Dr. John Woods 12.20.19
If you are fortune enough to own or lease your own deer hunting property, you are in the business of raising white-tailed deer. It is a resource for you to manage, care for, enhance, grow, and indeed covet. Native wildlife existing on private lands is a great blessing. Even if you don’t hunt, management of that resource is your responsibility.
It matters not if you have rights to 100 acres or 10,000, the deer on that land deserve the best management for herd health, nutrition, and age. Though genetics is a huge component of some aspects such as antler size, this element is virtually impossible to control. Other elements, though, can be actively managed to benefit all species.
Enhancing and maintaining a good deer herd is not unlike raising livestock for commercial meat production. Many of the aspects of keeping cattle on a piece of land are quite similar to raising deer, though whitetails are free ranging and subject to moving on and off the property. There are ways to keep them home on the range.
Deer need ample food, water, cover, and space to maintain themselves and expand their numbers provided the habitat can support them. You need to assess your hunting land to be certain these elements are supplied. Dry? You may need to dig some ponds or install some water tanks. This is common in Texas, Oklahoma and out west.
Have a state deer biologist or private wildlife land developer inspect your land for ample native browse to feed your deer. Supplemental food plots in both spring and fall are important and are far more than just killing fields. Plant high-protein foods such as clovers, wheat, oats, and green leafy varieties. Forget the rye grass. Do the fertilizer thing, test the soil and add recommended lime.
Cover and space are both needed to benefit wildlife. If your place is mostly forested, consider opening up the canopy with small clearings. This will generate new growth for grasses and forbs as deer food. If you have pine woods, think about mowing between the tree rows to open up the terrain. This gives deer space to roam and to establish trails.
Growing deer is a full time job. It should be fun and a source of great pride. But remember this old adage from a friend of mine, “If you want to hunt deer, you have to have deer to hunt.”