Deer Hunting | When is the Best Time to Shoot Does?
Doe Management │ When and Why?
As a whitetail deer hunter you love hunting the rut, it’s the only time a big mature whitetail buck can seem to suddenly materialize in our sights at any second. While putting some bone on the wall is always nice, every deer hunter knows deer hunting is about so much more. Filling the freezer, spending time in the outdoors, managing the herd and habitat, being part of the brotherhood, and the thrill of the hunt all keep us satisfied and obsessed. Late season deer hunting is no different. It is the second round and chance at a little doe management, and can satisfy even the most seasoned whitetail hunter.
The Right Time
If you ask any deer hunter that practices doe management “when is the best time of year to shoot does?”….you will get five different answers, and some unwanted bickering in between.
Overall, there are two main time periods during the deer hunting season that lends the most benefits as effective doe management. The first time period would be the early archery season. The early season provides easy pickings on unsuspecting and unpressured does. Still on summer patterns, does are fairly easy to kill on green soybean fields and clover plots. Tags can be filled effortlessly during this time period. The second time put aside for doe management is the late season. Many states offer a late antlerless only season, but gun or bow, the late season is undoubtedly your last chance of reaping benefits off of doe harvests. During this time period deer are heavily dependent on food sources, especially during extremely cold, and again does are easily patterned and available for harvest.
So…when should you harvest does? Both the late and early season period have advantages and disadvantages. The question is when is the right time for you? It might be time to bring science into the mix…
When it comes to deer hunting, especially from a herd management perspective, there are a lot of benefits from knocking down slick heads in both time periods. Educated doe management (meaning correct quotas) ensures that the buck-to-doe ratio on the property is in check and balanced, regardless of the period harvested. Adjusting the ratio keeps the population in check and reduces the level of competition for resources. Having this reduced, allows for better nutritional benefits for the remaining deer on the property. Obviously food is more likely the most stressed resource, and taking does off of the property increases the productivity and attraction of food plots and natural browse on your deer hunting property. This could not be any more true or important in the upcoming winter months. Thinning the herd, however, can improve much more.
Buck harvests can likely increase given a properly balanced herd. With less does the rut becomes more intense and competition is fierce. What’s that in layman’s terms? Deer hunting tactics like rattling, grunting, bleating, and using a decoy become more effective with increased competition. Less does can create a fast, intense, knock down drag out style rut. A tight intense rut, more food, and less social stress all can translate into bigger, healthier and yes, even larger antlered bucks. But the question still remains….when is the best time to reap the most benefits?
Early season doe management returns investment immediately. More food will be available later in the season, rut intensity will immediately adjust, and the empty freezer problem is solved. However, problems arise for the die hard, seasoned hunters and managers. In most situations killing a doe creates a big disturbance on a property and can quite possibly affect chances at a buck. Getting to your quota before the season really ramps up could also quite possibly put the herd in jeopardy. Neighbors might still trying to be fill their quota, meaning a significantly larger harvest than expected. This could devastate the upcoming deer season. Regardless of this, if your doe quota is large, and you’re cooperating with your neighbor…you need to start early.
Late season doe management provides several benefits over the early season. Besides being your last chance for adjusting the herd and the sex ratio, the late season allows you to observe how the season went. Observations of doe and buck numbers throughout the rut and early season allows you to more accurately gauge what your efforts need to entail, especially without knowing neighboring harvest records and efforts.
Making the Decision
Making an accurate decision of when to harvest does, needs to first be answered with how many. Running a trail camera census on the property before and after the season, and gauging the health of the property’s habitat and available resources, are the only true ways to know exactly how many does to harvest. Concern yourself with the how many, before you even worry about the when. Run the camera survey yourself with online resources, or hire a biologist or white-tailed deer consulting company. If the results show the need to harvest a lot of does, then you will have to start early. If the number is manageable then starting later in the season may be the better option.
Setting science and the different periods aside, doe management helps you fill the freezer for you family, provides deer hunting opportunities, and no matter how many years you’ve spent in woods there is something extremely fun and enjoyable about putting a couple of does on the ground. A trophy is truly in the eye of the beholder, and here at Bone Collector, a big-ole mature doe carries just as much weight as a big mature buck. Don’t let your deer season end with the closing of the regular deer season. If you state allows you the opportunity to, get out and chase some slick heads. Always remember…perhaps the best time for you to take does, is anytime the opportunity arises!
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