By Mark Kenyon
Increased predation from coyotes, bears and wolves. Harsh winters. Disease. Habitat loss. Localized over-harvest.
The possible reasons are plenty, but the realization is simple. Deer herds, across many parts of the country, have hit a rough patch. Deer populations and harvests have been on the decline in states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio – and hunters are taking notice. Sightings are down, buck harvest is down, and even quality of deer is declining in many areas. And after talking to a number of experts, biologists and researchers about this topic, the most common message I’m hearing is that the responsibility for the management of our deer herds is going to need to shift to the individual hunters and managers actually on the ground. There is only so much a fish and game agency can do, and in the end, it’s you and me who needs to start taking responsibility for making sure our local herd is in good shape.
With this being the case, today I wanted to offer up four different ways that you can help your local whitetail herd right now, especially if it’s struggling.
1. Trail Camera Surveys: If you’re trying to effectively and responsibly manage the whitetail population on your property, the first and most important step you need to take is to actually understand where your deer population stands. The best way to do this is to conduct a trail camera survey. When done correctly, it’s been proven that these surveys can provide very accurate estimates for deer populations, sex ratios, and other herd dynamics. That said, rather than me try to explain the full process here, I’d recommend you take a look at an article on QDMA.com which covers trailcam surveys in detail. Before you can make smart decisions about your local deer herd and habitat, you need to accurately understand that herd. Trailcam surveys are the way to do that. Learn more at “How To Run A Trail Camera Survey”
2. Hinge Cut: For many whitetail herds across the country, high quality food and cover is becoming an issue. Cover is especially taking a beating as development expands into rural areas, and farmers continue clearing wood lots and fencerows to put more ground into production. To thrive, deer need plenty of food and cover, especially during the winter months that we’re living through at the moment, and hinge cutting is a great tool for improving both. For those not familiar, hinge cutting is a process of partially cutting through small trees and then bending the treetops down to ground level. This process allows the tree to stay alive and continue producing new buds and shoots, but also brings new cover down to deer level and opens the canopy to sunlight which stimulates new growth in the understory. Now is an awesome time to try hinge cutting, as you can create new bedding areas that will thicken up over the spring and summer, and you can also get tree tops to deer level where they can be browsed during these winter months. For more details on hinge-cutting visit “Hinge Cutting To Hold and Hunt Mature Bucks”.
3. Predator Control: If your whitetail population is struggling, one of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face will be handling predation. Predator populations are growing rapidly in many parts of the country, and while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in all cases, it still does need to be managed. Coyotes and bears, especially, have been found to make a very significant dent into fawn populations in the spring, and if your whitetail herd is already struggling with a tough winter, bad habitat or disease – losing a significant number of your fawns to predators is going to greatly hamper any recovery efforts. That said, now is a great time to look into a predator control solution – such as trapping or hunting coyotes.
4. Plan Your Food Plots: As noted earlier, if your local herd is struggling, habitat most likely is part of your issue. Cover needs to be addressed, and you can do some of that work right now. But food is another area that can be improved, although most likely that will need to wait until spring. None-the-less, now is a great time to start planning your food plot projects. Check out the short video we created called “4 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Planting A Food Plot” to help you begin these preparations. Once you’ve answered those questions, start gathering the tools and resources you’ll need in the next couple months to actually get your food plots in the ground. Come planting time, you’ll be glad you did the prep now and not at the last minute. Want more advice on improving habitat for deer on your property? Check out our “Best Of” page and scroll down to the habitat section, where you’ll see a bunch of great articles on these topics.