Skip to main content

Should You Shoot Does With Fawns?

We all have a heart, but sometimes, from a biology standpoint, you need to put those feelings aside.

Should You Shoot Does With Fawns?
Should hunters be conservative on taking does with fawns during the first half of bow season? The answer is “no.” In fact, this is one reason why all wildlife departments determine the best time to start the bow season is after the vast majority of fawns are weaned.

Since most states and provinces open the bow season in September or early October, many opening-day hunters are presented various opportunities to shoot a doe with fawns. While some hunters do take them, many simply pass on the opportunity. More times than not, their rationale on not taking the shot has something to do with the doe still nursing her fawns.

Is this decision, correct? Let’s look at this scenario from a purely biological viewpoint. Because the growing season is so short in Northern deer herds, the primary rut occurs in November. This is because fawns need to accumulate adequate weight in order to survive their first winter. Once bred, it takes a doe about 200 days to drop her fawn(s). This generally correlates to late May or early June.

In the South, the timing of the rut varies. But generally, the rut and fawn birthdates correlate to when green-up or flooding occurs. Since deer in the South do not have to put up with the rigors of cold winters, a fawn’s birthdate generally aligns with the greatest nutritional demands of the fawn and her mother. This is also when the ground vegetation is starting to grow. This nutritional new-growth food also provides valuable cover for the fawns to hide from predators.

Although many have heard fawns are scentless at birth as a defense mechanism against predators, this simply is not true. All fawns have an odor, and their best defense against predators is to remain still. On average, a “camouflaged” fawn has 300 white spots (ranges from 272–342), which like fingerprints, are unique to that specific fawn.


One online “deer expert” says you can determine the sex of a fawn by their spot pattern. This individual suggested button bucks have a straight spotted pattern, while doe fawns have a scattered or zigzag pattern. Trust me on this one: You can’t determine the sex of a fawn from the alignment or pattern of its spots.


A fawn can be fully weaned (able to survive without its mother’s milk) at 70 days of age. If we assume all fawns are born on June 1, this means all fawns can survive on their own by August 10. From a biologist’s standpoint, fawns are fully functional ruminants any time from 45 to 60 days of age (say, July 15).

With this information, many hunters will still pass on does because they see them nursing fawns, sometimes well into October. Does this mean they aren’t weaned? The answer is most likely, no. Although the vast majority of fawns are 100-percent weaned, some does will still let their fawns nurse well into the hunting season. There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting that doe, because remember, her fawns are already weaned.

Given the opportunity, in areas where the deer population is low, you might want to consider taking a younger, adult doe (say, 1½ years old). This is because statistically speaking, older does are much more likely to successfully raise their fawns. In deer populations that are too high, the reverse is true.

What should a hunter do if he/she misses the opportunity to shoot the adult doe, but her two fawns are within range? Since many deer populations are too high, do the herd a favor and take a fawn. Remember, fawns grow up, and will eat close to one ton of vegetation per year.




Although many hunters don’t like taking a chance at possibly shooting a button buck (fawn), there are ways for determining the sex of a fawn. These tips are not always true, but they can give you a guide for achieving your management objectives.

If one fawn is larger in size, it’s probably a button buck, so shoot the smaller one. If the fawn’s head is square versus round, it’s probably a button buck. If one fawn is running all over the place and the other fawn stays closer to its mother, the rambunctious fawn is probably a button buck. Again, many biologists would totally disagree with these observations, but they have served me well over the years. In all deer herds, it’s best to keep the percentage of button bucks harvested under 10 percent of the total harvest.

Shooting fawns may not be a viable option for you, but I can assure you that they taste great. In fact, my buddy calls them “rotisserie deer.” Every year, I personally tip over many fawns — and yes, sometimes even if they still have spots. In these overpopulated areas, I tell my hunters to pick a spot and shoot.


Chances are, many readers of this magazine are totally against shooting fawns for emotional reasons. I get that.But why is it okay for beginning hunters to take a fawn, yet experienced hunters get ridiculed for doing the same thing? Whether it’s your first or your 100th deer, in most herds, it’s biologically acceptable to take fawns.

