This year Maine has allotted a record 110,000 any-deer permits. David Leaming/Morning Sentinel

Which doe should you shoot? When should you shoot it, before or after the rut? How many does should I shoot? These are common questions among deer hunters. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife issued a record 110,000 any-deer permits this year, a 61-percent increase over 2019. Add to that the unlimited antlerless permits available to expanded archery hunters and a lot more hunters will be asking these questions this season. Here are a few guidelines to help the decision-making process.

Regarding which doe to shoot, there’s a running joke among wildlife biologists that you should shoot the first doe that offers an opportunity. It’s no joke to many hunters. They want to fill their tag as quickly and efficiently as possible. They might need the meat to feed their family. Free time to hunt could be limited, or it could represent their first deer. If you’re among them, by all means take advantage of the first one that comes along.

Those more interested in managing the local deer population might take a different approach, and much depends on their objectives. If the herd is healthy and in balance with habitat and available natural food, it’s less important. If the herd is lower than you would like, removing a smaller, younger doe has less impact. A larger proportion of doe fawns will not make it to their second fall, and those that do probably won’t be bred as fawns and give birth as yearlings. Harvesting one removes one deer, leaving more food available for those that survive.

Yearling does are now part of the breeding population. Most, but not all, will breed and give birth the following spring. However, it is more common for them to have a singlet rather than twins, so removing a yearling in the fall only subtracts two deer from next year’s herd.

If it’s meat you want, older, larger does may be more appealing. Bear in mind that most, on average, will produce two fawns. Furthermore, research shows that older does make better mothers, meaning higher survival rates for their offspring. If you want the herd to grow, let the big does go.

Older does also teach their offspring how to survive in their local environment. Unlike bucks, which more often disperse from their natal home range as yearlings, does tend to stay closer to home, often establishing a home range nearby, adjacent to or overlapping their mother’s home range. Biologists call this the rose petal effect as a plot of home ranges might look like a rose, with the oldest doe at the center and successive ranges of her offspring spreading out from there. Take out the center and the petals go away.

As for when to take a doe that also depends on your objectives. If you need the meat and your time is limited, get it done early. If your primary goal is a buck but you’re holding that any-deer tag as insurance, you might want to wait. Those does will eventually attract bucks when the rut comes around. If there are plenty of does around it won’t matter as much but if deer are scarce, that neighborhood doe will be a far more effective attractant than any scent or lure you could put out.

There’s also a matter of energetics. Bucks expend a great deal of energy during the rut. Some of that energy is transferred to the doe when she is bred. If you shoot a doe after the rut, you effectively remove her, her potential offspring and the energy her suitor contributed to the equation.

If you’re wondering how many does to shoot, that comes down to personal choice and, obviously, what the law allows. With so many bonus permits handed out this year, more hunters will have the ability to harvest multiple antlerless deer during the regular archery, firearms, and muzzleloader seasons. It’s a great opportunity for those who might otherwise experience limited success, but overharvesting will most certainly lower success rates in future years. Conservation means wise use. Take only what you need and leave the rest to ensure the resource remains sustainable.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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