I can tell you, shooting a doe can be harder than shooting a nice buck. Especially a mature doe.
I’ve been hunting deer in the New York firearms season for more than ten years now, always with an antlerless tag for Wildlife Management Unit 9J. I’ve shot some good bucks, but I’ve yet to harvest a New York doe.
In Pennsylvania, the last time I killed a doe in the regular firearms season was 2011. It’s not that I don’t try. Most years I shoot a buck, but I usually walk out of the woods at the end the season with an antlerless tag in my wallet.
Once the shooting starts, taking a mature doe isn’t easy because a mature doe is one smart deer.
What do I mean by a mature doe? I’m talking about a doe that has been a mother. Motherhood makes the doe a quick study. For the buck, fatherhood is irrelevant to his learning curve.
When a buck is part of a bachelor group through the summer and early fall, he can rely on other sets of eyes and ears in his party to catch signs of danger. He notes the reaction of other bucks when threats are near. When he’s alone, he needs only to look out for himself. And when the rut comes, his behavior turns risky and reckless. A whitetail buck is not the smartest animal in the woods — it takes him longer to earn his advanced degree in survival than it takes the doe.
A doe, on the other hand, has to look out for her little ones. Immediately after birthing them, she must put them where coyotes and bears are unlikely to find them. She leaves them alone for periods of time so that her scent doesn’t draw predators, but she’s ready to come to their rescue if she hears any disturbance. She must look for a safe place for them to nurse where danger doesn’t lurk because during their first few weeks of life predators are transitioning their own young to a diet of meat. That’s when meat-eaters are most aggressive — and fawns are most vulnerable.
As the little ones begin to be weaned, she must lead them to feeding grounds, getting them there despite dangers that may lie in wait. The observer will note that Mama with her fawns in green pastures isn’t totally engaged in filling her stomach because she’s on the lookout for any threat to her spotted offspring.
By the firearms season the survival of her mini-me clones has been her top priority for six months. They’ve learned the lessons of trust and obey as Mama tested every breeze, watched every movement, and heard every unexpected sound.
Back when I started hunting, old-timers talked about how the smart old bucks let the doe go first to make sure there wasn’t any danger. It was foolish speculation based on their own machismo.
They assumed bucks were wiser in the ways of the woods than does — just as they assumed they were wiser in the ways of the world than the women in their own homes. Balderdash… poppycock… whatever you want to call it, it has never been true.
Being keenly aware that bucks have reasons (or shall we say, urges?) to follow does, men should know better. The truth is that those old-timers were looking at does whose nature it was to worry about safety. They were looking at bucks whose nature it was to obey their raging hormones — following the doe until she stopped.
This year I shot an eight-point on New York’s opening day. On several other days I hunted does without luck. In Pennsylvania I shot an eight point at the end of the first week, and spent the second week hunting for a doe. I was not successful.
The reason — after more than 50 years of deer hunting, I’m convinced does are smarter than bucks. Don’t ever underestimate Mama.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.