With an expanded archery season featuring limitless antlerless permits and a 30% increase in any-deer permits for the other seasons, Maine deer hunters are going to have plenty of choices to make this fall with regard to if and when to take a doe, which one and how many to shoot. These are good questions.

From a management perspective, much depends on your objectives. If your herd is healthy and meeting or exceeding objective levels, the short, somewhat tongue-in-cheek answer is: The first one that offers a decent shot. That might also be the case if your personal objective is putting meat in the freezer. It might also be a good approach for youngsters or adults new to hunting who need a little self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment for their efforts. State biologists have already figured out how many does can be removed without impacting a sustainable population so if you hold a permit, your impact will be negligible.

However, some folks have different objectives, and are more conscientious of herd and population dynamics. If given a choice, there may be certain advantages or disadvantages to taking one doe over another. Research has shown that mature does make better mothers. They produce more fawns and are more successful at raising them. If you want to see your local population continue growing, you might pass a larger, older doe in favor of a younger one. Some might tell you a younger doe will have more tender, tastier meat but that’s largely a myth. It’s more a matter of how you handle and process the deer once it’s recovered.

Speaking of myths, that one about the old, barren doe is just that. With very few and rare exceptions, mature does will continue producing offspring until they die; and they can live a long time. If you see an older doe without fawns in the fall it’s likely because her fawn or fawns succumbed to disease, predation or some other form of natural mortality. If left to live, she’ll breed and try again next year, and the year after.

Another reason you might want to pass up an older doe involves biology. Part of the reason they make better mothers is that they’ve learned their home range. They know how to avoid danger and where the best food is located, and they pass that along to their offspring. For as long as they live, they’ll remain in the area and keep producing offspring. Remove an older doe and you create an opening for another, younger doe to move in, who might not be as productive.

When to shoot a doe may be more important to the gun hunters. While there’s no right answer, earlier in the season does offer some advantages. For one, it takes the pressure off if you use a bonus permit and still have a buck tag. Reducing doe numbers before the rut might also lead to a more compact, intense rut, which is what most hunters probably prefer.

There’s also an energetic advantage. A buck expends a great deal of energy breeding a doe during the rut. If she’s removed after the rut, all that energy was wasted. Its trivial in the grand scheme of things but in areas with low deer numbers it’s worth considering.

Yet another reason for filling that doe tag early is your chances for success. As each day of the hunting season passes there are fewer deer out there. And the ones that remain quickly become educated. While they don’t leave town, research has shown that deer move less during daylight, and more in thicker cover as hunting pressure increases. Hold that doe tag until season’s end while you wait for a buck and you may regret it. As many a guide and outfitter will tell you: Don’t pass up a deer on the first day that you’d shoot on the last.

As for how many to shoot, that boils down to what the regulations allow and what your personal objectives are. Again, if you hold a permit, then biologists have determined your impact will not be harmful. Only a fraction of permit holders will actually harvest a doe and success rates are fairly consistent. However, there’s no need to get carried away. Every deer you shoot takes away an opportunity and more than a few meals from other hunters. To paraphrase a song by The Band: “Take what you need and leave the rest.”

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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