Even if you grow lush food plots, there’s no guarantee your property will be overrun with big bucks. Food plots will decrease the home range size of each deer on your property and in turn increase your property’s carrying capacity, but if you want to notice a significant increase in the number and size of the animals on your land, you should combine habitat manipulation, woods work and selective deer harvest along with planting food plots.
If you provide more food, but don’t give deer more “housing,” then your impact won’t be what you expect. A whitetail’s world exists from ground level to 6 feet high. If you can stand in your hunting area and see for 80 yards in two or three directions, chances are your property isn’t holding many deer. You can put fast-growing plants in the ground that can help create bedding areas, or do woods work to create the edges, thickets and diversity that whitetails love. Remember this: a chainsaw is a whitetail’s best friend.
Some basic herd management philosophies should also be practiced. For there to be a trophy buck, a young buck must be allowed to grow old enough. On the properties I oversee, we stick to harvesting bucks that are at least 4 years old. Not all these bucks qualify for the Pope the Young Club record book, but they are still a challenge to hunt, and we consider an adult buck over the age of 4 to be a trophy. Set a goal and stick to it.
If you want to see more and bigger-racked bucks, and larger body weights, you might need to thin your doe population out a bit—possibly a lot. A given piece of land will hold and sustain “X” number of deer. Because of the territorial tendencies of whitetails and the way that they disperse from the areas where they were born, a large matriarchal society can develop over time.
For example, let’s say that a doe has one buck-fawn and one doe-fawn. After the fawns’ first year, which is spent with the doe, instincts instill an urge in the buck to go seek out a territory a fair distance away from his mother. The doe also helps this by having her own instinct to drive away her male offspring. On the other hand, the doe-yearling will usually take up a territory right next to, and usually intertwined with her mother. Some say that the whole arrangement is Mother Nature's way to prevent inbreeding. If does aren’t harvested, over time you get a large matriarchal society that just keeps getting bigger. When a year-old buck disperses from the area where he was born and goes searching for where he will take root and spend the rest of his life, when he comes across your property he might not be able to stay because all of those Xs are filled by the large doe group. To see more and bigger bucks, balancing the buck-to-doe ratio is very important.
Food plots will help your deer herd health, help your bucks express their true antler growing potential and make your hunting a lot easier. And if you combine habitat and herd management with food plots, it’s amazing what you can accomplish. No matter how large your property is, you can grow your own big bucks.