“It’s only a doe, but …”
Bowhunters often say that phrase after arrowing an antlerless deer. And they usually follow up with this qualifier: “… it’ll eat well.” That sentiment might seem harmless, but it degrades the accomplishment and makes an animal without antlers less valued than one with antlers.
Hunters throughout time and across all cultures have been intrigued by big bucks. Antlers give bucks character and make them unique. Plus, big antlers are rare in some regions, which further boosts their appeal.
Does are Trophies, Too
There’s no denying big bucks are cool, but are they better? Mature bucks are hard to hunt, so it’s a feat to arrow one. But if you succeed, you’ll get some awesome antlers to help you relive your hunt long after the venison is gone. The challenge of hunting mature deer, however, is what makes them a trophy. That challenge remains the same when hunting mature does.
“There’s no question that a 6-year-old doe is far smarter than a 4-year-old buck,” said New York state’s Charlie Alsheimer, one of the nation’s foremost experts on big bucks and author of “Strategies for Whitetails.” “Why? Because she raises fawns every year and is responsible for ensuring their survival. She’s always on high alert, which makes her much harder to hunt.”
When hunting mature does, look for many of the same characteristics found in big bucks. A mature doe has a big body and a pot belly, which makes her legs look too short for her body. After arrowing a mature deer, look at its teeth and study tooth-ID guides to estimate its age. If that proves difficult, take the lower jaw to a wildlife biologist or ship it to a laboratory to have it professionally aged. An old doe has well-worn teeth that are almost even with its gum line.
Does are also challenging to hunt because they’re rarely alone. They usually travel in groups, which means more eyes, ears and noses searching for danger. Chances are, one of them will detect you.
If you base your hunting motivation on Instagram “likes” and owning the best trophy room in town, does probably won’t interest you. But if you hunt to experience nature and enjoy the challenge of getting close to wary animals, does provide as much challenge as bucks.
Why Harvesting Does is Beneficial
Hunting isn’t just about meeting challenges, of course. It’s also about being a good steward of the environment. Good hunter-conservationists manage local deer herds. Overpopulated deer herds can cause immense strain on natural resources that eventually cause poor nutrition for the deer. As Alsheimer notes, every white-tailed deer eats about 1.5 tons of food annually.
The most effective way to lower a deer population is by harvesting does, because one doe can produce two fawns every year. Likewise, harvesting one doe reduces next year’s deer herd by three animals, which saves over 4 tons of food. Removing those extra hungry mouths can dramatically improve the herd’s health and help grow bigger bucks.
If your heart is set on big bucks, you can improve your odds of success by arrowing does. Bucks need age, nutrition and genetics to grow big antlers. A smaller herd means more nutrition to grow antlers, and targeting does helps balance the buck-to-doe ratio.
“To be a good manager of the resources, you need to keep the population in control and keep a proper buck-to-doe ratio,” Alsheimer said. He believes one buck for every three antlerless deer is a good ratio that creates a natural balance and ensures a competitive rut. And that means more active bucks while you’re in the woods.
The next time you harvest a doe, be proud of your accomplishment. You’ve helped your local deer herd. Remember, too, that bowhunting is a lifestyle not a points race. If you pursue the bowhunting lifestyle, you’ll enjoy many great experiences.
Show that pride by sharing your doe harvest with us on the Bowhunting 360 Facebook page.