Skip to main content

How to Create the #1 Deer Food

How to Create the #1 Deer Food
Simply planting food plots is not going to get your deer through the winter months healthy. You need to create better native vegetation for them to browse on at will. (Photo courtesy of Luke Nissen)

In the last column of Everything Deer, we discussed the dominance of native browse and vegetation in the annual diets of deer. Regardless if it is the dead of winter or the heat of summer, native habitat is providing the majority of their diet in most regions.

Many believe that they are basically stuck with what they have, and that there is no way to manipulate the natural environment for their deer herd. However, there is a lot that can be done to create more and better quality native habitat. The fact is, if you aren’t already doing this, there is a chance that your deer herd is being limited in both quantity and quality.

There may not be an easier way to create more native browse and vegetation than through some simple chainsaw work. A chainsaw is a deer manager’s best friend. A single cut can create everything from woody browse to horizontal bedding cover to allowing sunlight to reach dormant seeds on the forest floor. It’s all about the selection.

Your goal should be to revolve around one of these five things with every cut:


  1. Relieve mast-producing trees from competition, such as oaks
  2. Bring new browse into a deer herd’s range (6 feet and lower)
  3. Create horizontal bedding cover
  4. Allow more sunlight to reach the ground and ignite new seeds to germinate
  5. Improve timber value of the stand

One thing that is commonly used on food plots, but not with the native habitat, is an herbicide. Deer managers in the South likely have the most use of herbicides in the planted pine stands. The goal with herbicides is to remove undesirable species, like sweetgum, and allow sunlight to reach the ground.


Herbicides also are used in one of the simplest forms of timber stand improvement (TSI), the hack and squirt method. Using an ax or hatchet, a slice is carved into an undesirable tree. Then a strong herbicide, like Imazapyr, is sprayed into the cut, which will eventually kill the tree … eliminating competition and allowing sunlight to reach the ground.

The effective method of “prescribed fire” is not used nearly enough in today’s deer management. Why? The general public thinks about out-of-control brush fires out West when the term is stated, but that is far from the case. A prescribed or controlled fire is just that; it’s meant to happen and under control.

As native browse ages, the quality of the plant – nutritionally – will decrease. For some browse species, the older they become the less deer will use them. Prescribed fire is a way to control older browse when done appropriately. Most prescribed burns are conducted in the dormant season, which is late winter or early spring.

Although food plots and supplemental feedings can benefit a deer herd, the true support of deer survival is with the native habitat. In order for your deer hunting and herd quality to reach its potential, you must manage the habitat.


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

Hobie MirageDrive 360 Kayak Propulsion: Amazing Control and Power

The Hobie MirageDrive 360 pedal propulsion system is the pinnacle of kayak control with more efficient fin designs, glide technology and allows the boat to be moved in any direction.

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

Catch More Bass on a Jerkbait in the Cooler Months

This one simple trick will trigger more bass strikes on a jerkbait during the fall months.

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Understanding Reel Retrieve Ratios and How it Affects Lure Presentations

Increase a lure’s effectiveness by pairing it with the ideal reel speed.

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021: Rage Broadhead, Nockturnal Nock, Carbon Express Arrows

New for 2021, here's a look at the new Rage Trypan NC, Nockturnal Shift Nock, Carbon Express Maxima RED Contour and D-Stroyer PileDRIVER arrows.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish time after time.10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About Catfish

10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper

We found 10 secret (and proven) catfish baits that have the staying power to attract catfish...

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties are accompanied by melted Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and Thousand Island dressing and then pressed in between two toasted and golden brown pieces of rye bread.Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe Wild Game

Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe

Kristy Crabtree - October 27, 2020

This Elk Venison Patty Melt Recipe makes the perfect wild game sandwich. Elk burger patties...

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails Whitetail

Understand How to Use Scrapes to Locate Whitetails

Tony Hansen - October 23, 2020

Bucks visit them regularly and so should you.

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever Ammo

Turning .30-30; It's Better Than Ever

Richard Mann - October 27, 2020

It may be 125 years old, but the .30-30 Winchester retains its status thanks to modern loads.

See More Trending Articles

More Hunting How-To

Small, mixed decoy spreads are realistic and easy to set.Duck, Duck, Goose: Convince Pressured Waterfowl to Commit Waterfowl

Duck, Duck, Goose: Convince Pressured Waterfowl to Commit

M.D. Johnson - December 08, 2020

Small, mixed decoy spreads are realistic and easy to set.

Use these presentations to boat more cold-water bass as the season winds down.3 Active Ways to Grab a Cold-Weather Bass' Attention Bass

3 Active Ways to Grab a Cold-Weather Bass' Attention

Mike Pehanich - December 17, 2020

Use these presentations to boat more cold-water bass as the season winds down.

Bundle up and punch the clock; end-of-year monster bucks not uncommon.Whitetail Record Books Show Late Season Can Still Be Great Whitetail

Whitetail Record Books Show Late Season Can Still Be Great

Lynn Burkhead - December 23, 2020

Bundle up and punch the clock; end-of-year monster bucks not uncommon.

Don't let conditions be the reason you don't fill your tag; put yourself in position to succeed no matter what.No Excuses: Tag a Whitetail When It's Hot, Cold, Wet or Windy Whitetail

No Excuses: Tag a Whitetail When It's Hot, Cold, Wet or Windy

Bob Robb - November 10, 2020

Don't let conditions be the reason you don't fill your tag; put yourself in position to...

See More Hunting How-To

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now