Why You Should Improve Your Whitetail Habitat
June 24, 2014
Since beginning whitetail habitat improvement projects several years ago, many aspects of my life and hunting have changed. Without a doubt, I've seen more and bigger deer, and I've had better opportunities at mature bucks on the properties I've invested in.
But just as important, I've become more connected and in tune with the natural world around me. I've found that getting a green thumb and improving habitat has led to better deer, better hunting and a better me.
The benefits of whitetail habitat improvement are most often discussed in the context of how these projects improve conditions for deer. And for good reason. If you own property, or have access to property that you're allowed to work on, there are endless ways you can help the local whitetail residents.
Food plots, apple trees and other man-enhanced food sources help provide nutrition for whitetails, which help them survive tough winters, reach their full genetic potential, and grow bigger antlers and bodies.
On the other hand, projects to improve bedding areas can also make a tremendously positive difference. Hinge-cutting, timber stand improvement (TSI) or planting cedars can help deer feel more secure and safe, while also providing them a better chance of weathering tough conditions during the winter.
The options are endless, and you'll find troves of advice and instruction in other places. So if you enjoy and appreciate deer, and have the ability to help, why wouldn't you? On top of that, from a hunting perspective, there are also some nice perks to having bigger, healthier bucks as well.
Speaking of hunting, habitat improvement projects can also improve your odds of hunting success. As mentioned, habitat work can lead to bigger, healthier deer, which may improve your satisfaction when hunting. But if strategic about how you implement your improvements, you can also better determine how deer will use and travel your property — allowing you to better hunt them.
As renowned whitetail habitat consultant Jeff Sturgis puts it, "It's not about how much you can improve your parcel, but instead how those improvements can be defined and fit together."
Take the placement of food plots, for example. If planned correctly, you can use food plots to influence where deer spend their time at different points in the day. You can then use this knowledge to better plan stand locations for different times of the day or season, along with proper access routes to those stands.
By using techniques to purposefully improve bedding areas for does in certain locations, you can position yourself to have better stand sites during the rut.
Whatever your particular habitat project might be, if thought out properly, your investment can pay dividends not just in improved habitat for deer, but also in improved hunting for you.
Now, as impressive as all of these aforementioned benefits to conducting habitat improvements are, I'll forever have a green thumb for whitetails for another reason altogether.
For me, it's the intangibles. There's nothing quite like the grit of fresh dirt under my fingernails; the firm press of soil around a newly planted tree; or anxiously awaiting rain and watching fresh, new greens curiously sprout from the ground and slowly reach toward the sun. When I spy a doe and two fawns happily feeding in the lush carpet of clover I planted months earlier, the corners of my grin rise that much more.
Before beginning my own habitat projects, I never would have cared, noticed or experienced these small joys.
The less often discussed benefits of habitat work are what now seem to stick with me most. And despite the obvious benefits to my deer hunting experience that habitat improvements offer, it seems at times that the greatest improvement I find is within myself.
As a result of this work, I am more connected and appreciative of our natural earth and it's bounty. And, ultimately, I'm humbled by the opportunity to give back, even if it's only in some small way.
Get A Green Thumb
If you have the opportunity, get out this spring and try your hand at working the land. You'll help the deer, improve the odds of hunting success and maybe even get a better perspective about life.
3. Set up Trail Cameras
Successful hunters know that keeping track of deer movement is important, and summer is a great time for setting up cameras
to collect as many photos as possible. Doing so will give you a better idea of deer movement patterns in the area.
More importantly, you'll have an idea of which deer are utilizing your hunting area as part of their home range. You might be able to intercept a buck early in the season but, just as importantly, if you do your homework
you'll figure out the deer's home range and will be close by when the rut is in full swing in late autumn.
4. Check Your Gear
Many hunters completely forget about checking their gear
until the hunting season rolls around, and that can spell trouble. You're going to spend precious time and money at the sporting goods store replenishing supplies during the season if you neglect your field equipment in the summer. The summer months are the perfect time to address any issues, and chances are you'll find there's plenty of work to be done.
