In 1985, when I became editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, the editor, Joe Doster, told me that I didn’t need to “know everything” about hunting and fishing to do a good job. . He knew I loved hunting and fishing, but he thought I was far from an expert.
“You just have to know the people who know everything,” he said.
I took it to heart and tried over the next 21 years to select 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 Scott Osborne, turkey Mike Seamster, small game Terry Sharpe, and “fish heads” like Fred Harris, Joe Mickey, Scott Van Horn, David Yow and Kin. Hodges.
Nick Prough of Missouri, chief biologist for the Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation, taught the basics of wildlife habitat improvement to members of the Yadkin Valley Wildlife Federation last month.
The cause of improved wildlife habitat has probably been the fastest growing part of hunting over the past 10 years. Quality deer management comes next, but the two are often linked. Hunters across the country are realizing that if they can improve the places where white-tailed deer and wild turkeys live on hunting leases or farms, they will end up with more of them – and hopefully – the, animals of superior quality.
“The habitat is simple,” Prough said. “It’s food, water and shelter. You don’t need to have a degree (in biology) to build a habitat; you just have to want it. If you have a chainsaw and some chainsaw gas, and maybe a UTV (utility vehicle) and some gas, you can do some habitat work.
In his trade, Prough works with landowners big and small, trying to help them make their woods and fields more attractive to wildlife. He might just work on a quarter acre wildlife opening in the woods, maybe just a one acre food patch, maybe just improve little bits here and there.
But it all adds up. There might be an extra brood of quail in a year or two, or a few more hen turkeys might be nesting there and hanging out, and the whitetails might find reason to make this little piece of heaven the most used part of their home. of 2,000 acres. interval.
The water is very basic, Prough said. Very few properties do not have enough water to quench the thirst of a large white-tailed deer. And the food?
He said food isn’t a limiting factor on most properties. Food plots – a big deal for many outdoorsmen these days – might be something that attracts more deer and turkeys – but it won’t be something that will make the difference between success and success. ‘failure.
The key, he says, is coverage. Where can birds and animals nest, breed and hide when they need to? In nest cover, brood cover and escape cover. And it’s pretty easy to provide, even with the most basic tools.
Nesting cover for quail, turkeys, rabbits, and even deer is overgrown and grassy areas, especially those with grasses like bluestem and timothy.
This is where a clutch of eggs can be hidden from nest predators like skunks, possums, and raccoons, not to mention snakes. I chased a turkey from its nest two years ago in May – it was in an overgrown fallow field where the cattle had been removed from a year earlier. She and her nest were perfectly hidden, and if I hadn’t almost stepped on it, I never would have known.
Brood cover is created by mowing and discing — Prough calls it “disruption”.
“The key is disruption,” he said. “We need to teach landowners to do some disturbance, then sow some seeds, and God will do the rest. You get weeds – foxtail and ragweed – and you’ll have the right habitat.
Prough said overlooked “edges” where two different types of habitat meet – say, woods and a field – are potential areas where birds and animals can raise their broods, safe from many aerial and terrestrial predators. He suggested mowing strips 8 to 10 to 15 feet wide across mature fields to provide places for small birds and animals to hunt for seeds, insects and emerging greenery.
Prough also promotes the natural growth of weed cover.
And there’s no need for a big John Deere; outdoor enthusiasts with access to a UTV or ATV can strap on a small set of discs and get the job done. My son and I planted a 6 acre field of doves two of the last three summers with a bushpig and an ATV with a disc.
Chop and drop When it comes to escape cover, consider where a pair of quail or a turkey hen might lead their broods to safety from local red-tailed hawks or coyotes.
Think thick. This is where the chainsaw comes in handy. Prough called his technique “chop and drop” or “chop, drop and drag”.
He likes to knock down “undesirable” trees along fields and even in woods to create natural brush piles that protect birds and animals. He can knock down several trees in an area, tie a chain around their trunks and to his ATV, and slide them together to form a huge pile of brush – or lay them end to end along the edge of a field to make a large horizontal piece. cover that wildlife can use.
“I like to use a hinged cut,” Prough said. “I like to chop down about three-quarters of a tree, thigh or waist high, and let it fall on its own. It’s a growing brush pile. Deer love to lay under and behind trees You can create sleeping areas by knocking down trees.
“Deer are lazy. They have nowhere to go and all day to get there – same with turkeys. You put a half moon of felled trees along the edge of a field, and you’ll have deer bedding in there.
Prough also has another less than secret weapon. He calls it a “wildlife opening”. He will go into a stand of woods 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 greenery of all kinds sprouting up almost immediately, providing food and shelter for wildlife in the weeks following the chainsaw job.
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 that works, emulate your efforts elsewhere. If you can improve the habitat in two or three areas of your hunting property next year, you can improve two or three other areas the following year. Some of your efforts will fail, he said.
“There is no quick fix,” he said. “There are a lot of ‘YouTube biologists’ there. They went to ‘YouTube University.’ silver.
Putting mineral blocks (where legal) is a great way to help improve the quality of bucks in your deer herd, but nowhere near as important as letting young bucks walk, did you -he declares.
“I took out my minerals to get some good trail-cam shots,” he said. “Most of the deer will be thirsty for minerals and will come to visit us every few days.”
Finally, do not “turn over” any soil during the winter. This is when game birds and wildlife need shelter and food the most, and when predators are on the hunt the most. So why turn under a field that serves as food and cover? Wait until spring, when everything will turn green and more food and shelter will sprout.
Dan Kibler is a Clemmons-based outdoor writer.