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Habitat: the Foundation of Deer Management

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For several years, I have participated in white-tailed deer management workshops and clinics. Many deer enthusiasts who come to these workshops have been exposed to a variety of information (some good, some bad) from a variety of sources. I recognize that exchange of ideas can be positive, but this inundation with white-tailed deer information can deemphasize sound deer management in favor of more glamorous or faddish aspects. Of ten times the result is that the basics of deer management are lost in the knowledge glut.

The most neglected part of management is the importance of habitat. Deer are a product of theirs, and without it, there are no deer. Although this concept seems simple, habitat management often does not receive the necessary attention. Granted, the results of such management are often subtle and seem intangible (especially to the untrained eye), but habitat is the most important aspect of deer management.

Managersmust become familiar with the food, cover, water, and space requirements of a species and manipulate the environment to produce favorable conditions. For whitetailed deer, the food component is often most limiting and frequently receives the most attention. I will use it as an example of management based on misinformation.

When faced with the prospect of trying to improve deer habitat, many people immediately think of planting a food plot or putting out a feeder or mineral block, not managing the natural plant community. In fact, many people believe that food plots and mineral supplements are synonymous with good habitat management and that using them overcomes most habitat shortcomings.

It is true that these practices can enhance habitat in some circumstances, but they are certainly not the habitat cure-all they are often touted to be. Habitat management is complex and encompassing. Numerous management techniques and their interactions affect deer habitat; among them are livestock management and farming practices, herbicide applications, prescribed burning, timber harvest, brush control, and deer harvest strategy. If it affects the land-based resource, it affects deer habitat.

Habitat management is not glamorous and can be time consuming. It seldom yields instant gratification. Despite the effort required, it is the key to sound deer management and should be recognized as such.