This is Part 6 of the Ground to Gun series with Craig and Neil Dougherty, as they provide excerpts and insights from their newest book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun – A Guide To Hunting and Growing Mature Whitetails”
You can’t understand deer hunting without understanding land. Deer are inextricably linked to the land they inhabit. Land determines how a deer will spend his time, how he will stay alive, and whether or not he will realize his genetic potential. Land also determines how deer move, where they bed, and what they will eat. Connect the dots between understanding the land mature whitetails use, and the ways to hunt them and you’ve begun to realize the “Ground to Gun” philosophy.
By Neil and Craig Dougherty:
While we are on the topic of setting harvest guidelines how about a little on hunting does? We approach hunting does with the same intensity we do mature bucks. There is an art to harvesting does correctly and efficiently and done correctly it is something to be proud of. Done haphazardly and sloppily it can ruin a season.
Doe Harvest Strategies
Once you decide how many does you are going to take you have to decide how you are going to take them. It is one thing to run out and harvest a bunch of does, it is another to take them in a way that will not screw up your buck hunting, especially if you are hunting mature bucks.
From a biological standpoint, the best time to harvest a doe is as early in the season as you can. Taking 20% of the adult does out of your population early in the season will make that much more food available to the rest of your deer. Say you harvest 10 does the first week of the season instead of the last. If each doe eats 6 pounds of food per day, and your combined deer seasons last 90 days, you will save somewhere around 5,000 or so pounds of food by harvesting does early; food that can really come in handy in January and February. Removing adult does from the herd early in the season also leaves fewer does to be bred later in the season; this means a shorter breeding period, less chasing around and less stress on breeding bucks. Less stress means more and better bucks.
That’s the biological side. The other side of the argument is the hunting side. Low impact hunting to be specific. Every time you harvest a doe on your property the event has an impact on the overall herd. If the does have fawns they will probably witness the event and be nearby when the doe is recovered. So will any other deer that are in close proximity to her. This will not only educate the deer witnessing the event, but put them and others they encounter on alert. They are not the same quiet relaxed deer they were before the doe was harvested.
After you harvest the doe you have to get her out of the woods. You get a buddy or two to help you track and drag, and fire up the old four wheeler or pickup to get her back to camp. You disturb every deer within a quarter mile and more and more deer have reason to start paying attention. The old nannies, that have been there and done that before, go into defense mode 24/7 and the mature bucks start thinking nocturnal. Now repeat that scenario a dozen times over the next couple of weeks and you have some real stress on your deer. Every deer still on your place is on red alert and every buck over 2.5 years of age has gone nocturnal. That’s the down side of harvesting does early.
Our favorite doe stand is along a perimeter access road which basically defines one of our boundary lines. We catch deer there leaving our core feeding and sanctuary areas as they head for neighboring farms and try to anchor them as close to possible to the road; high shoulder shots generally do the trick. The road gets plenty of “human pollution” in the course of a season so a little more as we hunt does is no big deal. The road also makes for easy low impact recovery. Harvesting does where the hunt is least likely to disrupt the property is always a good practice.
We tend to wait to harvest our does until we have either killed the bucks we are after or have given up for the season (almost never). Everything we do when hunting bucks is low impact and the thoughts of blasting away, day after day, to harvest does makes us shudder. We generally wait as late in the season as possible to get after the does. We have created some pretty good habitat in 20 years and the chances of the deer using Kindred Spirits going hungry during the winter aren’t very good. In addition to taking does late we have also adopted a number of strategies designed to keep the property as calm as possible while still meeting our harvest goals.
Doe Hunting Guidelines
• We try not to harvest does on the core of our property. Shooting them off the edges keeps impact to a minimum.
• We don’t hunt does out of good buck hunting stands. We don’t want to educate young bucks and buck fawns to suspect danger in our good buck hunting areas.
• We prefer to shoot early morning deer on the perimeter of our property as they return to their core areas from a “night out” in the neighborhood.
• We try to keep our core doe groups relatively intact and unmolested as they tend to stay close to home and keep supplying our property with new recruits.
• If we do decide to take does early in the season, we try to do it on opening day of the gun season when we have plenty of guns in camp. Everything is chaos for miles around, so we try get it over with in one day. We never get them all, but some years we put a good dent in them and everyone has meat in the freezer.
• We like the “remove the danger” theory of doe harvesting. You set up a blind or some other visible hiding place and use it to harvest does. Once the job is complete you remove the structure and the deer relax. That big bad hay bail is gone!
• We shoot nasty old nannies on sight; the ones that see their mission in life to be constantly warning every deer on the property that danger is near. We’ve had dozens of hunts ruined by these old nasties (and their offspring), and we take them out whenever we can.
Hunting Does is Fun and It’s Good for You
Don’t get the wrong idea about harvesting does – we don’t mean to make it sound like a job or an undesirable task that must be accomplished. We really enjoy hunting does. They are plenty challenging to hunt and absolutely great with a bow. Hunting them efficiently with minimal disruption, adds to the challenge and makes it even more fun. In a sense, harvesting does with minimum disruption is akin to hunting mature bucks. It’s all about the challenge. And did we mention, that a hundred pounds of doe meat in the freezer will feed a family of four two delicious high protein meat meals per week for an entire year? And did we mention that venison is probably the healthiest meat you can eat? Nuff said!
If you’re interested in learning more about herd management guidelines and the impacts that deer have on their habitat, pick up a copy of the Dougherty’s new book “Whitetails: From Ground To Gun“
Quality Deer Management Association CEO Brian Murphy describes this book by saying it “provides detailed insight into what makes a great hunting property and how to consistently harvest mature bucks. It is a clear roadmap to QDM success.”
Pick up a copy today (click here to buy “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun”)