This is gonna be a short but sweet post...yet one of the most valuable to anyone reading it. When I get asked what the number one thing is I recommend to deer hunters desiring to see more deer, "hold" more deer and up their chances at shooting better caliber bucks my answer is always the same.
It may be worded in many different forms but it all circulates back to this:
FIGHT THE PARK MENALITY
That right there is the core message myself and many habitat "improvers" or "consultants" preach. A woods like pictured to the left, a trip to Potato Creek State Park (Indiana)...holds little to no value to wildlife. Outside of mast producing trees, that forest floor is pretty much desolate of any browse, and believe it or not that picture shows some of the thickest spots in that section of the woods. Given a small Ford Ranger or the likes I could have wiggled my way through that forest unscathed and never risk any damage...just not good for some woodland animals, but especially not good for deer.
In order to get a better grasp of this though one must understand a deer's digestive system and how it is built...also how the way they eat is a defense mechanism also.
Their digestive system allows a varied diet, including leaves, twigs, fruits and nuts, grass, corn, alfalfa, and even lichens and other fungi. Hence why if relaxed many hunters will see them nibbling constantly while they walk through our woods, trails and field edges. I've seen them personally eat everything from dirt and bark to twigs and leaves. It is these natural sources of food that are at the deer's level for consumption which is their primary source of food in a given year. Yes crop fields play a huge role in certain times of the year, but ask anyone and the deer up in parts of Canada live in areas lacking the rich agricultural make up of the Midwest yet put forth some incredibly large and healthy specimens in the whitetail world. If agricultural fields were the only good source of food that simply wouldn't be the case.
Getting browse available at the level of the deer cannot be accomplish artificially in mature woods...which is why the urge to have a park like woods must be fought if the owner truly wants to help his or her localized deer population not only thrive on his place but spend more time on his/her place. You see deer will go where the food is, and more importantly they'll spend there time during daylight hours still close to food but in a place they feel secure...hence why a thick understory truly does kill two birds with one stone; security and food all in one.
The thicker your understory is the more tonnage of food you have available for the browsing deer; whether that be at night or during daylight hours while they get up every couple hours for a stretch, bite to eat and then bed back down.
I mentioned earlier that their digestive systems in a way is a defense mechanism...I'll explain quickly. If they had a limited source of things their stomach could digest they would be very limited to what terrain or habitat they could live in. However, having a stomach capable of eating everything pretty much short of pebbles makes them an amazing animal capable of adapting to daytime safe havens; whether that is a boggy swamp or thick pine thickets.
So you want to do the deer hunting and the deer a favor? FIGHT THE PARK MENTALITY and start strategic timber management. That can include a solid logging plan, hinging trees over, plantings or complete clean cutting sections; bottom line you gotta get light in and get that understory thick...otherwise you are kidding yourself thinking things will get better.
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