November 2005
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

When I left the house this morning to come to work there was a cool snap to the air. It was the type of morning that you walk out the door and it just hits you. The air feels and smells different than summer. Here in south Alabama, it is the first sign that summer is truly over.

Like most deer hunters, when that cold air hits me for the first time, I immediately think of deer hunting. As the season approaches, we all picture the racked bucks that are out there in the woods right now, walking, eating, living and tell ourselves that this is the year. The year we finally get the big one.

As hunters, we need to remember that we are one of the main tools of good deer management. When deer populations begin to explode beyond the carrying capacity of the land or deer begin to adapt and invade into suburban areas many different kinds of control methods are tried such as live capture and relocation and birth control (which involves live capture).

Of all the different methods tried by private and government agencies none works as well as regulated hunting.

Whitetail deer populations around the country are exploding due to many factors. Population increases are causing cities to expand into the rural country that once was the domain of the whitetail. The exceptional adaptability of the whitetail itself is a contributing factor. They are capable of living anywhere there is a food source. And while I have a problem believing that any animal except a border collie is truly smart, whitetails are very wise and able to react well under pressure. They are able to find a chink in an environment and exploit it. Urban areas offer no hunting pressure and plenty of food. We humans plant delicious gardens and flowers that they see as an opportunity. Whitetails have proven their ability to expand the population to consume a food source.

Hunters are used to control the deer population. Anyone that thinks that a bullet or broadhead is a terrible way to die has never seen an animal starve to death.

The key to population control in whitetails is the doe harvest. A whitetail buck can sire only as many offspring as there are does. In a practical example, let’s look at a herd of cows. If you had a herd of cows that numbered ten head and twenty bulls, more than likely you would get ten calves. The number of females determines the number of offspring. In a herd of cows that numbered twenty-five females and one bull, you could expect twenty-five calves.

In the deer herd, in order to control the population, we must control the does. A doe will come into heat as many times as it takes to conceive a fawn until the day length changes enough to stop her reproductive tract. More than likely, she will get bred by a buck and give birth to a fawn.

It has been stated in more than one article that does must be controlled in order to control the deer population. I think every hunter now days knows that fact.

When we were young and deer populations were lower than they are now, we were all taught that it was bad to kill a doe because they were the ones that would repopulate the woods. I guess it was almost impossible to imagine deer numbers increasing to the point where it was detrimental to the deer herd. The whitetail was tougher than we thought.

I have hunted many times with people that thought the taking of a doe was something to be ashamed of. Does were reserved for children that had never taken a deer. Does were reserved for a three day orgy of shooting right around Christmas. Does were sacred.

Back in those days we were supposed to kill any spike buck that we saw and leave the does alone.

Now days, we have a better knowledge of the dynamics of our deer herds, antler development as it relates to age and nutrition and land management.

The whole point is, harvesting does is very important to the big picture. So important that many trophy-managed clubs require that hunters harvest a certain number of does before they can even think about harvesting a buck. In the past a doe is what you had to settle for when you couldn’t kill a buck. Bowhunters were allowed to take antlerless deer because it was considered they were at such a disadvantage they should be allowed to shoot any deer they wanted. Most bow hunters will tell you, killing a doe is just as hard as killing a buck and they weren’t doing them any favors. Unfortunately there are no Boone & Crockett does.

If you are affiliated with a hunting club or have your own hunting lease or whatever, let’s put some pride in harvesting does. Have a contest for the heaviest doe, the oldest doe or whatever.

I harvested a doe on my place several years ago that I hunted for two months. Very quickly, I knew her more by hearing than by sight. She was one of these does that snorted at everything. You could tell when she was out in the pasture because if you went outside and slammed the door, she ran off snorting at the top of her lungs. If you were outside and you cleared your throat, she snorted and ran off. Anything that happened, you could bet that that old doe would hear it and take off snorting. She even snorted at me one August afternoon when we were picking muscadines. I guess she had plans on harvesting a few on her own and I got in her way.

We had a good-sized buck living in our area and I always had hopes of getting him. It was impossible with this old girl around. I have seen her in the food plot watching and waiting on a razor’s edge of nerves. She would snort and run from anything. I once saw a mocking bird scare her off of a food plot. I watched her for 3 years and when I noticed that she never produced a set of twins I decided that it was time for her to go. It took a solid month to get her.

This doe was as wise and crafty as a mature buck. She would show up at the food plot when it was so dark you could barely see her. There were times when the wind blew from the west and carried your scent away from the transition area the deer used to come into my plot, only twice did it happen there and both times, she managed to slip around me and approach from the downwind side, she busted me both times. One time I actually had her in my sights but it was really close to being too dark and I knew that if she didn’t drop right where she was I would never find her. She would stand on the edge of the woods and stare into the tree just daring you to move while other deer were coming into the plot. You knew that if you moved she would snort and there would soon be no deer in the plot.

Finally, I harvested her and she was, as my dad used to say, as old as Dick’s hatband.

She was as tough to take as any deer I have ever hunted. Since then, I have never been ashamed or felt like I was taking a second-class deer just because it doesn’t have a set of horns on its head. Besides, venison from a doe is darn good eating and once again, as my dad used to say, "Them horns make mighty thin gravy."

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.