However, combining that rough number with the information provided from a browse survey can help landowners better manage their property, said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist.
“A property can have a deer per 20 acres and actually be understocked and another property might have a deer per 40 acres and be overstocked,” Elmore said. “This is all based on the amount of available forage.”
Now is the time to get out and conduct a browse survey.
“Do this in February right before green up when the plants have had the most browsing pressure,” he said. “It’s more difficult to identify plants, but with a field guide and using the buds, barks and structure of plant, you have a good idea of what species you’re looking at.”
The key to making a browse survey work is knowing the level of preference for browsing of each species of plants. OSU Cooperative Extension has a document, “White-tailed Deer Habitat Evaluation and Management Guide” that provides this information. The Fact Sheet can be found by searching “E-979,” or by title, at facts.okstate.edu.
For example, elm and hackberry are high preference, while redbud is moderate and Eastern redcedar is low. Included in the document is a blank sheet to help keep records.
To conduct the survey, select points across the landscape and divide the property into major vegetation types. A detailed video of conducting a browse survey, produced by the agriculture television show, SUNUP, is available online at sunup.okstate.edu/category/ns/2014/110114-ns.
“You need same number of points in each type of vegetation—forest and grassland, for example,” Elmore said. “I recommend at least one point per quarter section of land you own or manage. For smaller properties, with only a quarter or half section, maybe do four points per quarter.”
After randomly picking points in the landscape, pace out five steps from the center point in every direction to form a circle. Count everything in the circle with a stem tip or woody plants that have been browsed by deer, up to about 6 feet and down to the ground.
For each species of plant, count every stem and put the number in a column on the sheet provided in the Extension document, noting if it has been browsed or not.
“It is easy to tell if a stem has been browsed by a deer,” Elmore said. “They lack upper incisors, so the browse point is usually really jagged as opposed to a sharp clip that a rabbit would make.”
After each section of landscape has been browsed the property owner will have a good idea of available forage for the amount of deer on the property. The “White-tailed Deer Habitat Evaluation and Management Guide” has information to help landowners decide on management tactics to improve the habitat for white-tailed deer.
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