Ask The Deer Tracker

Posted on July 24, 2012


July column



Editor’s note: One week each month we will run the, Ask The Deer Tracker post. Anyone wishing to send a question for future posts can e-mail it to,



Q. – Many organizations including the Pennsylvania Game Commission are encouraging hunters to shoot more does for the betterment of the herd as a whole. We have been instructed to make every attempt to harvest the most mature females rather than risk shooting button bucks. When the mother is taken, her five-month fawns are now left to survive on their own. In your opinion, is it realistic to expect these fawns to survive absent from her care, and if they don’t will this result in a far greater deer mortality than planned?

J. O. – Wyoming, PA


A. – Seventy plus years ago, Aldo Leopold wrote, “the biggest challenge in wildlife management is people management.” Let me first say, in order to harvest enough does, the hunter needs to be part of the solution. Secondly, and this may come as a bit of a surprise, the matriarchal does in any herd will always be the toughest animal to ultimately bring to bag. They, more so than any other members of the herd, are the keenest survivors, and seldom make any miscalculated moves.


Although optimally, a fawn would do better to have its mother around for the first year of its life, it is not necessary to insure it survives. By the time this fawn reaches its first hunting season it has all the necessary intuitive abilities to evade danger. There will always be non-hunting deer mortalities and a certain percentage of fawns will indeed fall into that category. Here in the Northeast where food comes at a premium during particularly brutal winters, I have seen and photographed mothers competing for the same groceries with their own fawns. If the deer mortality becomes greater than expected, game managers have the ability to adjust next years harvest quota to compensate.

Q. – I have grown up with the belief that shooting does is a bad idea, is that sound thinking, grandpa’s preference or poor management?

T. D. – Williston, VT


A. – Perhaps in grandpa’s time that was indeed sound management practice as deer herds were being rebuilt, however, in most places where whitetails live today that is not the case. In fact, it is quite the opposite with burgeoning deer populations being the norm rather than the exception. Adhering to a management plan designed to rebuild a herd, and only shooting bucks, explains why doe herds have spiraled out of control.


There are major benefits to harvesting does. The habitat is preserved if the deer population is kept at or slightly below the range’s carrying capacity. Shooting does will put less pressure on bucks and provides for a better buck – to – doe ratio. The number of mature bucks will increase with a better age structure within the overall herd. The number of rubs and scrapes will multiply. With an increase in mature bucks, the rut will be more intense with fighting and chasing occurring much more frequently. When the adult doe – to – antlered buck ratio is 3 – to – 1 or less, the rut will last about 40 days. With a more condensed rut, most fawns will be born on schedule providing them the opportunity to properly develop and gain enough weight to survive the coming winter.

Each management situation is a bit different, but in most instances hunters are not killing enough does to keep the herd in check or maintain proper age structure amongst the male population. It must be remembered that it is a whole lot quicker to add deer to a herd than it is to restore the habitat that has been decimated from more mouths to feed than the land can support.

Q. – Currently I have a scope on my rifle; is this the best sights to have as a tracker or should I change to iron sights?                                               E. C. – Buxton, ME


A. – My first thought would be, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. If you are comfortable and proficient with the sight system that is on your gun than why would you want to change it? Since my boyhood days as a hunter I have used peep sites. This made for rapid target acquisition and allowed for fast, rapid shooting in thick brush. Unfortunately, as I have aged, my eyes can no longer be relied upon to accurately put the bead onto the intended target. Therefore, I have been forced to go to a scope. The set-up I now use is a Leupold muzzleloader/shotgun 2 – 7 scope that is parallax corrected out to 75 yards. Thanks to technology I’m able to remain in the game.


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