Bucks vs. does

One local's take on the stark reality of harvesting female deer

Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece featuring bits of truth and consequence surrounding what happens when a doe with fawns is shot during hunting season.


Nobody enjoys the thought of filling the freezer, jarring, and eating one of the best organic wild meats in the world more than me. I started hunting Sitka Black-tailed deer with my older brothers around Juneau in the late 1960s, but didn’t get my first until 1977 — a huge buck with a very small rack. My brother Jack guided me, and even packed out the 150-plus pound, two-point animal.

Doe season this season opens Saturday, Sept. 15.

Here’s a true, albeit sad, story about last year’s opening doe season.

Many of the previous winters have been hard on the deer populations in northern Southeast Alaska and deer numbers are just starting to build again.

My family is trying to put in a back yard behind our cabin on Shelter Island and the deer like the new grasses and plants that are growing there.  Last year, there were two sets of twins and a single fawn that would frequent the meadow behind our cabin with their mothers. We counted a total of eight different deer in one day. It was very enjoyable watching the doe interact with their fawns. We even saw short temper and aggressions toward other deer and fawns. Up until last year, it was extremely unusual to see deer anywhere near our cabin. I have never shot a deer near our cabin and I do most of my hunting on Admiralty Island, harvesting bucks 95 percent of the time over the last seven years.

On Sept. 13, 2011, I took pictures and enjoyed watching the deer feed and rest behind our cabin; I was concerned about them, doe season opened on Sept. 15 — only two days away. In addition, my wife, Eileen, and I were going to be traveling up to Denali National Park to photograph wildlife and scenery. I was worried; what could happen in seven days?

We returned from Denali on schedule. As I approached the cabin planning to unlock the door and switch on the lights, something came crashing toward me. I swung around and the light from my headlamp caught four eyes staring at me. It was the twin fawns, big-eyed and scared, they were hoping I was their mother. It took a while to figure out what was going on, but it happened a second time that evening when I went down to start the generator; a single fawn came running toward me hoping I was her mother.

 I was sick to my stomach. It dawned on me that their mothers had been killed.

To make a long story short, all of the does were killed. Within a week, we had identified all of the orphaned fawns. We had a really bad November — lots of snow. I believe all the bereaved fawns starved and died last winter. (A small dear was found dead under the deck of a nearby cabin.)

Instead of having eight does to help repopulate the area, all of those female deer were gone.

The odds of a fawn surviving its first winter without its mother is very slim. I believe, contrary to popular and wishful thinking, a single doe will not adopt orphaned fawns, and because of this, the fawns will starve or freeze; I have witnessed this type of death many times. 

I suggest that if you shoot a full-sized doe and it has a fawn with it, harvest the fawn also, it saves suffering. I personally believe that Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s numbers of deer populations are over estimated and that, by taking bucks instead of does, the population will recover much faster. Only taking bucks also means it will take longer to fill your tags which translates to more quality time hunting with your buddies. Passing up a doe means you are more likely to get a buck. Often there is a buck nearby, just out of sight.

I have heard people say that a buck in rut is not as good eating as a doe. All I can say is I have never had a bad tasting Sitka Black-tailed deer — especially one where the meat was properly dressed in the field and cared for. After I shoot a buck, I carefully cut off the scent glands on the hind legs then clean my hands and knife. I then gut and skin the deer within 45 minutes of the kill. The meat is usually ground, cut, wrapped and in the freezer within 48 hours, followed by wonderful meals for months to come.

Wishing everyone a safe 2012 hunting season.

The opinions stated here are mine; but I share them with hope that experiences and hard learned truths will be appreciated by at least one other hunter.

• Jay Beedle is a life long Juneau resident who makes his home with his family on Shelter Island.


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