10 Steps to Better Deer Hunting

Outdoor Life Online Editor

1. "Release" apples, pears, persimmons and any other soft-mast producing trees you may have on your property. Many properties already have soft mast producers in place. They are hidden in old hedgerows and in overgrown fields. They are sporadic producers and are probably headed for a slow but certain death. "Releasing" them by removing competing trees and nearby brush will give them a new lease on life and increase production. Outdoor Life Online Editor
2. "Encourage" old fields and open spaces. Abandoned fields and clearings produce all kinds of wildlife food and cover. But sometimes they need a little help. If your old field is too old it may be headed for the woodlot. Cutting back the heavy woody stuff with a saw or mower (after the nesting season) will keep old fields "young." If your old fields are not producing tons of wildlife friendly weeds, forbs and shrubs they may be suffering from "invasive grass choking." Invasive grasses such as fescue can limit growth of beneficial species. Mowing can stimulate invasives and should be curtailed. Invasives may need to be eliminated manually or chemically. Outdoor Life Online Editor
3. Let it go, let it grow. Allowing the back corner of a field or clearing to grow up into wildlife habitat is as simple as putting the cutting machine and plow away for a couple of years. Agricultural practices, while producing food (until harvest), strip properties of valuable wildlife cover. If your property's acreage primarily dedicated to producing hay, corn or beans or other agricultural products you might want to start growing weeds and brush. Outdoor Life Online Editor
4. Plant something! Many deer hunting properties have never seen a plow disk or even a shovel. You can make a habitat difference by planting. You may need to plant spruce for winter cover. A half dozen apple trees can be planted in a couple of hours. Newly developed oaks are capable of producing acorns in a half dozen years or so. If you are deer country be sure to protect your plantings with deer proof cages. Outdoor Life Online Editor
5) Grow deer foods. By far the most popular practice for habitat conscious deer hunters is planting wildlife food plots. Commercial plot mixes typically contain clovers, chicory, brassica and/ or grains like winter wheat and oats. They all are used by deer, provide outstanding nutrition and they benefit wildlife. Perennial mixes are capable of producing quality deer forage for 5 or more years. Annual plants grow through one seed cycle before dying. Outdoor Life Online Editor
6. Fire up the chainsaw. Experts agree that a chainsaw is a deer's best friend. Deer live in a world 6 feet and under and what happens above that is relatively unimportant to a whitetail. Allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor stimulates regeneration and provides food and cover for all types of wildlife. Never use a chainsaw alone and always wear protective cutting chaps, a helmet and eye and hearing protection. Heavy boots and gloves are mandatory. Outdoor Life Online Editor
7. Improve Your Woodlands. Most woodlands will benefit from a little (or a lot) of thinning. Commonly referred to as timber stand improvement (TSI) this practice is a tried and true approach that benefits both deer and timber. In TSI specific trees are cut to make room for others. Often inferior trees are taken out to allow trees with more promise to prosper by filling the canopy space of the cut tree. Healthy trees produce more and better wood and in the case of oaks and other mast trees more and better mast. Thinning allows sunlight to reach the ground which stimulates the growth of ground cover and food. Outdoor Life Online Editor
8. Create structure in the woods. Fishermen understand the importance of underwater structure deer hunters should do the same. Woodland cutting allows hunters to pile tree limbs and tops to provide protective cover and food (temporarily) in the woods. Deer browse fresh cut tops and bed close to (if not under) downed trees. Tangled piles of limbs protect tender young seedlings from browsing encouraging regeneration and a new cycle of productive deer habitat. Outdoor Life Online Editor
9. Create "browse" cuts. Heavy cutting stimulates regeneration. Clearcutting small (1/2 to 1 acre) patches in and around wooded areas will encourage rapid growth of food and cover. Deer love browse cuts as they produce huge amounts of food and cover. Caution: clearcuts will fail to regenerate valuable replacement tree species if your property in overpopulated with deer or you do not have other food sources nearby. "Browse cuts" work best when used in conjunction with other habitat management practices such as food plotting, old field stimulation and timber stand improvement (TSI) and harvesting does to keep deer populations in line with what their habitat can support. Outdoor Life Online Editor
10. Create access. Hunting property access is important. A network of trails and access roads allows hunters to get in and out of the woods without excessive disturbance. Situating food plots and fields near access roads allows farming equipment to be used for serious planting. Perimeter roads enhance security. Deer don't like surprises (humans) in their bedrooms or at the dinner table. Restricting human movement to established trails and roads away from these areas will minimize pressure and help keep deer from leaving your property. A well laid out network of roads and trails enhances overall property enjoyment. Outdoor Life Online Editor

It’s no secret that the key to great deer hunting is habitat. It’s also no secret that a so-so hunting property can be turned into an above average hunting property by improving the quality of the wildlife habitat on the property. Here are 10 habitat tips from our experts.