• Brae Buckner


    Every year when hunting season rolls around, there is incessant chatter about trying to harvest the trophy bucks everyone has been watching on their game cameras. While I do not believe there will ever come a day that a large buck stepping into my view will ever cease to make me shake like a leaf, harvesting trophy bucks should not be a hunter’s only priority. Harvesting an appropriate number of does every season has benefits that many hunters do not take into consideration.

    Before we dive deeper into appropriate doe and buck sex ratios, let’s first talk about what a sex ratio is. The sex ratio amongst your deer herd is the proportion of sexually mature does to breeding bucks. Based on years of research on the ideal ratio of females to males in a population, the goal is to get as close to 1:1 as possible. 1:1 is not always feasible, so a healthy population is going to typically be two or three does for every buck. Keeping a balanced population is important in improving overall herd health and fawn recruitment from year to year. Below is a figure from the Quality Deer Management Association that shows how deer populations are often able to self-correct their sex ratio to balance out the herd.

    Having a population of deer in which the females greatly outnumber the bucks can have serious implications. When this happens, many does are not bred during the peak of season, leaving immature and less dominant bucks to breed later on in year. Does that do not conceive until later in the season give birth to fawns that are born later in the year, leading fawns to be born during the time of the year when natural forage necessary to their development is declining and they are susceptible to colder weather conditions at a very young age. The breeding season in the south is later than usual as it is, so in areas with an overpopulation of does, many fawns will not drop until hunting season begins, which should be a cause for concern among land managers. These fawns have a smaller body size going in to winter, and as they mature will be noticeably smaller than others born in the same year.

    So how do you determine how many does you need to harvest from year to year? Setting camera surveys across your property will be a big advantage in learning which individuals are utilizing your property. Another way to analyze the overall health of your herd is to take a look at your vegetation. If you have an exclusion cage in your food plots, check out the difference on the outside of the cage. If the plots have been completely decimated outside the cage, it might be time to pull the trigger on a few more does. How much understory growth is in your forested areas? If the understory greenery necessary for forage and cover has been excessively consumed, the habitat is not going to be able to sustain the current population.

    Choosing how many does to harvest varies from property to property. You must assess your current situation and make a conscious decision on what will benefit your herd. Making this decision can benefit your fawn recruitment, antler size, and overall health of the herd. So don’t be afraid to increase your antlerless harvest when necessary, and it just might help you bag the trophy buck you’ve been waiting on.