The roe doe season finishes at the end of March for rifle hunters and gamekeepers, and the sooner you can get your cull done, the better. Here’s how to do it…
Many argue that you don’t need March to complete the roe doe cull. Indeed, up until the Regulatory Reform Order of 2007 we didn’t have the option – the doe season was only four months, ending at the end of February. It was, of course, still very much doable.
In February, pregnant females emerge from inappetence needing food, leading to an increased number of opportunities for the stalker.
If you can manage it, finishing by 28 February gives you a month to take stock, to undertake a comprehensive census, and to allow the now heavily pregnant does a time of low stress just before giving birth.
And that might indeed be the ideal way to do it – but this is real life, and things don’t always pan out that way. Shooting the required number of does is much harder than bucks, with the five-month season eclipsed by the game season in many areas, giving deer managers limited time to get out on the ground without interfering in shooting interests.
Plus, daylight is short, the weather more inclement, and if you want to leave it all to February, that gives you a lot of work to do in 28 short days – you really need to maximise your chances and, if need be, put off all your other obligations to give you enough time in the field.
So in reality, we may well end up culling into the month of March. When undertaking these last-minute stalks, the key is to keep things ‘low-stress’ for the does, who have been putting up with stalking pressure for four months already. The key is to pick a few dates, stalk concertedly on these, then go back to leaving them alone the rest of the time.
If you don’t, you’ll be working against your own purposes – if they are stalked every day, deer will soon become alert to any movement around the forest, and can eventually be driven into nocturnal behaviour. The more they disappear from the daylight hours, the harder they will be to stalk.
Want to achieve this with minimum fuss? Method one is to look for groups (bevvies) of deer, from which you might be able to take a number of does and followers. Identify the primary doe you will take; the attendant kid will be confused when the doe collapses, giving you an opportunity. You do need to keep an eye on the follower to ensure you get the right one.
Then you will have to quickly assess the remainder of the bevvy if there are others earmarked to shoot. These will soon get over the confusion and be led away by the buck, so don’t hang around.
Method two is to organise a group deer moving day, in which one stalker who knows the ground can push deer to waiting rifles. Get the rifles in their seats quietly, work the wind to send scent forwards and move the deer slowly across the forest. Doing this, you should be able to finish off the cull in one day.
After all this, don’t forget that the buck season starts on 1 April, and you need to have a plan in advance of this too. So whether or not you’re still stalking, you need to get out there and take stock, undertake a comprehensive census, and formulate a selection plan for the bucks just as you would for the does (as well as identifying any particularly promising specimens and their routines).
Counting deer has become easier since NV and thermal imaging equipment became available to the stalker for observation purposes, but there is still no substitute for time spent really getting to know your deer and assessing whether individuals fit the cull plan.
If you have fallow on your ground, March is a key month for them too – they can be elusive and stalking them eats up more time than you might like.
If you want to keep the populations of the two balanced, you need to address this, as the bigger species can quickly strip away the food sources at ground level in forested areas, leading to the displacement of roe to areas where they cause more damage.
Always think of what’s best for populations as a whole. Your success as a stalker is judged not by how many times you pull a trigger, but by how healthy your deer herd is next year, and the one after that.
Top tips for the doe cull
• One of the most important parts of managing deer is the management plan – so stick to it whatever happens. Carrying out your plan correctly will ensure you keep your stock in a good, healthy condition, and will increase the quantity as well as quality of your herd as a whole.
• Look after your own safety. Having a charged mobile phone with you, preferably in a waterproof case, is a must, as is letting someone know where you are stalking, the proposed routes and time you plan to return. Consider carrying a map and compass too. You really can’t overdo it.
• The foxer’s tip: get your deer tolerant to vehicles. This can take years to achieve fully, but it is doable simply by getting them used to seeing vehicles without there being any associated threat. Eventually, the deer become visible, approachable, settled and thus manageable and easy to census.
• Keep track of which does are seen pregnant and with followers, so by the time March comes, you know which does are barren and which simply lost their follower that year. Obvious barren does can be earmarked for next November.
• Your management plan means nothing if your neighbours aren’t following one too. Co-operation across boundaries is key. You can’t end up shooting too many out of fear that your neighbour will fill their freezer first.