UNDERSTANDING CLEARCUTS TO BECOME A BETTER BIG WOODS DEER HUNTER
I’ve always been a huge fan of logging. From a whitetail hunters prospective, the benefits from logging go far beyond dollar signs. Not only do clear-cuts create excellent whitetail habitat, they provide a healthy environment to many game animals. Unfortunately, some hunters fail to understand the benefits and importance of logging. Many people throughout the world, including hunters, are against it. But when you thoroughly understand the science behind it, it’s much easier to have respect and appreciation for the logging industry. It will also become much more evident that logging will make your whitetail hunting better in many ways.
Young Growth Cuts
Every age class of clear-cuts has its own time of year and benefits to whitetails. I consider a young clear-cut to be less than 10 years old. Younger clear-cuts generally are best during the early fall. It’s common you’ll find that some deer, especially mature bucks will establish permanent homes inside of a younger clear-cut, during the early fall. The key is how the cut has developed, which can differ based on the regions growing season and native seed beds. In areas of higher deer densities, some cuts will be over-browsed and never get the chance to become prime whitetail habitat. But in a more perfect world, every now and then a cut develops into a mature buck sanctuary. These are the cuts you want to locate.
I consider a prime young cut to have growth at least four-feet high. This way deer get the best of both worlds where they can have concealment and browse sources all within the same area. If cover is below head height of deer, they will likely only use the cut for feeding and will bed elsewhere.
Younger cuts are buck magnets during the so-called October Lull period. This is a time when bucks move very little during daylight hours. This usually lasts until mid to late October. What happens at this time is bucks are really starting to gear up for the rut. They are packing as many calories as possible and at the same time they are trying to preserve all the energy they can to accelerate the conditioning process. Throughout much of October, a mature buck is looking for an area where he can move very little, yet have food and security in his bedroom. This is why a young clear-cut can be a deadly place to kill a monster buck during October.
Old Growth Cuts
Older clear-cuts are often overlooked. Yet they can still provide tremendous habitat for whitetails. Most of your older cuts tend to lack browse sources. After 10-15 years, a lot of the regeneration is grown above browsing levels. But they can still make for great bedding areas, especially if there’s food close by.
I prefer to hunt older cuts after the first couple of frosts. By then, what happens is most of your leaf browse dies off. This is a transition time when deer have to seek other kinds of food sources. If there’s no mast in the area, deer will start digging up fern bulbs/roots and other types of perennial plants inside of the older cuts.
I’ve seen cuts over 20 years old still being very productive. Sometimes you can still see 40-50 yards inside of an older cut and that’s still enough security cover. Deer will continue to bed in these cuts from November right through winter, unless you have severe winter weather. I’ve found some of my biggest sheds in 15-20 year old cuts. If you have scattered evergreens inside of the cut, that makes bedding even more attractive. Deer, and definitely mature bucks will almost always choose to lay under a pine or a hemlock.
Setting Up In Clear Cuts
It’s not easy hunting clear-cuts because deer tend to be more alert and cautious around bedding. You’ll also find that a lot of the daytime activity stays within the cut. Most cuts are very hard to hunt from the inside. Generally, you have to hunt the edges and mature bucks often wait until sundown before they come out of the cover. It’s also most common for them to enter the bedroom well before sunrise.
Some cuts have old logging roads that go into them. These are great entry and exit routes that you can take advantage of since they are very quiet. Your noise is just as important as your scent when hunting around bedding. You can often utilize these trails to sneak into the bedroom and get in on more daytime action.
If I’m hunting the edge of the cut, I prefer to hunt them during cold fronts. This is when mature bucks will likely get out of the cover and move around during the day. If you locate any good scrapes or rubs-lines on the perimeter of the cut, those could be excellent locations for hunting fronts. These are the kind of places bucks seek to work when they are out of the bedroom. Sometimes the first place a buck will go when he gets up from his bed is to work a scrape. A mature buck may push other deer out of the clear-cut, but many will still get away with working the edges. It’s likely you’ll find a number of bucks frequenting these scrapes, which actually makes them more attractive to the dominant buck in the area. He wants to know his competition as well as tell everyone he’s the boss.
Make sure you look for all the trails entering and exiting the cut. Most of the time you can narrow down what ones are used the most by placing trail cameras on them. I’ve had as many as 25 cameras around the perimeter of a cut only to find that just a few of the trails were getting the most activity.
Outside of the rut, clear-cuts are my favorite places to hunt. You can always count on them to hold deer. And in the big woods, when you can consistently locate mature bucks by focusing on a particular kind of habitat, you are always in the game!
Author: Steve Sherk Jr. of Sherk's Guide Service