With the whitetail season all but wrapped up across most of the country, now is the time to set the stage for next year. Winter is the absolute best time to hit the woods to create whitetail habitat for next season.

Habitat improvement projects come in all shapes and sizes and can range from a couple of hours with a pruning saw to a months of chainsaw work by a logging crew. The important thing to remember is that the woods always can be made better for whitetails and this winter’s work will pay dividends next fall.

Pruning and Releasing Fruit Trees
If you spent a lot of time in the woods last fall you probably ran upon more than a few fruit trees in your hunting area. They pop up all over the place thanks to Mother Nature and wild critters and birds who spread seeds and fertilize at the same time. Wild fruit trees often line fence rows and are commonly found where wooded areas meet open areas. Unfortunately, most of them are on the downside of their life cycle. They are being crowded to death by competing trees and shrub species. They grow tall and spindly in a desperate attempt to gather sunlight. Eventually they quit producing and give up the ghost or topple over. A little TLC with a saw on a winter’s afternoon can breathe new life into them and create a whitetail hot spot years to come.

Overcrowding and overstoring is the number one enemy of fruit producers in the wild. Removing competing trees and shrubs from a 20 to 30 yard radius of the tree will allow it to gather more moisture and nutrients from the ground and receive much needed sunlight. Pay particular attention to clearing shade producing trees from the East, West and South side of the tree as that is the direction most of the sun will be coming from. The tree you are working on will benefit most if direct sunlight is available all day.

Your trees will also benefit from a little winter pruning. Trimming out all dead and decaying branches will help keep diseases and harmful insects from infecting the rest of the tree. Thinning crowding and touching branches will promote summer air circulation, and permit sunlight to reach the ripening fruit. Don’t remove more than 25% to 30% of a trees living branches during thinning. Spreading thinning out over a few years is better than one heavy pruning.

If you own and know how to run a chainsaw, that’s the way to go. Be sure to wear protective leggings, a hard hat and eye and ear protection. A hand-operated bow saw will get the job done as will pruning sawn and lopping shears if you only are dealing with small material. Axes are not only dangerous but make sloppy disease inducing cuts.

You can generally release and prune up a fruit tree or two in a winter’s afternoon. A well-maintained tree will produce fruit year after year and be used by dozens of wildlife species. Best of all, you now have another sure bet to set up on hungry whitetails.