Taking does or fawns in the early parts of the hunting season has added benefits for the habitat. For example, by harvesting 20 does, say two months prior than usual, you’ll be saving nearly three tons of forage. This is because a deer will consume about five pounds of dry weight vegetation per day. That forage saved roughly equates to a couple one- to two-acre food plots. If you don’t plant food plots, tipping over some does and fawns early in the year is very beneficial to the habitat. In other words, there will be more food later in the year for other deer during the rut!

C.J.’s Summary: A fawn will keep its spots until three to four months of age. If you can’t bring yourself to kill a fawn, a good rule of thumb is to wait until they lose their spots. Although many hunters may disagree with shooting spotted fawns, albeit cute, these are the deer that have the greatest chance of not surviving the winter. As for taking the adult does that have fawns in tow? Remember, those fawns are already weaned and will survive, with or without mama.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

New for 2021: Bear Redemption EKO, Legit RTH Compound Bows

Bear Archery's newest bows - Redemption EKO and Legit RTH - are light, adjustable and fast.

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Kansas Turkey Bowhunt

Bowhunter contributor Matt Palmquist sets up shop for a turkey hunt in Kansas.

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best New Climbing-Stick Attachment Options

Tree Saddle Hunting: Best New Climbing-Stick Attachment Options

The array of ultra-strong, easy-to-use, light and quiet aftermarket stick attachment options has never been more creative and compelling. The noisier, heavier, harder-to-conveniently-wrap-on-your-sticks metal buckle and strap is anathema for today's mobile hunter.

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Canyon Ranch Bowhunt

Bowhunter Equipment Editor Tony Peterson sees plenty of action while hunting whitetails and hogs in Texas.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Arrow rests are a dime a dozen. Picking the right one is the foundation to consistent 10-ring accuracy.New Arrow Rests for 2021 ATA Show

New Arrow Rests for 2021

Brian K. Strickland - January 11, 2021

Arrow rests are a dime a dozen. Picking the right one is the foundation to consistent 10-ring...

We all need a spot to place our feet in life … and even more so when in the saddle. The two options are a platform or ring-of-steps.Best New Tree Saddle Hunting Platforms & Ring of Steps Treestands & Blinds

Best New Tree Saddle Hunting Platforms & Ring of Steps

Bowhunter Staff - January 03, 2021

We all need a spot to place our feet in life … and even more so when in the saddle. The two...

A simple, classic steak and French fries duo gets a wild makeover with this Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe.Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe Recipes

Elk Venison Steak-Frites Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

A simple, classic steak and French fries duo gets a wild makeover with this Elk Venison...

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express Maxima RED Contour and D-Stroyer PileDRIVER arrows.New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows ATA Show

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

Curt Wells - January 19, 2021

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express...

See More Trending Articles

More Whitetail

When dueling it out on Oklahoma public land, it's best to dig in and keep hunting hard.The Grind: Hunting Hard on Oklahoma Public Land Whitetail

The Grind: Hunting Hard on Oklahoma Public Land

Tony J. Peterson

When dueling it out on Oklahoma public land, it's best to dig in and keep hunting hard.

Getting past a deer's ears is no easy task, but we'll show you 7 rules to do just that! What Deer Can Hear — And How to Beat It! Whitetail

What Deer Can Hear — And How to Beat It!

Adam Lewis

Getting past a deer's ears is no easy task, but we'll show you 7 rules to do just that!

It's interesting how quickly deer change their daily routines once they know they are being hunted.Buck Movements During The Hunting Season Whitetail

Buck Movements During The Hunting Season

C.J. Winand

It's interesting how quickly deer change their daily routines once they know they are being...

Some deer simply leave the areas they typically frequent in the fall, only to return later. Deer Excursions: Why Bucks Leave Their Home Range Whitetail

Deer Excursions: Why Bucks Leave Their Home Range

C.J. Winand

Some deer simply leave the areas they typically frequent in the fall, only to return later.

See More Whitetail

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Bowhunter App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Bowhunter subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now