Improve Wildlife Habitat with These Simple Tasks
Feature Photo Credit: Ryan Lisson
Springtime usually means one thing to most hunters: it’s time to hit the woods with a box call and some turkey decoys. That’s great and nobody would blame you for doing that. But there are lots of other ways you can spend time in the spring woods this season – ways that will ultimately pay off over the years with improved wildlife habitat and increased animal abundance and visibility (oh, and hunting opportunities too). That’s right; it’s time to kick off your spring wildlife habitat projects. Just make sure to grab the right deer hunting accessories and tools before you hit the woods so you can get as many of your land management goals checked off the list before your summer projects start. You’ll probably be surprised at just how many animals benefit from your wildlife habitat work too; whitetails, turkeys, grouse, rabbits, bears, and most other animals in between will all have improved habitats (i.e., an increase in available cover and food) for years to come!
Deer Hunting Accessories | You’re Only as Good as Your Tools
As any good carpenter knows, you can’t produce a great and valuable product without the right tools. The same is true for your wildlife management goals. That doesn’t mean the tools have to be the most expensive ones either. It just means you need the right ones, along with the appropriate know-how, to get it done. For most of these wildlife habitat projects, you will be doing some cutting. Mother Nature often responds to destruction with amazing forms of new and vibrant life. That’s exactly what you’ll key in on.
First, you’ll want to make sure you have the proper safety equipment and use all the tools below for the purposes they are supposed to be used. Big Game Tree Stands® has several handheld cutting implements that will be more than sufficient for these wildlife habitat improvements. Unless you’ll be tackling some big trees while hinge cutting, which you shouldn’t be doing anyway, a handheld serrated saw or folding saw will get you through any of them. If there are mature trees that need to be cleared from the area completely, it’s best to get a chainsaw. Some simple handheld loppers or the deluxe ratchet shears are perfect for cutting live stakes off existing shrubs or trees.
You’ll also need a shovel and a few buckets if you plan to transplant anything very successfully. For the food plots, you’ll also need a garden rake to clear the vegetation, and a sprayer and spreader would both be very handy items (though you don’t need them right away). Luckily, you probably have several of these sitting in the garden shed already.
Wildlife Habitat Projects You Can Do This Spring
As we mentioned, these simple wildlife habitat improvement projects will help expand the wildlife habitat on your private land for multiple species. And none of them are complicated! They just take some time and effort, which is well-spent considering the amazing future hunting opportunities you’ll get in return.
Hinge Cutting Wildlife Openings
Hinge cuts are accomplished by simply cutting two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through a tree trunk at waist height and letting it fall down on its own or with a little shove. The goal is to keep some bark attached, which will provide nutrients and water to the downed tree tops. This makes excellent deer browse, which will be the majority of the deer diet next winter. While winter is a great time to get a lot of hinge cuts done, there are a few advantages to spring cuts too. You might have to deal with ticks and mosquitoes, but the trees are a little more pliable in the spring, which should result in more tree trunks staying connected to the bases. If the cuts occur before things really start greening up, it will be a welcomed supply of fresh browse for deer to consume, and they will likely start using it immediately.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lisson
While mature forests have some benefits for the game species we’re after, an abundance of it doesn’t provide much. Unless it’s an oak forest raining acorns down each fall, it could likely be improved. If you’re wondering how to keep deer on your property, you might just need a few small hinge cut bedding areas. They are great for making deer habitat in this sense, but these pockets of dense regrowth are also great for grouse and rabbits. Why? First, lots of downed tree tops provide browse and the catkins/buds of birch or alder trees will be eaten by grouse. Second, the increased solar exposure will result in a thick tangle of new growth the following summer to hide from predators and provide additional feeding opportunities. Because deer can get both food and cover in the same spot, these areas are great daytime bedding areas and they quickly become wildlife sanctuaries if you simply stay out. Finally, downed tree trunks provide great drumming logs for ruffed grouse!
Clearing New Food Plots
While you’re out there with some saws making hinge cuts, why not create a new timber food plot? The only difference is that you will completely cut the trees down instead of partially cutting through them. Adding food plots may not always be necessary for wildlife habitat, especially this kind of plot, but it’s a valuable piece of the hunting puzzle. And you get ample amounts of firewood to dry for the next few years as a bonus. For remote timber plots, it’s best to make these small (i.e., under half an acre). Why? One, it’s a lot of work to clear that many trees by hand. Two, these forested spots are often great ambush kill plots, so you want deer to feel comfortable entering them during daylight hours. Place one within a few hundred yards of one of the hinge cut bedding areas and it’s very likely to pull deer in during that time frame. You’ll just want to make sure that the southern and eastern exposure is somewhat open to ensure it gets enough sunlight.
