NC State Extension Publications

Habitat Requirements

White-tailed deer occupy both forest and non-forest habitat types throughout the South. Deer usually prosper following fire, timber harvest, storms or other events which produce new vegetative growth.

Food

Deer feed upon a variety of mast, succulent fruit, herbs, grass, twigs and leaves of woody plants, and fungi throughout the year. In fall and winter, the high priority deer foods are evergreen browse, hard and soft mast, herbaceous vegetation, and fungi. Adult deer require 6 to 8 pounds of green food per 100 pounds of body mass daily. Reproductive rates and survival of adverse winter conditions depend on the relative body fat stored during summer and fall feeding.

The abundance and quality of summer-fall foods largely govern the reproductive condition of deer. Nutrition, age, and genetics govern antler development. Antlers emerge in the spring and grow throughout the summer. Antler rubbing begins in August and ends by mid-October. Breeding activity peaks from late October through December. Antlers are shed from late December to mid-April.

Cover

Cover varies somewhat depending on the time of year. During the summer deer may be found wherever sufficient food, water, cool shade and seclusion are available, which is usually in creek bottoms. Oak stands are probably the best cover, as long as other habitat elements are available.

Winter cover consists of evergreen thickets, dense young timber stands, cut over slash, broom sedge fields, old beaver ponds, or thick hardwood swamps. The edges of tall grass or hay fields, along with brushy, overgrown fields, are frequently used by does for fawning cover. Mowing of these fields should be delayed until August to avoid killing fawns.

Water

Deer require free water occasionally. Lactating females need it daily. Succulent green plants only partially meet a deer's water needs so a lack of free water may deter deer from using certain parts of otherwise suitable range.

Home Range / Population Concerns

A deer's home range is seldom more than 300 to 400 acres in the coastal plain, piedmont or Southern Appalachian Mountains, although bucks may range wider in the fall. Deer populations usually increase at an annual rate of 40% on good range. If not subjected to either-sex hunting, deer populations may quickly exceed available food supplies. Disease outbreaks that can reduce the herd and increases in crop and seedling damage can result from overpopulation. When a population reaches the maximum that the habitat can support, harvest strategies may be applied to achieve a 1:1 buck to doe ratio. Harvest strategies can also be applied to maintain the health of the herd.

White-Tailed Deer Management

Tips for Improving Deer Habitat

General

  • Establish pine type stands of 10 to 80 acres
  • Establish hardwood type stands of 10 to 40 acres
  • Retain 20% of tract in mast species (i.e.- oaks, beech, and hickory)
  • Clearcut stands no larger than 40 acres
  • Keep clearcuts irregularly shaped

Intermediate treatments

  • Precommercially thin hardwood stands to promote regeneration
  • Thin frequently (8 to 10 years)
  • Regulate species composition when thinning
  • Favor red oaks over white oaks by 2:1

Prescribed burning

  • Burn frequently (3 to 5 years) for forage and fruit production
  • Limit burns to winter months
  • Avoid burning transition zones

Direct improvements

  • Leave small portions of adjacent cropland unharvested
  • Thin frequently and create openings
  • Convert open fields to native grasses and legumes
  • Seed open areas with clover, legumes, or grasses

Species that benefit from white-tailed deer management.
Open Fields Early Regeneration Old Growth
Yellow-rumpled warbler Rabbits Wood thrush
Gold finch Ruffed grouse Hooded warbler
Indigo bunting Gray fox Red-eyed vireo
Meadow lark Yellow-breasted chat Gray squirrel
Quail Chestnut-sided warbler Raccoon
Red fox Rufous-sided towhee Wild turkey
White-throated sparrow
Song sparrow

Authors

Extension Forestry Specialist
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Professort (Wildlife)
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Wildlife biologist

Publication date: Jan. 1, 2019
Revised: April 30, 2019

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North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.