As summer begins to wane, thoughts of the upcoming deer season just two months away becomes front and center.
At the end of last season we started having more conversation about filling our antlerless tags, than ever before.
Usually, our talk centered on bucks and antlers, but what about does?
When is the best time to harvest a doe?
And which does should we target?
Some deer hunters think that the best time is at the beginning of the deer season. Others vote for the middle, and still others prefer the tail end.
Each time has its pros and cons.
Shooting a doe in the early part of the deer season has its positive points, one being that the deer are not as spooked by hunters being in the woods.
The more we spend time in the woods in our stands, the more wary and alert deer become to our presence. We leave our scent behind when we are gone, and whitetails shy away and become increasingly more alert to the presence of hunters as the season ticks on. So they become harder to successfully hunt.
And many hunters, (including this one), have said in the past, "I like to take a doe first, get some venison in the freezer, then settle down and hunt for a buck."
Basically, the pressure is off and we can hunt the rest of the season out with confidence.
Another positive for literally setting our sights on a doe during the early part of the season is that deer are easier to pattern before the leaves turn.
When the whitetail's food, such as apples and agricultural crops change, deer quickly alter their movement to the new sources.
And when the rut begins to kick into high gear, those whitetail patterns that we could almost set our watches by disappear overnight.
Does, especially the older ones that have a number of seasons under their hides, know that the scent of hunters in the woods spells danger. If there is a deer in the woods that will pick up our scent and snort and snort, alerting all the rest of the whitetails, it’s that old doe.
Yes, no doubt about it, it’s a good feeling to have meat in the freezer, and get rid of that old warning alarm that spoils our hunts at the same time!
So there are some good reasons to consider tagging a big old doe early.
But there are drawbacks too, and maybe the major reason not to shoot an old doe early is that it may severely impact yours and your buddy's buck hunting for the rest of the deer season on that property.
Yes, shooting a doe in the middle of the season as the rut is beginning to take off can ruin your chances for taking a nice rutting buck.
Old does help set up the rut in a specific area, tending overhanging branches at scrapes, dispersing their chemical messages and love notes, and leaving their scent all over the area.
And if we take that doe out of the breeding equation, Mr. Buck, who we are also after, may vacate the premises.
It’s been my experience that after removing an old long-nosed doe or two from a hunting property around the midway point of archery season, the bucks there diminish their scraping, rutting patterns.
This is the voice of experience talking and the conclusion is validated, not only through observation, but by trail cams too.
I know that this statement goes against traditional deer hunting thought.
To really drive the point home ... A hunting buddy of mine has a good-sized piece of hunting property where for the last number of years he had not taken one doe off the property! And this is in very heavily hunted deer range.
He also had a small, five-acre plot of thorns and brush that is left alone, used only for the does' bedding cover.
He had a solid population of local old does, as one would expect, but what is amazing is the way that those old does would act as buck magnets and pull in bucks from near and far as the rut begins to cascade down through the woods in the Northeast and the Midwest in those magical weeks at the end of October and November each year.
In summary, nowadays I prefer to harvest my does later in the season, and opting for the younger ones that do not seem to have the consequences affecting the rutting bucks I’m targeting.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.