Simply start cutting trees down, felling them away from the intended food plot interior. Cut the trunks up into manageable pieces and haul them off to the side to bring back out for fire wood. Pile the slash (unusable limbs and brush) into specific spots around the plot. For example, you don’t want to surround the entire plot with a mess of slash or deer might feel trapped inside the plot. Instead, keep it relatively open on the ends for deer to flow through and pile the brush on the side you intend to place your Warrior DX tree stand. That will discourage them from walking downwind of your ladder stand location. Then rake the remaining debris out of the plot and wait for it to green up. It will respond best if you spray it with a general herbicide like glyphosate after it’s started to grow. Spray it a couple times over the summer and cut any tall vegetation again towards fall. Then spread some fertilizer and lime according to a soil test (you did that, didn’t you?) and plant a mixture of clover, annual cereal grains, and some brassicas. Deer, turkey, and grouse will all spend time in this kind of a plot.
While not exclusively considered for spring habitat projects, trails are a great project this time of year because the increased visibility helps you plan your route efficiently. In between your new food plot area and bedding area, set up a wildlife trail network. Even if the woods are fairly open, you should plan on cutting a wildlife trail. In fact, it’s especially important in that case so you can pattern where exactly deer will travel instead of trying to predict where they will go. Can you always guarantee they will use your trail? No. But deer like to take the path of least resistance, just like us. Make that path for them.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lisson
Start with some flagging tape to make sure your trail follows the land contours and avoids any obvious terrain obstructions. After connecting the two spots, go back with a saw and start hinging trees to fall perpendicular to the trail so deer aren’t trapped along the trail. You don’t want a highway either. Just make it wide enough to comfortably walk down. Linking all of your wildlife habitat improvements with this kind of trail network can help you pattern deer movement much easier.
Staking, Planting, and Transplanting
Another great wildlife habitat activity to do in the spring is plant things to take advantage of the moist soils. If you’ve always been curious about planting shrubs for wildlife, but were put off by the cost, consider live staking. This practice is commonly used in stream restorations, but it is the process of cutting a 12 to 24-inch branch off a shrub and shoving it into the ground to sprout roots and essentially clone the parent plant. Live staking works best on dogwood species (red-osier, gray, silky, etc.) and willow species (black, sandbar, etc.), but can work on others occasionally. Find some parent plants on your property first. Cut a branch with several nodes (buds/branches) and trim the buds off the lower ones. Shove the branch about halfway to three-quarters of the way into the ground so most of the nodes are underground. These will sprout roots, while the aboveground nodes will produce leaves and new branches. This is a great low-cost wildlife habitat project since it only involves your time. While you might be able to make this work in some upland areas, it is better to do along wetland fringes where there is adequate soil moisture.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lisson
If you don’t have many wetland edges or you’d like to move some other plants around, you still have a few options. You can fully dig up and transplant shrubs or trees to a new location, or for species that send new plants up from roots (called “suckers”), you can sever them from the parent plant and grow a new one. For example, if you have an area of your property with lots of spruce and pine trees, consider transplanting some of them to other areas of your property that are mostly hardwoods or deciduous shrubs to increase the species diversity and add some cover. Planting pine trees for deer cover seems to be popular, but spruce will often provide better thermal cover and visual screening than pine species. Transplanting works best for smaller bushes and trees for ease of transplanting and improved success rates, so stick to plants shorter than you. While you don’t need a ton of soil along with it, make sure you include at least enough roots to extend out to the drip line (edge of the farthest branches) and dig down about the same distance. To help your hunting efforts the most, plant them in small wildlife habitat “pockets” of 4 to 5 trees/shrubs and alongside trails. Grouse and rabbits like to use these features for cover, so you can bounce around between these pockets of cover and easily walk the trail to get to them.
Photo Credit: Ryan Lisson
Finally, you could also rake and rough up the soil along your existing trails and spread some clover seed around this spring. Nearly all game animals will utilize clover stands at some point in the spring and summer; deer, rabbits, and game birds will eat the leaves, while turkeys and grouse will also use it for bugging habitat. Since they will also travel along existing trails, why not combine the two to make them super effective?
Better Wildlife Habitat Starts With You
As you can see, habitat management for deer or other wildlife isn’t all that technical or hard to do, but it does take some dedication to do it on a large scale. These habitat management practices are best when tackled with teamwork, so gather up a few family members and friends and spend a weekend getting after it. You’ll have better hunting opportunities next fall and improve your property for the next generation at the same time.