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Natural Forage and Cover

87884 Views 331 Replies 57 Participants Last post by  Neal
Food plots are fun and helpful in attracting and holding whitetails but sometimes I get concerned that landowners put to much emphasis on them and not enough on the natural sources of food and cover that whitetails really rely on.

If you have timber or even brush...it can be improved and if you need trees and screens they can be planted and if you need cost share assistance it is usually available.

Managing our land for whitetails and wildlife in general covers a broad spectrum of things of which food sources from crops are only a small piece of the pie.

Right now is the perfect time to start inquiring about cost share assistance and I have a complete list of federal, state and private source of cost share programs that I would urge you to be aware of.

Conservation Cost Share Programs

Contact your NRCS office or private lands biologist and find out what programs are available because $$'s are tight these days and the supply is not unlimited.

Planting trees and shrubs is something I have been doing for nearly 50 years and I am passionate about this subject. At my age I will most likely never see the fruits of some of my labors but I do it anyway because I see the results of what others before me have accomplished.

The 80 year old white pines on my place are full of turkeys every night and when I hear the winds softly blowing through them I imagine the people who planted them years ago and silently thank them.

I concentrate mostly on mast production and especially on hybrid oaks and chestnuts in my hardwood plantings and many different varieties of soft mast producing shrubs that provide screens, travel corridors as well as food sources for wildlife large and small.

If you have an interest in planting trees next spring regardless if it is a 1/2 dozen or 10,000 seedlings take a look at my informational threads that will help you better decide which trees, the right herbicides and other planting information might be best for you.

Tree Planting

This thread is longer but covers everything including direct seeding of acorns and ideas to start your own seedlings from top producing trees in your area.

Tree Planting 101

Those threads include a list of some great nurseries and sources of all kinds of supplies and herbicides as well regardless if you plant by hand...

or with a tree planter...

I have hundreds of pictures that make it interesting and helpful as well.

Most likely you have timber, woodlots or forest on your property and managing it properly can be both profitable and help you attract and hold whitetails at the same time.

Begin by truly understanding what Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) means and learn to identify the trees on your property. Utilize your area forester and learn all you can before cranking up the chainsaw!

TSI is primarly releasing crop trees by killing cull trees close to them and doing so also allows oak seedlings to grow and replace shade tolerant less desirable species.

I put together these threads to help everyone understand how to better manage their own timber and get paid to do it!

Learn TSI

Understanding Timber Stand Improvent

Once you have learned to properly identify your trees then your in a position to decide where to create bedding areas or which trees to edgefeather.

Hinge cutting is a great way to create both cover and new browse at the same time and opening up small areas will increase both bedding and feeding areas.

All of these things make your property more attractive then the neighbors and you can see not only mine but others who have shared their successful work in my thread on edgefeathering.

Edge Feathering and Bedding Areas

A number of knowledgeable landowners share their own pictures and experiences in these threads to provide a great deal of information to landowners eager to learn how to improve thier property.

Ideas that share how to funnel deer, which trees produce the sweetest acorns the quickest, what shrubs provide the best screens the soonest and what timber is valuable and which is not are all in those threads.

Plant food plots but don't forget your greatest natural assets...your trees! :)
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I know that Tony has worked hard to help folks understand the importance of safe bedding and feeding areas...just curious how many of you are actually making this a priority??

Or do you feel that if you just grow some food plots that alone will do the trick?

Any thoughts on this subject...because I feel it should be Job 1 in your habitat program.....:cool:
I'd say your right on target!:cool:

It's amazing how much you can accomplish with a chainsaw or $50 worth of seedings and create so much awesome habitat.

Part of the reason that I have intense grazing on my property is due to spending so much time and effort on my natural habitat. A combination of timber and native grasses surrounded by natural shrub/tree screens make deer feel safe.

I could feed them almost anything and they would happily stay right there and eat it because they are safe. They have bedding areas that give them no reason to leave other then sheer numbers of deer keep some bedding in surrounding areas.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject...:)
I believe natural browse and habitat should be about 70% of the equation
Sounds like a plan to me!

