Focus on the Does

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Hunt does to hone your bow skills


If there’s one thing the hunting industry pushes, it’s trophy bucks, trophy bucks, TROPHY BUCKS. I’ll admit I was caught up in this mindset when I first started hunting. As soon as I had a successful first bowhunting season, I was set that I didn’t want to shoot anything unless it was a “wall hanger.” And I was going to fill my buck tag before I worked on harvesting any does. I’m sure you can imagine how this worked out for me.

It only took a couple of frustrating hunting seasons for me to throw out this big buck theory. I decided to focus on the does, and this decision ended up making me a better bowhunter in several different ways that I now realize but didn’t back then as a beginner.

Where the does are

“I don’t want hunt there… all you ever see are does.” Yes, unfortunately, I said that to my dad and brother one early morning when we were all deciding where to hunt that day. However, it was a great lesson for me because that exact spot was where my brother ended up harvesting a 182-inch buck the same year.

At the time, I thought my best chance to harvest a good buck was where I saw the most bucks. I didn’t put any thought into the does. When in reality, if it’s the right time, you want to be where the does are because the bucks will be close behind.


More experience

I soon learned one of most valuable things to a hunter is experience in the field. That is what originally made me turn to does. I needed to forget size, age, buck or doe, and concentrate on having more of those “moments of truth” when I release the arrow at an animal.

Before, trying to shoot a doe only after I filled my buck tag didn’t work for several reasons. First of all, some years I didn’t even harvest a buck so I wasn’t gaining that invaluable experience. Other years that I did, I soon found myself hunting late season when temperatures where challenging and does jumped at anything and everything. I once had a couple does coming right down the trail to me only to watch a woodpecker fly over and scatter them immediately. The deer are just too used to hunters in the field and jumpy, especially after gun seasons.

It doesn’t matter how good of a hunter you are, this time of the season with a bow is going to be harder to pull off a shot, and if you do, you have less of a chance to pull off a good shot as the deer will often jump your arrow even more than early in the season.


Better shots, more success

When pulling back on a doe, I would still shake and be full of adrenaline but I wasn’t eclipsed by “buck fever.” Harvesting does helped me start to pull off those better shots on deer and gain confidence, which is vital to a hunter. I remember my first perfect shot on a deer. It was a mature doe that was eating acorns around the area with her button buck. She really made me work for it, as I stood with my bow ready for about an hour waiting for her to close the distance. I passed, what was probably several shot opportunities for other hunters, hoping for “my shot” being a closer range and better angle since I was in a tree stand on a steep hill. It paid off. I took a 17-yard broadside shot and was able to really think through the process, breath, hold the pin and release smoothly. She died within sight and I immediately started crying and calling my family about my perfect shot. The last thing that mattered was that it wasn’t a big buck. Still today, my family calls it the most photographed doe ever – ha!

No matter how much you practice, shooting a live animal is entirely different than shooting at a bulls-eye or 3-D target. Since having more shots thanks to does, I soon started getting down shot placement on deer to get the right angle from close range in a tree stand. I also discovered the things that help me personally pull off a good shot, such as I have to ignore the front of the chest and focus on the legs.

Being a big 3-D shooter, I had struggled for a while when in that buck fever phase where it is so hard to concentrate on one single thing, let alone everything to pull off a good shot. In these moments, I would resort to what was natural to me. Except 3-D targets actually teach you to hit or play it too close to the shoulder of an animal because that is where the 10-ring is located. I shouldered the two biggest bucks I have ever shot. Experience in the field is the only way I would have learned what works for me so that I don’t have that happen again.

Buck:doe ratio

When shooting does, you are not only providing great meat for your family, you are also helping your buck to doe ratio. This is only going to help your area for future hunting and quality deer management efforts. And when deciding to shoot a mature doe or younger doe, it depends on your needs. If your area needs doe numbers under control then shooting mature does will help you accomplish that more because they are the ones capable of having twins or triplets. If your area just needs continued to be managed, then shooting younger does is a good way to help keep that current ratio level. It is also said mature does are able to conceive your future higher-quality bucks. Another thing to think about is if you don’t have someone or equipment to help you with the steps on getting your doe from the field to the freezer. If that’s the case, then harvesting a smaller doe might be easier for you to handle through the field dressing, hauling and meat cutting processes.


Make it a competition

One really cool thing my family added to our hunting gear a few years ago was a large-animal scale. We bought it for my dad’s birthday and started weighing all our harvested deer at full weight before field dressing. We hadn’t thought much about what the idea of this scale might morph into but soon weighing-in became an all-out competition to a year’s worth of bragging rights! We have a contest for the biggest buck (total rack inches plus weight) and the biggest doe, and just have so much fun with it.

What was so great about this scale is how all of a sudden the guys in my family were excited, sizing up and even scouting just for big does! Harvesting more does was something I had been trying to get them into. Now everyone goes after “The Big Doe” each year! As fun as this has been, through the scale we also gained a lot of knowledge.

The first deer we weighed ended up being a 172-pound doe. We knew this was a big doe but had no idea how it compared to others. We haven’t even come close to this weight since! We found a mature doe in our area weighs in the range of 145 to 153 pounds. And in gaining more weight than that, it seems to need the longer body frame some does carry. A 1-1/2-year-old doe weighs in the range of 120 to 123 pounds, and a yearling weighs around 90 pounds. Weighing deer, recording this information and comparing the results have really helped us to be able to size does much better in the field.

This season

If you haven’t started harvesting does yet this season – get to it! It’s not too late as it’s still early in the season, foliage is still on the trees and it’s predicted to be a late rut this year. My family has harvested four does so far, one of them being mine. My shot was not perfect, but I know going through the process of shooting another deer in the current season will help me be that much calmer and focused for my next opportunity this season.

I’ve come a long way as a hunter over the years, and I definitely have my experiences with does to thank for the well-rounded hunter I feel I’ve become. I’m extremely proud of every doe I sit behind for a photo. And as a bonus, the best year both my husband and I had with harvesting does ended up also being the year we harvested our largest bucks. Coincidence? I think not.

This article was also featured in Quality Whitetails magazine by Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) and