7 Benefits of Shooting Does During Early Season
“In order to exploit the maximum potential of their herd (hunters) must first focus on harvesting does. The truth is “(doe) harvest” is one of the most vital aspects of managing your herd correctly”
-Andrew Walters, Deer Management 101: The Importance of Harvesting Does Early
There are numerous benefits of harvesting does. Increased buck to doe ratio. Decreased browse pressure. Shorter, more competitive rut which leads to increased fawn survival rate in the spring. The list does not end there. Every hunter knows the importance of harvesting does, but when is the best time to do it?
Most agree the rut is the best time to target a mature buck. As Jeff Sturgis, owner of Whitetail Habitat Solutions states in an article, “Keeping your land free from pressure during the heart of the season, could be the most important hunting strategy that you can practice.” With the rut reserved strictly for hunting bucks, early season and late season are what remain for targeting does. I believe targeting does during the early season offers several important advantages over the late season.
#1. Good practice
No matter what type of practice you do in the offseason it is nearly impossible to replicate the rush of adrenaline from pulling your bow back on a deer you plan to harvest. No number of pushups, sprints, or jumping jacks I have ever done before my practice shots in summer have been able to simulate big buck fever.
Truly, the best teacher is experience. I still get a very similar adrenaline rush from pulling my bow back on a doe as I do for a buck. However, since most of us are only able to harvest one buck a year (if we’re lucky), we are missing opportunities to gain valuable experience by passing on does. There are few things like making a good shot on an early season doe to increase your confidence for when a mature buck steps in front of your stand during the rut.
#2. Less pressured
During the early season, deer will still be on more predictable summer schedules. There are few things more enjoyable than heading out to the deer stand on a mild September afternoon and watching deer begin feeding over two hours before sunset. Compare this to deer in December who have been hunted for the last few months and you will notice a stark difference.
The more hunting pressure deer experience the less likely they be to show up during daylight hours. Also, the deer will be much more wary in December. Any little movement could clear an entire field full of deer. Even if the movement doesn’t come from you. I have had multiple instances where all it takes is another deer to walk in the field to spook all the deer already in the field. Hunting the less pressured deer in the early season allows you to get away with much more. Which ultimately will lead to more opportunities.
#3. Better for herd nutrition
Deer eat a lot. According to a recent article on the Quality Deer Management Association’s (QDMA) website, “Whitetails require an estimated 6 to 8 percent of their body weight in green foliage and browse daily to thrive.” For simple math’s sake, let say an average adult doe in is 100 pounds, which calculates to 6-8 pounds of food required. Daily.
If you were to harvest a doe at the beginning of October compared to the end of December, you would be able to save around 500 pounds of forage by shooting it earlier rather than later. If you harvest a couple does during the early season that number doubles to 1,000 pounds! That is a large amount of food saved! The nutritious forage you save by harvesting does during early season is the able to be consumed by the remaining deer. This will result in better nutrition for the bucks and other does, which will improve the health of your deer heard over time.
#4. More intense rut created
This one comes down to simple math. Shooting more does lowers your doe to buck ratio. The less does there are around, the more competition there will be to breed the remaining does during the rut. This will force the bucks in the area to move around more and get aggressive. The effects of this are twofold.
First, your odds of having a cruising buck walk by your stand while he is looking for does will increase. Additionally, dominant bucks will be more likely to respond to rattling or grunt calls if there is a competitive rutting period. Both these factors greatly increase your odds of harvesting a mature buck.
#5. Helps with hunting strategy
There is only so much trail camera pictures and looking at trails/tracks can tell you. Spending some time in the tree stand early in the season can give you helpful knowledge to figure out how the deer are moving around a stand. If you are sitting at home on the couch during early season, this is information you are missing out on.
Figuring out how deer are entering a field or determining which direction they like to feed can be a crucial piece to the puzzle when targeting a mature buck. After a couple of early season sits, process the information you have gathered and adjust your hunting setups accordingly to make sure you will be in the best possible location when the rut starts to pick up.
#6. Easier to identify your target
The main goals of harvesting does is to try and control your deer herd population and increase your buck to doe ratio. Both will result in a healthier deer herd that is more capable of growing trophy caliber buck. If you harvest a button buck on accident thinking it’s a doe, this will have the opposite effect. Button bucks are much easier to identify in the early season compared to late season (Ask me how I know).
During the early season male fawns are much smaller (typically around 60 pounds in central Minnesota) compared to a mature doe (closer to 100 pounds). However, by late season the fawns can close that gap quite a bit. Two years ago, a 98-pound button buck was harvested on our family farm in December which was mistaken for a doe (I haven’t gotten my brother a Christmas gift since). Save yourself the heartbreak and shoot does early in the season.
#7. No pressured deadline
With only a couple of weeks left in the season and handful of doe tags still to fill the pressure will be on! The added pressure of trying to fill tags with the deadline just around the corner increase the odds of making a mistake.
Perhaps a doe will walk by just outside of your comfortable range, but you got tags to fill so you take the shot and make a less than lethal hit. Or perhaps you are getting towards the end of an evening sit and shooting light is fading fast. You see an antlerless deer walk out at 20 yards. You are pretty sure it’s a doe, and you still have a couple more tags to fill so you make a great shot. However, once you walk up on the deer you realize it’s a button buck (and the shaming begins)
Don’t believe this could happen to you? Believe it. Here is a great story from an article on the QDMA’s website about a group of hunters on a lease in Georgia. This story really does a great job summarizing multiple of the points we discussed why it is best to harvest does during the early season.
In summary, do yourself a favor and harvest your does in the early season!
(Picture of the infamous 98-pound button buck taken in Dec ’17)
*Blog Written by Guest Writer Reid Dale. You can find more information about Reid via Instagram on his page, MGB Whitetail Management, handle: mgb_whitetails.