The popular notion of the old school deer hunters in America is to not kill a doe. I have actually known of hunters that apply for a doe tag just so someone who wants to harvest a doe wouldn’t get the tag and kill a doe. These hunters remember the days when it was hard just to see a deer during a hunt much less get a shot and back then it was a dyed-in-the-wool tradition not to ever shoot a doe so she could have babies. Well those days are behind us now and for many areas of the country, not all mind you but many, harvesting a doe makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. The whitetail deer has adapted well to the many habitats it has been introduced to or advanced into on its own and with that adaptation comes an explosion in deer populations across much of the U.S.
First and foremost the overall populations of deer is increasing every year with the exception of a few areas that is usually on the fringes of the whitetail range and locations where the winters are brutal and those areas are becoming milder every year therefore contributing to the expansion of the whitetail range. The notion that you should never shoot a doe is diminishing with the younger generation accepting the importance of harvesting does to help with the population explosion but to me another important aspect to harvesting does is the buck-to-doe ratio.
Deer populations continue to grow while habitat continues to dwindle every year. Leased properties and limited access to private lands also contribute to the population increase but the land will only support so many deer no matter the gender. You might ask why does leased land contributes increases in deer populations. The answer is simple really. So many properties are leased by folks that may not hunt that often but has the money to lock up a piece of ground that many others could be hunting. There are many leases that might only be hunted once or twice a year and even if the hunters that are leasing the property are good hunters that is only a few deer harvested and to many groups the deer management program consist of only shooting bucks and many times does not include harvesting does which is a vital part of quality deer management. These factors leave many areas over run with deer while the limited public lands or accessible private lands are depleted of deer, including does, but in both cases the next reason for hunting does become vital in healthy deer herds and that is the buck-to-doe ratio.
I have hunted with a bow almost exclusively for the past 15 years. I hunt with a bow even during gun season unless someone invites me to hunt with them and I'm not familiar with the property. Hunting with a bow forces you to examine deer behavior whether you really want to or not and by virtue of the many hours spent in a treestand I have noticed something that puzzled me for many seasons before going on a hunt out west where the buck-to-doe ratio is at a little more favorable carrying capacity which is close to a 1:1 buck-to-doe ratio. Notice I said close because an actual 1:1 buck-to-doe ratio is rare and very difficult to manage on private land and even harder to manage on public ground.
The buck to doe ratio is important to the hunter as well as the deer itself. Out of whack ratios causes a lot of stress on mature bucks that attempt, through instincts, to breed all the does and ensure that the strongest genes survive. These conditions cause undue stress on mature bucks leaving them vulnerable to the harsh winter to come. This only increases the number of does which leaves the buck-to-doe ratio even more out of whack and the longer this goes on the worse it gets. Nature will take care of the deer-to-habitat-ratio and where hunting is not allowed at all nature will even take care of the buck-to-doe ratio but when there is hunting it is the responsibility of the hunters to help nature take care of the herd.
When there are too many does, rutting activities are much less evident because there is no reason for the mature bucks to establish dominance over a range or doe herd when he knows there are more does than he can successfully breed. Young bucks and subordinate bucks are also free to breed, at will, when there are so many does that enter the estrus cycle at the same time leaving subordinate gene pools. The mature buck will still try to keep these bucks away from the hot does because nature requires him to but he can only do so much and all this activity takes it toll. Out of the entire herd the mature buck is weakened the most during peak rut but then again in December and even into January when he must breed the remaining does that weren’t bred the first two cycles. This extra burden contributes to many mature bucks succumbing to the winter elements, more so than the subordinate bucks and again the cycle continues until the ratio is improved.
This limited rutting activity makes it tough to locate and pattern mature bucks, this is why maintaining a good buck-to-doe ratio is important to the trophy hunter that hunts mature bucks. I hunt mature whitetail bucks and from opening day through the rut, which usually ends in late November where I hunt, all deer are safe except mature bucks but during the late season I hunt does to fill the freezer. The buck-to-doe ratio is vital to trophy hunters because it generates normal rutting activities like rubs, scrapes and fighting to establish dominance among the herd. Have you ever hunted places where the bucks seem to never rut and there are does everywhere? These places, more than likely, have a bad buck-to-doe ratio and with little worry of finding a doe to breed most of the movement occurs at night. When the buck has to look for does they will move more during the day to check doe bedding areas for hot does.
I have hunted for over 30 years and I can remember when there were fewer deer where I hunt but I never had a problem harvesting a does when the regulations allowed it. I enjoy cooking and venison is high on my list of favorite wild game for the grill or griddle. I don't necessarily think that venison from a doe is any better than venison from a buck I would just rather harvest a doe rather than a young buck to allow that buck to mature. This concept makes a lot of sense to me, for one it fills my freezer with excellent table fare for the months to come, second it leaves the young bucks to mature which helps with the buck-to-doe ratio and that helps the deer as well as the hunter.