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When late summer comes around every year you’re probably like me and most bowhunters out there, you’re shooting your bow like it’s going out of style. You’ve done your homework, you’ve scouted, strategically placed trail cameras, tilled in your food plots, hung your stands, and now you’re licking your chops just waiting for opening day with hopes to down one of the monarchs you’ve captured on your trail camera. So you’re shooting your bow. You’re shooting, hoping this practice will pay off later in the year. You’ve shot your target so many times the center begins to look like Swiss cheese as the foam begins to wear and fall out. You hope with all this hard work and preparation you will have a chance to put the smack down on a giant bruiser this fall. But what if it isn’t enough? What if after all this preparation, it comes crunch time and you blow it? You miss that 160″ non-typical you’ve been watching all summer at twenty-five yards! How could this happen? How could you have done everything right and by the book, but yet still come up short? Well I’m here to tell you that there is something you can do to go one step further. One step that can help make or break you when it comes down to just you and that giant buck you’ve been after. And that’s filling your freezer early season.
Now, I know some of you are probably wondering what I mean by that. What I mean, is taking a doe early season to help take your preparation to the next level. Now some of you I’m sure are probably a little put off by that statement, and would never even think of taking the risk of ruining a hunting spot for a doe. But hear me out. There are many beneficial things that can come from harvesting a doe early season, but there’s also certain ways you should go about doing this to make sure you don’t ruin your hunting grounds and that’s exactly what I’m going to talk about in this article.
There are four main reasons why I always try and take down a doe early on in the season which can pay off in huge dividends later. The first one is obvious, it’s going to put meat in your freezer. That’s one of the main reasons we hunt does throughout the whole season so why not take one early to put venison on the table? The second reason is another obvious one that a lot of hunters practice regardless if they do it early or late season, and that is managing your doe herd. It never hurts to take a doe or two each year if their numbers are high in your area. The third and fourth benefits are what will help you fill your buck tag the most. First, it’s going to build your confidence shooting wise sending an arrow straight through an old horse head doe’s boiler room. And finally, if you film your hunts, it’s going to get you back in the swing of things with getting everything coordinated so that you can get that shot on film, and make it count.
Harvesting wild game to provide for our families has been the main reason of bowhunting since the beginning of time. Since the Native Americans ruled the plains and since the medieval times of Robin Hood, bowhunting has been a way that we have put food on the table. Present day bowhunters that trophy hunt or not, still look to harvest does (and bucks) to put meat in the freezer. So why not do it early season? Why not have that meat to enjoy with your family throughout the season rather than after? Nothing sounds better to me when I get in from a cold, bitter, fall morning hunt than a big bowl of venison chili. Too many of us now frequent the fast food joints way too much in between our hunts just because it’s quick. Slowing down and having a bowl of venison stew, or a nice lean back strap steak takes us back to our roots in bowhunting.
Besides keeping the old bowhunting heritage alive, today we have all sorts of issues that need to be addressed so we can keep this thing we all love to do going. One of those issues is the rise of deer populations in some areas. More often than not, it’s a rise in the doe population. I see it all the time, year after year, guys will only focus their attention on shooting one big buck for the year rather than take a doe or two as well. Sometimes they won’t even take a buck if they don’t get an opportunity at one they wish to harvest. It’s our job as bowhunters to pay attention to our local issues within our deer herds, and manage these herds accordingly. Our states’ divisions of wildlife do all they can to address this issue, for example maybe have a doe only season or not let anyone take bucks for an entire year; but, we have to do our part as well. Too many times deer become over populated in an area and the deer herd becomes so dense, it inflicts damage on itself and everything around it. Having too dense a herd can increase the chances of disease within the herd, increase the number of deer related car accidents, which in turn increases insurance prices and can increase the damage to the ecosystem if there isn’t enough food for the deer to go around. Pay attention, and managing your doe herd accordingly can go a long way towards maintaining a healthy overall deer herd.
So why manage these does early season? I’ll tell you why right now. Bowhunting whitetails is 99% mental. A majority of that is confidence. If you don’t have confidence in your gear, and your abilities, you might as well stay at home and watch football because you’re going to do more harm than good going into the woods that day. Having confidence is the key to hitting your mark when shooting a bow. If you believe you can do it, and know you can do it, you’re already half way there. Harvesting a doe early season puts you in a real life situation that would be the same if you were harvesting a trophy buck. Of course you’re not going to have the same emotions running on a doe that you would have if you were at full draw on the biggest buck of your life, but that’s what this practice is for. Taking a doe early season before you even get a chance at that buck lets your mind know you can do it. Yes, you may have done it in past years, you may have even already taken a Boone & Crockett buck before, but sending an arrow through a doe’s vitals tells your mind and body that you just accomplished this. So when the time comes to let that arrow fly on a buck, you’ve already done it. You know you have the skills to accomplish what is in front of you. You have the mindset needed to take down that bruiser you’ve been waiting for.
As for the bowhunters who also film, taking a doe early season can be tremendously beneficial to you in another sense as well. A lot has to happen for a filmed bow hunt to come together. There’s so many moving parts that have to go right in order for you to bag that buck both with the bow and the camera. So practicing this process and going through it on a doe before crunch time comes on a buck, gets you and the camera man on the same page. Yes, every hunt is different and not everything is going to happen the same each and every time, but you’ll both be better prepared for what may lie ahead later on in the season.
So now you’re thinking, how do I do all this without ruining my favorite hunting spot? There are several ways you can avoid this. If you have the luxury of having multiple hunting locations and properties, find one that has a lot of does, but doesn’t have that shooter buck you’re after. If you can avoid burning up spots that may be holding dominant bucks, then do it. That’s what scouting and using trail cameras is for. But let’s say you don’t have too much ground to hunt. You only have just a few stands to hunt out of, and only one shooter buck in the area that you don’t want to spook. One thing you can do is hunt them both. If the buck comes in, great, but if a nice management doe presents a good shot, take her.
There are a few things to remember when harvesting does early season whether you have a thousand acres to hunt or ten acres. First of all, don’t take long shots. Only take shots on does where you feel extremely comfortable taking them. The last thing you want is to fling an arrow a long distance, have a marginal hit, and have to track the darn thing to Timbuktu ruining your entire hunting ground. Wait until she gives you a good broadside or quartering away shot at a safe distance (let’s say thirty yards or closer) and make it count. Another thing to remember is to get in and get out. If you shoot a doe early season, track her, find her, and get out. If you can help it, wait and field dress her back at your house or camp to avoid having a gut pile laying around your buck’s stomping grounds. If your deer are used to heavy equipment such as tractors or four-wheelers riding, use those to get her out. It’s quicker, and if the deer are used to it, you’ll do less damage. If not, be as quiet as possible, and drag her out by hand. A sled is always a good tool for those without a side-by-side or four-wheeler to do the work. Another thing to keep in mind is to take a doe in the morning if possible. That way you can take care of her, and get her drug out during the day when most deer will be bedded up in the early season heat as opposed to dragging her out at night when a lot of your deer will be on their feet in the fields feeding.
When early season doe management is done right, it can pay off tremendously later on in the season. It has done me well in past years. I believe that with this mind set and strategy, you can be successful at harvesting an early season doe to which will in turn boost your confidence for the remainder of the season.