Anyone been planting hybrid oaks or direct seeding acorns from trees with good genetics such as those with heavy, consistant production of acorns?

I have tons of red and black oaks in my area but it's the white oaks that are the main attraction so I also spend a lot of time releasing whites and keeping shade tolerant trees killed.

That allows the white oak seedlings to survive and the parent tree to produce more. You can plant any kind of food plot imaginable but it can't trump some sweet white oak acorns.....;)
Living in an Ag area, I'd say that food plots are only 10%-15% of my concern. Meanwhile I started planting trees and NWSG this year, and will continue with more next year as well.
Anyone been planting Dwarf Chinkapin Oaks?

or hybrids like Bur-Gambel oaks?

or Bur-English Oak?

I've been ordering the last ones from a state nursery in Idaho of all places but wow they are the some awesome seedlings.

At least there is a chance I might live long enough to see those three types of oaks produce acorns...;)
University of Idaho Nursery and you can find the links to it and other great nurseries in my thread on tree Planting.

All about Tree Planting

Excellent seedlings and perfect for hand planting as they are not really bareroot and won't dry out quickly.

I think we had 100% survival!:cool:
What is the name of the nursery in Idaho?
You bring up a great point...always work with your natives first! That's where TSI comes in and the reason I wrote a thread covering that subject.

We release even small oak seedlings or young trees by killing shade tolerant trees around them and many of us are carrying acorns and small tubes in and planting those.

Select acorns from the most prolific trees and direct seed on either small or large scale and then use herbicides and tubes to encourage growth.

When we have native oaks on our property it is silly not to work with those first and foremost!

On the subject of hybrids...

One problem I have encountered is that after 15 years of working to create the ultimate habitat for whitetails, the kind that will encourage mature bucks to live there...also created some problems.

I have to fence any planted oaks or bucks will shred them! Some days I watch as many as 15 bucks walk by following a hot doe and when you get that many hormone cahrged animals on your property, let me tell you, they can kill trees literaly by the hundreds.

I planted over 3000 norway spruce over a two year period years ago and not one of them is over 2 feet tall forcing me to switch to Red Cedars because they won't bother those.

There are thousands of acres of old pastures here in Iowa that have grown up to invasives like locust trees so in those type of areas we have little choice but to plant trees and hybrids are just one option.

Thanks for bring up the native aspect because that is always the best bet! :cool:
I don't want this thread to be just about tree planting because there is much much more to this then the aspect of planting trees. Some of you may even need less trees rather then more but for those that have few mast trees I wanted to post some pics I took the other day of my oak oaks.

The oaks were planted 8-12 years ago and are all hybrids from Okios Tree Crops in Michigan. I like the little pots for ease of planting and the fact I can order one or a hundred. I sually order a few each year to try different trees but now I have no clue what is what?

I sent some pics to Okios to help identify them but here's one that is producing acorns at roughly 10 years of age which is pretty awesome for an oak tree!




I think this is a bur-gambel oak but perhaps a gambel itself becuase they haven't gotten vary big?

I think this may be a Sargent Oak but again I could be wrong as rain..:confused:

I think this is a Schuettes Oak

These trees have endured years of damage by hormone charged bucks otherwise they would be much taller and in better shape.

The shrubby gambel type oaks really take a beating!

Despite that they have survived and are starting to get past where bucks can cause them as much harm

Growth has been a fraction of that of the sawtooth oaks that are now 13 years old but they as of yet have failed to produce a single acorn.

I prefer to see landowners stick with natives so if you decide to plant any oak hybrid or otherwise, do a little research to see if the parent trees are natives or of Asian or European stock.

