Clover or Cover?

 by Jim Stickles, AWB®

Food plots are one of the most revolutionary tools that hunters use to attract deer to their properties. However, it seems that whenever you put trail cameras on food plots to monitor the deer activity, nearly all of the pictures of the big bucks occur at night. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of big bucks have been killed over food plots, but if I had the choice between creating a food plot and creating cover, I’ll create cover every time. Why? Because cover serves a two fold purpose in that it provides both protection and food. Also, cover is easy to create and cheap to maintain.

Deer spend a majority of daylight hours bedded in thick cover, right? Then it would stand to reason that the most important thing to have on your property to attract and hold deer is a thick and nasty bedding area. Clear-cuts, timber stand improvements (TSIs), hinge cutting, girdling, hack & squirt, and prescribed fired are just a few of the methods you can use to create and maintain thick cover. The idea is to let sunlight hit the ground and let nature take its course.


The image above depicts a plan for a 700 acre property in Pennsylvania that I help manage for deer. Currently, the areas of thick cover (purple polygons) are located far from food plots (green polygons) and along the property boundaries (orange boundary line) making them difficult to hunt. The yellow polygons are areas where I recommended new bedding areas to be created. Notice the new areas are more centrally located and much closer to food plots. This is also an excellent example of how BGL can be used to plan your projects and to share your ideas with consultants and biologists. In addition to bedding cover, areas of thick vegetation can provide a large amount of natural forage. It has been estimated that areas of early successional habitat can provide 1,000-2,000lbs of natural forage per acre! As far as creation and maintenance are concerned, the seeds are already planted in the seed bank, and the early successional stage can either be reset using prescribed fire or by mechanical means. If the only thing you have on your property to attract deer is food plots, but your neighbor has a lot of cover, guess where the deer are going to be spending a majority of their time during daylight hours? I’ll give you a clue. It will not be on your property. So when you’re planning your land management projects this year, be sure to take some time to create a few areas of really thick cover.

Example of good cover

Example of poor cover