Question: “We have a South Texas ranch were we are attempting whitetail deer management. We have some rolling topography with a lot of variation in plants. On hill tops there is a lot of blackbrush, guajillo, and mountain laurel. I know from doing some research on the food habits on deer that mountain laurel or sage brush is not consumed by deer. So what can I do to make this area better manage for deer? Can I eliminate through chemical application or should I consider some type of mechanical removal? We have some hilltop areas with these low value plants that I would like to manage. Any ideas?”
Deer Management: The best thing that a landowner interested in whitetail deer management can do with plants growing on poor soil is absolutely nothing. That’s right, just leave it alone, at least for the most part. Poor soils are not going to grow much, but will produce warm season and cool season forbs when it rains. These areas that you described provide good summertime deer bedding areas. Deer love to get up on the high spots on windy days to escape biting flies and rest.
Sometimes habitat management for the sake of deer means thinking small. Plants such as purple sage and mountain laurel grow in some of the thinnest and least-productive soils in West and South Texas. If you went in an pushed these areas the removal of these plants that provide screening habitat would leave you devoid of vegetation, until the sage and laurel grow back. This would also leave the soil open for wind and water erosion. The best habitat management recommendation I could give you would be to do nothing major with these areas.
These areas can be manipulated for deer though. Think about shredding a pass or two through the sage so that you can see into it as you drive the ranch. And you will see deer. One of the landowners I know in South Texas manages these areas for deer by cutting senderos and maintaining those openings about every other year. The resulting regrowth black brush and guajillo provide good food sources. The opening provide great forbs and the right times of the year and the sendero allows for whitetail travel through that thick stuff. Deer love these areas!
Concentrate your brush management efforts over the better quality soils for maximum benefit of both time and energy. On South Texas ranches, this often means clearing flood-prone areas or old CRP land with better soils. These can be shreded and plowed in late winter just in time for spring forb growth. When these sites get the rain whitetail deer will hit these food sources heavily, which also provide good nutrition. In managing plant communities found over poor soils, think small when it comes to deer management. Leave most of the stuff in place and manipulate only a portion of it.