Your Deer Hunting Property | Three Things You Need
Imagine sitting in your tree stand on opening morning of deer hunting season. You are completely relaxed because you can virtually guarantee that the whitetails will show up as the sun rises. You sit back calmly to await the deer parade that will walk right past your stand.
While that may be a bit of a stretch, it is definitely possible to stack the deck in your favor when it comes to attracting deer to your property. There are three primary things deer need in their every-day lives. If you can provide food, water, and cover on your land, you should be able to hold deer fairly well within your boundaries. That is critical if your land is surrounded by heavily pressured areas, as whitetails will steadily move onto your property to avoid the onslaught of hunters around you.
There are hundreds of ways to provide more food to your deer herd. An obvious way to provide calories is to plant food plots on your property. You see it all the time on your favorite deer hunting videos. It’s important to provide both perennial and annual species within your border, and plant a mixture that will offer calories throughout the year. Perennials (e.g., Evolved Harvest clover, chicory, alfalfa, etc.) can last around five years with good maintenance. They provide food for much of the growing season, which makes them fairly cost-effective. Annuals (e.g., corn, soybeans, brassicas, grains, etc.) are only available for the year you plant them, but they are very attractive in that time. Some species are only attractive after they have matured or their seed has ripened, while others provide forage opportunities throughout the summer, as well.
Another not-so-obvious way is to manage natural habitat on your property to produce abundant browse and forb species at ground level. This can be accomplished by doing timber stand improvement projects, such as hinge-cutting or selective cutting. These TSI cuts open the forest canopy and let more sunlight to the forest floor, which spurs new and vigorous growth for several years. If you’re not very comfortable making the call yourself, consult a forester for advice on which trees to cut and which method would be best.
Following the TSI work you’re doing, you can simultaneously plant and manage your property for mast species. Acorns, especially from white oak species, are very attractive in the fall. Soft mast species (e.g., apples, pears, persimmons, plums, etc.) provide a lot of food per acre, as well. Once they’re used to eating these species, you can also use similar-smelling Buck Bomb scents during the hunting season to further attract deer.
This is a no brainer, but deer need water just as much as we do. If you have a ditch, pond, creek, or even a river flowing through your land, you are covered. If you don’t have one of those features, you can make one yourself in a weekend with some farm equipment or sweat equity. The simplest idea, of course, is to dig a small hole with a shovel and place either a children’s pool into it or lay a tarp across the bottom of the hole and weigh it down with rocks. Let them fill up with rainwater, and be sure to place a large branch into it so small animals can climb out if they fall in.
The other option is to use a backhoe to dig a pond that will fill up from precipitation and natural groundwater. You should check your local regulations before doing so, though. Don’t try this approach on sandy soils or on a ridgetop, as you’re unlikely to be successful in these areas, which would be better suited to the first option.
Without adequate habitat, deer likely won’t stay long on your land. It doesn’t matter if you have the best water and food source around, they simply won’t linger throughout the daylight hours without some kind of cover. They need to feel secure from predators (including us), have adequate bedding and fawning habitat, and use heavy cover to escape the elements as well.
A good habitat management plan will involve several items. Basically, you need to provide what the surrounding landscape is missing. If the lands around you lack winter cover, you should plant pockets of conifer species (e.g. spruces, pines, etc.) for thermal protection. If there is very little fawning habitat around you, you could plant native warm season grasses for bedding cover. If deer hunting pressure is an issue in your area, designate a portion of the interior of your property to be a sanctuary area where they can always feel safe without any human intrusion.
If you can meet these three basic needs on your land, you will see your deer hunting success improve drastically. You’ll see more deer, and hold more of them on your land throughout the year. Who knows? Maybe you’ll get your deer parade after all.