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Hunting & FishingOwning Land

Strategies for Managing Deer Hunting Land in Springtime

April 12, 2024

As we move into the spring season, landowners across the country are turning their attention to improving their properties and managing deer hunting land for the coming year! There are a variety of activities and strategies landowners can employ during the offseason that will cultivate more robust habitats and a healthier deer population on their property to increase chances of success when the next hunting season rolls around.

Here are a few tips for managing deer hunting land in the spring!

Managing Sunlight and Vegetation for Wildlife

One of the most fundamental aspects of managing deer hunting land is ensuring an adequate food source to sustain and support game populations. The spring months are a great time to take stock of available food sources on your property and make adjustments to provide enough native vegetation for deer populations to grow and develop during the off-season. One of the largest factors influencing food production is the amount of sunlight that reaches the forest floor.

During a recent episode of the National Land Podcast, OK Land Professional Christian Hayes shared his knowledge on improving deer hunting properties and spoke specifically to the importance of managing sunlight for native vegetation. Hayes stated, “A general idea to keep in mind when you’re managing your property is you’re trying to manage and control sunlight and then also plant diversity. 

A lot of times sunlight is the limiting factor, especially in wooded areas like we have here in Oklahoma. When these wooded areas are overstocked, it leads to a buildup of duff layer, which is like the fallen leaves and downed woody debris that blocks the sunlight from hitting the soil. That prevents a lot of the beneficial plants from growing at all.”

By clearing the forest floor of excess leaves and other debris, landowners can expose soil to sunlight and other nutrients to encourage the growth of native vegetation which many game species depend on for sustenance.

Crop Tree Release in Canopy Cover Forests

In canopy-cover forests, certain techniques can be employed to not only increase the amount of sunlight but also the number of high-quality mast-producing trees in an area. Mast refers to vital food sources such as acorns or nuts produced by woody plants. By performing a mast survey on your property, you can selectively thin around your highest-producing trees to increase their output even further.

Hayes explained this process, stating, “Just to put numbers to it, [a 100% canopy forest] a lot of times can have roughly 50 to 100 pounds per acre of things to eat. But if you do what’s called a crop tree release, which is where you figure out which of your oak trees are producing the most acorns and you release or cut the trees around there, the acorn production can actually go up by roughly 50%. The forest floor production though, the stuff that grows on the forest floor, can increase by maybe 500-1000%, so there can be a lot of benefits from just thinning out some trees and following up with prescribed burns.”

Patch Burning for Wildlife

While many landowners are likely aware of the general benefits of prescribed burning for creating robust wildlife habitats, they may not be aware of the ways that more controlled burning can be beneficial. Patch burning focuses on a smaller area and helps to establish a variety of plant growth by creating different successional patches. 

Speaking to the way patch burning can benefit landowners, Hayes stated, “Patch burning has its benefits in that it creates different stages of succession on that property, but also in terms of manpower. It’s a lot easier to burn 5-10 acres by yourself or with another person or two than it is to do 1000 acres.”

“There’s a lot of good research on patch burning and incorporating it with patch burn grazing, where you don’t need nearly as much cross-fencing for livestock and they’ll selectively graze those areas that have been burned in the last year because a lot of that new growth is coming up. It’s the same thing for wildlife.”

Food Plot Management

While all of the tips discussed thus far have served to promote the growth of native vegetation and improve natural habitats, there’s still room to add food plots should a landowner so desire. Food plots can be a boon for hunters looking to establish a central area for game to graze on their property. 

For landowners looking to manage food plots on their property, Hayes shared the following: “If you’re managing your property the right way with native plants and trees, you’re going to have really good habitat and carrying capacity. But a lot of people like to do food plots and it gets them excited to get out and work on their property. 

I’d just say don’t let that be the only thing you do. I’d suggest instead of doing a big 40-acre food plot, do some 5-acre plots. I call these ‘kill plots’ and they kind of focus the deer so you can put up your tree stands and focus the deer activity. Even here though, it’s still important to have that native ecosystem and diverse plants to supplement them at all times of the year.”

Landowners trying to improve their property for hunting season have few better times to do so than during the spring months! With careful consideration of sunlight, native vegetation, and strategically placed food plots, landowners can create thriving habitats to nurture healthy game populations year-round. 

For more information on managing deer hunting land, contact your local Land Professional today! 

About the Author
Bryce Berglund is National Land Realty’s Content Marketing Specialist. He is currently residing in Minnesota, where he attended the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Bryce is an appreciator of all things artistic, and likes to spend time at his cabin with his dog and family.