Most of us are probably sick of the snow right now, as this has been a winter to remember. I'm sick of shoveling snow, plowing snow, spreading salt on sidewalks at work, kicking snow off of my boots, cleaning up snow tracked in, and the list goes on. With that being said, I have used the snow to my advantage more so than ever this year at the property.
During our property walk a couple of weeks ago, it became extremely apparent how much the snow provided pieces of the puzzle on my deer herd. I'm betting some of you are reading this and starting to think....."No kidding. I knew that. Tell me something I don't know." Well, I learned a ton in that few hours we spent walking the property.
The snow showed where the deer were bedding, traveling, feeding, getting water, etc. It was the first time I had really walked the property that much after a significant snow fall and could see such fresh sign. My take, as outlined in a past blog, was that the deer were not using the food plots and may have possible left the property. I couldn't have been more wrong. What I learned is that the woody browse created from hinge cutting was the preferred choice for the herd versus digging through inches of snow to get a nibble of green clover underneath. Take note....reduced use of plots doesn't necessarily equate to deer leaving the property.
This solidified my understanding of creating better habitat equals better and more diverse natural food sources. This is true throughout the year, but is probably more important during a hard winter. I was amazed at how much the deer were sticking to the woods to feed. I was also pleasantly surprised at the number of tracks. I still feel the deer herd numbers are down. This just made me feel a little better about those numbers on my property.
What was also more evident, was the fresh beds in the snow. You could see exactly how each deer was laying in the bed, what direction they were facing, and how they were feeding immediately in that area. This simply reinforced for me that deer love to bed on natural points or what is called the "Military Crest of a Hill". As you can see in the photos below, these deer were bedded on a small point that enabled them to use the predominant wind to their advantage, be able to see down into the valley to spot incoming predators, and have multiple escape routes when needed. We believe we actually pushed these deer off of the beds as we were making a lot of noise and talking loudly during the walk. Some will say this pressure is too negative. I get that any pressure at all is considered negative at some level. I think sneaking up onto a deer and jumping them is far more negative than announcing your presence and enabling the deer to slip safely away. Plus, I strong believe this makes them accustomed to my use of the land which is critical to maintain and improve the habitat for them.
So instead of thinking about cabin fever and how much snow we have had this winter, I'd suggest getting out there now on you property. I'm sure walking through 12" or more makes it a little more difficult and less palatable, but I would do everything possible to see the tracks in the snow as they tell the story better than any time of year. I continue to learn from the property and go into "sanctuaries". I've come to believe that the only way to continue down this path is to actually walk down the paths.
Last Saturday, we spent some of the day checking on buck beds. As a part of that activity, I noticed some of the progress with a trick taught to me. A simple method of habitat manipulations wherever possible is the tucking of saplings.
Here is how it works.....when you are hinge cutting trees, there are always saplings in the area that are way too small to effectively hinge cut. Quickly grab them and pull each over and under other trees that are hinge cut. Sometimes it may require twisting a limb or two to keep them tucked.
Upon visiting the buck beds on Saturday, the tucked saplings were still in place and effectively growing. What does this do for your deer? It provides browse under shoulder level. It also increases the odds of tree survival as there is no cutting. Lastly and probably most importantly, it provides awesome structure for a canopy, which is a major component of an effective buck bed. Hinge cut trees often die after some time. Hopefully other vines and growth take over the structure of hinge cut trees to keep the canopy. But with tucked saplings, they begin to permanently take the shape of the bow or bend. Refer to the photos below.
Try this next time you are working on thickening up your woods for better deer cover. It works.....I promise you!
Andy Hayes is a devoted husband and father of 4 kids living in West Central Indiana. Outside of his family, his passion is hunting whitetails. He does not claim to be a professional hunter, but simply wants to share what he learns during his quest to improve whitetail habitat and hunt mature bucks.