A white-tailed deer, a doe, pauses its walk through the woods to take in some sunshine in May. Michele Simmers/Dreamstime/TNS

Maine’s expanded archery season begins Sept. 9. That, and the still relatively new antlerless deer permit (ADP) system, have prompted many questions from bow and gun hunters alike. Some simply still aren’t clear whether an ADP allows an extra deer, or when, where and how it can be used. Others are asking more questions like when is the optimum time to take a doe, and which ones to shoot. Let’s take a look.

First, the ADPs. An ADP does, in effect, allow a hunter to take one antlerless deer in addition to the one antlered deer allowed under a general hunting license. It is assigned to a designated wildlife management district (WMD), meaning the antlerless deer must be harvested within that WMD. It can be used during the regular firearms, muzzleloader and regular archery seasons, but not the expanded archery season. The latter only makes sense because you can purchase unlimited additional antlerless tags for that season.

Ask a wildlife biologist which doe you should shoot first and they might answer, “The one that offers the best shot.” While it’s somewhat facetious, there is some logic in that answer. If the herd is healthy, it really doesn’t make a big difference to the overall population. We trust our state wildlife agency to manage this renewable resource responsibly and if they are issuing ADPs, it’s a good indication of a healthy herd. However, local circumstances and objectives may play a part in decision making.

It’s more difficult to do with does, but if you know your local herd well, through the use of trail cameras and intensive scouting, you may be able to recognize certain individuals. Research shows that mature does tend to make better mothers. They raise more offspring to adulthood, keeping the population strong. They also teach their youngsters to use the same bedding and feeding areas they do. That’s a deer you might want to keep around.

Does often form extended family groups in the fall. Such groups may contain the aforementioned long-nosed matriarch along with several generations of her offspring. Older ones may have fawns of their own and could one day supplant the matriarch. Meanwhile, yearlings are now adult, but quite often haven’t bred yet. By shooting one you’re only removing one deer from the population that lacks the experience and maternal skills of an older deer.

Hunters are sometimes hesitant to take a doe with fawns out of fear for the welfare of the youngsters. Once a fawn is weaned, which typically happens in early summer, it is capable of surviving on its own. In fact, one study suggested orphan buck fawns may, in some circumstances, gain an advantage as they’re less likely to disperse as yearlings. It’s also legal and ethical to take fawns, which will have the least impact on the population due to higher natural mortality rates. Ultimately, it’s the individual hunter’s choice.


As for when to shoot a doe, the quick answer is: when it offers a good shot. Many hunters save their ADP as an insurance policy for later in the season if they don’t get their buck. They may also want to keep the does around to draw in bucks during the rut. Here, too, that’s the individual’s choice. However, there are some good reasons why earlier might be better.

Tagging a doe early in the season takes the pressure off so you can focus on getting your buck. Any adult buck may expend a considerable amount of energy seeking, chasing, courting and breeding a doe. If you remove her after the rut, that energy is lost to the deer population. Also, having a few fewer does around might actually increase competition among bucks for those that remain, making them more visible and vulnerable to hunters.

There really is no wrong answer so long as you follow the letter of the law. Even deer managers sometimes make mistakes and may issue more ADPs than they should. However, white-tailed deer are extremely resilient and productive, and populations can recover quickly after an over-harvest or a particularly severe winter die-off. Which deer you take and whenever you take it, you can do so with clear conscience.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: bob@bobhumphrey.com

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