There's nothing worse than heading to the woods in the fall only to find out your stand is falling apart and a mouse has a made a nest of your safety harness. That's why it's never a bad idea to actually gear up and head out to your favorite hunting spot in August to check all of your equipment. You can even shoot a few targets from your stand to help improve field accuracy. Also, be sure that your rangefinder has new batteries, and that your hunting knife and broadheads are sharpened.
5. Clear Travel Paths
Overgrown plants create a major obstacle when you're trying to get to your stand quickly and quietly in the fall. Take some time during the summer to clear an access path to your hunting area, and be sure that you have multiple routes available depending upon the wind conditions.
Nothing ruins an early season hunt like tripping and stumbling to your stand as you cross fallen logs and navigate through forests of honeysuckle and multiflora rose. A clear path allows for a quiet approach.
10. Collect and Organize Data
The long summer days are perfect for scouting your hunting area, so spend plenty of time in the woods looking for deer signs. In addition, keep your intel organized so you're in the right spot come fall. I place all my photos from the summer in separate folders on my laptop so I can quickly see which deer are frequenting which cameras.
Keep detailed notes about feeding and movement patterns, and write down any info you glean from landowners. Having all this info in one spot makes it easier to develop a game plan and will up your odds of success in the fall.
9. Plant and Maintain Food Plots
One of the primary duties of land managers in the late spring and summer is establishing food plots
. There's much work to be done; soil testing, plowing, planting, fertilizing, mowing and spraying should all be completed in advance of the fall hunting season.
Additionally, it's always a good idea to monitor your food plots for any signs of deer activity. Maintaining your food plot during the summer ensures that your deer will have the nutrients they need to grow big antlers.
8. Get in Shape
Most deer hunting isn't particularly demanding, but it's important to be sure that you are in shape
for the upcoming season. Spend some time walking and working out so that you don't crumple under the strain of dragging a big buck out of a deep drainage later in the year.
If you are bowhunting
, be sure that you are physically capable of drawing and holding your bow. A week before the season starts is too late to make up for a lazy summer.
6. Pattern the Does
There's an old adage that if you want to find the bucks, follow the does. So don't ignore the lady deer as you scout during the summer months
Does are often more visible, and their travel patterns remain roughly the same throughout much of the year. If you know where the does are spending their time you'll be in position to intercept a buck when the rut hits later in the year.
1. Sight In Your Bow or Rifle
If you wait until the week before the season to sight in your gun or bow, you'll likely have to wait in line at the shooting range. But if you're serious about making a good, clean shot (and we should all be serious about that) then you need to spend plenty of time tuning your bow or rifle before then.
The long summer days are perfect for getting your weapon in working order, and you want to have plenty of practice time in when you hit the woods. Starting early gives you a chance to find the right load or broadhead/arrow combination, and the range will probably be less crowded.
7. Visit Landowners
Growing up on a farm, I can attest to the fact that most hunters show up only when they want permission to hunt or when the season has actually started. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. But if a landowner has given you permission to hunt, it's a good idea to stop by for a visit in the summer.
Perhaps you can offer to lend them a hand around their property. There's always work that needs to be done on large acreage, and showing up early to help out makes the landowner understand that you do appreciate the fact that they allow you to hunt on their property.
2. Talk to Farmers
Very few people have a better understanding of what's going on in your hunting area than local farmers. Since they spend much of the summer planting, spraying, and baling hay, farmers usually have a pretty good idea of what the deer are doing.
They may also know where the big bucks are feeding, which is invaluable intel. In addition, most farmers are bombarded by requests to hunt their land in the late summer and early fall. Getting out early and speaking with the local landowners may help you get a foot in the door.
About the Author
Mark Kenyon runs Wired To Hunt, one of the top deer hunting resources online, featuring daily deer hunting news, stories and strategies for the whitetail addict.