Deer in a field.
Ty Scherman/RPS

Hunters and wildlife biologists have come a long way in understanding and realizing the benefits of antlerless deer harvest. But let’s take the idea a step further and consider the benefits of “early” antlerless deer harvest. By that, I mean taking a doe as early as possible in the season.

Many Oklahoma deer hunters encounter their first opportunity to harvest a doe in October, during early archery season. This is a great time to harvest a doe, but some hunters might be inclined to wait until after they’ve pursued a certain buck they’ve seen on camera, or to ensure that does in the area are present to “draw in bucks” during the rut. After all, hunters want to see and have the chance to harvest mature bucks. Plus, if you successfully harvest a doe an hour before dark, it pretty much ends the hunt for that day in order to make time for tracking and field dressing.

At least, these are some of thoughts that go through a hunter's mind. In fact, a hunter might carry this mindset all season long only to miss out on a doe harvest afterall.

But there is another side to the story. It might just be that targeting antlerless deer earlier in the year has its advantages.

For one, deer are still following a summer movement pattern during early archery season. They are predictable and can be patterned, helping you achieve your doe harvest goals in plenty of time to shift your focus to buck hunting. 

Additionally, if you’ve been practicing your archery skills and preparing all summer, harvesting a doe early is a good way to put those shooting skills to work - along with honing others such as tracking, field-dressing, etc. 

Hunters may even know a youth who they could take under their wing for the upcoming youth deer gun season. Running Oct. 15-17 this year, this is an oustanding opportunity to harvest does while passing down the hunting heritage. It sounds cliche - "passing down the heritage" - but I urge you to consider the long-term impact of instructing a youth in the hunting traditions. You can be part of the fun now while having a lasting positive impact on a young person and wildlife. That's a win you don't want to miss out on.

If simply putting some venison away early or helping a young hunter harvest their first deer aren't reason enough to target antlerless deer early in the season, there's still more to the argument. Any reduction in the total number of deer in an area can have an immediate impact on the available food and habitat. Less overall pressure on available nutrients can help bucks achieve better physical condition as the rut approaches. Healthier bucks can lead to more successful breeding and therefore better hunting during the rut, since bucks stay active and on the search for does. You've heard it before, but harvesting antlerless deer can have a ripple effect with many advantages. 

One of the most notable benefits of antlerless harvest in general is helping achieve a more even buck to doe ratio in your hunting area. Not only does that mean more available nutrients for the herd, as mentioned already, but it can result in a more condensed rut and a more even fawn drop.  A condensed rut means more does are bred in a tighter time window, leading to fawns that drop in a narrower timeframe. This can reduce the impact of predators and cut down on the number of late-born fawns.  Late born fawns, specifically buck fawns, are at high risk of facing developmental challenges that can take up to three years to overcome.

Doe harvest remains a top priority as well as a high-value tool for ODWC biologists working to manage and optimize the health of the state's deer herd. Hunters showed out in 2020 by helping increase antlerless harvest to 43 percent of total harvest - well in line with agency management goals. That said, apart from 2020, an overall downward trend has existed in antlerless harvest percentages in recent years. Last year antlerless bag limits were liberalized even more for hunters. Check out those regulations here. Then go ahead and gear up with your hunting license, and be ready!

- Michael Bergin is a senior communication specialist for the Wildlife Department. Dallas Barber is the big game biologist for the Wildlife Department. Thumbnail photo by Ty Scherman/RPS

Big game biologist Dallas Barber talks about the importance of an even buck to doe ratio, and how hunters play a vital role in deer management.

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