Whitetail hunters are an interesting lot, especially when it comes to the topic of shooting does. Although each sportsman enjoys whitetail hunting, there are differing opinions when it comes to antlerless deer harvest. Some don’t believe in shooting does because that’s what creates more fawns. Others understand the necessity to keep the deer population balanced and well-managed. Regardless of were you fall on shooting does, here are 5 reasons why harvesting does will improve your deer herd.
The primary reason to harvest deer, particulary white-tailed does, is to reduce the local deer density. In many areas, whitetail populations are at or above the carrying capacity of the land, and herd reduction or stabilization is needed. This can only be achieved through the harvest of adult does, which is the reproductive segment of the herd. Ironically, one of the greatest obstacles to the acceptance of doe harvest by some hunters is the belief that shooting a doe is killing 2, maybe even 3, deer. While on the surface this would be true, it demonstrates a lack of understanding of deer biology. Numerous studies have shown that as deer herds approach carrying capacity, reproductive success and fawn recruitment rates decline. In essence, fewer fawns are actually recruited into the pre-hunting season population than could be recruited from a smaller, but healthier herd. So, lower numbers mean more fawns recruited each year.
More often that not, areas that are not managed for white-tailed deer have many more does than bucks, so the second reason to harvest does is to improve the sex ratio. Distorted adult sex ratios are common under traditional whitetail management programs featuring heavy buck harvests and inadequate doe harvests. Given that fawns are born in approximately equal sex ratios, the only way to achieve and maintain a balanced adult sex ratio is through antlerless harvests. Since whitetail bucks have higher natural mortality rates due to fighting, post-rut stress, larger home ranges, and other factors, the sex ratio will eventually slightly favor the ladies, even in unhunted deer populations. With the added hunting mortality on bucks, in most cases more does than bucks must be harvested annually to maintain a balanced population. This is especially true in the early stages of most deer herd improvement programs.
Next, another reason to shoot does is to make room for and improve the quality of young bucks. A goal of most whitetail management programs is the protection of young bucks. However, protecting a group of animals, such as yearling bucks, that has historically been harvested only increases existing deer density problems, unless an adequate number of does are harvested. Most young bucks consume nearly 1.5 times as much as a doe of the same age, so keep this in mind when calculating your annual doe harvest.
Another reason for doe harvest that is often overlooked by deer hunters is to increase reproductive success and fawn recruitment. In areas where deer populations exceed the carrying capacity of the habitat, doe reproductive rates as well as fawn survival and recruitment rates really suffer. In such areas, reducing herd density through antlerless harvests often results in increased herd health and, consequently, increased reproductive success. In other words, a smaller herd can produce more and healthier fawns with higher survival rates. This is why many low to mid-density managed deer herds can sustain much higher annual antlerless harvest rates than high-density herds under no management.
In addition, removing does will reduce the dispersal of young whitetail bucks. Studies suggests that regular, warranted doe harvests reduce the average home range size of young bucks 0.5 to 1.5 years old and the percent of yearling bucks that disperse from their birth area. The result of harvesting does is that more bucks staying closer to home instead of dispersing the typical 1 to 5 mile range found in most studies.
In summary, the above 5 mentioned reasons are why I think whitetail doe should be harvested from a population when necessary. When it comes to whitetail hunting and deer management, it is important to keep in mind that you can only manage a deer population if you have data that describes the deer herd. So, although you may or may not want to harvest female deer, it is important that you collect the necessary information to make an informed decision. It takes time to estimate the deer density and buck to doe ratios, but it’s well worth your time if you want to improve your existing deer herd.