When is the best time to fill those antlerless tags?
As soon as I squeezed the trigger, I knew it wasn't good. The doe's body language didn't indicate a hit and was an obvious sign I'd screwed up my attempt to fill my antlerless deer tag on the second to last day of the 2021 Michigan firearms deer season. I was filming the hunt and rolled the footage back to reveal an obvious spray of dirt just short of the doe.
I got out of my stand to confirm I'd only given the deer a good scare. Either my scope was bumped, or I had pulled the shot. With only one day left in the season, I didn't have time to go to the range to confirm it. Not wanting to chance wounding a deer, I ended up calling it a season right there.
This got me wondering a bit. Had I waited too long to fill my antlerless deer tags? There's a lot of factors to consider when deciding when to use those tags.
Early antlerless has never felt convenient.
When faced with the conundrum of when to use an antlerless tag, I must admit I've never taken advantage of Michigan's early antlerless season which takes place in mid-September. Many states have seasons like this, but I've never felt the need to go out and fill the freezer this early. My main reason for not taking advantage of it is a matter of weather. It's usually still hot out in Michigan in September, and the bugs are usually still out. My idea of fun while hunting does not include sweating on the stand and slapping mosquitoes away.
Speaking of warm weather, that's the biggest reason I haven't tried to harvest a deer this early. One must work quickly to avoid any meat spoilage, something that becomes more difficult if you are unlucky enough to make a bad shot. I don't know about you, but I hate racing the clock to try and get my deer to the processor.
That's not a dig at people who take advantage of these seasons. I'm simply stating it's not for me, and I suspect plenty of other hunters feel the same.
Archery season makes a little more sense.
Using your antlerless tags makes a little more sense in the early part of archery season. Here in Michigan, it runs from October 1 until firearms season starts on November 15. I know many hunters are hesitant to take a doe in the early part of the season. Because there's still a chance you can catch some of those bucks on your trail cameras in an early pattern before hormones start kicking in for the rut. Sometimes, the first few days are one of the best times to harvest a big buck. Personally, I've never felt comfortable taking a doe that early knowing the bucks may be close behind.
Perhaps the October lull is the best time to take a doe? It makes sense to us considering that is when buck sightings often decrease before the rut kicks into full gear. The only problem with using your tag then is you are likely to have fewer overall deer sightings, which may reduce your opportunities.
The first few weeks of November.
Using the antlerless tag in early and mid-November is always risky. Because with the rut in full swing, there's a chance that doe could draw in a big buck at any moment. You just never know what may be trailing her when you first spot an antlerless deer this time of year. It's why I never harvest an antlerless deer those first ten days of firearms season.
In high pressure states like here in Michigan, I've always believed you run the risk of giving away your position to any big bucks in the area when you pop a doe too early. I know there are plenty of hunters who have harvested does and then later shot bucks. It can happen, but I've seen an increase in deer sightings ever since I took a more patient approach to filling my tags in recent years. I feel like I've had better chances at bucks when I've held off on that antlerless tag that's burning a hole in my pocket.
It's a tough call when deciding to use these tags in November. It's the prime time for deer activity, perhaps even the only chance you'll get at an elusive big buck. I've been tempted to fill the freezer when it's convenient before, and it's come back to bite me when I had to eat tag soup at the end of the season. Personally, if Michigan extended late antlerless through all of January for the whole state, I would probably always be tempted to keep January specifically for antlerless deer.
There is probably no wrong time, but your choice might depend on your area.
In truth, there is probably no right or wrong time to harvest an antlerless deer. Especially if you do not care about antlers and just want to fill your freezer. Anyone who wants to bag a big buck probably should think at least a little bit strategically on when and where they are going to use their antlerless tags. If you want to bag a big buck, it's probably a better idea to harvest one early or late while leaving the rut open for those prime chances at a big buck.
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