Identifying Habitat Needs in the Mountains

By GrowingDeer,

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Dr. Woods,

Great website!  I appreciate your dedication to this great sport.

I have 1,500 mountainous acres that have been stripped for mining and logged.  The strip pits have been planted in food plots and adequately support our deer herd.  The loggers left several logging roads cutting around these mountains that have since become overgrown.  With the steep terrain, the deer use these logging roads as much as possible.  My question involves how to manipulate this terrain to allow a more huntable setup while providing natural food and cover.  I am fortunate to have a very skilled dozer operator to help with this.  Should I “touch up” these logging roads and create bottlenecks with the dozer?  Should I clear off ridge tops and wide benches and allow undergrowth to grow back?  I’m looking to manipulate these hard-to-hunt areas with a dozer and a chainsaw.  Any suggestions?



As you have noticed deer readily adapt to man-made roads, especially after they grow up providing concealment for both bedding and movements.  This short, brushy habit is very important for cover but can quickly grow too tall to continue providing cover and is also very difficult to hunt.  If the brush on the roadways is wrist thick or smaller in diameter at the base, a prescribed fire may help to set it back.

You mentioned you have plenty of food plots.  Does this mean there is ample quality forage left over during the two stress periods of late summer and late winter?  If so, you have the ability to produce bucks that are expressing their full antler growth and body weight potential!  Also, if food is over abundant, then creating large clearcuts on ridge tops may be a good plan.  I like food on the ridge tops as the wind is usually more predictable on the ridge tops and therefore easier to hunt.  Deer will bed anywhere there is cover, so you can create bedding areas on the side slopes, etc., and leave the prime hunting areas for food.

With that said, gads of deer are harvested from clearcuts every year if a few suitable trees are left along the edges for stand placement.  Large cover areas can be great all day hunting locations.  Just remember to approach such areas from downwind to minimize disturbance during entry.  Here again, prescribed fire and herbicide application of unwanted cut stumps will keep the cut in an early successional stage.

The problem with using hardwood regeneration for cover (or food) is that they rapidly mature past the cover stage into a closed canopy that goes from quality cover to a desert for whitetails.  To maintain hardwoods as a source of cover, be prepared to do frequent thinning or aggressive prescribed fire to continue reducing the growth to a non-closed canopy stand.

Growing Deer together,