In most parts of the country the blanket of snow that’s covered our landscape for months is gone and warmer temperatures are just around the corner. For many hard core whitetail hunters that means getting a little dirt on your hands and putting in food plots. Providing proper nutrition for your deer herd is a key to killing better bucks no matter how big or small your hunting property might be. As important as establishing quality food plots is, they’re only one piece of the puzzle.
Deer have three basic needs: Food, water and cover. Natural browse, crops and the creation of food plots can provide plenty of nutrition for most deer herds. Water can be found in the form of creeks, lakes, ponds and rivers in most areas of the country. Chances are the property you hunt has some sort of water source for your deer.
The third aspect of quality whitetail habitat is cover. This is an area often put second to food plots but it can actually be even more important. Establishing food plots on your property can definitely increase the number of deer you’ll see and help bucks to increase antler size due to better nutrition. But good food alone won’t hold more deer on your ground without thick cover where they feel safe. This is especially important to holding and growing bigger bucks.
Increasing cover and bedding areas can appear to be a daunting task leaving you with a chain saw in one hand and scratching your head with the other. A few years back I was faced with this very problem on one of my main pieces of hunting ground — 30 acres owned by my grandparents, 22 acres of crop fields and food plots and eight acres of timber. It’s far from the ideal piece of ground but I work with what I’ve got.
I had been putting food plots in for a couple years and the number of deer using the property was on the rise. The number of good bucks that were showing up on my trail cameras was also headed in a positive direction but the bucks seemed to merely be passing through and not staying on the property. This was due in part to the fact that I was working with such a small tract of land but also because there was no sufficient cover for an older buck to feel safe in.
Sure, the eight acres of timber had a few pockets that served as bedding areas for does and young bucks but nothing that would hold the kind of buck I was after. I researched methods of timber stand improvement and hinge cutting. All sounded great in theory but who has that kind of time? I certainly did not. The fact that my name was not on the land deed presented another challenge, the idea of cutting perfectly good trees down so the deer like it better doesn’t make the most sense to someone whose world revolves around something other than deer hunting. So I had to find another solution that everyone involved would agree to.
Selective timber logging was the answer I had been looking for. Select-cutting is done by logging companies that pay you for some of the timber on your land and do so without making a huge mess of things. In the Midwest, loggers are looking for walnut, oaks and hickory mainly but only focus on large mature trees.
When I first learned this I was worried all the oaks that provide the bulk of the acorn crop would be gone and was very hesitant but that wasn’t the case. I set aside a few sections not to be logged that had good acorn-producing trees near the edge of the timber so I could still hunt them easily. The loggers came in and did their thing, leaving the timber with a much different appearance than before and my grandfather with almost $2,000 in his pocket.
The logging company created two logging roads to get their equipment in and out of the timber that with a little work were turned into outstanding clover plots. The rest of the area was littered with tree tops that are of no use for the loggers but serve as great bedding cover for deer. With the canopy opened up sunlight could reach places it had not shined in years, the understory grew back extremely thick providing the deer shelter and natural forage. This process did not happen overnight however. The timber was logged in early summer and it was not until the following summer that it looked like the jungle it is today.
We now leave almost the entire eight acres as sanctuary, hunting only the edges of the timber and crop fields that surround it. Since creating the thick cover, my food plots have become even more valuable. Instead of deer filtering in from other properties in all directions, now the majority of them file out of the sanctuary area and some of them are better bucks.
If you own hunting ground or have hunting rights to an area where the land owner would allow selective timber harvest, this could be just what you need to make sure your stands are hung in that big buck paradise you’ve always dreamed of.
-Tyler Ridenour, Antler Geek
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