By Dr. Grant Woods
Deer population trends often vary on a very small scale, such as property by property.
At my Missouri ranch, we’ve spent more than a decade doing habitat improvement projects and working to reduce the number of predators. As a result, the number of deer on my property has risen dramatically. Even though there was a wicked outbreak of Hemorrhagic Disease (HD) during 2012, we are seeing more deer now than at any other time during the 13 years we’ve lived here. My guests and I need to remove lots of does this fall! Our goal is to remove at least two does per 100 acres.
How did I come up with that quota? The exact number of deer is rarely known for most properties. I’ve been watching the balance between quality forage and relative deer density at this farm for more than a decade. I took the accompanying picture of a utilization cage during mid-July. Clearly, the deer herd is consuming more forage than the food plots on my property can produce.
Last year, we harvested almost one doe per 100 acres and there are still more deer than the land’s ability to produce quality forage. To maintain or hopefully improve both the local herd and habitat quality, we’ll have a goal of doubling the harvest of does this fall.
Early & Often
You may or may not need to harvest does if there’s more quality forage than deer where you hunt. It’s easy to have more quality forage than deer in areas with large-production soybean fields. But even in these areas, deer can damage fields to an extent that it causes farmers significant financial damage. In these cases, hunters need to provide the service of reducing the number of does to levels that are acceptable to farmers.
If there is a need to harvest does, the two most common questions are: when and which does to harvest?
When to harvest does is easy. Does should be harvested at every opportunity during the season until the quota is filled.
Most states don’t open doe season until most fawns are mature enough to survive without nourishment from a doe. If I need to tag does for the health of the herd, I start on opening day. If does are to be removed from the herd, its better that bucks don’t waste energy tending them during the rut.
Many hunters refuse to tag does before the rut, believing local does are attracting bucks from great distances. This isn’t a good strategy. Researchers who have placed GPS collars on bucks have shown over and over that most bucks — especially mature bucks — rarely leave their home range, even during the rut. Stockpiling does will not attract bucks other than those with a home range that already includes that property.
At my farm, there is a clear need to harvest does. Due to local regulations (a short firearms season), we must do so primarily with archery gear. Given that limitation, we won’t be selective on which doe to harvest. My guests and I will tag the first (and second, third, etc.) doe that presents us with a high-percentage shot until we meet our quota.
In my next article, I’ll share some of my doe harvest strategies as well as which does to harvest when the doe harvest quota is such that hunters can be selective.