How Many Does Do I Need To Shoot?

How Many Does Do I Need To Shoot?
Photo courtesy of Steve Smolenski.

It’s amazing to think that just 50 years ago, there were hunters that would never even consider shooting a doe. White-tailed deer populations were just starting to grow in many of the states, and it wasn’t that distant of a memory when crowds would gather at the sight of a deer track in the snow. Fast forward to the 1990s, which for many of the biggest deer hunting tradition states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, were the “glory days” of deer hunting. Maybe not always in terms of the killing of giant bucks, but for sure in terms of number of deer seen. Fast forward to heading into the 2015 deer season, and the herds have changed dramatically. Much of that was because of the harvest, and yes, lack of harvest, of does across the country. It still is one of the most puzzling questions, “How many does should I shoot?”

Throwback to the 90s

Growing up in a hunting family in Pennsylvania, there may have been no other day we looked forward to more than the opening of gun season. In the 1990s, that was a buck only season in Pennsylvania right after Thanksgiving. But shortly after buck season closed, a brief 3-day gun season for antlerless deer would run. People talk about the opening day of buck gun season being a “war,” but during the 1990s, the real war was on the Monday opening antlerless gun season! When herds of 30+ antlerless deer would come blowing through the valley, well let’s just say there are lead mines from hunter deposits! The season harvest was regulated by antlerless tag allocations, which most hunters received 1 tag on a county basis. No whitetail hunter will likely complain about seeing “too many” deer, but the reality is for a lot of areas of Pennsylvania, and other major deer hunting states, there was just that – too many deer.

However, that really drove home “How many deer should we shoot?” The state agencies looked at survey data, hunter harvest reports, and many other variables to determine the amount of tags necessary to allocate in a region. This was not necessarily financially- or politically-driven as most may think, at least not at that time period. What was concerning, however, was the decreasing habitat in the “big whitetail woods” and increasing populations in suburban America.

There needed to be a major change. For Pennsylvania it was concurrent buck and doe seasons. Something that literally started the “Deer Wars of Pennsylvania.” The deer density needed to be reduced in these areas, for two separate reasons, but the focus shifted to decreasing the antlerless, specifically doe, population in order to bring the herd in check. But with diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease and Hemorrhagic Disease appearing, as well as economic crashes affecting the timber market, the compounding factors took a relatively straight forward management act to new dimensions. The end result is a wide range of deer population levels even within the same county.


So with that said, “How many does should you shoot?”


Policy
(Jeremy Flinn photo)

Numbers Don’t Lie

State biologists will analyze and calculate plenty of variables to determine the target number of antlerless deer to harvest in a given area. I’m sure with the deer hunting “riots” we have had lately, many of you believe they pull those numbers out of their…well we won’t go there. As a biologist, I can tell you that there are scientific methods in place to calculate harvest projections, some maybe more accurate or reliable than others, but needless to say there is data out there guiding recommendations.

With all that said, I have never calculated state, region, or even country recommendations. Mainly because I have never had the data sufficient enough to do so, but also because my deer management philosophy revolves around managing on the local level. That’s not to say that state guidelines aren’t importantly as they absolutely are critical to preserving the resource and deer hunting tradition, however, just because the state deems it legal to harvest 10 antlerless deer on your 100 acres, does not mean the deer herd in your area can sustain that type of removal, at least not if you want the population levels to remain steady or grow.

When it’s time to determine how many deer you need to shoot on your land, lease, or even public ground you control what you can control. What do I mean by that? Well, if you’re one of 5 landowners on 500 acres, and 3 of the landowners shoot every deer they see during the season, the fact is you may not want to shoot a single antlerless deer on your property. Is that fair to you? Absolutely not, but if you want to continue to have a viable deer herd, you must first take action and sacrifice to preserve the herd. On the flip side, I have hunted plenty of places in which landowners won’t shoot does, and the herd is like a combine marching through the fields. In these situations you may be calling every “Hunter Sharing the Harvest” type vendor possible for donation of a lot of meat. The bottom line is, most of us will never own enough land to control a deer population, but we can most certainly influence it by the action we take when we pull or don’t pull a trigger.


Use Your Resources

One of the best ways to determine how many does need to be shot on a property is by conducting a trail camera survey. A simple, yet effective way to estimate the number of deer using your property. “Using” is the key word, as small properties will rarely hold that many deer, but a lot of deer may pass through which affects the habitat and social stress of the herd. The survey is fairly simple to setup, and really the most time will be to sit and look though the pictures counting bucks, does, and fawns; as well as, identifying unique bucks in the population. Most often done before the hunting season in late summer and early fall, the calculations have been very well laid out by Mississippi State University.

So as the season approach, don’t just open the regulations book or “do what you did last year.” Take some time to truly think about the area you are hunting and what you want out of it. From there, you will be able to determine what is best for you and the land. The question of “How many does do I shoot?” becomes much easier.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Lure Lock Options Includes LED Light Boxes & More

Lure Lock Options Includes LED Light Boxes & More

Pro angler Jonathan VanDam showcases new offerings at ICAST 2019, including the ultra-thin, big bait boxes, LED-lighted boxes and backpack-able gear lockers. With Game & Fish Editorial Director Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2019 in Orlando.

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance Enters Trolling-Motor Market with Ghost

Lowrance's Lucas Steward shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead what all of the fuss is about in the brand new Ghost trolling motor being brought to market by the Tulsa, Okla.-based fishing equipment manufacturer.

New 4-Liter Dry Creek Gear Pouch from Simms

New 4-Liter Dry Creek Gear Pouch from Simms

Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead gets new product details from Simms Fishing Product's John Frazier about the new waterproof 4-Liter Dry Creek Gear Pouch.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish. Records

Upon Further Review: 70-Year-Old Catfish Record Voided

G&F Online Staff - May 22, 2019

Experts agree record channel cat caught in 1949 was actually a blue catfish.

Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the cooler.

By Other Freshwater

6 Tips for Nighttime Crappie

Keith Sutton - June 19, 2017

Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the...

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record. Walleye

Record-Sized Walleye Was Foul-Hooked, Agency Says

G&F Online Staff

North Dakota Game & Fish Department said the 16-9 walleye doesn't qualify for record.

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range Ammo

10 Best Long-Range Cartridges Ever Made

David Hart - January 14, 2015

Want to test the outer limits of your shooting skill? There's more to successful long-range

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer hunting? Conservation & Politics

Perspective: Urine-Based Scent Use for Deer Hunting

Adam Heggenstaller - December 19, 2019

Could a new testing protocol lead to the repeal of bans on urine-based scents for deer...

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods. Whitetail

8 Deer Vocalizations You Must Master

Mike Marsh - November 26, 2019

Learn the lingo to improve your odds in the whitetail woods.

The 'Big Muddy' produces big bucks, and there's plenty of public land to hunt them in the Midwest. Whitetail

Big Mississippi River Whitetails

Bernie Barringer - November 11, 2019

The 'Big Muddy' produces big bucks, and there's plenty of public land to hunt them in the...

Don't let the fast action of November rush you into making a bad decision. Whitetail

Bowhunting: Taking the Perfect Rut Shot

Dr. Todd A. Kuhn

Don't let the fast action of November rush you into making a bad decision.

See More Whitetail

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.