Hunters Should Harvest Female Deer in High-Density Areas

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Female deer can quickly increase the size of a deer herd, giving birth to an average of two fawns per year. Hunters in high-density areas can help keep deer populations down by harvesting does this season.Frankfort, Ky. – As the first week of modern gun deer season winds down, many hunters have already taken their antlered deer for the year. If you are hunting in a high-density area like Zone 1, you shouldn’t stop there. Harvesting plenty of female deer in high-density areas is essential to maintaining a quality deer herd – and a quality hunting experience.

“Female deer are the drivers of herd growth,” said Tina Brunjes, big game program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “When you have too many deer, you want to stop growth. Even if you don’t have too many, you want to control growth. The way you do that is through does.”

One female deer can quickly increase a deer population, since a doe gives birth to an average of two fawns a year. That’s why harvesting bucks doesn’t help thin the deer herd, while taking enough female deer can keep a deer population in balance with available habitat.

“If you’ve got fewer deer, they’ll be in better condition,” said David Yancy, a biologist in Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s big game program. Yancy said ideal deer densities are less than 30 deer a square mile.

“If you think of habitat like a pie, then cutting the pie into 25 pieces instead of 45 means everyone gets more,” he said. “At 25 per square mile, deer have fewer ticks, less intestinal parasites, higher weight and better fat reserves to get through the winter.”

With fewer female deer in a herd, bucks must compete for available females. More competition means hunters see more rutting behavior, such as rubbing, scraping and fighting.While mountainous habitat in the eastern part of Kentucky can’t support 25 deer a square mile, that is the department’s target deer density for other regions of the state. Counties with ideal deer populations are classified as Zone 2 for deer hunting, and make up 34 percent of Kentucky.

“Our big buck producers – Ohio, Butler, Muhlenberg, Hopkins, Grayson, Breckinridge – are all 25 deer per square mile counties,” said Yancy. “These areas have good habitat, but implicit in this is good deer numbers.”

However, 33 percent of Kentucky counties have too many deer, and fall under Zone 1 hunting regulations. Hunters may harvest unlimited antlerless deer with the proper permits in these counties. Brunjes said it’s important for Zone 1 hunters to take female deer, not only for herd health but for a quality hunt.

“By quality, I’m not just talking about big antlers,” she said. “I’m talking about improving the quality of your hunting experience. When your buck-to-doe ratio improves, you see more rutting behavior. You see deer doing what they do, not just standing in a food plot.”

Brunjes said that ideally, there should be fewer than three does for each buck in a deer herd. In areas with too many female deer, breeding season may not be as intense.

“You hear these things like ‘They’re not rutting, they’re not breeding where I am,’” said Yancy. “First of all, they are. But what that could be is there are so many females there’s no competition among bucks. If you want a good two-week period with fighting, lots of rubs, lots of scrapes, you need fewer does and more competition.”

After you bag an antlered deer this year, take a doe if you’re hunting in an area with too many deer. You can help improve the herd with your hunt.

Modern gun deer season is open statewide and continues through Nov. 17 in Zones 3-4 and Nov. 23 in Zones 1-2. For complete deer hunting regulations, pick up a copy of the 2008-09 Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide, available wherever hunting licenses are sold.

Author Hayley Lynch is an award-winning writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. She is an avid hunter and shotgun shooter.