apparently plenty, at least in many regions where the deer hunting culture is still fixated on antlers. Most of the counties under Virginia’s new earn-a-buck program aren’t suffering from a lack of hunting pressure. On the contrary, Loudoun County has one of the highest deer kills in the state. So do several other counties under the new earn-a-buck rule. Loudoun County hunters, for example, are allowed two antlerless deer per day throughout the lengthy archery, muzzleloader and rifle seasons but only three bucks per season. Ironically, the annual doe harvest finally broke the 50 percent mark in 2006. Last year, the antlerless kill in Loudoun was just slightly over 50 percent of the total harvest, still far below what wildlife managers are hoping to achieve. Matt Knox, deer project leader for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, said voluntary doe harvests haven’t worked.
“The argument against them is that hunters will have to pass up a big buck if they haven’t taken their doe first and that it could lead to illegal harvest,” said Knox.
That might be the case, but something has to be done or state wildlife agencies will take matters into their own hands. How? In some areas where hunters aren’t taking the lead, hired guns are doing the job for us. Paid sharpshooters, the bane of sportsmen’s groups, are thinning deer herds with surgical precision that uses strategically-located bait, spotlights and suppressors. It’s not sporting, but it’s not supposed to be. Sharpshooting efforts are designed to kill lots of deer quickly and quietly. They have been highly effective because the shooters focus their crosshairs on antlerless deer.
Despite initial opposition to EAB rules in Virginia, Knox said hunters have accepted the new regulations after they understood the importance of them and the ultimate goal of EAB rules. New Jersey hunters weren’t happy about the rules when they were instituted back in the 1990s, but they ultimately stepped up and increased the doe harvest.
“Since we instituted the earn-a-buck program, our deer herd has stabilized, complaints from farmers have decreased substantially and so have accidents involving deer and vehicles,” said Larry Herrighty, chief of the bureau of wildlife management for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.
By setting the crosshairs on a doe instead of the small buck standing next to her, hunters not only help reduce the deer herd, they actually send a powerful message to non-hunters and even anti-hunters. Hunting can reduce deer/human conflicts and hunters are the best tool to do that, as long as they are willing to pass up antlers and look for ears. The lesson? Shoot more does, or else…