One question that pops up often in deer camp is one that seems simple, yet when you think about it, is really kind of complex. That question is, “Which doe do I shoot?” The answer seems simple — the biggest one, because it is the biggest which means it is probably the oldest and, therefore, the one that needs culling most. Not necessarily.
Here are some facts. First, the largest doe is not necessarily the oldest. Many times a 3 ½-year old doe will win the “heaviest doe” contest in which does are entered ranging in age from 1 ½- to 6 ½-years of age. With experience hunters can tell live antlerless deer by sex (as opposed to a button buck) and separate females into fawn, yearling, and 2½ years of age or older. It is extremely difficult to accurately age live adult females to a specific year, though. For example, while you can estimate a doe to be 2 ½-plus years old based on body characteristics, it is difficult to identify whether she is actually 2½, 3½, 4½ or older. Fortunately, the oldest females aren’t necessarily the largest so when hunters select for the largest doe(s) they are automatically selecting across a range of ages.
Remember — harvesting deer from all age classes is good for the deer herd. So my advice when the time comes for you to fill your doe tags is pretty simple. Which doe do you shoot? Whichever one you want to!