By Tony J. Peterson
When I first started bowhunting, we were allowed one tag in my home state of Minnesota. A holdover mentality from the 70s and 80s meant that the men I hunted with when I was a teenager looked down on killing does. It was a buck or nothing, even though our license was good for either sex.
I wanted to kill does, badly. Eventually I realized that I didn't much care what someone else thought of the deer I killed, so I started doe hunting.
Through the years an opposite mentality eventually consumed us, which resulted in antlerless deer tags being filled as fast as we could get them. And man, did we get them.
Now we're at a different place in deer management. In fact, in some of the places I hunt, like northern Wisconsin, I can't kill a doe because it's 'bucks only'. In other places, limited antlerless tags are for sale.
Right around my house in the cities, it's unlimited on baldies. There are options, and my favorite time to fill my freezer is right now as the lull is descending upon us.
Following are the whys and hows of taking an antlerless deer in October.
Doe Hunting Keeps You Hunting
When deer movement is supposed to be nil, and the odds of killing a mature buck are about the same as being set up on a blind date with Jennifer Lawrence, it's easy to skip the stand time. If you say, screw it, I'm going to hunt for a doe even if it's not likely to run into a good buck, you'll be in the woods and hunting.
That is a big first step to realizing the lull is overrated and the more time you spend in the woods now, the more you'll want to spend time in the woods later. You might kill a tasty doe in the process, but at the very least you'll become a better hunter for sticking it out when others stay home.
Those 'lull' does that get you in the woods allow you to keep learning all season long, and the only thing better than that is if you're a public-land bowhunter. I spend a fair amount of time on Uncle Sam's land every season and I can safely say on some properties I simply hunt any legal doe.
It's not the glamorous "hit-list" hunting you see on outdoor television, but it will make you a lethal hunter. In fact, if you can go out and consistently kill mature does on public land, I'd wager you could hunt circles around most of the TV stars. So get out there and set your sights on a doe. If you succeed on public ground, you've truly done something special.
So maybe sitting in a treestand and waylaying a lady or two as she saunters by isn't much of a challenge for you. How about still-hunting or stalking? For years in Minnesota we were allowed one management tag. I was competent enough to fill it fairly quickly given a few days in stand, so I started trying to fill my doe tag by still-hunting.
That old-school method of sneaking molasses-slow through the woods is not easy, but it sure is fun. I'll never forget the first time I got close enough to a doe in the October woods while still-hunting to make the shot. I still try to fill my doe tags still-hunting, but also will work in a good spot-and-stalk if the ground sets up right. Test yourself as a hunter a little this fall and try a new tactic or two. Does are great proving grounds for your mettle.
Ever had an old, long-nosed doe that couldn't not blow at you while you sat in your stand? Why not kill her? Or at least try, because as she has proven, she's no slouch. Target a specific doe and you'll be onto a challenge that few of us have ever embarked upon. The revenge killing is a sweet, sweet way to fill an antlerless tag.
A Different View
Many of the bowhunters I speak with say they are scared to shoot does in October because it might mess up their buck hunting later in the month. I don't know how much validity there is to this, but on some properties it's certainly a concern for many of us. This is one of the reasons that I always keep an eye out for fringe does. These are the ladies who live solo, or maybe raise a fawn or two in the old homestead well away from the main cover.
She might also bed every day in a drainage ditch in a field, or some other outlier cover. She's the one that will get you hunting new spots on your old ground, and if you do succeed and deflate her lungs, it's not likely to affect your other stands. As an added bonus, this lady might just teach you a thing or two about how deer use the cover you've written off as not worth of hunting. That lesson can come in mighty handy when targeting bucks later.
The Old Hag
Throughout last summer a hunting buddy and I ran cameras on a small property north of the Twin Cities. The 29-acre parcel is in a zone that allows for one doe tag, so we were salivating at the prospect of getting an antlerless license. On one of our small kill plots we noticed an old, long-nosed doe that seemed to be living right on the plot.
She also seemed to be a cranky old lady, who wouldn't tolerate any other deer feeding next to her. All does, fawns and small bucks that invaded her space would get a hoof to the snout. Scott and I vowed to run an arrow through her if for no other reason than she was a world class "B-word". She's now a series of tightly wrapped white packages in a deep freeze.
Last but not least, the best reason to fill an antlerless tag? The meat.
In my family, store-bought meat is a source of great shame. We live off of wild game and the top offering at the Peterson table is venison. If you're not a huge venison eater but love to hunt, figure out a better way to process your deer and cook them correctly. Venison done right is as good as pretty much any other meat out there.
Done wrong, and it's well, not good. Does are perfect for filling the freezer and these days, I often try to plunk a lone doe if I can. It's not that I'm against shooting does with fawns, but I do have a pair of three-year old girls and am worried about bad juju. More importantly, I like the does that can have and raise fawns more than those that can't or don't - so the fawnless does get my full attention.