You've bought a new hunting property. Maybe you even purchased it through Realtree United Country. The first step in managing it should be to improve the carrying capacity of whatever game animal, or animals, you want to hunt. Immediately talk to your local USDA/NRCS agent and let them help determine what you need to do. They should also be able look at maps of your land and provide information on cost-sharing programs. It’s also a good idea to work with either a consulting forester or a local forest service agent and determine the status of the woodlands on your property. Using the guidance of a professional can lead you to some great financial returns on your land, making it easier to accomplish your end goal.
1. Timber and Brush Management
Timber is one of the best renewable resources you will ever have on a piece of property and it requires very little maintenance. A timber professional can tell you what to expect out of your timber and when you can expect to harvest it. They can also tell you what you need to do to improve it. Though many landowners think they can just wing it and get by, take the time and invest in building a relationship with a timber professional. It will pay off in a short time.
Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) is a very useful way to manage your timber stand, get some money for it, and improve your wildlife and habitat. TSI is basically a way to thin out the existing stand, and take out dead and diseased trees. This will improve the timber values, while allowing it to grow and produce a higher yield. It’s a good idea to use TSI wherever you can. In most states, there are cost share monies available for you as a landowner to use to help pay for the work that it may require. Again, a timber professional can help take you through these steps.
Brush removal can be done with TSI inside the forest management zone, but outside that area it is crucial that you selectively remove some brush. Deer aside, quail and turkeys use the brushy areas to hide their young. Also, deer will use brushy areas as travel corridors and bedding areas, so brushy areas are definitely advantageous to have.
You can utilize these areas to funnel deer to a certain area or to create safe zones inside larger areas or fields. By creating a patchwork of habitat you can maximize the potential of your land. Use the brush to break up habitat. For example, use a brush row that you cleared out of your food plot to run between the plot and a road. This will create a security screen for deer and a place for your birds to hide from predators. Another example would be to use a brushy edge inside the woods for a breakup between hardwoods and pine plantations.
It’s also a good idea to think through stand placement and utilize brush to funnel deer into specific shooting lanes. While clearing these lanes, take the brush and make funnels that will attract deer to enter fields at certain areas. If you have to move a stand, also make sure you address where your funnels enter and exit specific fields.
2. Fire Management
Fire is without a doubt one of the best management tools that we can use as land managers. When we burn, it opens avenues for seeds and plants that otherwise wouldn’t germinate or grow. It also removes undesirable leaf and woody debris that would otherwise smother out valuable seeds and plants that have a high value with all species. After an area is burned, turkeys and quail will take advantage of the seeds and other tender shoots of grass and broad leaves that sprout up. And deer will also use the recently burned areas to browse the tender shoots and buds.
But before you begin to burn, you need to consult and use someone with burning experience. I would recommend that you contact either the forest service or your local volunteer fire department for help with burning. A lot of the fire departments use prescribed burning as training and it is usually a free service or requires a small donation. It’s also good to use these people because they are trained in this aspect. You want a cool fire to burn evenly and they can pick the right conditions for this, plus they have the equipment readily available for extinguishing the fire should it get out of hand. You can also use a land consultant, but they tend to charge a higher amount per acre because of insurance and labor time.
Typically, you burn on a three-year rotation, so you’re only burning a particular area once every three years. Using fire will help you create better habitat. It also puts nutrients back into your soils that can help increase the health of your deer herd. As far as timing goes, you want to burn sometime between late winter and the bird-nesting season. Depending upon your area, this may be as early as March or as late as May. Pick the time when you know quail and turkeys are not nesting and then begin your burning schedule. You will be surprised at how green the areas are a few weeks after you burn.
3. Soil Testing and Fertilizer
When you took your soil samples on the existing food plots and crop fields, you indicated the species(s) that you had, then sent them off to the testing lab. They came back and you may or may not understand what you need. So where do you begin? Even if you understand, I would still get your local extension agent to take a look at them. This will help you get a feel for the steps you need to take. They can also direct you where to get lime, fertilizer and what blends are available in your area. Whatever they are, they'll make your plants richer and more desirable to deer.
For example, say the existing clover patch needs 1,800 pounds of lime per acre and it’s 2 acres in size. You will need a total of 3,600 pounds of lime and some sort of spreader. If you have access to a truck spreader, then by all means utilize it, but if you don’t, find an ATV spreader that you can calibrate with ease and start spreading. Bulk or powdered lime is harder to spread, but pelletized lime can be spread with ease and will not be as messy.
If it’s a new plot, it’s a good idea to cut the lime in with a disc or tiller before seeding, especially if the PH is skewed. Otherwise, you can just spread the lime and let the rain and weather take it into the soil. Not all plots will need lime, but most of them require some sort of fertilization. It’s important to go by the soil test recommendations for this, because of the high price of fertilizer and being a good steward of the land, you don’t want to waste your money, time and effort for the fertilizer to run off. And you definitely don’t want to use the wrong kind and hurt your plants.
When applying fertilizer, you should go by the soil test recommendations to ensure proper fertilization. The three numbers in 13-13-13 means that 13 percent of that bag is nitrogen, 13 percent is phosphorus and 13 percent is potassium. If you are supposed to put out 10 pounds of nitrogen, 20 pounds of phosphorus, and 20 pounds of potassium per acre, then you should use 100 pounds of 10-20-20 per acre. A lot of the required nutrients can be hard to match in a pre-mixed bag. If you have larger areas that require a weird analysis, then I suggest you seek a local farmer’s co-op and have them mix what you need. A lot of co-ops or feed stores have a spreader trailer that they will let you rent, which will take away the hassle from handling the mix as much.
Land improvements such as brush removal, clearing, TSI, burning and adding soil amendments will greatly increase the usage and wildlife habitat of your land. Using professionals that deal with particular practices can help you reduce the cost and stay safe when burning or using timber stand improvement. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to these professionals, they do this for a living and can offer some great insight to you as a landowner.