There are a lot of varying opinions about Quality Deer Management. I think the main reason is there are a lot of different opinions of quality deer hunting. To most of the hunting community, it doesn't matter how big the buck is only that it is a buck. For some, it is enough to just harvest a deer, regardless of the animals sex. So, what is the correct deer management for you? This depends on what you want to see - this year, next year, and years to come.
Lets start first with deer numbers. If you want to see more deer then does are not what you want to shoot. Here's an example: If you have five bucks and only one doe, how many fawns could be born the following year? A maximum of three, right? Now, if you have one buck and five does, how many fawns could be born the following year? A maximum of 15, right? So, if you are not seeing very many deer, you are either a bad hunter or there are not many deer in the area. In this case, assuming the habitat can handle it, you would let the does go for a few years. I say if the habitat can handle it, because there is such a thing as carrying capacity. This is the amount of deer your property can support at any time of the year. Factors include water, food, and cover. These are the three keys to having a successful deer management scenario.
Water, food, and cover all lead to developing proper deer management. In order to manage any wildlife species, you have to manage the habitat. This is accomplished by planting trees or cutting, field plantings or food plots, ponds, or some sort of watering hole. First, I'll cover cutting or logging. If you can stand at one end of your property and see all the way to the back of your property through the woods, you do not have good deer habitat. Don't get me wrong, they may move through your property, but they do not live there. Fully mature stands of timber offer very little sunlight to the forest floor; thus, providing very little in the way of plant growth low enough for cover or food for the deer. If your property resembles this scenario, you should at least thin the canopy to let more light come in to the ground. It may look pretty open the first year, but you will be suprised how quickly the undergrowth will thicken up. Now, if you have areas of your land that are thick, even if only an acre or two, these are the areas you should leave as sanctuaries for the deer. Hunt around them, but do not go in that area unless you are retrieving the deer or in an emergency. This will give the deer an area where they feel safe, and it will keep the deer on your land instead of your neighbors. To enhance these areas, you could plant tall grasses like switch grass or a warm season grass native to your area. Also, you can cut trees and leave them as deadfalls. I would not recommend cutting a valuable old oak tree for this, rather scrub species that are of no value.
Plantings can include mast producing trees or wind blocks, such as pines or cedars, or it could be low growing shrubs for added cover. Here in Michigan a few years back everyone planted a shrub called Autumn olive. Little did we know then this shrub was very invasive. It spread quick and basically took over any opening it got established in. Good for the deer and other critters, but not very user friendly. I recommend Highbush Cranberry*. It has some of the same characteristics of Autumn Olive, but it is not as fast spreading. Highbush Cranberry also is a food source for deer, birds, and small mammals.
Next, we will discuss food. If you live in farm country, you are saying to yourself there is plenty of food! Well, that is true. But, when are the deer feeding on it? In Michigan, you will see deer out in the fields through about mid-October. After mid-fall, you will only see them in these fields at dusk or after dark with a spotlight. The point is anything you can do to plant food where the deer feel safe, the more chance they will be on your land. I personally hunt in a very agricultural area in Michigan. This year our property is surrounded by corn and alfalfa. Even with all this food available, most of the deer stop to eat at my food plots first before venturing into the field. Basically, the food plots become staging areas where the deer feed until it begins to get dark, then they move to the fields. You can plant anything from rye to turnips and in some states sugar beets. It depends really on when you want to attract the deer and what time of the year they will need it the most. I like to plant clover and chicory as my main food sources. The food plot provides deer with food first thing in the spring and all through summer. For an attractant and for food into the winter months, I plant turnips and rape seed. The rape seed is like a sugar beet leaf , but with no large underground tuber. The rape doesn't become attractive to the deer until the first heavy frost . At this time, the leaves begin to produce sugars becoming like candy to the deer. The deer will eat the whole plant, stalk and all. Any food source you provide will attract deer, you just need to plant it for the season in which you are going to be out there.
Next is water. This is probably the most difficult and sometimes most expensive to achieve. If there is a water source on your property of any kind it is of value. Some states offer assistance to landowners to create wildlife ponds so this may be something to check into. A good water source is just another piece of the bedroom you want to create for your deer. When deer first get up from resting they usually head to the water source for a drink. If this water source is on your land you are lucky, if not your neighbor is probably going to see the majority of the deer first.
That is all for part one of Deer Management. Watch soon for "Part 2: The Buck Discussion - Let 'em grow? It doesn't matter? The choice is yours!"
*Bill is a certified arborist through The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). Learn more about Bill here.
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