Whitetail ‘Perfect’

Sponsored by: Atsko

By: Wade Nolan bowhunting biologist

Do you know what ‘perfect’ is to a whitetail? Understanding their wants and needs may turn your farm or lease into a dreamland for bucks. There are a few details you can manipulate that can transform your whitetail spot into Whitetail Perfect. Here is the formula.

Fact is, you can manage each element of this formula. Let’s begin with cover. Biologists use a certain term that describes dense dog-hair thickets; it’s stem density. Plain and simple the density of stems, branches and low cover make up preferred buck habitat. In Pennsylvania that may consist of crab apple, hawthorn thickets and impenetrable greenbrier. These are all pioneer plants trees and shrubs that take over soon after a clear-cut. If you’re lucky grape vines will move in and create more cover. Don’t be afraid to clear cut a few acres… and then be patient. Natural succession takes time, but so does everything of value.

Habitat Map Cover, security, food, water and edge make up the ingredients for outstanding habitat.
Muscatine or wild grapes are a plus for all kinds of wildlife, but especially deer.

Fawning cover is another consideration. If you want your fawns to avoid being recycled by coyotes consider giving them an edge. This grassy edge cover is often best allowed to grow as fallow fields or CRP strips. Some options include buffalo grass and blue grama, switch grass and lespedeza. Lespedeza is a beautiful cover plant to add to your whitetail property as it is both a nutritious legume and a viney dense ground cover that lends cover to more than fawns. Game birds love it.

Security is a decision you make to respect the deer’s desire for privacy. The area you set aside for sanctuary doesn’t have to be huge, 5-10 acres may be plenty if you  respect it. Try to choose a south facing slope so the deer can utilize it when it offers a thermal benefit. Deer have to maintain their body temp regardless of the weather conditions. If your sanctuary includes a stand of conifers such as cedar or pine that can serve as thermal cover it is a big plus.

Most of the plants in this spring scene are edible by whitetails. They thrive when spring arrives and new plants push up their first shoots.

Food is easy for a whitetail as they eat nearly every plant that grows within their range. Consider that they prefer grazable plants under 5-foot in height and you get a good idea if your property is a winner. They love high protein ground forage such as pastureland and clover food plots during the summer but require browse (the woody stems and twigs of deciduous shrubs and trees) during the winter. You may want to make a hinge cut woodlot on some of your acreage so the deer have plenty of browse during the stressful winter months.

Food plots are the cherry on the Sunday. If you can afford to put in food plots do it. You will turn into a real conservationist. A mix of annuals and perennials will make your property whitetail perfect.

Corn will supply high protein to whitetails when winters winds are howling.

Another idea, that won’t cost you money, is to talk to the farmer you lease your ground to and ask him to leave 4 rows of standing corn or 10 feet of soybeans when he harvests. These agriculture strips can be a real plus for whitetails when the winter stretches out and high protein forage is scarce.

I picked up this old cast iron tub soon after I bought my farm. There was a 4-season spring that had an old metal pipe stuck in it and I married them with a shovel ceremony.

Water is often on site but you can enhance availability by putting in a small deep pond or even position an old bathtub under a spring as I did on my farm 20 years ago. The whitetails found it and have used it daily for two decades.

Whitetails are creatures of the edge. They follow and are drawn to edge habitat. You can enhance edge habitat on your place by brush hogging trails, making small clear cuts, adopting a sequential timber harvest plan or bulldozing small food plots out of timber stands. Don’t manicure the edges. Push up debris and tree tops to encourage natural rough brushy edges. You’ll be creating a habitat that is Whitetail Perfect.

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One Response to "Whitetail ‘Perfect’"

  1. Rick Philippi   2012/04/08 at 12:45 pm

    Awesome article Wade. I love all your writings, they are very informative and educational.
    safe hunting,
    Rick