Most challenging whitetail is long-nosed doe

Oak Duke

Whitetail hunters, for the most part, have been led down a path of, for lack of a better term, "antler worship."

Antlers, and not just any antlers, but BIG antlers are the nationwide symbol of a successful hunt. Almost without exception, the larger the antlers, the more successful the deer hunt.

Big pointed white bones are proof of our woodsmanship, shooting ability, good karma or luck, and most recently, wherewithal.

And we hold them up with pride.

Yet those of us who have spent our time and paid our dues in the woods may know deep down, if not admit out-loud so that our buddies can hear, that there is a deer out there that offers us an even greater challenge than that big dominant buck on the mountain.

Maybe the time is right for experienced deer hunters finally to fess up, right the ship, tell the truth and shame the devil.

The whitetail that has winded us the most, alerted the rest of the herd more times than we can count, and led the rest of the deer away from our best hunting tactics, drives, and stands is: the old long-nosed, matriarch doe.

After interviewing countless successful deer hunters over the years, through the archery, shotgun, rifle, and muzzleloader seasons, the conclusion that the old long-nosed doe is really the most challenging trophy is as plain as the nose on her face, but difficult to admit.

Deer hunters like to think that a big buck is the alpha male, the king, Numero Uno. But in the world of the whitetail, the old doe is the leader.

When she suddenly stops in an alert pose, all the rest of the deer wait for her to give the "all clear" flick of the tail.

Granted, often she is not the first deer to enter the clover-covered food plot. She is too smart for that. She will most often allow the more youthful members of her herd or family group to test the danger first. And then she will stand, like a statue; checking all ambient scents, looking for movement and listening for any signal of danger.

During the rut, bucks are often mesmerized by the presence of the doe and it is obvious to even a casual observer that in the inimitable way of the whitetail, the trust for the safety of the group has been somehow passed to the old long-nosed doe.

She is undoubtedly the oldest deer in the herd, maybe 5, 6, 7 years old or more. The oldest buck on the hill might qualify to be her great, great, great, great grandson. Few bucks survive past 3 years of age on even managed properties, once their antlers reach a certain size. Does in captivity live 15 to 20 years.

And she knows best where the feed is, where the safest bedding area is located, when to move, and how to travel from one preferred covert to another. Old does are like gray ghosts and hunters rarely see them.

Actually, the most foolish deer, and the one that seems to make the most mistakes is the young, yearling buck; often a spike or four-pointer.

Researchers have shown with radio-tracking collars that yearling bucks often leave their home range and travel great distances.

Of course, once outside of their home turf, their survival becomes more problematical because they don't know where they are going, or how to get there.

The origin of the term, "long-nosed" doe come from the obvious fact that an old doe's nose actually grows up to 2 inches beyond the end of their muzzles.

Young deer have short muzzles and their nose is even with their lower jaw. Not so with the old matriarch of the woodlands. Her nose has grown so long that it almost hangs off the front of her snout.

Compared to a dandy set of horns, a big old black nose by itself may not seem to be much of a trophy, the central focus of "hero" photos and the stuff deer hunter's dreams are made out of, but the hunter who was able to outwit that doe was as accomplished in the craft of deer hunting as any that ever filled out buck tag - no matter how big the horns.

Daily Reporter