Deer HUnting Orchard

Habitat Improvement Project – Neglected Apple Trees

Rejoice, spring is almost here for most of the country. Now is the time to kick off your whitetail habitat improvement projects. If your property has neglected apple trees, put the work in now to turn this area into a deer hunting orchard.

Hopefully at this point, you have read our page on making a habitat improvement plan and how to identify and focus on one of the three key elements that mature whitetails need.

Grunt, Snort-Wheeze, and Rattle this to your buddies!


While you can focus on cover on a smaller slice of heaven much like I did, don’t neglect having browse or mast sources that are different from what is available in the surrounding properties. This is especially important in transition areas you plan to hunt.

  • Food
  • Water
  • 3Cover


In one corridor or transition area on our property, there are two old apple trees. They were overgrown and not well taken care of but had produced fruit every fall. Given these trees were in a hunting transition area, they were established and bearing fruit, this is a quick and easy win for my habitat improvement goals.


I want the mature deer to feel safe on my property both in the bedding areas and in the transition areas. In those transition areas I want to provide browse that is nutritional and different from surrounding farms. Said a much more concise way, I want them to bed here and linger during shooting hours!How to improve existing apple trees.

Deer Hunting Orchard – Care

This is simple, there are two steps to increasing the quantity and quality of mast & browse on existing apple trees.

  • Prune
  • Fertilize


Let’s look at pruning in more detail. Pruning should be done when the trees are dormant, which is now (late winter early spring) for much of the Midwest. In general, for apple trees, you want one central leader or trunk moving up the tree. You want the shape of the tree to look like a perfect Christmas tree. The bottom branches or limbs being the longest on the tree and shortening as the tree grows taller. In a perfect world you want equal spacing between the limbs as it moves up. Picture a ladder moving up the tree and around to the top. With existing trees, it is helpful to mark any dead or damaged limbs or branches in the fall.

Remove those or any that you know are dead or damaged. Once the dead and damaged are removed step back and picture which limbs need to be removed or trimmed to create this perfect shaped Christmas tree. While it may be impossible to get this shape with an existing tree that has been neglected do your best to trim the tree to encourage this type of growth.


The next step is removing any shoots or branches that are crossing over one another or rubbing. Tis may not be an issue for you, but after the first pruning you will have this issue crop up the next year. Keep in mind, the tree needs light, water and nutrients to create the best mast for deer.


If you are planting new trees this spring, prune to encourage this type of growth and provide some type of protection for the tree or the deer will browse it down during the spring and rub it to death in the fall.

The next step is removing any shoots or branches that are crossing over one another or rubbing. Tis may not be an issue for you, but after the first pruning you will have this issue crop up the next year. Keep in mind, the tree needs light, water and nutrients to create the best mast for deer.

Deer Hunting Orchard – New Plantings

If you are planting new trees this sprng, prune to encourage this type of growth and provide some type of protection for the tree or the deer will browse it down during the spring and rub it to death in the fall.
For Fertilizing apple trees, I fertilize three times during the year. Once in early spring when they are still dormant, then again in late spring early summer (late May), then finally in late fall. Apple trees need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. A general 20 -10 -10 fertilizer will work as will a 10 -10 -10. (20 -10 -10 is 20% Nitrogen, 10% Phosphorous, 10% Potassium). I use around a pound of fertilizer each time I feed the trees. I start a foot away from the trunk and spread around and out to the drip line.


When you finish this project, keep an eye out for stand sites and these trees will become a hot spot for deer activity when the fruit is ripe and continue until all apples have been cleaned up after falling. These will be hot spots during this time and can produce mature whitetails each year.


This is a quick and easy win for your habitat improvement goals and a deer hunting orchard will reap rewards in the fall.


Get outside, and improve your whitetail paradise.


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