Hunters head to the woods each fall in search of big whitetail bucks. Although luck is one way to bag a big buck, most are the result of active deer management. This takes luck out of the equation and allows you to work with your property and your deer herd to maximize what Mother Nature has given you. The cornerstone of growing and producing big whitetail deer is habitat management.
There are many activities a landowner can implement that would fall under habitat management practices that benefit deer. In general, many of these practices simply involve manipulating the habitat to produce better, more palatable foods for deer. The television shows will tell you to plant food plots, but the most drought-tolerant, longest-lasting food plot consists of native plants.
With an emphasis on whitetail deer management and overall habitat improvement, some general management recommendations for improved habitat would be easy to implement. In forested areas, plan checker board cutting patterns in hardwood forest to provide the maximum amount of edge for deer and other game animals. Areas where sunlight can reach the ground will provide high quality forbs.
In general, smaller blocks or strips of 2 to 10 acres are best for whitetail deer. You can achieve the same result by cutting firewood in 1 to 2 acre clear-cuts to promote habitat diversity, provide for diversity, and promote hardwood regeneration. You may even be able to make some money through timber sales. But if not, shear or doze low quality timber that cannot be sold to regenerate browse plants and trees.
Hunters and landowners should manage the edges of winter cover (forest edges) strictly for browse production so that whitetail deer do not have to travel far to meet their daily nutrition requirements. This will keep more deer on your property during all seasons of the year, especially during the critical times such as summer and winter. It will also keep them healthier and less prone to predators.
You can also improve forest openings for other game and non-game species while conducting deer management and improvement projects. Not only will more forbs and browse plants enhance overall plant diversity, but you can leave some of the existing habitat in place. Make sure to leave all snag and den trees in areas that are “clear-cut.” This provides ares for many birds and small mammals to eat and den.
Though these habitat management practices are great for deer, they will have to be maintained over time. Make sure you maintain forest openings by shearing, disking, or through prescribed burning. This will continually knock back the plants and keep them highly beneficial for whitetail deer. Deer habitat management does take work, but if you enjoy hunting bigger, better whitetail then it should be a labor of love.