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To Shoot Or Not To Shoot

With this weekend being the special Youth Hunting Weekend, please make sure all hunters and mentors fully understand the laws and rules that make this weekend special for thousands of young hunters.

Early season archery hunting is an exciting time to be in the woods. The first couple of weeks of the season here in Whitetail Country, one never knows what you can see. Between the leaf’s dropping at your feet, to the squirrels running around getting ready for winter to the sound of flock of turkeys to the crunch crunch sound that put will be you on full alert; just never know what is going to be trolling around this time of year.

The early part of archery season in Whitetail Country is an excellent time to get a jump start of your season and hopefully get some meat in the freezer. Several years ago, the state in their wisdom finally decided it was OK to give archery hunters a couple extra weeks on the front side of the season. I, for one, jumped for joy, and from early reports it looks like others are along for the ride.

The early season is great for many reasons, but it’s best for thinning the herd out. It’s no secret I believe that taking a doe in the first couple of weeks is one of the best things we do for the local herd. This comes with a little push back from some, but I prefer to lean on the experts when it comes to these types of decisions.

It’s been part of management that when the density of deer where you hunt exceeds the ability of the habitat to support those deer in healthy condition, it’s time to take an appropriate number of does to bring balance. Balance is reached faster if you increase habitat quality at the same time. Lots of questions usually follow this statement, and one of the most common is, “Do I shoot early or late in the season?”

For several reasons, the QDMA’s answer is shoot them as early in the season as possible. When there is a doe-harvest goal to be met, don’t delay. Use any opportunity to kill does early, including archery and muzzleloader seasons.

Early in the season, all deer, including does, are feeling less pressure than after big crowds have hit the woods for opening day of gun season and the rut. By late season, does may be as wary as bucks, and just when you are ready to start shooting them, you don’t see any.

Early in the season, buck fawns and button bucks are still relatively small compared to mature does, and the difference in body size makes it easier to avoid mistakes. Later in the season, button bucks may be as big as adult does.

Early in the season, hunter enthusiasm and expectations are even higher. As the season fades, fewer hunters show up. If you put off doe harvest until after the rut, you’ll have less help to get the job done. Also, early in the season there’s no looming deadline to influence judgment when it comes to trigger-control. If you’re hurrying to meet your doe-harvest goal before the season ends, you’re more likely to mistake button bucks for does.

Taking does before the rut arrives will change the buck-to-doe ratio and can help intensify rut competition that same year because there are closer to equal numbers of does and bucks. This means bucks have to be more active to compete for breeding opportunities, so they are more visible, and rut behaviors — like chasing and fighting — are more common.

It has been proven that an adult doe requires about 2% of its body weight in forage every day, or 2 pounds of forage dry weight for a 100-lb. doe. The sooner you achieve your doe-harvest goal each season, the sooner you move the scale toward a balance between deer numbers and available food.

Over the years I hear from hunters that the reason they don’t shoot does early is they fear that if we shoot a doe with a bow or gun, the imaginary buck that might be following will vanish. I have watched first hand and have others tell stories of seeing or harvesting mature bucks while a doe is already down near their stand, but the more important consideration is the long-term effect on your buck-harvest opportunities. Over the long haul, balancing the population with the habitat will increase resources for the young bucks that you pass, including food and cover, allowing them to better express their body and antler potential. Also, balancing the sex ratio will intensify breeding competition, making these healthier bucks more visible during the rut. These long-term benefits far outweigh any short-term disadvantage, like spooking bucks, even if it really happens.

I have been a party to several management hunts over the years. These are generally at the end of the season. While some have gone as planned, others not so much. I have seen much better results and have had great success in managing a herd when it’s done in the early part of the season.

Waiting until late in the season brings many difficulties along with it, none of which are more obvious than the does you are shooting at the end of the season have a good chance of being bred already. This I cannot do anymore.

Keeping a proper buck to doe ratio means taking out the does. Getting back to the thought of killing does spooks a buck that may or may not be there. So, even if the gunshot that drops a doe also spooks a theoretical buck that you might have killed, don’t worry. Meeting your doe-harvest goal early each year will result in better hunting for bucks down the road. As sportsmen, isn’t being a conservationist the goal for all of us?

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