By Mark Kenyon
Despite the fact that there is 6-9 inches of snow in the forecast for my part of Michigan today, I’m still holding onto faith that spring is coming. And with spring comes whitetail habitat work.
Soon (hopefully) I’ll be heading into the woods with chainsaw, shovel, ATV and disc. I’ll be getting my hands dirty and I can’t wait. If you own or have access to property you can work on, I’d highly encourage you do the same thing. Habitat work can significantly improve the lives of your local whitetails, it can certainly help your hunting, and it’s just a good way to spend a warm spring day. The benefits of habitat work and food plotting extend far beyond the practical (read more about that here)
So to help you on your whitetail habitat journey these next few months, I wanted to share a few different habitat project ideas with you that might be worth considering. Take a look at these ideas, analyze the current situation on your property, and figure out what makes the most sense! The only mistake would be to do nothing.
Dig A Water Hole: Water is one of the obvious “needs” in a whitetails life, and if you’re in an area that lacks large amounts of standing water, a small waterhole could be a deer magnet. If you have the equipment, you could scoop out a large pond. But for me, and I imagine most others, that’s just not a possibility. Instead, what I’d recommend doing is using a shovel to dig out a 3-5 foot diameter hole and installing a plastic water trough (you could even use a small kiddy pool). Occasionally bring water back to the hole, and make sure a stick emerges from the water, to ensure that small critters can get out. You’ll find that nearby deer will alter their routes to get a quick drink from your water hole, and this can be even more true during hot days or the rut. This is also a great way to get shot opportunities on larger crop fields or food plots. If deer know there is a standing water source, they will more than likely swing by to grab a drink and offer you a shot.
Food Plot Roads: If you have old logging roads or paths through your property, another idea is to plant these in a food plot forage. This is a great way to sneak some extra nutrition providing food onto your property. That said, given there will be more shade in the timber than on your usual food plots, make sure to pick a forage that is shade tolerant. Something like Imperial Whitetail Clover should be ok with 3-4 hours of sunlight.
Hinge Cuts: When it comes to improving bedding areas, hinge cutting is one of the easiest and most effectives methods I’ve tried yet. Simply use a chainsaw to cut small trees (5″ diameter or less) about 70% through, and then slowly push the tree over until the top is on the ground. By doing this you’ll have brought a large amount of cover and food to deer level, but you’ll also keep the tree alive so that it can continue producing new shoots for years to come. This is a quick and easy project that can pay huge dividends down the road. Want more details – read our full post on hinge cutting by clicking this link.
Hidey Hole Food Plots: You don’t need huge open fields to get into the food plotting game, any small opening will do, and sometimes those small spots can be the best. Try carving out a small 1/4 acre or so clearing in the timber on your property, not too far from a bedding area. If you don’t have big equipment, this kind of plot can even be created with a rake to clear and break up the ground, and then by broadcasting seed and fertilizer over top. By getting a small patch of tasty greens near a bedding area, there’s a better than average chance you could catch a buck during daylight grabbing a quick snack before heading towards bigger food sources.
Food Plot or Hunter Access “Screens”: Another smart habitat project to work on is creating “screens” – either with trees or fast/tall growing annual grasses. Screens can be used to accomplish two goals. First, they can be used to fence in a food plot, keeping deer and people from seeing into them, and to keep deer from seeing out of them. This makes deer feel more comfortable feeding in a food plot, and will also hopefully keep deer from seeing you walking towards or away from that food plot. Secondly, you can plant a screen to hide your access or exit from other areas of your property. Lets say hypothetically you need to access a section of your property which requires you walk across a wide open field. Plant a “screen” of egyptian wheat or sorghum, which will grow up to 10 or 12 feet tall, and now you have a wall to walk behind. Small trees, especially conifers, can work great for this too.
I planted food plot screens of egyptian wheat and sorghum on two food plots this past year, and you can see how that looked in the video below.