“How Many Does Should I Harvest?” This is undoubtedly the most commonly asked question I receive each year as fall approaches. Hunters ask whether they should shoot any, a few, or a lot of does. By asking some additional questions I can generally give them a target doe harvest. Here is the information I use to make those decisions, and by following these steps you can develop your target doe harvest for the upcoming season.
Population models used by many state wildlife agencies across the whitetail’s range suggest a harvest of 20 to 30 percent of the adult does in a given population will stabilize the herd (“adults” are 1½ years or older). Some suggest you need to remove a higher percentage, but these were created over the past few decades during periods of rapid whitetail population growth and expansion, and during periods with fewer predators. Given this, I encourage you to start with a more conservative adult doe removal rate. For clarity, this includes adult does only and not fawns. If your goal is to increase the deer herd, harvest fewer than 20 to 30 percent of the does. If your goal is to decrease the herd, harvest more.
Of course, this approach requires you to have an estimate of the number of does using your hunting land. Trail-camera surveys are a great technique for estimating the number of does on a property, and if you conduct a pre-season trail-camera survey this year, you will have that number available. You can then determine the percentage of does to remove and calculate your prescription. For example, if you estimate there are 20 does using the property and you want to stabilize the herd, shoot four to six does.
Conducting a trail-camera survey to estimate deer density is a preferred method for determining harvest rates. But if you don’t have a reliable estimate of the number of does using the property, you can use a ballpark harvest rate based on habitat quality. To stabilize the herd shoot one adult doe for every 25 to 100 acres of high-quality habitat, one for every 100 to 300 acres of moderate-quality habitat, and one for every 300 to 640 (or more) acres of low-quality habitat. If you are trying to reduce deer density, set your goal higher than these rates; if your habitat can support more deer in healthy condition, set your goals lower than these rates. If you need help evaluating the relative quality of local habitat, give your state agency biologist a phone call.
Whichever method you use, determine your prescription prior to hunting season and stick to it throughout the season. Do not reduce your target doe harvest during the season based on hunter sightings (or the lack of). One exception to this is if hunters find a lot of dead deer, for example from hemorrhagic disease or others.
How Many Doe Fawns Should I Harvest?
Selecting between adult does and doe fawns (6 to 9 months of age) is another way to fine-tune your herd management. Adult does produce more surviving offspring on average than doe fawns, so your choices affect herd growth. Which you choose to harvest will depend mainly on your location and your deer management goals. For example, if you’re in northern Maine and your goal is to increase the deer herd, you may select fawns over adult does as they’re the least reproductive segment of the herd. Conversely, if you’re in an area with limited antlerless tags and your goal is to reduce the deer herd, you may pass doe fawns and use your tags on adult does.
Trail-camera surveys can be a good technique for estimating the number of fawns on a property, but not always. If bears or other predators regularly visit your baited camera sites, fawns may be underrepresented in your survey. In cases like this, fall observation surveys (sightings by hunters) often provide better estimates of fawn recruitment rates.
If possible, I like to harvest around two doe fawns per 500 acres of high-quality habitat to obtain their weights. Doe fawn weights are a great index to herd health and a valuable piece of information to collect. A few buck fawns are alright too as you can also obtain their weights. Just be sure to keep the buck fawn harvest to less than 10 percent of the total antlerless harvest.
Remember, QDM is not a “one size fits all” approach, so you can and should base your prescriptions on your specific location and use the factors and variables most conducive to your situation. This flexibility greatly enhances the success of QDM programs and adds to the enjoyment level for participants.
Be sure to read more on this series: