IF YOU’RE NOT LOOKING for browse during your preseason scouting, you could be in for some boring hunts. Unlike more obvious food sources, such as agricultural crops and mast, the leaves, twigs, and buds of small woody plants stimulate the microbes in a whitetail’s rumen, which is critical to digestion. Deer can’t survive without this.
Bill Peneston, a consultant with Heartland Wildlife Institute, says that prime whitetail habitat comprises at least 25 percent low brush and saplings. “A typical whitetail needs to consume 7 to 10 pounds of browse every day,” he explains. “That’s half a bushel. So there needs to be plenty of it on any buck’s home turf.”
Keep in mind that thick bedding cover does not necessarily ensure there’s ample browse. If the brush is higher than 5 feet or so, deer can’t reach leaves and stems to eat them. Also, dense growth doesn’t always contain the appropriate species.
Look for cutovers less than 10 years old,” Peneston says. “These provide deer with dense, regenerating understories 3 feet high or less.” Ideally, there will be young deciduous trees, such as oak, maple, poplar, and aspen, as well as shrubs like multiflora rose, hawthorn, and dogwood. Blackberry, raspberry, greenbrier, sumac, and honeysuckle are other prime species.
The bottom line is this: If a potential hunting area has little browse, it will have few whitetails. This holds true even in the presence of abundant croplands and mature hardwoods that drop truckloads of nuts. “Northwest Ohio is like that,” Peneston says. “It’s flat farm country broken up by small, mature woodlots. Deer densities are low because there isn’t enough browse.” On the other hand, wherever you find plenty of low brush and saplings in otherwise good habitat, you can expect steady action when the season starts.