We are currently sharing information about direct seeding acorns in our Tree Planting threads, so regardless if you would like to try a handful or a field, ck out recent posts for great info on that subject...:)

All about Tree Planting

All about planting trees, using herbicides and more
I did get a response from Ken at Okios Tree Crops in regards to they type of hybrids posted above:

They are Quercus x schuetti. Mostly Quercus bicolor, swamp white oak and are from the one tree on our farm that fruited at 3 years old. The last photo looks like a seedling from a 2nd hybrid schuettes we have here with more lobed leaves. But for sure these are swamp white oak crosses with the typical bark and leaf pattern. Ken
Apparantly mostly Schuettes Oaks, pretty awesome to have white oaks producing in under 10 years and sweet low tannin acorns to boot! Something to keep in mind that most likely your neighbor won't have..;)

Most folks think of tree planting in open field areas but I have been hinging junk trees to open up areas and then planting oak seedlings in the downed tops.

There are multiple advantages to doing this as it creates new bedding, new browse and the tops protect the hand planted oak seedlings from bucks this time of year.

Anything that doesn't produce mast (oaks and chesnuts) is likely to get killed on my place and replaced with more vaulable timber/mast producing trees.

I work pretty hard on edgefeathering projects to not only provide edge browse but also to block runways and funnel deer.

Once they get some light, growth explodes so this time of year it's difficult to see from a pic but here is a hinged tree used to block a runway.

Stumps send up a pile of new browse that not only feeds deer but also provides a safety screen.

Little easier to see in the early spring when the cutting is first done

You can really make some positive changes to your habitat program with a chainsaw and a liitle forethought by observation this hunting season.

Take a look through the thread on edgefeathering and bedding areas and the TSI thread (in the first post) to see how I keep ole boys like this one living on my place...;)

Its amazing how quickly one can turn an open timbered ridge into bedding area with a few hours spent with a chainsaw...;)

As soon as they have protective cover and an escape route, they'll bed there!

Make sure you identify trees first so as not to kill good crop/mast trees...then go to work

It's a sure bet to start keeing them on your place instead of the neighbors...

Edge feathering and creating bedding areas

Check out that link and get started on your place this winter...:)
Timber Stand Improvement (TSI) is identifying crop trees and releasing them by culling competing trees whose canopy is preventing sunlight from reaching the ground and roots that compete for nutrients.

Usually we shoot for no more then 50 crop trees per acre and kill the cull trees via girdling and Tordon herbicide. Often landowners confuse hingecutting with TSI and sometimes end up killing good crop trees because they get the cart before the horse.

It's extremely important to work with your forester in developing a plan and goals for your timber that startes with marking crop trees. I learned to identify them myself and that takes some doing when looking at only bark and twigs. Walking my timber with my forester allowed me to ask questions about those that I was unsure of allowing me to go back and kill the right trees.

Once the crop trees have been marked then it's easier to go back and decide which trees to girdle and which to hinge cut for bedding and browse.

These are some pictures from the results of last winter TSI projects and what they look like this fall.

I kill competition both by girdling and hinge cutting depending on the situation. Large cull trees are better off girdled so they will die and slowly slough away without harming crop trees.

It easy to walk thru and see the dead trees againt the skyline and the released oaks thriving.

Some oaks were small and had no chance under the shade tolerant hickories until being released!

New browse erupts from stumps

and I hinged smaller trees to create living bruspiles

Deer were bedded in among these tops when I walked in

You can see the huge old parent oaks in the background in this pic where I tipped over everything around them

and that allowed new oak seedlings to come up and in time they will take the place of trees I have killed

Always identify your crop trees before firing up the chainsaw and it's usually safer and eaiser to girdle larger cull trees and then hinge smaller cull trees for bedding.

In some areas with no oaks present I interplanted swamp white oaks among the downed tops but it's now so thick in there I haven't checked on them.

Hunting season is upon us so I'll check on the flagged seedlings early next spring and spray them with Oust and keep and undesireable growth killed back.

In time I will turn the tide and return my timber to oak habitat rather then hickory and maple that have little use in my habitat program...
I know some of you have read thru my thread on edge feathering and bedding areas but you may want to take another look at it as I'll be adding more pics and info on creating bottlenecks and funnels.

It's all chainsaw work starting with TSI to understand how NOT to kill good crop trees and then choosing to hinge cut some areas (versus girdling cull trees) to create bedding and/or funnels.

