Habitat Management

Because of climatic constraints, habitat management for mule deer is generally extensive (livestock management, brush management) rather than intensive (food plots, supplemental feeding, etc.). Although forbs are an important and highly preferred component of the diet, their abundance is often a function of seasonal rainfall and therefore outside the realm of active management. Identifying the key browse plants and knowing how they respond to livestock grazing, herbicides, burning, spot fertilization and other practices can help to improve the quantity and quality of browse available to deer.

Figure 5. A browse line is becoming evident on this shinoak, a key browse plant in many areas. Heavy use suggests that the deer herd is near or above carrying capacity for the range.

The ability to identify and “read” deer use on key plant species is the best way to evaluate deer range relative to population level (Fig.5). Generally, such key species include perennial browse plants that are locally common, such as lechugilla, shinoak or skunkbush. By judging deer use on these key species, in key sites, information about range trend can be accumulated. Such data, when accompanied by census and harvest data over a period of years, will help you to make informed management decisions relative to harvest levels.

Water is a critical component of mule deer habitat. Deer habitat, no matter how attractive, will not be utilized if it is not near a source of water. Water sites should be no more than 2 to 3 miles apart, even closer in rough terrain. Constructing stock ponds or wildlife “guzzlers” or developing natural streams is an effective way to enhance wildlife use of areas in the arid southwest.

Contact your local Soil Conservation Service office or get “Water Development for Desert Mule Deer” (Booklet 7000-32) from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for additional information on the construction of watering facilities. When designing watering facilities, keep the troughs low enough to be used by fawns. Windmills should remain operational even when livestock are absent from the pasture, because these watering points are important to deer and other wildlife.