In 1985, when I became the outdoorsy editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, the editor, Joe Doster, told me that I didn’t have to “know everything” about hunting and fishing to do a good job. He knew that I loved to hunt and fish, but he thought he was far from an expert.
“You only know the people who know everything,” he said.
I took it seriously and for the next 21 years tried to pick the brains of every good wildlife or fisheries biologist whose phone numbers I could get. I literally learned at the feet of some of North Carolina’s best biologists: deer man Scott Osborne, turkey man Mike Seamster, small game man Terry Sharpe, and “fish heads” like Fred Harris, Joe Mickey, Scott Van Horn, David Yow, and Kin. Hodges.
Last month, Nick Prough of Missouri, the chief biologist for the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, taught members of the Yadkin Valley Wildlife Federation the basics of improving wildlife habitat.
The cause of improving wildlife habitat has probably been the fastest growing part of hunting in the last 10 years. Quality deer management comes a close second, but the two are often intertwined. Across the country, hunters are realizing that if they can improve where white-tailed and wild turkeys live on farms or hunting leases, they will end up with more of them and, hopefully, animals of the Best Quality.
“The habitat is simple,” said Prough. “It’s food, water and cover. It is not necessary to have a (biological) title to build a habitat; you just have to have the will. If you have a chainsaw and some chainsaw gas, and maybe a UTV (utility vehicle) and some gas, you can work in the habitat.”
In his occupation, Prough works with landowners large and small, trying to help them make their home forests and fields more attractive to wildlife. He might just be working a quarter-acre opening for wildlife in the wood, maybe a food plot only an acre in size, maybe just upgrading little pieces here and there.
But it all adds up. There may be an extra flock of quail in a year or two, or a couple more female turkeys may nest there and roam around, and whitetails may find reasons to make that little piece of heaven the most used part of their home. of 2,000 acres. range.
Water is very basic, Prough said. Very few properties do not have enough water to quench the thirst of a large whitetail deer. And food?
He said food is not a limiting factor at most properties. A big deal among many nature lovers these days, food plots may be something that will attract more deer and turkey, but it won’t be something that will spell the difference between success and failure.
The key, he said, is coverage. Where can birds and animals nest, breed and hide when they need to? On nesting deck, brood deck, and escape deck. And it’s pretty easy to provide, even with the most basic tools.
Nesting cover for quail, turkeys, rabbits, even deer, are grassy areas, particularly those with clusters of grasses such as bluestem and timothy.
It’s where you can hide a clutch of eggs from nest predators like skunks, opossums, and raccoons, not to mention snakes. I removed a guan from her nest two years ago in May: she was in a weedy fallow field from which cattle had been removed a year earlier. She and her nest were perfectly hidden, and if she hadn’t stepped on it, she never would have known.
The brood deck is created by cutting and disking: Prough calls it “disturbance.”
“The key is disruption,” he said. “We need to teach the landowners to do some disturbance, then put some seeds and God will do the rest. You get some weeds, foxtail and ragweed, and you have the right habitat.”
Prough said neglected “edges” where two different types of habitat meet — for example, wood and a field — are potential areas where birds and animals can raise their young, safe from many aerial and ground predators. He suggested cutting 8- to 10- to 15-foot-wide strips through mature fields to provide places for small birds and animals to forage for seeds, insects, and emergent vegetation.
Prough also encourages the natural growth of weed cover.
And there’s no need for a big John Deere; outdoorsmen with access to a UTV or ATV can hook up a small set of drives and get the job done. My son and I have planted a 6 acre pigeon field two of the last three summers with a boar and discus ATV.
Nip and Drop When it comes to escape protection, think about where a pair of quail or a female turkey might take their young to safety from the local red-tailed hawks or coyotes.
Think thick. That’s where the chainsaw comes in handy. Prough called his technique “cut and drop” or “cut, drop and drag”.
It likes to dump “trash” trees along field edges and even into the woods to create natural brush piles that shelter birds and animals. You could drop multiple trees in one area, attach a chain around their trunks and to your ATV and drag them to form a large pile of brush, or lay them end to end along the edge of a field to form one large piece. horizontal. of cover that wildlife can use.
“I like to use a hinge cut,” said Prough. “I like to cut about three-quarters of a tree down, about thigh-high or waist-high, and let it fall on its own. That’s a pile of growing weeds. Deer love to lie down under and behind fallen trees. You can create bedding areas by dropping trees.
“Deer are lazy. They have nowhere to go and all day to get there, same goes for turkeys. You put a crescent of fallen trees along the edge of a field, and there you’ll have deer beds.”
Prough also has another less-than-secret weapon. He calls it a “wildlife opening.” He will enter a group of wood and clear a small opening, often as small as a quarter of an acre. He tries not to cut down any valuable trees: oaks or pines. What he wants to do is create an opening where the canopy has been removed and the sun can reach the ground. You don’t even have to create a disturbance; sunlight and photosynthesis will take over from there, with all kinds of vegetation growing almost immediately, providing food and shelter for wildlife within a few weeks of chainsaw work.
Prough said improving wildlife habitat is often a matter of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try to create better coverage, and if it works, replicate your effort elsewhere. If you can improve habitat in two or three areas of your hunting property next year, you can improve two or three more areas the following year. Some of your efforts will fail, he said.
“There is no such thing as a silver bullet,” he said. “There are a lot of ‘YouTube biologists’ out there. They went to ‘YouTube University’. There’s some good stuff out there, and you can see what the guys are trying, but YouTube is full of silver bullets.”
Putting down mineral blocks (when legal) is a great way to help improve the quality of the bucks in your deer herd, but it’s not nearly as important as letting the young bucks walk, he said.
“I put my minerals in to get a good trail camera shot,” he said. “Most of the deer will crave the minerals and come to visit every two or three days.”
Last but not least, do not “turn” any soil during the winter. That is the time when game birds and wildlife most need shelter and food, and the time when predators are most on the hunt. So why go back under a field that serves as food and shelter? Wait until spring when everything turns green and more food and cover grow.
Dan Kibler is an outdoor writer based in Clemmons.