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Hooks & Antlers: ‘Whitetails: From Ground to Gun’ an entertaining, enlightening book


When an individual reads a good book, he or she typically recommends the book to others. Well, I recently read “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun” by Neil and Craig Dougherty, and I’m recommending the work to fellow deer hunters.

The Dougherty book is a guide to growing and hunting mature bucks. Although “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun” is designed for property owners, even non-property owners will gain a wealth of whitetail knowledge that should make them more efficient hunters.

The book has 12 chapters, but today’s column gives a glimpse of the book by focusing on Chapter 2: “What Deer Need” and those needs are food, cover, and security. In the words of the authors, a deer needs “habitat, habitat, and habitat.”


Food dominates a whitetail’s life, and unless the creature is running or bedded down, he is eating. The average deer eats 6 pounds of food per day or one ton of food per year, and he eats every 4-6 hours or so.

Deer eat a variety of items, but those foods and browse fall under the 6-foot rule, which says all that a deer eats is at a height of 6 feet or under. One way to the determine food quality of your hunting area is to assess the percentage of property that contains such low growth.

Because of a deer’s need for low-growing foods, the authors say, “A chain saw is a deer’s best friend.”

Using a chain saw to cut mature timber allows sunlight to reach the ground to spur new growth. A chain saw can also release fruit trees and berry patches whose growth has been stunted by standing timber. Removing mature trees results in “naturally occurring food plots.”

To illustrate the importance of low-growth areas versus timber stands, the average woodland in our area typically yields 200-300 pounds of browse per year while a weedy field can yield 2,000 pounds of forage per year. A weedy field offers up to 10 times the volume of food that a woodland of similar size allows.

The importance of native vegetation can’t be overstated. This point is evident when the authors write, “Studies show that even in areas of high agricultural productions, roughly 60 percentage of what a deer eats is comprised of native vegetation.”


In addition to their need for food, deer need cover. Food and cover are quite synonymous because that 6-foot-and -under growth also provides concealment. The chain saw becomes a deer’s best friend as timber cuts open up ground to sunlight and the resulting growth of berry patches, young sapling, and assorted types of thickets.

Tops left on the ground also provide excellent cover. The current practice of chipping tops during timber operations makes for clean forest land, but a clean woodlot is not deer friendly.

In contrast, “messy” woodland provides deer the cover they need, and such dense cover is critical to conceal fawns from black bears and other predators.


Since whitetail deer are prey creatures, they seek locations that provide security from predation, and at no time is security more important than during the hunting season.

The accepted method of providing security is to establish a sanctuary or sanctuaries on a given property. A sanctuary is a place where people are not allowed.

To illustrate the importance of sanctuaries, consider this Dougherty statement, “We keep almost 80 percent of our 500 acres off limits to humans. Some of our sanctuaries have been entered no more than once or twice in 25 years. Now that’s a real sanctuary. Other off-limits places are entered on occasion, maybe to call a turkey or to do some habitat work, but they are never disturbed anytime near the hunting season.”

Chapter Summary

“Food, cover, and security vary greatly from property to property. Properties that offer all three generally have good deer populations and good hunting.

Properties lacking one or more suffer accordingly. The good news is you can generally affect all three and turn a mediocre property into a pretty good one by providing deer with what they need.”

The Authors

Neil and Craig Dougherty have been managing their 500-acre property in New York state for the past 25 years. The duo is recognized as among the leading deer property managers in the country. For more information or to order a copy of “Whitetails: From Ground to Gun,” visit

Outdoors Calendar

Friday: Seasons close for gray squirrels, ruffed grouse, and pheasants.

Saturday and March 2: Annual Colby Classic Ice Fishing Derby at Lake Colby in Saranac Lake (518) 891-5989).

March 9: Daylight savings time begins.

March 15: Parishville Sportsman Club’s 29th annual Rabbit Hunt (265-2922).

March 15: Northern pike and walleye seasons close until the first Saturday in May.

March 15: Ice shanties must be removed from NYS waters.

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