Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Did the last deer season leave you with something to be desired? How can you make your next hunting season better than last fall? There are some simple things that you can do to improve your hunting and raise your success rate. It all starts with creating better and more quality habitat.
Winter can be a bit depressing in the upper Midwest, long nights and short days. You can help pass that time by working to improve your hunting land by creating better habitat for the deer. If you can create an ideal living situation for deer, you will have more deer living on your property year around. You can do this by considering three key components; Food, Water and Bedding.
Ideal Deer Habitat
Deer require only a few essentials to survive, all of which can be man-made or at least improved upon by man. If the three key essentials are not present, they will find somewhere else to live. You don’t need large tracts of land to have great deer hunting. You simply need great land that deer want to live on. During the winter months we can manipulate bedding areas and create and improve upon of food sources. Water is more difficult to deal with in the winter months, so creating waterholes and digging in tanks usually needs to be done during the warmer months.
We need to create thermal cover for deer. Just like humans, they want to get out of the elements as best they can. Thermal cover can be anything that allows the deer to shield themselves from deep snow cover, cold days and high winds. We can manipulate these areas by planting conifer stands, native grasses and creating tangled messes with dead falls and hinge cuttings. If they are able to use these areas and able to expose themselves to the warm sunlight, it’s even better.
Start by investigating and scouting your property. If you have a large tract of land available, you can take on larger projects. But, you will see results with doing even very small projects and projects on small parcels of land. Identify those key areas for bedding; whether they are ridge points, ridge tops, high points, areas with southern exposure, etc. Start by removing junk trees or hinge cutting those same trees, trees with little or no timber value or wildlife benefit. This will open the canopy and allow for sunlight to penetrate the forest floor. As a result, the sunlight will be able to get to the ground and you will create warm zones in your woods. This will promote new growth of shrubs, trees and grasses. Within a couple of years you will have great deer habitat.
If you have open areas that would be suitable for bedding cover, you can create it from scratch as well. Plant pockets of conifers to help provide thermal cover; pines, spruce and cedars make great plantings for bedding areas. Plant a variety of species, trees and shrubs that grow at different rates and different heights at maturity. Conifers are quick growing trees, so you should see results within a couple of short years.
Deer need nutritious calories to survive the winter months. Most food sources are either gone or covered in snow throughout the winter. Farmers have most likely harvested their crop and this leaves natural browse or food plots for the deer to feed on. If we identify some keys areas on our property, typically areas close to bedding areas, we can work on getting those areas ready for spring planting.
A little bit of chainsaw work goes a long way. If we open up some these areas, preferably close to bedding areas, we can get the sun to penetrate the ground so that we can grow some deer healthy food. You don’t need any specialized equipment, typically things that most home owners have around their property will be sufficient. The most important part is to plant a variety of food, so that deer can survive year around.
By planting row crops such as corn or soybeans we will be able to feed them in the winter months, when the short in stature food sources are covered by deep snow. Both of these crops can be planted without heavy planting equipment, simply by using some Round-Up and roughing up the ground and dragging the seed in. We also need to plant food that stays green; such as wheat, brassicas, turnips, winter peas, etc. This will help with keeping the deer using the food plot all fall and winter.
If we take the time to do these key things, we will make our hunting better. Who doesn’t want better deer hunting?! Don’t expect your hunting to get better overnight just because you completed some of these projects. It will get better with time and the more improvements that you make the better it will become. In general, there is a reason that the same hunters are successful with killing mature deer year in and year out. They don’t just show up to their stands in the fall and expect to kill a giant buck, they put in effort year around.