Hunting: strategies change for when to use an antlerless deer license

The new Antlerless Deer Permit (ADD) system has certainly created some confusion among hunters, primarily due to the differences between it and the previous system. It’s really not that complicated, but even once they get the hang of it, hunters will have choices to make about how and when to use their license.

Under the old system, people selected for a deer permit (also ADP, and you can see why there is confusion) had a choice. They could shoot their only dollar allowed with a regular big game license, or they could shoot an antlerless deer instead. Anyway, they only got one deer. Under the new system, their permit is for an additional deer, but it must be antlerless. Whether they shoot the antlerless deer before or after, they can still make money too.

Traditionally, many hunters held their deer license as a sort of insurance policy. They would be looking for money, but if the season ended unsuccessfully, they still had their ADP to fall back on. Unfortunately for many, the decision to use it often came too late and they were left with nothing.

This lack of filled ADPs was a partial reason for the new system. Antlerless harvesting is an important component of deer management systems because it represents the reproductive potential of the deer herd. Under the old system, wildlife managers could predict approximately how many antlerless deer would be taken for a given number of permits. As results became less and less predictable, harvest level targets were not being met.

Under the new system, fewer licenses have been issued because more hunters are expected to use them, or at least try to, because they can still hunt for a dollar. However, this still leaves them the choice of when to use their ADP.

There are good reasons why completing this ADP early might be a better option. First, there are more deer, which increases the chances of encountering one. Second, putting meat in the freezer takes the pressure off, not to mention give a little confidence boost.

There is also a biological reason. Some hunters might as well keep the does around at least during the rut, as they will attract bucks. However, if you remove a few does before the rut, there will be fewer of them and the bucks will have to travel more to find them, making them more vulnerable.

Also, a buck has to expend a certain amount of energy to find a doe and then tend to and mate with her. If that doe is then removed from the population after the rut, all of the energy expended by the buck is wasted, and you potentially remove three stags from next year’s population. Taking a doe before the rut removes only one deer, and there will still be plenty left to breed and later bear fawns, and they will face less competition for food and space.

There is also the question of which deer to take. Most hunters aren’t too picky and just pick whichever offers the best shooting opportunity. Wildlife managers have determined that a number can be safely removed without harming the population, so age and size don’t really matter statewide or even from the district.

However, maturity generally makes for better mothers, bearing and rearing more fawns. Thus, the removal of an adult female could have a slightly greater impact on local productivity. Yearling females might be a better choice, as they are more likely to carry a singlet than twins, and are a little less experienced and efficient at raising young.

Although not the preferred choice for most hunters, taking an even younger antlerless deer might even be a better choice. This age class has the highest mortality rate, so some of them won’t make it out anyway, and hunting mortality is compensatory rather than additive. Their reproductive potential is much lower, so the impact on productivity is minimal.

Ultimately, it is up to the hunter whether or not to shoot an antlerless deer, and if he does, when and which one to shoot. Fortunately, there is no wrong answer.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered guide from Maine who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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