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Conservation Corner

Whitetail deer habitat basics:

Thu, January 27, 2011

Whitetail deer are so plentiful these days in most parts of the country, it’s surprising to some people that they were decimated to the point of near-extinction by unrestricted hunting at the turn of the century.

Whitetails are found all over the North American continent, with populations in the millions. They survive in the big woods of northern Maine to the deep saw grass and hammock swamps of Florida. They thrive in mixed farmlands, brushy areas and timber, and can survive the desolate cactus and thorn brush deserts of southern Texas and Mexico.

Most people love to spot whitetail deer, but overpopulations, especially near urbanizing areas, can cause problems. Whitetail deer can be destructive to crops, fruit trees, ornamental plants and gardens. They can also cause serious damage to forest vegetation from over browsing, and are a danger to motorists as they are commonly hit by autos.

Food preferences:

Deer eat a variety of plants, but in farmland areas, cultivated crops, including corn and soybeans, top the list. A major portion of the diet in the fall is waste grain after harvest. The most critical food need to deer is the fall and winter food supply, because they determine the reproductive success of the doe. In summer months, woody browse such as buck brush, sumac, and oak is part of the diet. Various forbs and grasses are also part of the diet in the spring and summer. Fawns slowly shift from their mother’s milk to forbs and grasses as the summer continues.

Cover needs.

Ideal whitetail habitat contains dense thickets for cover, and edges of timber and grass or crop for food. Areas with the largest amount of timber have the highest deer populations. Cold and heavy snow in northern regions cause deer to concentrate in protected areas such as heavy timber, conifer stands, brush, and shrub swamps. 

During the summer, deer can be found wherever food, water cover and solitude exist. In May and June, does seek seclusion for fawning in brushy fields, heavily vegetated stream bottomlands, forest edges, pastures, and grasslands.  They will heavily utilize prairie grass fields instead of timber if it is available.  We are always thinking of prairie grasses for quail and pheasants when we do planning but deer will also utilize it heavily.
Some guys get frustrated because they used to be able to see a lot of deer in the timber during hunting season.  However after a neighbor plants large amounts of prairie grasses, the deer will migrate to that and not use the timber as much.  The deer can sit down in the prairie and allow hunters to walk past them on a deer drive and then they will get up and sneak away from the hunters.

Green browse food plots of clovers and alfalfa, and diverse native grass and forb mixtures offer good fawning habitat.  The green browse food plots provide great protein for the bucks’ antlers. 

For more information, visit the NRCS website at or visit the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Management Institute at

Did you know….?

A female deer usually has one fawn as her first born, but in subsequent years usually has twins. Whitetail deer are good swimmers and often enter rivers and lakes to escape predators.



Tim, your under paid so tell Lampe he needs to get off that wallet.  Just think, Grant Woods and James Kroll are charging $5000 bucks a day for that info.  Food, water and cover…

Posted by shedhead on January 27

Every human needs food, water, and cover as well. Some people live in trailer parks with all the essentials and some people live in gated communities with all the essentials. Different architects for different projects.

I’m not being negative one singe bit, just pointing out that there are lots of food, cover, and water options and I definitely think Lampe needs to get off that wallet as well…....hehe

Posted by Nate on January 28

Well thanks guys I appreciate the underpaid comment.  I voluntarily do this blog as part of my job duties to promote conservation.  My compensation is my federal salary, and benefits.  I am not aware of if Lampe lives in a gated community or a trailer park so will not comment on that one.  However I can say he does do more hunting and fishing trips than I do.

Posted by TMalone on January 28

My deer are upitty.  I believe they live in a gated community with 24 hour security…very difficult to get at.

Posted by Treehugger on January 28

SHEDHEAD, you nailed it. Some people charge an arm and a leg when individuals like Tim can provide nearly all of the information regarding whitetail habitat for free. Thanks for the info Tim!

Posted by Marc Anthony on January 28

you can get habitat planning assistance from your local USDA Service Center,  Your NRCS/SWCD staff they can also help with identifying what government programs you may qualify for habitat financial assistance from the govt.  WHIP, EQIP, WRP are a few that can help with financial assistance for wildlife habitat.

Posted by TMalone on January 29

Marc- Cost an Arm and a leg?? Relative to what… if you spend 2 millions dollars on a farm, you think its an arm and a leg to spend a $1000 or even $2000 on it??!

Now Dr. Grant Woods was on a farm that would go for maybe 4 millions dollars, and he charged about 6-8000. Seems proportional to me. They’re not utilizing the government programs on that project, so how would it benefit Nate to call the nrcs and tim instead of Dr Woods?!

Ive seen more people waste time and money because they thought they knew what needed to be done… and wasted 10 years and thousands of dollars. And their farm is no better then when they bought it, probably worse!

Posted by foodplotPhil on January 29

FOODPLOTPHIL, Yes, as I stated; “An arm and a leg”. Read the title of this article! It’s about whitetail habitat. A person doesn’t need to spend $4000.00 a day on advice here in IL. Illinois IS WHITETAIL HABITAT! Sure, improvements are always welcome but that is where programs, like Tim is referring to, come in play. We have so many free resources available these days, it’s not necessary to spend that kind of money on whitetail habitat here in IL.

I personally used the resources available to us years ago on my farm and I was extremely satisfied with the results. Why not use the services that our tax dollars provide? One important note; most of the people who work for the government (in the DNR related services), are professional biologists, conservation specialist, etc. who have a cornucopia of whitetail habitat knowledge. If you are referring to what kind of whitetail harvests have come off of these farms that you’ve mentioned, that’s another topic not related to habitat.