It's relatively easy to block off some runways and free up ones thru a kill zone but this time of year is when you need to be observing and taking notes.

Deer may feed in and bed down in the tops and tangle but traveling bucks will follow the easy paths leading right by your stand or blind.
Just a different twist on what many of you are already doing and the combination of edgefeathering on the exterior edge and hinging in the interior of the timber will keep deer from traveling dozens of different paths to your food plots.

I work to create mine between bedding and feeding areas and it worked like a charm the other day.;)

Click on the "life and times of dbltree" link at the bottom of this post and page thru it for the story of this years harvest and read thru the edge feathering thread to see before and after pics of work I have done to create bedding areas and bottlenecks.

Edgefeathering, bedding and bottlenecks

I still have plenty of does to kill so more updates may be slow in coming but I want everyone to be thinking about the changes they could make while hunting by being observant....:)
Snapped a few more pics from a stand the other day and then walking out but perhaps a better way to envision creating funnels is think of hay windrows.

2 rows in the shape of an hour glass angling outward and then rows running perpendicular like vanes on a feather. The main two funneling deer down a main runway they commonly use that discorages them from taking "shortcuts" through open timber.

The hinge cuts or fallen trees should of course be junk trees so be sure to properly identify your crop/mast trees before firing up the chainsaw.

Deer will feed on new browse in the hinge cuts, bed in them and new oaks will sprout up if parent trees are close by but traveling bucks will follow the funnel like a puppy on a string during the rut.

A view from a stand...

and standing in the middle of two "windrows" creating the funnel or bottleneck

that leads to a natural bottleneck fence crossing in this case

Perhaps not a big deal for rifle hunters with 200 yard shots but for bowhunters like myself, bottlenecks are crucial to consistantly harvest mature animals and allowed me to harvest a nice buck this fall.

Harvest Report
Something else that works well in conjunction with natural cover to funnel deer is Egyptian Wheat...

It works well as a screen but with a little thought it can also be used to funnel deer

In my case I funneled them along a shrub planting that some refer to as a "tunnel of death"...;)

I walked the path in between the two and it was full of scrapes and rubs along the shrub line where few had been in past years.

Next year I'll repeat the EW planting but add a "green" food source between the two to further encourage deer to follow this funnel straight to my...treestand....:cool:
If you look closely in this picture you can see where I hige cut small trees on the left to open up one runway and block off several others.

and some places I tip over larger trees to completely block off runways and force deer thru a narrow bottleneck

Smaller trees are easy to hinge which keeps them alive

but larger trees tend to break off

Using hinge cuts to funnel deer also serves to create new browse and in some cases even bedding. During the rut however, traveling bucks will take the easy route with little interest in either browse or bedding.

Thick natural cover not only holds deer on your property, it can also be used to manipulate travel routes...;)
Several people have brought up the question of planting switchgrass in openings they have created via hinge cutting or perhaps some logging. Switchgrass is to expensive to use for a short term cover but something that some friends here in Iowa have been using is german millet or an assortment of millets or short sorghums.

Often just spraying the area with roundup and broadcasting the seed before a rain is enough to get some quick growth.

In most of my openings blackberries explode to life so I usually don't attempt any short term cover plantings.

I have used fertilizer in some areas on poor soils along a ridge to encourage growth but plants like the millets encourage birds that also drop more seeds as they feed on the millet and roost in the hinge cut trees and that also produces more forage and browse.

There are probably other forbs or grasses that might work but most of those tend to be expensive. Check places like Cooper Seeds or Seedland for seed and Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever for free or low cost seeds.

Here in Iowa Quail love the edgefeathered areas especially when bare areas are seeded to millet so anyone in southern MI with a few quail around might enjoy helping the little critters out along with creating better whitetail habitat...;)
10 years ago I sat and watched as huge bucks crossed helter skelter thru a myriad of trails 50-80 yards thru the trees beyond the main runway I was watching.

Back then it didn't occur to me to use hinge cutting to manipulate their movements so year after year I watched them and grew increasingly frustrated. It's hard enough to even see a mature buck but then to have the ones you see just out of bow range is hard to swallow.

