Do You Hunt Any Land That Has CRP?
Quite possibly the most important on this list, CRP provides excellent spring and summer fawning cover. As predator populations explode (especially in the East), good cover has never been more important for the earliest stages of a whitetail’s life. Not all does are great mothers. An abundance of thick, nasty cover helps offset the odds of a coyote, bobcat, bear or other predator finding and killing fawns.
Throughout the last couple of decades, fawn recruitment rates have continued to decline as predator populations increased. Coincidence? Not likely. While strategical winter, spring and summer trapping plans (where legal) are necessary to control predators enough to positively influence fawn recruitment rates. The next best option is to provide the best possible cover and habitat. The best way to do that today? CRP and CREP.
For the most part, I hunt four pieces of private land here at home in Kentucky. One of them is mostly CRP with some timber. The other three are a mix of hardwoods, agriculture and pasture. Based on my trail camera surveys, the fawn recruitment rate is almost double on the CRP property than that of the other three properties I hunt that are mostly hardwoods and open areas. I don’t think that’s a fluke. Quality habitat leads to increased numbers of fawns reaching adulthood.
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As mentioned, I haven’t conducted any in-depth studies on the places where I hunt at home, but based on trail cameras and in-the-field sightings, but the deer density and overall population seems to be double (maybe even triple) on the CRP property in comparison to the other three. That tells me something. And that something is that deer thrive in CRP settings.
Sure, big expansive fields of grasses can seem void of deer during the day. That said, glass those same areas at dawn and dusk and you’ll likely see an abundance of activity. As long as the CRP is both tall and thick enough, deer will rely on it heavily throughout the year.
At first, it can be difficult to know how to hunt in and around CRP. The exact plan really depends on the layout of the property. Personally, I like to survey the land, scout it from afar, then get boots on the ground. Look for sign. Locate the hottest bedding areas in the CRP. Do this by glassing non-stop until you see deer rise from the ground. If you spot a deer where it wasn’t just a few seconds ago, it likely just rose from its bed. Next, identify pinch-points that you can take advantage of. If bowhunting, you have to ease into the CRP and hunt high-odds spots. If rifle hunting, I prefer to hunt the edges of CRP (if possible) and look out into it. This reduces the amount of pressure I put on those deer.
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The first thing people think about when CRP is on the table is cover. That said, food is just as important for deer and CRP plant species are prime cuisine — especially during the warmer months. Many of the native plant species in the program are protein-rich food sources for deer. That’s important when deer are spending the spring, summer and early fall to bulk up for the colder months ahead.
It’s also important to supplement the area with other food sources, though — especially with cool season sources. While you can’t disk up ground that’s already in CRP (in violation of your contract), you can add additional food sources around the perimeter of it. Corn, soybeans, wheat, brassicas, or any other high-carb food sources will help feed the local deer herd and provide the energy they need to make it through the winter.
When putting in additional food sources, do so strategically. Position food sources in a manner that not only help the deer but also help your hunting, too. Learn how the deer use the property before choosing a location to plant food plots. Make sure the spot you do pick is easily and effectively worked into your hunt plans. Put it in a place that’s convenient for the deer. But it also needs to be convenient for your entry and exit routes, prevailing wind direction(s), and best stand locations, too.
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Deer are edge animals. They thrive in areas of early successional habitat. While they can live in big, mature timber, they don’t prefer it. And that type of cover doesn’t lead to an abundance of deer. In fact, deer populations drastically decline as their habitat matures beyond edge cover.
There are several reasons for this. First, as previously mentioned, it provides fawning cover. It also provides bedding cover and food sources for all other deer, too. It even improves your daylight sightings as a deer hunter as well. Pressure aside, I see more daylight sightings of deer (including mature bucks) in CRP than I do in timber and open settings. They feel safe in it and therefore move more during daylight. The type of quality edge habitat CRP provides doesn’t just help the deer, it helps the deer hunting as well.
So how do you hunt edge cover? It’s simple, really. Determine where different types of cover and terrain meat. Think of edges as seams. The seam that separates different levels or types of successional habitat is an edge.
A Few Types of Edges:
You get the picture. Any place that CRP butts up to another type of quality cover is going to be a hotspot and one that’s used by most of the deer in the area at some point or another. Choosing stand locations around such spot can prove incredibly productive.
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According to the U.S. Forest Service, approximately 6,000 acres of open spaces are converted to alternative uses. Much of that is due to urbanization. Not all of it is. This results in less CRP grasslands for deer.
In a time where good edge habitat is becoming less abundant, CRP helps combat that. Perhaps the biggest threat deer and deer hunting faces isn’t predators or overharvest. It’s habitat destruction. That’s why the CRP program was founded to begin with. It was started in an effort to pull land out of agricultural production and put it back into quality early successional growth. This was designed primarily to reintroduce native plants, prevent soil erosion and protect key species of wildlife.
In short, we have to protect the rural lands that are still rural. And we have to keep as much of that as possible in quality habitat that deer and other wildlife thrive in. That won’t be an easy task. But the CRP, CREP and similar programs make huge strides in the right direction. Contact your senators and representatives today. Make it known that these programs must stay. Deer and deer hunting depend on it.
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