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Doe Harvesting: The Big Picture

Back To "Ask The Biologist?"QUESTION: We always hear about removing bucks with bad genetics from the herd, then we see all these hunters on TV shooting big does. Don't the does play a big part in the big picture?

I'm just confused about seeing big does harvested, then be advised we should take out the small bucks. Please enlighten me on this. - Casper

Doe Harvesting: The Big PictureANSWER: That's a very insightful question. Does are often the overlooked part of the equation when it comes to deer genetics, yet they provide 50 percent of the genetic material.

However, there are several issues to consider. First, it's nearly impossible to control genetics in free-ranging deer.

Removing cull or management bucks from a free-range herd might make hunters feel better, but it will do little to improve antler genetics of the local population. That's not to say you shouldn't do it.

In my book, any mature buck is a trophy, even if his antlers don't make the record book.

And if your management plan involves removing a certain amount of deer, taking a cull buck helps meet that objective.

Also, outside the fence it is virtually impossible to tell which does carry the genes for big antlers.

Their body size is more a function of age. Sure, some does will be bigger than other does of the same age, but there's no way of knowing that doe's age until you can look at her jawbone.

If your objective is population growth then yes, it might be a good idea to remove smaller, younger does instead of larger, older ones. If not, any doe will do you.

You must have extremely controlled circumstances to determine a doe's genetic potential for antler growth.

First, you have to be able to identify the individual doe, which means an ear tag.

Next, you have to control which buck or bucks she mates with. Then, you have to monitor several generations of offspring and evaluate results.

All of the above can't be done outside of captive breeding facilities.

As for taking smaller bucks, that also depends on your objective. If you want bigger bucks, you have to pass up smaller ones so they can get a year or two older and better realize their genetic potential to produce big antlers.

If you merely want to harvest a deer, shoot whichever one makes you happy.

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