Among deer hunters, shooting does has always been controversial. Back in the first half of the twentieth century, game populations were still recovering from nineteenth century market hunting, so not shooting does was a positive thing. But in the 1950s Pennsylvania Game Commission deer manager Roger Latham warned that the deer population was beginning to exceed the ability of the habitat to support deer and other species. He wrote an article in Pennsylvania Game News (February 1953) titled “Too Many, Too Long!” in which he recommended reducing the deer population. He lost the deer management battle, and his job.
The arguments against shooting does were many. Back when hunters might see 50 or 100 deer on a drive, some scoffed that shooting a doe was “just like shooting cows.” Does weren’t a worthy challenge, they believed, not like bucks which everyone knew were smarter. Never mind that the great majority of bucks were young, and nowhere near as smart as their mothers who spent their lives steering their fawns clear of danger.
Others complained, “If you shoot a doe, you’re shooting next year’s buck.” Of course, next year’s buck fawns wouldn’t have antlers, but for hunters who wanted headgear on their deer the point was an easy one to believe.
Some hunters simply wanted a set of antlers as a memento of the hunt, or had a reputation to uphold for shooting a buck, so they didn’t want a doe. Others succumbed to the idea Disney’s animated 1942 Bambi movie planted in the heads of children, “Daddy, don’t shoot Bambi’s mother.” Still others fell for the Bambi Syndrome, the idea that nature was beautiful and beauty was a reason not kill. And everyone agreed in those days that girls are prettier than boys.
For state game agencies, keeping the deer population in check was an uphill battle. Growing a lot of deer so hunters could shoot a lot of deer kept most hunters happy, but the law of diminishing returns eventually kicks in. Deer can devour the food other species eat, and harm the habitat other species need to survive. Deer can literally eat themselves, and species they share the habitat with, out of house and home. A burgeoning population of deer made hunters happy, but it couldn’t be sustained indefinitely.
Times have changed. While not everyone is on board with shooting does, it has become clearer and clearer to rank and file hunters that deer management is doe management. Here are five reasons to shoot does:
Shooting does prevents the devastating results of overpopulation which include starvation and habitat destruction. One old game warden told me winter starvation was common in the mid-twentieth century, and he routinely surveyed creek banks and valleys for starved deer.
Shooting does contributes to the health of the deer population, which includes heavier birth weights, better nutrition, and larger, healthier adults. It also minimizes the spread of diseases spread by deer-to-deer contact.
Shooting does reduces stress on bucks intent on breeding every doe they can find. Bucks are run ragged when the herd has too many does, and getting run down chasing too many does puts them at a disadvantage as they enter winter. Many don’t rebuild strength and fail to survive severe winters.
Shooting does makes you a better hunter. Does are actually smarter than bucks because their experience avoiding danger includes looking out for the safety of their foolish and adventuresome offspring.
Shooting does makes you a better shot because you’ll get more shot opportunities. Holding out for a buck will limit you to a shot or two each year, but filling doe tags can give you two to three times more shots, and much more experience shooting at live game. You’ll learn more about shot placement, after-the-shot behavior, and taking shots under a variety of conditions.
You can find other reasons for shooting does, and every reason means you have an important role in wildlife management. So, now that archery seasons are open, and other doe harvesting opportunities are coming, get out and do your part. And enjoy one more reason to shoot does—they provide some of the healthiest meat you’ll ever eat.
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 is a field contributor to Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.