This Spooky Old Doe was a Trophy Deer

December 17, 2023 By: Lindsay Thomas Jr.

Even though I had the wind in my favor, she walked in asking to speak to the manager. Those ears were like radar dishes, the nose skeptical, the front leg lifted and ready to stomp. The biggest of three, her antics made the other two nervous. They held up behind the old doe, all of them just out of bow range, while I stood ready to draw.

We needed to get a few does down at Grace Acres, and this opportunity to tag one in early October, before firearms season and the rut, was huge. But this long-necked nanny somehow sensed the danger ahead, though she didn’t see me and didn’t appear to be smelling me. Forget about mature bucks. I’ve come to believe the toughest deer in the woods to tag is a nosy old doe.

When she finally snorted, I knew it was over. Except it wasn’t. She took a few more steps in my direction, looking and sniffing for me. She continued snorting, stomping and complaining until, finally, she turned broadside as if to leave – her only mistake. It had been a while since I was this pleased to put a particular deer in the freezer.

old doe
The author with an archery season doe harvest from the 2022 season in Georgia, a deer that ended up being the oldest confirmed-age doe Lindsay has ever taken.

How Old Was This Doe?

Behavior alone told me this doe was probably a dominant, mature animal. She had an unusual jaw as you can see in the photo below. She suffered some kind of gum or bone decay that enlarged her mandibles and caused her molars to sink in the middle. The tooth wear pattern was unusual as a result. It’s possible she had previously suffered a food impaction, which often causes tooth and bone decay, but if she had, the impaction was now gone.

old doe
The doe had tooth and bone decay on both sides of its jaw, which causes unusual wear patterns. Lindsay sent an incisor tooth to a lab for cementum age analysis.

Given the cost, I had never sent a doe’s incisor for cementum analysis, but I was very curious to be certain about this one. Matson’s Lab gave her a confidence grade of “A” and an age estimate of 8½. She is my oldest confirmed deer. No wonder she was super cautious and acutely tuned to her surroundings.

Too many deer hunters think of only one definition for a “trophy” deer, but there are many. A hunt can produce prized memories without even producing a harvest. A deer can produce prized memories without even carrying big antlers. Or any antlers.

The Challenge of Hunting an Old Doe

It is always a good idea to maintain a regular doe harvest of some level to help maintain deer density in balance with available forage and nutrition. A good way to inspire yourself to do this is to hunt for the oldest, most wary does in the area, the same way you probably hunt bucks. The challenge of taking a mature doe can extend the excitement of deer season after your buck tag is filled. You’ll also add venison to your freezer or to a neighbor’s table who could use it.

old doe

You’ll also be removing the most alert, cautious deer in the woods, the ones that often spoil hunts by alerting other deer to your presence. These spooky old does teach their offspring how to avoid you, too.

And if you are fortunate enough to tag a long-nosed deer alarm, consider sending an incisor tooth for cementum aging, or at least save the jawbone. I keep this doe’s jawbones among all my other prized deer-hunting mementos, a reminder of my oldest deer harvest, a memorable and successful hunt, delicious venison, and the final snort from one crabby, irritating old nag.

About Lindsay Thomas Jr.:

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is NDA's Chief Communications Officer. He has been a member of the staff since 2003. Prior to that, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.