Many hunters and deer managers in our area have accepted the necessity of doe harvest to effectively manage toward the common deer management goal of increasing buck body and antler size. Some, however, still object to this practice. I have found the “no doe harvest” mindset to derive from two arguments. Let’s examine each from a biological perspective.
Argument No. 1. Don’t shoot does, because they produce buck fawns!
Fallacies in the argument:
1. Buck:doe ratio of fawns is 1:1. Assuming a 75% fawn crop for the herd, there is about a 37% chance that a given doe will wean a buck fawn in a given year (0.75 fawns/doe x 0.5 bucks/fawn). In other words, there is a better chance that a doe will not have a buck fawn than she will, in most years.
2. Fawn crop is often density dependent. Generally, as doe numbers increase, fawn production per doe decreases. Fewer does can and often do raise more fawns to weaning age than more abundant does. Producing more bucks by stockpiling does doesn’t work any better than trying to produce more calves by stockpiling cows. In either scenario, you’re gonna run out of groceries!
Argument No. 2. Doe hunting isn’t “macho”! Bucks are wary; does are dumb!
Fallacies in the argument:
1. Adult buck:doe ratio. The perception that bucks are more wary is influenced by the fact that more does are seen than bucks. However, in most parts of our region, the adult buck:doe ratio is 1:4 or greater, which means that on the basis of chance alone, four out of every five adult deer observed should be a doe. Add to this the fact that in the fall many deer hunters cannot distinguish fawns from does, and the perceived wariness of bucks vs. does based on observations is even more distorted.
2. Rut behavior. In Oklahoma, the majority of deer hunters hunt during rifle season, which is planned to coincide with the peak of the rut. Bucks’ wariness is at a yearly low during rut due to their search for receptive does. Once a doe is bred, her wariness is heightened due to her attempt to avoid additional bucks.
3. Yearling buck harvest. In Oklahoma, the majority of bucks harvested are yearlings, while the majority of does harvested are adults. Research indicates that yearling bucks typically disperse widely after weaning and are usually in unfamiliar surroundings come hunting season. The only deer more vulnerable to harvest than yearling bucks are “orphaned” fawns. Yearling does typically stay closer to home and are often in the company of their mother during their yearling season.
4. Learned behavior. Fear of man is to a large extent a learned behavior in deer. Since bucks are generally hunted more intensely than does, survivors (older bucks) tend to be more wary of man than older does due to a higher incidence of learned hunting experiences. However, surviving does become very wary when hunting pressure is shifted toward does.
The only reason to protect does is to increase the number of deer on a management unit. The majority of managers we work with are interested in increasing the quality of bucks. Unless deer are at low densities (unusual for our area), protecting does will not accomplish this objective.
This article was contributed by Grant Huggins of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation.