You can’t ignore the food plot headlines in modern whitetail management. Food plots grab headlines, piles of products take up store shelves and their overall trend appears to be the center of the whitetail universe. Nutrition is important, but there are other factors that can also affect whether whitetails call your property home 24/7 and if they’ll walk into range of your new Mathews No Cam HTR. Don’t overlook a complete package when you’re manufacturing a whitetail home this summer.
Start with a secure homeland. Habitat is also essential to attracting whitetails. Make an inventory of the escape cover and refuge available on your property as a starting point. Is it dense enough to hide a buck? If not, get off your rump and start a Habitat for Humanity whitetail project.
Creating refuge for whitetails is relatively easy with a chainsaw and an ATV, or tractor. By dropping dead timber, selected live trees and gathering downed trees you can pile up the trunks and branches to make dense deadfalls so thick even cottontails will question entering. Deer love brushy deadfalls for bedding and refuge. Plus, by opening up the canopy it allows more light to reach the ground in the cleared areas thus stimulating growth for briars and new saplings that create additional browse opportunities. Talk with a whitetail management consultant or forester before undertaking this chore, especially to ensure you remove the right trees for optimum potential.
While you’re in the woods you may also want to take an inventory of trees that produce a mast crop such as acorns and apples. Mark these locations for possible ambush sites and consult with a forester on selectively fertilizing them. You may also want to consider planting mast trees, especially soft mast trees such as apple trees on ridge-top or edge locations creating another element to draw whitetails to an ambush location.
Wisconsin-based habitat consultant Art Helin is a big promoter of food plots, but also instructs clients to consider a complete package when attempting to create the perfect home for whitetails.
“If you have abundant natural growth you should consider cutting down timber and use the large remnants for cover,” Helin advises. “When I clear areas for food plots I’ll take trees and drag them or push them to other bedding areas to create thick, nasty cover. The chore increases bedding cover security and opens up the canopy for increased nutrition including the regeneration of trees for great browse.”
Finally, don’t forget to give your whitetails a cool, refreshing drink. If the whitetail tract doesn’t have a pub-style pond, make one. If you’ve spent time on food and cover, why would you want your deer to habitually cross the neighbor’s fence to get a drink?
A rented skidsteer loader, an investment in bentonite to seal a pond, and runoff are the needed elements to build a whitetail waterhole. Helin places water at all of his food plots to double the incentive for deer to visit them and he also has waterholes on his ridge tops adjacent to his apple trees.
“You have got to make your land better than the neighbors if you want to keep deer on your small property the majority of the time,” says Helin. “You won’t get deer to stay on your small property 24/7, but as they move through they’ll feel secure and get everything they need. During the rut they’ll also they come in and watch areas for does. It all adds up to higher hunting success on a small slice of the whitetail pie.”