Whitetail Deer: Take a Holistic Approach to Habitat Management Projects

I mowed. I sprayed. I burned. Plowed, planted, fertilized, and prayed. And finally, a lush food plot emerged. But after … Continued

I mowed. I sprayed. I burned. Plowed, planted, fertilized, and prayed. And finally, a lush food plot emerged. But after a season or two, I realized things weren’t going as planned. Unbelievably, it seemed that my deer hunting was actually getting worse since I’d established this plot. And it was driving me nuts.

But looking back now, I can clearly see the common mistake I’d made. Quite simply, I wasn’t thinking holistically about my habitat improvements.

Holistic. I know it’s a bit of strange word, more commonly used in terms of funky alternative medicine than related to hunting, but trust me—it’s relevant.

This term, holistic, is defined as the “comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” More simply put, it means to think about things as pieces of a larger system, all connected. And that is exactly how we need to think about the habitat projects we implement on our hunting properties: look at the big picture.

The placement of every food source, bedding area, fence crossing, travel corridor, or any other habitat element impacts how deer live and travel on your property—and how you can hunt it. In turn, if any of these aspects change, it will impact the other pieces of the system. And the same goes for any man-made improvements as well. Every food plot, hinge-cut area, or human-created water hole is another addition to this system, which then further impacts all of the above.

If you add a new bedding area, it might change what food sources deer use during daylight. If you add a new food plot, it might change the areas through which deer travel. If you add a new water hole, it might affect where deer bed. The examples are infinite.

So what does this mean for us as hunters and land managers? Most importantly, we need to think about every habitat improvement we make as part of this larger system, and think about the consequences of that change.

Take for example, my food plot. I didn’t think about the larger impacts of that plot, but if I’d thought my plan through a little further, I would’ve seen my mistake.

I placed this food plot in the most easily accessible opening I could get to for a plot, simply because it was convenient for me. Unfortunately, this opening was also right next to the main access point I had to this property. This meant that every morning and every evening when I was headed to or leaving a stand, I was walking right by this area. And guess what? Because I put a food plot there, I had begun to attract deer to it. Which I then proceeded to spook out of the plot whenever I tromped through it.

I changed deer behavior when I planted this plot, but I didn’t think about how that habitat improvement would then impact my ability to access my stands. And unfortunately, this oversight essentially nullified any positive outcomes I might have achieved by planting the plot in the first place.

So next time you’re thinking about implementing a new habitat project, think about how this change will impact the greater system. Think about how it will influence deer behavior, and how it might affect your ability to hunt. And remember that no habitat work or project can be done in isolation. Think about the whole system and all the parts and all the implications. Think holistically.