So, thanks to Realtree United Country, you just closed on the 200-acre tract of land that you had your eye on for some time. You want to turn this into your own personal wildlife refuge, but first you must evaluate your land and figure out what tools you have at your disposal.
Spend several days getting to know your land and your neighbors. You can access your land using ATVs or other vehicles, but nothing beats your own two feet. Walk your boundaries and fence lines to familiarize yourself with the property. Get a topographical map and aerial photography of your land and use those to guide you. If you have a GPS and the mapping tools on your home PC, use them to your advantage as well.
Mark your roads, trails, fields, creeks, swamps and any other prominent features you might encounter. Locate particular points of reference such as stands of pines, oak flats, a large white oak, a particular apple tree or rock outcropping and name them to help you to remember certain aspects of your property. Refer to these names when establishing hunting or management plans so that you can remain consistent.
Never scout your property without a map in your hand, and mark on the map deer trails and rub lines. If you locate a strutting zone for turkeys, pencil that in as you go as well. The more you know about the habits of wildlife on your land, the better you will be at managing this property in the future.
Make sure that you get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself and tell them about your plans for your property. Ask them about their management practices and about the quality of deer on the property. Build a friendship with the goal of helping each other out with your management practices. If you help your neighbors with chores around their farm and property, then you may end up with more hunting opportunities in return.
After walking your land, studying your maps, and talking to neighbors, write down your goals and make sure that they are realistic. Remember that if you live in the piney woods of South Georgia, you won’t have five B&C bucks on your property, or if you live in upstate New York, you most likely will not have a quail plantation.
Make sure that you establish both short-term and long-term goals for your property. For example, a simple short-term goal would be to plant two acres of food plots, and a long-term goal would be to do a complete Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) on your property. You can obtain the short-term goal this season, but the long-term goal may require a three-year plan.
Throughout this process, make sure you keep a journal of progress so that you can remember what you did when and where you did it. You may remember when you planted your first food plot, but three years later you may not remember what seed mix you planted and why. The journal will help you determine and maintain your goals. Your short-term goals should ultimately lead into your long-term goals.
If one of your long-term goals is to harvest a P&Y buck off of your land, then you need to adjust your short-term goals so that you can attain your long-term goal. For example, you can plant food plots, increase doe harvest, do a TSI, maintain native vegetation, do a trail cam survey, etc. Each of these steps will help make the goal attainable, and put the odds in your favor.
After you’ve walked your property, taken inventory of your assets, studied your topos and established your goals, its time to start working on those goals. Any type of wildlife management on any property should have some sort of food plots. But where do you begin? What sites are the best? You’ve penciled in the bedding areas, trails and natural food sources on your maps. Now where do you plant your plots? Locating the plots in and near bedding and/or travel areas and not too far from water is ideal.
Although finding such a location can be hard, the closer you can get to the apex of the three, the better your hunt will be. Your property may not contain a lot of fields, but work with what you’ve got. If you have nothing but power and gas lines, then use those short-term until you can make some fields. But if you have fields that are not being cropped or grazed, use them to your advantage.
Having located several sites for plots, you now must test the soil, which is the single most important thing you can do for your food plots. With the increased cost of fertilizers and lime, and as well as being a good steward of conservation, you owe it to yourself to not add too much or not enough soil amendments. If you are not familiar with soil samples, most states offer this service for a small fee or for free. Consult your local Ag extension agent, and be sure to tell them it is for establishing food plots because they readily help farmers and food plotters.
After you’ve taken your soil samples, sent them off and are waiting on the results, what is your next move? Spend some time talking to your USDA/NRCS and Soil and Water persons for potential cost-sharing projects. Dependent upon the state, there are several programs like WHIP, ACSP, WRP, CRP, CREP and many others that will actually help you as a land owner establish and promote wildlife habitat on your property. The government set this money aside for conservation programs, so I suggest that you at least talk to them and see if you qualify.
While you’re in the USDA office, request a soil map of your property, or you may find it online. The soil map can help you determine the soil types and give you an idea of how ‘fertile’ your soil is and what you may be able to do with your land.
You should be getting a good feel for your property and what its features are. The goals, objectives and management principles you establish for your land are vital to the outcome of your property. Spend your spare time looking at maps, walking the property and learning more about it. The more you learn about your land the better manager you will be.
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