Cover Requirements for Whitetail Deer

In the south, deer cover requirements are minimal compared to those of whitetails in northern regions. Areas that severely lack suitable cover tend to be either large tracts of forest that have been recently clearcut or places where brush has been cleared to favor grassland habitat. Mostly, southern deer seek areas of dense, low-level shelter for two reasons, to escape predators and to access available food sources. Southwestern deer also choose these areas because they provide quality cover from the sun; shade is especially critical in areas where mid-day temperatures elevate to dangerously high levels. In the southern plains region, stream courses provide the primary means of quality cover for deer, and can be the limiting factor for local populations. When crops are available, such as standing corn, deer may rely both on stream beds and farmland.

Under dry summer conditions, whitetails tend to move closer to a permanent water source, only to disperse once the autumn rains start. Large numbers of deer are likely to be found feeding on the only available lush vegetation in open sandy sites, dry lakebeds, and areas where brush has been removed. Following occasional summer rain events, vegetation growing on sandy soils responds quickly to improved moisture levels with new growth. Green vegetation persists for longer time periods in natural depressions, such as dry lakebeds, than on surrounding upland sites. In areas that receive mechanical brush-control treatments, early-successional vegetation (forbs and grasses) is continually available.

Carrying capacity is directly related to forage availability. White-tailed deer in the south, particularly in Texas, readily compete with goats, sheep, and cattle for browse, mast and forbs. Deer populations in these areas have also historically been too high for the land (as many as 50 deer/square mile), and have been drastically under-harvested for decades. Browsing from all of these animals impacts deer habitat and spatial requirements. Deer in these areas are typically forced into relatively small home ranges. Conversely, white-tailed deer populations in the southern plains states (Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico) have a limited distribution and typically do not reach biological carrying capacity (in certain areas, 1.2 deer/square mile). In these places, depending on the presence/absence of mule deer, home ranges tend to be much larger, with daily movements ranging 5-22 miles.

Seasonal movements of southern deer have also been noted to occur. Although not entirely considered to be migratory in nature, deer in North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia and Florida have shown abilities to move in response of food, water, and cover availability and hunting pressure. Movements in response to flooding and drought condition are also common.

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