Posted by Marc Anthony on January 29

Yes, this is about habitat!

1st ….arm and a leg… that term is relative… to the owner of a 4 million dollar farm, and dozens of other farms..  Uuummmm $4000 doesn’t seem like an arm and a leg!

2nd yeah I wouldn’t pay $4000 for a plumber to manage my farm, but to have Dr. Woods, that’s a different story!

“A person doesn’t need to spend $4000.00 a day on advice here in IL”  that’s your opinion!  I agree, maybe not $4000, but a several hundred to a thousand isn’t outlandish!

Marc it comes down to time!! Anyone can; get online research deer habitat! But most people don’t have the time or their time is too valuable.. So they hire a professional!

Just like when a person has you mount a deer, Marc.. They could do it themselves.. But its not time efficient and they aren’t professionals.. So they pay you!

If Illinois is such prime habitat (it is good) then why are people complaining their not seeing deer?! So clearly we do need help!!  In my opinion its not just habitat that needs addressed, you must also address management. Example bush honey suckle.

“it’s not necessary to spend that kind of money on whitetail habitat here in IL.”  people who have more money than time would disagree with you! if you have been managing farms for 20 years your right. You wouldn’t pay, but most people havent.  But if you want to learn and make your farm the best you will pay!

That money isn’t on habitat.. that’s money for the consultation. The habitat costs more, and can be cost shared!

“If you are referring to what kind of whitetail harvests have come off of these farms that you’ve mentioned, that’s another topic not related to habitat.”

No actually its directly relate to habitat, and management!

The NRCS can help, and is a great resource to utilize. There are many places top find info!

Posted by foodplotPhil on January 29

Phil, nearly everything you mentioned above, answers can be found on the internet. First and foremost, I want to make it very clear that I’m not giving any one individual a bad rap here, but simply mentioning here that nearly all of your solutions can be found through our government programs and/or on the internet. I personally look at each person’s background when I hire someone for a particular job. When a person is involved in research, I look at where the research had taken place. Many “experts” have done thousands of hours of research with whitetail behavior/habitat in Texas on ranches, which is one reason their opinions don’t hold too much water with me. Some other experts are the very creators of these food plot mixes that are for sale commercially, like Dr. Grant’s Mossy Oak Biologic. That’s great if he created a superior mix for planting food plots, so don’t think I’m against capitalism, I’m not. Now add the fact that a person charges that much money for consultation fees, and you have a great opportunity to make some money, don’t you? Again, more power to you BUT, nearly the same information can be obtained for free, simple as that. This doesn’t discredit Dr. Grant or any other person, it just simply says if you don’t want to pay the chunk of change, you CAN do it yourself!

As far as taxidermy goes, that’s also a choice! You can do it yourself, have someone else do it or not have it done at all. Taxidermy is artistic work and not all people are artists, so I can understand why people hire it out. Scientific work, on the other hand, can be found through multiple sources and many of those sources offer service to the land owner for free, and they’re pretty good at it! To answer your question above regarding “Why people aren’t seeing as much deer”, that’s simple…there aren’t as many deer, and that’s by the DNR’s own plan!

I don’t want to sound like I’m negative on anyone here, because I’m not, but I have written numerous articles in the past on how NOT to over spend in the hunting industry. I’ve mentioned not to get involved in the “latest and the greatest” every year but rather buy your equipment, know it, and use it until it’s no good. FYI, I practice what I preach. I used the same bow for twenty years, same rain suit for almost fifteen, heck, I’ve used the same broadhead for four bucks! This sport can be expensive enough as it is, I just recommend to not get caught up into the hype and use what’s available!

The foresters and the biologists (through the Feds) did a knock out job on my farm years ago and created a plan that was awesome! How much did it cost me? Zero! Even the trees were free. My tax dollars DID go to work on that project! Thanks again Tim for info. 

Posted by Marc Anthony on January 29

you make very good points. I agree with you 100%. I agree if you have more money than time and you want the job done right, you hire a professional. Having more money than time is the reason people hire someone else to do the work! People choose the services that have value, and capitalism wins everytime!!

Posted by SpikeBuck on January 30

I’ve been gone for a few days, but did want to add that even with professional consultations I will still be meeting with Tim and other nrcs biologists to go over many land renovation projects and management plans. Everyone working together is ideal for many reasons. Also of note is that there is a large degree of ‘Art’ in every lake or land management plan. Everyone paints with unique viewpoints based largely on their experiences and style. (and budget)

Posted by Nate on January 31

I’m just saying there are choices!  And an arm and a leg is relative!! Anyway

If you take 10 foresters/consultants, and give them a farm to manage, each manager would manage slightly different, but with generally the same principles. And for different reasons! 

NRCS is great, as Nate mentioned they help consultants and farmers and everyone! If a consultant writes a plan,(depends on what plan) it has be checked by a district forester and then goes to the NRCS and they are the people officially over it, and make sure the owners follow through.

Your right it can be free!! Its about experiences! Working in the hunting industry, you experience things you wouldn’t if you were in a different business.

People hire me because of my passion, different experiences, and knowledge. rightfully so grant woods has more.. So he charges more!
Taxidermy is that same way.. A beginner may charge 300 while a veteran taxidermist may charge 600.

I’ve talked to people who have had several consultants out to their place, just to learn from several people!

There’s many people working together!

Posted by foodplotPhil on January 31

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