How to stay on top of changes in white-tailed deer habitat

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Looking to increase your chances of making big bucks this fall? Habitat modifications change deer habits, and when you stay on top of the modifications, you can adjust your hunting strategies to be successful. (Photo courtesy of Wyatt Cole of onX Hunt)


The most basic aspect of deer hunting is learning where deer feed. With this knowledge, we can devise an ambush strategy, either by chasing the food source or somewhere between the food source and potential sleeping areas. Every deer hunter should know these fundamentals, and countless articles have covered them.

We talk less often about the fact that habitat can change from year to year. What was a hot spot teeming with deer activity last year may be freezing this season due to factors beyond our control. And that can have a big impact on the outcome of your season.

Below I will describe three major habitat changes that can affect deer movement. Then I’ll conclude with how you can use technology to stay on top of these changes. Let’s discuss.

1. Crop rotations

When you find a hot spot near a corn or soybean field one season, the attractiveness of hunting there each year is great. However, if the farmer plants the field in potatoes, deer activity will likely decrease. No, the deer probably won’t leave the area entirely, but they will certainly focus on the closest most desirable food source, be it corn, beans, or alfalfa.

How to use the onX Hunt app to stay on top of Whitetail habitat changes
Harvesting the crops will always cause a change in the movement and activity of the deer. Take note and be prepared. (Photo courtesy of surX)

Stay on top of rotations by recording crop information each season for your hunting area. Try to draw conclusions about the impact of crop rotations on the movement of deer in your stands. Then you can make more informed hunting decisions in the future just by referring to your notes.

These rotations occur on public and private lands. Farmers, as well as wildlife agencies, will rotate their plants to maintain healthy soil, and onX can help you take notes on both. With the in-app ability to identify landowners, hunters can easily connect with owners of surrounding properties and start talking. Heck, you may just be lucky enough to get permission.

2. Logging operations

Unless you have a colossal hunting property, what happens on neighboring properties can have an impact – negative or positive – on the hunt on your property. Logging is a huge habitat modification that can change the way deer use an area, even if it hasn’t happened on your land.

The selected cut of deciduous wood yields the remains of treetops on which the deer will graze. It’s a minimal change. On the other hand, when a pine plantation in which deer have slept for years is clearcut, they will be forced to find other sleeping areas. Logging can really change deer habits to a greater degree than many hunters realize.

When an area is clearcut, young regrowth can provide valuable grazing for several years after cutting. This can be a great place to hunt deer, especially in areas with large antlers without agriculture. In a few years, the thick regrowth will also provide tons of litter cover. In summary, the cut was not necessarily a negative weathering, but nonetheless, a modification that changes the way deer use the area.

3. Forest fires

This habitat change is particularly important in arid parts of the range of white-tailed deer. Think for example of Idaho, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming. Forest fires are common in these states. While the end result of a forest fire can have similar results to clearcuts, the difference is that the animals will be evacuating – or at least trying – an actively burning area. Logging operations do not generally hunt deer. Quite the contrary, I have seen deer activity increase where logging is taking place, with hardwood tops being the allure, as I mentioned above.

How to use the onX Hunt app to stay on top of changes to white tail habitat
The effects of logging and forest fires will dramatically change the use of antlers and antlers by a deer. (Photo courtesy of onX)

While active forest fires may be taboo for hunting, the consequences will result in regrowth which is very valuable fodder for deer. Like regrowth in a clearcut, an area that burned down a year or more ago may have fewer trees because of the fire, but regrowth is attractive to deer, making it a good spot. to hunt. This is especially true in areas of large woods and no agriculture.

Don’t panic, just change your strategy

It’s somewhat stressful to put in the effort to find white tail hotspots and then learn that deer don’t use them like they did when you first found them. But, it shouldn’t surprise you that deer habits are changing – the points I just made are big changes for deer. I mean, imagine how differently you would use your home if someone turned your living room into a bathroom, your kitchen into a basement, and your garage into a pool. Changes in the environment modify the habits of the inhabitants.

How to use the onX Hunt app to stay on top of white tail habitat changes
Be willing and ready to adjust your hunting plans as your environment changes; the deer adapts, and so do you. (Photo courtesy of onX)

That being said, adjust your strategy. Of course, the information you can learn with Scouting on Foot is invaluable, but I know no better tool than onX Hunt to avoid steps and intrusions. onX recently added a Crop-Data 2020 layer to the app. With it, you can see which crops were planted where last year, and it can help you determine which crops might be in the rotation for that year. Certainly, if you use it for taking notes over the next few years, you will find it very beneficial if you hunt agricultural areas. Plenty of land, both public and private, will border these large-scale farms, so take notes and keep spending those hours on it.

Likewise, the Timber Cuts layer shows clearcuts and the year they were made. This can prove to be very beneficial in places like the Black Hills or northeast Washington, where the scene is dominated by pine lumber and minimal farming. Cups aged a year or two will provide excellent forage, while older cups with aging regrowth can provide vital litter cover, as I mentioned earlier.

How to use the onX Hunt app to stay on top of changes to white tail habitat
Map layers offered in the onX app let you update crop information wherever you choose to hunt. (Photo courtesy of onX)

onX also covers the wildfire aspect of deer hunting. It has an Active Wildfires layer so you can decide where and where not to hunt. In other words, don’t plan a hunt in the west without knowing what’s going on in the wildfire world. And then, if you want to locate an old burn to chase away regrowth, you can compose one with the Historic Fire Area layer.

These are just the start of what onX offers hunters. I have religiously used the app for several seasons now and can’t imagine being a DIY hunter without it. It worked for me on public and private land. If you haven’t used onX Hunt and the aforementioned layers it offers, I think it may increase your success this whitetail season. It certainly won’t hurt your chances.




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