Eventually I went to work along the field edge hinging trees that you see in the beginning of this thread. I pushed them around with the tractor and loader, cut tops and piled them in the runways until they gave up and were forced to use less runways.

Then I went to work on the interior area, using care not to kill any of the bur oaks but hinging virtually everything else...maples, locusts, a few shingle oaks, some elms and box elders.

Some areas went from this

to this and I planted white swamp oak seedlings in the downed tops which cannot even be seen in this pic because the undergrowth is 4 ft high!

I created a literal "impenetrable mess" in places, completely blocking old runways

but also encouraging new browse

the sunlight and lack of competition will spur a faster rate of growth from the burr oaks and eventually increase mast production and that runway I had so fruitlessly watched in years past is now a beaten down highway!

and deer movement through that path has been nothing short of phenomenal, keeping my trail cam busy day and night!

Hinging cull trees covers a wide array of possible habitat improvements from creating bedding, opening up areas for new browse, spurring growth of oak seedlings and if well thought out, creating funnels and bottlenecks that allowed me to take a mature buck and numerous does this year.

Start with a walk with your forester, make a plan, mark crop trees via a TSI plan and then manipulate the hinge cuttings in away that affects deer movement to make harvesting them less frustrating...
One very crucial aspect of holding whitetails on your property is safe, secure bedding and while any timber or native grass plantings can provide that to some extent, there is a combination that deer prefer.

Where we have timber, we use hinge cutting to change the habitat from open understory to protective cover that tipped over trees and ensuing undergrowth provide. If however you have the option of planting cover specifically for bedding and you have non income producing ground to devote to that purpose...a shrub/conifer planting is ideal.

Whitetails prefer overhead cover that they can see under while bedding but that will screen them when they rise or perhaps need to escape. A variety of shrubs can provide that type of cover but shrubs also lose their leaves and offer little protection against winter winds and blizzards.

Adding conifers offers year around screening and thermal protection that makes the combination irresistible to deer. There are many species of both shrubs and conifers to choose from and I have pictures and links to more options and ideas in my tree planting thread.

All about Tree Planting

15 years ago I signed up the exterior border of one of my farms in a CRP Shelterbelt signup and planted a combination of shrubs, conifers and oaks. That planting now is literally full of deer that use it on a daily basis for travel and bedding, despite being next to the road.

At that time Autum Olives were not considered invasive and were in fact reccomended for wildlife plantings and in that regard they have performed flawlessly. There are however many native species to choose from and a diverse planting will be most effective.

These are some pictures of mine...

I orginally planted Norway spruce for the conifer componet but hormone charged bucks have killed every one of the thousands I planted, so I have gradually been going back and re-planting red cedars by hand as you can see here.

These red cedars are about 3 years old now, they grow fast, deer don't mess with them and they provide awesome screening and thermal cover

Sometimes walking down the road in midday, returning from a morning hunt...I see them laying there under the shrubs watching me. Should I stop, they flee out of sight and no one driving by would even notice them but it shows how they like to be able to see by bedding in overhead cover.

Just plan out your bedding areas so that they are in a safe place, where you will not be busting deer walking in and out, where they can travel to feeding areas unmolested and then if possible use native grasses in interior fields surrounding food sources.

The combination of conifers and shrubs gives permamant screening and cover even when leaves fall, the conifers offering thermal protection and the shrubs overhead cover that deer feel secure bedding under.

I have many acres of hardwood plantings but those serve a different purpose and will never be very attractive for bedding areas, so while you may choose to scatter a few oaks in such a planting, use care not to focus on those type of trees in a planting whose priority is bedding.

Habitat should be diverse and some common sense should be used as you plan out your habitat improvments. A little of many different species and varieties will be far more effective then all of one thing.

100 acres of timber or switchgrass or corn will not be as effective as a combination of the three, all laid out in a manner that allows you to hunt animals as they move from bedding to feed without disturbing them in either.

It may seem a little confusing until...you walk your property and imagine getting shot at while you sleep and eat...then things get a littler clearer....;)
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