We are going to be turning an average hunting property into a hunter’s paradise. I will be helping with others to do all of the planning, planting, and farming as we give this piece of property an extreme makeover.
The property right now consists of 160 acres. Approximately 40 acres is wooded and the rest is tillable. It has been farmed for decades on a rotation of soy beans and corn. The surrounding properties offer plenty of beans and corn as well. Just to the west is 80 acres of deer sanctuary on land that has been in a wildlife program for some time. A neighboring south property consists of a dried up swamp area with rows of mature pine trees to the SE. The deer love these areas and only come on to the 160 acres to feed in crop fields that are usually harvested by November.
This leaves us with a huge area of open ground that is tough to hunt. A lot of our stands are close to the west and south borders just so we can see deer as they move all day long in these thicker areas. At first, it is nice to see deer but then it just gets frustrating after numerous attempts to lure them across the fence. The woods on the property will normally hold some does that will bring by the occasional buck when the time is right. There is also a man-made ditch winding through the property that provides a little cover in between wood lots. The SW corner holds a small grassy area with trees that used to be a swamp before the farmers installed field tile. Though a nice 140 class 8 point was taken in early November of this year while checking some does, opportunities like this are few and far between especially with a bow. This is what we intend to change.
The first step in the right direction was to not resign the contract with the farmers and break the news to them. They completely understood and seemed to handle it as well as they could. They farm thousands of acres in the area so losing 120 was just a drop in the bucket. After kicking out the farmer, we are now in the planning and meeting with the wildlife experts stage. With areas of woods, high sandy fields, low muck ground, and a ditch it really opens the door for many different programs. We plan to combine a few that will reimburse the landowner each year and also provide the best hunting ground possible. This will also help to better the water quality and aid in soil erosion. We will meet with a forestry department person, someone specializing in CRP programs, and a ditch and wetlands expert. Together we will find what works best.
In the meantime we are figuring out what pieces of land to set aside from the programs so we can plant our own food plots and thicket areas. We’ll also need lanes for access and to separate any CRP fields from other areas so we can do controlled burns when it is required. Taking out all the crops has us a little concerned that deer will leave to feed and only come back to bed. We want to provide the deer and turkey with everything they need to survive so we’ve decided to set aside 20 acres to be farmed. We will lease it to a farmer willing to plant alfalfa. There isn’t a lot of it in this area as it is usually soy beans and corn like mentioned, but the occasional alfalfa field can be a real deer magnet. Alfalfa farmers have come to realize they will loose 30-50% of their crop to deer but that will be fine by us. Plus we can buy a few round bails from their fall harvest to feed the deer once hunting season is done. This is a good strategy to help them survive the winter and to keep them on the property.
Besides the alfalfa, we will set aside our own food plots that will draw in deer once the alfalfa is final cut and goes dormant in the fall. Adjacent to these plots we want to create thickets or deer sanctuaries. We will not go into or bother these areas so the deer will have somewhere safe to go once hunting pressure is abundant. This will help to allow more young bucks to mature which will increase our quality of trophy deer on the property. In later posts I will get into types of food plots and what we’ll plant for thicket areas and so on. Along the borders, especially by the roadway, we will plant several rows of fast growing tress to create a barrier. This will deter poachers which unfortunately is an ongoing problem. These natural walls of protection will probably be a combination of white pines and hybrid poplars.
After meeting with the wildlife biologist about the 160 acre property, we are a little more educated about habitat and what will work and what won’t work in accordance with certain habitat programs. We found out quickly that just drawing up a dream property design can be a bit fly by night. If you are entering property into wildlife habitat programs you really have to stay within the guidelines to be compliant. Although it won’t be laid out exactly like we initially planned, the biologist has a good idea of what we want. Being familiar with the different State and Federal programs, he should be able to put together a feasible design that should get approved upon submission. This is where we are now, waiting on a detailed design. As a matter of fact, it will be extremely detailed as far as layout, species of trees and native grasses, required burn schedules, and how and when to do it all.
He expressed the importance of native warm season grasses as they provide ground cover that holds up through even a tough winter. Warm season grasses have an insulating effect which is vitally important to most wildlife species. Warm season grasses grow in clumps. This growth pattern provides a good percentage of bare ground which is necessary for many birds but without causing soil erosion issues. The bare areas in between clumps of grass provide ease of movement reducing the overall energy wildlife must spend in search of protein rich insects. Dove, quail, pheasant, turkey, and many songbirds find native warm season grasses suitable nesting cover. This type of cover is also preferred by deer. It’s a great bedding area and keeps deer on your property by providing a place for does to safely raise their fawns.
Providing screening type cover around the perimeter of the property is important to preventing wind erosion, keeping the deer feeling secure, and to help protect from trespassers and poachers. Several staggered rows of white pines are usually the norm. But because the pines will take years to mature, we are also wanting to plant some hybrid poplars and possibly even some hybrid willows. The two hybrid species grow extremely fast and will provide protection long before the pines do.
Another option we are looking into is Egyptian wheat which is actually not a wheat at all, it’s more of a sorghum but can provide some great cover in a short time. Egyptian wheat will mature in 120-140 days and will get 10-12 feet high. We may be able to plant it around the perimeter of CRP and grass sections for our burn rows. Normally from the property line in you plant 3-6 rows of staggered trees for screening and a windbreak, then several rows of native bushes and brush, a minimum of 30 foot burn lane usually clover, and then the native grass. A burn row can be anything that is tillable each year so on years you have to burn a 30 foot dirt lane keeps the fire where it belongs. The brush row between the burn row and windbreak is to distance the trees further from a blazing fire. Although some heat is good for the trees, too much can obviously be both detrimental and dangerous.
While waiting on a design, we are setting up a meeting with a forestry expert to discuss the 40 acres of woodlot. Selective clear cutting will create dense brush and food for deer. It’s important to know that most of a deer’s diet exists within 5-6 feet of the ground. A tall standing timber with a heavy canopy doesn’t provide much ground cover or food for deer. What might appear to be a great looking woods can be a barren waste land as far as deer are concerned. Clear cutting can also provide some extra income that could be helpful in other areas of your property. Wildlife habitat should be thick enough that it’s hard for humans to walk through and the only way to produce that in a wooded area is to allow some sunlight to reach the ground. Our desired plan is to do some clear cutting and some hinge cutting to provide thick cover and then designate that area as a deer sanctuary.
As we anxiously await an approved plan and springtime, we are planning out our food plots. Our goal is to provide something for the deer to eat on a year round basis. In the next section we’ll talk about particular food sources and what our game plan is for creating a deer smorgasbord. Stay tuned!