Prescribed Burning for White-tailed Deer & Habitat


One of the best management tools for improving habitat for white-tailed deer and other wildlife species was invented years ago. It’s so simple that the management practice is often overlooked by landowners. It’s called prescribed fire. Love it or hate it, the fact of the matter is that prescribed burns can improve your land, whether it is pasture, brushland or woodlands. Prescribed burning is often the cheapest way to manage plant communities.

The cost is low on a per acre basis, but prescribed burning is also an ecologically sound way to improve wildlife habitat. Fire used as part of a land management plan can help game species and plants or animals that are endangered, threatened, or of special concern. You can also use fire to rejuvenate lands that have been sitting idle over a number of years. Fire can knock down the rank vegetation and put all of that material back into the ground as natural fertilizer.

Fire: Maintain and Improve

Prescribed fire maintains grasslands to provide nesting areas for waterfowl, non-game and upland game birds. Brushland species such as bobwhite quail benefit from fires, which maintain or restore the open areas these birds prefer. In some oak forests, prescribed burning can encourage oak regeneration and boost acorn production, which benefits white-tailed deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys.

Burning grazed pastures improves green-up in the spring and improves forage range quality and palatability for grazing animals. In the same manner, burning forest openings helps the regrowth of woodland plants eaten by deer, birds and smaller mammals. Foresters use fire to burn slash and prepare logged-over sites for re-establishing pine forest.

Fire, even when used in small amounts, results in vegetation that is incredibly attractive to deer and other wildlife that rely on new-growth grasses and protein-rich forbs for nutrition.


Some Thoughts About Fire

Source: “In short, prescribed burning may be one of the best things you can do for your property. It has numerous benefits, from killing unwanted and weedy vegetation to revitalizing the soil with the ashes. Once a tract is burned you may be able to get in with a tractor and Bush Hog, disc or stump/tree grinder and do even more work, including planting new plots, trees and vegetation.

Even if you don’t plant anything after a burn you’ll still see benefits, as will deer, turkeys, quail and other wildlife. Deer and turkeys love the new vegetation that grows, and it won’t take long for it to start shooting up. Other small game and songbirds can benefit from the removal of ground litter.”

Prescribed Burning: Do What’s Worked

Historically, fire was used by Mother Nature to keep habitat is check. Fire trims up trees and brush that shade out sun-dependent plants such as grasses and forbs, which are rich sources of protein for deer. After a burn, blackened soil quickly absorbs sunlight and the warmed earth promotes seed germination. Blackened plant remnants turn into a rich fertilizer, encouraging new grass growth to sprout from the network of root systems deep below ground.

In grasslands, the new growth can be top-notch forage for livestock, though it will be impossible to keep wildlife away from it, as well. In ungrazed areas, the dense grasses provides screening cover and nesting sites for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife. Deer often use lush grasslands as loafing areas. Forests openings burned in the spring can provide lush food for hungry deer coming out of winter.

Information About Burning Habitat for Deer

Managing for wildlife and habitat