By: Jeff Sturgis
High Quality Whitetail Bedding Cover
In order for whitetail bedding cover to actually be considered high quality, it needs to be available when deer and other critters rely on it the most; during the Fall and Winter months. While just about any form of standing planted cover performs during the Summer months, most whitetail bedding mixes fall short when the conditions turn tough. In times of heavy wind or snow, many native grass plantings typically fall flat, offering little to no bedding cover for deer or other wildlife. Does the cover on your land, stand up to the cool season test?
Inadequate Wildlife Cover
During the last several years, thousands of acres of crop land have recently transitioned into agriculture free, wildlife cover areas. The fields of native Indian grass, blue stem, and goldenrod are aesthetically pleasing throughout the summer and early fall, but when the conditions worsen in the Upper Midwest, they eventually become matted fields of thatch that only offer quality cover to small rodents. Deer, pheasants, and other desirable small game species require high stem counts of standing cover that offer visual concealment and thermal insulation. If the bedding cover on your parcel does not attract, hold or hide whitetails when temperatures begin to dive during the months of November and December, you should consider replacing it with a cover type that appeals to deer and offers essential protection to all forms of wildlife, year round.
Quality Whitetail Bedding Cover Protects Wildlife
The highest form of quality bedding cover offers a multi-layered protection of dense growth in the form of side cover. This ensures not only visual protection from predators as well as the social stressors caused from each other, but the necessary level of thermal protection needed during the harshest of cold weather conditions. Dense shrubs like dogwood, tag alder and honeysuckle can offer adequate forms of protective side cover; while hardwood regeneration, briars and various broadleaf weeds can combine to complement quality side cover with an adequate supply of daytime browse for whitetails. Thick plantings of conifers like white spruce, Norway spruce and red cedar are also great compliments to adequate forms of daytime browse. However, more than shrubs, weeds, hardwood regeneration, conifers and all forms of other grasses, there is one high-quality cover planting that stands as king: Switchgrass.
Unlike all other forms of native grasses used in the north 1/2 of the country such as Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Indian grass, Switchgrass can withstand the harshest of winter weather conditions, most often in the form of heavy snow and driving winds. When you combine a solid base of Switchgrass with adequate daytime browse species, you can construct a high-quality whitetail bedding area that offers the perfect combo of concealment and browsing opportunities.
While your main focus may be whitetails, a high-quality deer bedding area will undoubtedly attract other small game species too. A properly managed switchgrass stand can be used as a high-quality form of deer bedding cover structure within 15 months. Switchgrass really can be established that quickly! However, don't take my word for it, because the true test takes place in November thru March. Is your bedding cover standing strong, or wilting under the cool season pressure of severe weather. It not only pays to take a good hard look at if your whitetail bedding cover is actually contributing to your overall herd and hunting goals, but if your bedding cover is meeting the needs of local wildlife populations.
Jeff Sturgis is a whitetail deer habitat consultant and writer of the whitetail series "Whitetail Success by Design". For more information on Jeff and to read more of his posts, visit www.whitetailhabitatsolutions.com!