Many of us consider ourselves practitioners of Quality Deer Management (QDM) and work hard to create healthy deer herds and good habitat. We have also heard how important doe harvest is to any QDM program. One big mistake many hunters make is timing.
Many hunters spend the first part of their season “buck hunting” and try to meet their doe harvest quota late in the season. This strategy is flawed. The biggest reason is the loss of forage, a critical factor where deer populations are high. A mature doe will eat four to eight pounds of forage each day. If your harvest goal for a property is 30 deer and you wait three months till season’s end before shooting those does, you lost between 10,800 to 21,600 pounds of forage. That equals several acres of expensive food plots and an entire forest’s acorn production.
Don’t worry about fawns. Once they lose their spots, they have no trouble surviving without their mothers. Another huge benefit is that button bucks that would normally be pushed off the property by their mothers will stay at home, which leads to another point. By harvesting does early, over time you increase the number of bucks on your property. You are simply making room for bucks.
Many hunters think of does as “buck magnets” that draw bucks to a property during the rut and harvesting does will cause bucks to leave the property. It’s counter intuitive, but that’s not how it works. Even with the most intense doe harvest, there will still be plenty of does for bucks to chase. Without an adequate doe harvest, you loose bucks because of button and yearling buck dispersal and poor-quality habitat.
An early doe harvest also will make the rut more intense because of the increased competition for breeding rights. You will see more rubs, scrapes and chasing. Rattling is much more effective on properties where the sex ratio is balanced—something accomplished through doe harvest. More importantly, bucks are able to breed more does during the first rut and fewer fawns are late born the following season.
I think concentrating your doe harvest efforts early in the season also works to limit the pressure on a deer herd over the course of a season. It’s comparable to slowly peeling a band-aid off or ripping it off quickly. The cumulative effect of harvesting deer—hunting, shooting and recovering animals in key areas of your property—makes them more wary and causes a shift to nocturnal activity. If you can reach your harvest goals early, it allows you to greatly reduce hunting pressure. You can quit hunting food plots altogether and pick your stands or stalking routes according to the wind, not a pressing need to see and harvest does. As mature bucks feel more pressure on your neighbor’s property and feel more relaxed on yours, sightings can increase dramatically.
On opening day, when does filter into your food plot, shoot early and shoot often to improve your hunting and deer herd.