There is an age old saying that states “You cannot see the forest for the trees”, but what trees are we supposed to be looking at when it comes to deer hunting? There is no doubt that there are a lot of tree species out there. All of them have a unique place in the ecosystem. Most of us know about diversity being important in your forest and the impacts of monocultures. Everyone talks about trees and forest types that are beneficial for deer hunting, but doesn't that mean that there are trees and forest types that disadvantage your hunting? 

First, I should take this moment to introduce myself, being that this is my first article. My name is Jared McLellan and I am the newest Customer Service Rep for Exodus. I have associates degrees in both Wildlife Resource Management and Forest Management from Hocking College. As well as certifications and training in several related courses such as Prescribed fire, Nuisance Wildlife, Wildlife Rehab, Chainsaw Operator/Timber Harvesting, Tree Farm Inspection, Wilderness First Responder and a few others. Now back to the article..


During the off season, I decided to write down some questions about basic forest/habitat management and, out of my own curiosity, I interviewed my fellow co-workers at Exodus, as well as Jared and Brian from the Habitat Podcast. To put it simply, I was shocked to hear the array of answers my fellow outdoor enthusiast gave me. Jared and Brian from the Habitat Podcast as well as Jake Hofer from Exodus/The Land Podcast gave me much more in depth answers and explained their reasoning behind their choices, which was expected. They are very knowledgeable and know what they are talking about. However, they still shared some answers that I didn't expect to hear.

The first question was simple, “What types of trees do you not want on a hunting property?” Now from my forestry background and all my teaching from college, I felt that this was an easy question; everyone would just start listing invasive species like Ailanthus, Bradford Pear, and the Olive shrubs. But to my surprise, everyone gave me different answers but the most common species mentioned left me baffled.

My second Question I asked the group was “In your opinion, what is the biggest problem tree that is currently in our area”. Yet again, the most popular answer was the same species as the first question.

For my third and final question, “What trees do you think will pose a larger problem in the future?” Astoundingly, the most common answer was the same species mentioned in the previous two questions… Maples!

 Pictured: Whitetail Deer. behind young maple next to mullein stalks.

Now in everyone's defense, they also stated trees like Bradford pear, Autumn Olives (Shrub), and a few other species. But the majority of them chose maples. Jared, Brian, and Jake explained how Maples can take over an understory and become invasive-like to the other trees in the environment. Maples can also take over a landscape and become a monoculture if left unchecked. They also explained how maples don't offer as much food or cover as some of their competitor species would. Maples are also less popular as a lumber species. The guys also explained that they spend a lot of time cutting down understory maples that are taking over a tract of land. As a rule: too many of one species is always bad. In general, people love their oaks and hickories, but those trees only produce “Hard Mast” during certain times of the year, if they produce at all. Maples are known to become monoculture forest and mingle very well with Beech trees which will overpower many oak and hickory species; which are the favorite trees of most hunters. For this article, I'm going to explain why you might want to hold off on cutting down your maples this season.


Pictured: Sugar Maple

There are 13 maple species found in North America, but I will focus on the more common ones in our area (Northeast Ohio). Sugar, Red, Black, Silver, and Bow Elder Maples. Maples are often used as ornamental trees in cities and neighborhoods due to their vibrant fall colors, and ability to produce quality shade to sidewalks below. The maple trees are found in a wide variety of different forest settings as well. From mountain tops to the floodplains down below, the maples are one of the most easily identifiable trees. In relation to deer hunting, do maples actually provide any benefit to whitetail? Maples are generally broken up into two categories: SoftWood and HardWood. In my experience, everyone seems to have a different definition of hard maple and soft maple. Everyone is correct in their definitions, but at the same time everyone is wrong in their definitions. In my personal opinion, the difference between the hardwood and softwood is solely based on the quality of the lumber. I usually break up the maples into lowland species and midland species. Sugar, Red, and Black Maple are considered midland species while Silver and Box Elder are considered lowland species. Now there is no arguing that diversity in an ecosystem is the most important element to a successful management area, but what do maples provide?

Everyone as a kid probably recognized the “Helicopter” seeds and enjoyed tossing them in the air to watch them twirl their way to the ground. These seeds actually provide “soft mast” food for wildlife such as birds, chipmunks, squirrels, rodents, and… Whitetail! The leaves and twigs of the lower branches and saplings of Maples also provide a great food source for Whitetails. Usually, whitetails prefer the midland species, such as Sugar maple and Red Maple, over the lowland species for food. However, this doesn’t mean that lowland maples are not beneficial. They offer great nesting habitat and food for other species such as Waterfowl, Squirrels, and Raccoons. The lowland species also can create excellent bedding habitat and provide cover for whitetails. 

Now, yes, Maple trees will not provide as much late season food for wildlife as oaks will, but they are a vital source of nutrients during the off season. Doe and fawns need vital nutrients from maples and other soft mast producing species during the off season months to help grow and prosper. They also need the dense cover that maples can provide to protect themselves from predators. Also, keep in mind, the gnarly looking maple trees offer excellent cover for tree stands. During the winter months, deer will often eat the buds and twigs from maples.

Pictured: Whitetail eating Red Maple leaves


Yes, it's true that the Maples will shade out other more desirable species such as young Oaks. But the area of influence is based on the soil quality, amount of sunlight, soil drainage, and other factors. If you have more Maples than Oaks on your hunting property, that is probably because your area favors maples. But there are ways to change that! For example, Prescribed burns, Shelterwood harvesting, and Crop Tree releases, are great ways to eliminate some maples and make room for your oak trees to create diversity and vice versa. 

To sum it all up, Midland maple species offer more food for whitetail over lowland species, but all maple trees have their place in an ecosystem. Deer love to eat the buds off of any maple, low or midland, during the winter months. Having maples as that extra food source is very important. Having a mix of maples and oaks will actually benefit the whitetail more than having all of one kind. If you have a monoculture of maples, it would be a good idea to introduce other species to the management area, but there is no need to eliminate Maples totally from the property. Same thing applies for a monoculture of oaks. So if you take anything from this article, hopefully you think twice before cutting down that maple tree on your property simply because it is a maple tree. Take a look at the ecosystem around you and determine the influence that the tree has on the environment. “See the forest for the trees”.

Author: Jared McLellan Exodus Product Specialist