Photo by J. Wayne Fears
The exclusion cage allows you to compare the unbrowsed food in the cage to the browsed food plot that surrounds it.
Deer exclusion cages
There are several ways of evaluating deer usage on a food plot. Some are expensive and time consuming. Others are very scientific. The least expensive and easiest method is to construct an exclusion cage on each food plot. This simple device prevents deer and other animals from eating what’s inside the cage, and by observing how much and what kind of forage grows inside and comparing it with the rest of the food plot, you can see how much forage is being produced and how heavily the deer are browsing the plot.
Exclusion cages can be any shape. I like round ones, but there is no right or wrong shape, provided it’s built so deer cannot reach what’s growing inside.
Make an exclusion cage
Obtain a roll of 2-inch by 4-inch welded wire fence that is 4-feet high. A 50-foot roll will cost you about $38 and will make approximately six cages.
Roll the wire out on a flat surface and straighten it so it is easy to cut. Wear leather gloves to prevent injury while handling wire.
Using wire shears or a fencing tool, cut an 8-foot length of fence. Be sure to cut the fence on one edge of the 2-inch horizontal wires, which will give you 2-inch closure tabs along the vertical wire.
Make a circle with the 8-foot section of fence and connect the ends with the wire tabs, or cut off the wire tabs and use plastic cable ties to form the roll.
Place the circular cage upright in a food plot after it is planted and stake the cage down to prevent deer, wild hogs or other animals from knocking it over. Use rebar or T posts as stakes. Secure the cage to the stakes with heavy-duty plastic cable ties. If you use rebar, weave the stake in and out of the wire to hold it in place.
Remove the cage or mark it with bright orange tape before mowing or tilling the plot. It can be difficult for a tractor operator to see.
What the cage will tell you
Study the amount and type of growth in the cage compared to what is outside it to understand how much the deer are feeding on the food plot. On small food plots, the plants seem to come up only an inch or two and never get any higher. Often, the exclusion cage shows that it was not a crop failure, simply heavy browsing.
If the crop inside your cage is equal to the crop outside, little browsing is taking place, which can indicate several things: few deer in the area, abundant natural food or poor weather conditions for deer movement.
I have seen years of heavy acorn and other mast crop production when it was late winter before deer began using food plots. I also have seen food plots planted in crops the deer didn’t like and it wasn’t until the crop changed that deer began using them.
An exclusion cage can help determine if you have too many deer on your property. If the plants inside your exclusion cage are thriving, but the food plot outside the cage is eaten to the ground, your deer population is probably beyond the carrying capacity of the habitat. It is time to call in your local wildlife biologist to make recommendations. — J. Wayne Fears
NWTF Seed Subsidy Program
The NWTF Seed Subsidy Program helps members purchase lower cost seed for habitat planting, especially on private lands. Participating NWTF state chapters support the subsidies through the NWTF Super Fund. Most participating chapters offer NWTF Turkey Gold Strut and Rut mixes or Turkey Gold Chufa at half the cost. This program is only available to NWTF members. To find out if your state offers a seed subsidy program, contact your local NWTF chapter president or call 1-800-THE-NWTF.