By Mark Kenyon
For many whitetail hunters and property owners, the ultimate goal is to create a paradise of sorts for deer on their property – where they can live 365 days a year, content with all the food, cover, and safety they could ever ask for. As grand as this dream is, it is unfortunately not a reality for most of us. Constraints such as time, equipment, property size and money all can keep us from having a property such as this. For the majority of hunters who manage land for deer, a more realistic and conservative goal is probably a better option. This goal should be, in my opinion, to create a paradise for deer on our property to live during the hunting season and just afterwards, content with food, cover, and safety. The key factor being the timeframe – during the hunting season and just afterwards. I believe the resource constrained hunter and manager can get the most bang for their habitat improvement buck, if they focus their efforts during this period, and here’s why…
Hunting Season Focus
In the end, all habitat improvements and management plans boil down to one simple goal – to improve our chances of hunting success. So at the very minimum if we’re working with limited resources – we should be focusing our efforts first in the areas that can help us accomplish this goal. To do this, we can focus on habitat improvements that provide benefit during these hunting season months – typically October – December. While it would be great to keep local deer well fed and growing big antlers during the summer, if you can’t get these deer to spend time on your farm during November – there’s no point to feeding them well in the months earlier!
That said, look at your property and the surrounding neighborhood and see what’s lacking in the fall. Does food supply drop dramatically once the local farm fields are harvested? Does the amount of bedding cover dwindle as leaves fall from trees and the woods opens up? Find out where the “holes” are in the local ecosystem, and start filling those.
As you begin your improvements, also be sure to consider how these habitat improvements will actually perform during the fall. If you’re planting a food plot, be sure to focus on a forage that will be most available and digestible during those fall hunting months. As mentioned already, it’s great to feed deer all year round, but if nothing else, I want my plots to help me kill deer. A dormant, warm season food plot that was great in August, but dead in late November doesn’t really help me do that. For me, a fall hunting season food plot that’s been a terrific option has been Whitetail Institute’s Winter Greens. If you’re interested in learning more about this food plot blend, you can read my full review by clicking this link.
Also keep this time frame in mind for improvements to cover. Great bedding cover is much more easy to come by during the summer than it is in the late fall and winter. As leaves comes down, and grasses get flattened, great deer bedding areas become much more scarce. If you can help create the kind of cover that will last through the fall and winter, you will be sure to pull in deer from neighboring properties during the hunting season. In some areas this is even more important than food, as great (undisturbed) cover can be extra hard to come by during these crucial months.
If I were to expand my time range to beyond just the hunting season months, the next most important time period to focus my habitat improvements would be those months in the late winter. It is at this time that food supply is shortest and cover hardest to find, all the while deer are recovering from a long rut, and winter. Now more than ever, deer need serious nutrition and cover- but in most areas it is seriously lacking. If you can afford to do it, providing nutrition that lasts through the winter can fill a serious gap in the whitetails typical nutritional calendar. Deer that have food plots available into February and March will have a much better chance of surviving the winter, and then will have the foundation to beging fawning or antler growing in the spring. The result will be healthier deer, more fawns, and bigger antlers. That sounds like a pretty strong return on investment.
On top of all that, by providing food into the late winter, you’re again providing a unique reason for local deer to spend more time on your property than in surrounding areas. An added perk to this is that it’s at this time that deer are shedding their antlers! If you have the best food and cover in the area during Jan – March, you can almost guarantee you’ll be finding some sheds!
The Most Bang For Your Buck
I would love to provide nutrition and cover for my local deer every day of the year. Unfortunately it’s not a reality. For now, with limited resources, I know I can get the most bang for my buck by focusing on improvements that will benefit deer the most during the hunting season and immediately afterwards. By providing nutrition and cover that peaks during the hunting season, I can realize my ultimate goal of harvesting deer. And then by helping the local deer herd out during the late winter, I can find more sheds, help more deer survive the long winter, and set my deer up for success in the spring when fawns drop and antlers begin to grow. I’d call that a serious bang for my buck!
Do you agree that the resource constrained whitetail manager is best served by focusing his/her efforts during the hunting season just after? Let us know your thoughts or other recommendations in the comments!