Will Logging Scare Deer Away?

Logging may scare deer away in the short term, but it will attract them in the long term.

If you are planning a timber harvest on your property or if you have noticed logging activity on public land or a property you are leasing, you may be wondering if the logging will scare the deer away. Though logging will interrupt deer activity while a harvest is active, deer will quickly return and may feed on the freshly cut limbs. In the long term, the increased bio-diversity that logging brings will undoubtedly improve the deer habitat quality and increase deer numbers. It’s a pattern I have seen time and time again as a forester.

Logging Activity Disrupts Deer Movement

Logging is a noisy, chaotic process, and as any hunter or wildlife watcher knows, deer are very sensitive to incredibly small changes in their environment, let alone the introduction of massive machinery. A logging operation, no matter how small, is going to scare away deer while it is ongoing. It is difficult if not impossible to avoid that. However, It is possible the herd will return to the area at nights when the operation is inactive. Even so, the deer’s patterns will be altered. Don’t expect to see deer in daylight when trees are still falling. This is only short-term. They will return.

After harvest, Deer May be Drawn to the Logging Site

Though the chaos and ruckus of logging will scare deer, one benefit of the disruption is the massive amount of tree tops and cut branches, known as slash, that are brought to the ground. Deer love to feed on this debris, and it is possible (depending on the time of year and tree species) it will act as a bait pile, drawing in deer from all over. In fact, in colder climates where winter food sources are scarce, some landowners choose to deliberately cut and leave browse species like northern white cedar near deer wintering areas to allow deer to feed on the otherwise too tall vegetation. The Maine IFW even suggests that landowners time harvests around deer herds for winter to provide a food source:

Timing one’s forest management activities, whether for firewood or lumber, to occur during winter also provides deer with a large amount of natural browse from treetops, when they can best use it. Generally, deer prefer hardwood tree-tops for browse.

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Deer aren’t the only animals that may come to the area after a harvest. During my time in the woods, most of the moose I encountered face-to-face were snacking on slash and debris. I snapped a picture of this monster while the machines were still working:

Logging can attract cervids like deer and this moose as they feed on slash.

The end result of a logging operation is an all-you-can-eat buffet for deer and other cervids. Though you may not see them during the operation, you will see them after.

In the Long-Term, Logging is an Excellent Way of Improving Habitat

If a logging operation follows a deliberate forest management plan with clear objectives that can benefit deer, logging is an exceptional (if not the best) way of improving deer habitat and deer numbers over time. After only a year, deer can feed on the vegetation that grows in trails and openings. Younger mast-producing trees like oak or hickory can be given space to grow, improving the trees’ ability to produce desirable acorns or hickory nuts after several years. If a harvest is designed specifically to improve habitat, effects are particularly profound. If you are planning to design a harvest to improve deer habitat, it is best to consult a professional forester to understand the nuances of your particular area and optimize the improvement of your habitat.

How to Plan Your Harvest to Limit Deer Disturbance

Despite the great long-term benefits, it is still an unfortunate reality that an active logging operation may scare deer away. That said, there are strategies you can use to mitigate the effects:

  • If you are concerned about your hunting season, it is best to plan a harvest for mid-winter or early summer. That should guarantee the deer have returned by opening day.
  • Try to restrict working hours to daylight. Especially during the summer, deer tend to be more nocturnal. Keeping nights quiet will give deer a chance to return to the area each night when activity dies down. In most cases, logging night shifts aren’t practical anyway, but they can be popular in areas with a larger, more industrial timber industry.
  • Finally, because of the benefits of leaving slash on the forest floor, consider harvesting with a cut-to-length system or cable skidder. Whole tree systems using a feller-buncher simply won’t leave as much slash for deer to feed on.

Don’t despair if the deer leave despite your best efforts. They will appreciate your efforts in the end.

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