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Ask The Biologist: Old Doe or Young Doe?

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: Old doe or young doe, which should be taken to manage the herd? — John O.

ANSWER: Good question. Short answer: the one that offers the best shot opportunity.

Now for the long answer. Which doe you should harvest really depends on several things, including geographic location and the current deer population status relative to your management objectives.

If you have way more deer than the range can support, you should be taking does of any age just to get the numbers down.

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If, after that, you still want to reduce deer numbers, you’ll be more effective by removing older deer. Mature deer produce more fawns than younger deer, unless and until they become overmature. Removing them has a greater impact on both immediate and long-term population growth.

If your objective is stabilize or allow slow herd growth, you might be better off targeting younger deer. This will reduce the impact on food resources without as much impact on overall herd productivity.

From a purely biological perspective, it probably makes the most sense to harvest the youngest deer — fawns. They are typically the most abundant age class in any population.

In a healthy population, there should be more than enough to replace annual adult mortality, which means there is a surplus. A certain percentage of deer will die of natural causes each winter — especially in harsh climates — and the majority will be fawns.

Removing this surplus ahead of winter increases the chances of survival for older deer. And because fawns contribute little or nothing to herd growth the following year, removing them has less of an impact on the population. Almost as important is the question of when you should harvest does. Ah, but you didn’t ask that.

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