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Natural Forage and Cover

87894 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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***See previous page for the rest of this post***

Growth of the seedlings will be rapid once canopy and competition is removed

Even in heavy cover the oak seedlings will surge towards the sunlight and soon rise above the downed canopy.

Everything requires managment, every inch of our properties, without it everything from our CRP to woodlots will be over run with invasives. We don't plant a field of clover or corn and then ignore it, we manage it using herbicides, mowing, soil building and so on.

It is possible to use burns to help control invasives in our fields and timber but herbicides are also a safe way to control invasives. Basal bark treatment with Remedy and dsl fuel will smoke any invasives without killing nearby species and easily done with a backpack sprayer.

Even simply nipping off any competing trees as needed will also insure that the right tree species survive within your hinge cut areas. It is important to stay out of hinge areas as much as possible but it takes very little time to do some management versus leaving it alone for years and regretting doing so..... ;)
Conifers provide an awesome screen and in our area red cedars certainly do the trick!

Red cedars and Norway Spruce are probably two of the fastest growing conifers that will screen feeding and bedding areas for lifetimes.


Conifers are easy to grow and easily kept weed free with Atrazine, simazine and Oust XP and are also easily planted by hand or with a tree planter. A single row planted 6-8' apart along a fence row or between a field and hinge cut bedding area will keep deer feeling safe.

Where there is more room a double row with trees staggered on 8-10' spacings will provide faster and denser screening. The pictures above are of naturally regenerated red cedars in a single row in a fence row and as you can see it is impossible to see through them.

Conifer screens along a road of course can end poaching problems and along the timbers edge can allow entry/exit while hunting leaving deer feeling safe and unmolested.

You can plant thousands or 50-100 each spring by hand making it feasble for landowners with any size habitat budget. Spray the strip to be planted the fall before with 2 quarts of Gly, 2 ounces of Oust XP and one quart of crop oi per acre and the next spring you'll have an easy to see, easy to plant strip.

Re-treat right after planting with 1-2 ounces of Oust XP and 2-4 quarts of Simazine or Atrazine and you'll have season long weed control for fast growth and better survivability.

Dense conifer plantings can be the difference bewteen holding whitetails on your property and not but choose the species carefully because conifers like white pines eventually drop their lower limbs and the screening effect disappears.

Start looking over your property this summer and make plans to start planting your conifer screens next spring....:)
I fall planted acorns this past year for the first time but had very low success rates compared to nearly 95% success in my Rootmakers with cold stored acorns, spring planted acorns.

Growth rate is also very dramatic as you can see in these pics.

This is a fall planted Dwarf Chinkapin Oak seedling

These are from the same acorns, stored in the fridge over winter and planted in Rootmakers in March.

I used a small trowel to plant some of the Rootmaker seedlings and to use for a comparison in the pics

Fall planted DCO

Rootmaker DCO seedling

This is the root system when pulled from the Rootmaker container

Very simple to plant compared to a long straggly bare root seedling that one has to stuff down a small hole! I just used a small trowel and opened up a hole and planted the neat little package in seconds.

This is a DCO I planted last spring from Okios but I think I burned it with gly and Oust because I didn't get it sprayed until after it leafed out.

This is an Okios DCO unsprayed

I had used a weed mat on that one just to give them a try, held in place with a couple pieces of wood.

Weed mats are cost prohibitive (at least for me) to use on a large scale compared to herbicides but they could be useful when planting a handful of oak seedlings in a hinge cut area that you prefer not to return to for spraying.

Big Rock Trees carries Rootmaker products

Oikos Tree Crops carries hybrid and regular oak seedlings and acorns along with weed mats, root gels and other planting aids.

I don't want to suggest that fall planting acorns is not a successful planting method because many people have good luck with it but for me I am sold on using the Rootmakers and storing the acorns for spring planting. The Rootmakers air prune the roots and encourage rapid growth that will continue for the life of the tree making it worth while to both plant early producing hybrid oaks but get them started with a method that will enhance rapid growth over all other trees.

I tubed these seedlings so I'm curious how they will compare, will the fall planted seedling catch up, will the Rootmaker seedlings out grow/out produce normally grown seedlings?

Time will tell.... ;)
Ok...so planting trees near the first of July does seem borderline insane I will admit but since we have already saturated soils here in Iowa I decided to try planting more of the Rootmaker grown seedlings and see how they do.

The Rootmaker planted acorns have now developed very dense root systems and unlike bareroot seedlings are self contained in their own root ball so to speak and given normal soil moisture should survive just fine.

I had planted acorns last fall and protected them with short tubes, some of which ccontained new seedlings

Many more however did not so I picked up the small tubes and replaced them with a Rootmaker grown hybrid oak or chestnut seedling and a Protex tube marked withthe name of the hybrid and date planted.

I took care to pack the clay soil over the top of the root ball to prevent drying

and then used some of the loose soil to seal the bottom of the tube itself

I had already sprayed Oust XP and simazine this spring and all that remains is the Big Bluestem, oblivious to either of those herbicides!

I planted a dozen trees at the beginning of our first full week without rain since April 24th so I'll see how these do before planting anymore but i really think with normal summer rainfall they will do just fine.... ;)
Oust XP is very effective on most grasses and weeds at 1-2 ounces per acre but requires 3-4 ounces to be effective on pigweed and that rate is a little to potent for many shrubs. So I had a pigweed outbreak in a couple areas in some of my tree plantings.

I tried a little trick on the pigweed that is reasonably safe around most trees although I did not spray over the top of the trees. Atrazine is a residual pre-emergence herbicide but combined with crop oil it does provide some post emergence control on many broadleaf weeds as you can see here.

I sprayed these less then a week ago with 2 quarts Atarzine and one quart of crop oil per acre and the results are obvious

Easier to control weeds before they come up of course but the heavy rains reduced effectiveness of many pre-emergence herbicides in our area and so it's nice to have a back up when things go awry... ;)
Good to see you're back Paul!

So deer don't eat pigweed down near your place? While I've read that deer will browse them, they don't seem to eat mine either. I let some go last year and there are more this year. I don't have any really thick patches though - are they really something to be concerned about?

Oh, and with regards to the cedar you've planted, I must ask, do you have any apple trees? I've planted ~125 crabapples in the last 2 years, have 3 wild apple trees growing, and have a few that are suspected wild apples though they are still 3'-4' tall. I'm hesitant to plant cedar due to apple cedar rust (though I have 4-5 growing wild already) and am curious if you've faced this concern at all?
Yes they do grub my pigweeds pretty good but when they get too tall they stop feeding on them. I guess my pigweed crop is too "robust" for my deer herd to keep them under control...:D

Apple cedar rust is a problem in my apple trees...doesn't kill them but it does affect those that are not resistant so I choose those varieties now.

This is a Gala that is not resistant

This is an Enterprise that is resistant

My apple trees are literally feet away from loads of red cedars and Iowa is covered with red cedars so it's just a way of life here.

Norway and white spruce will do the trick if you don't want red cedars to contend with...;)
Ah hah - I was under the impression that they ate them one cold weather hit and they turned mushy. If they only eat them young, no wonder I've never noticed.
Yes they do grub my pigweeds pretty good but when they get too tall they stop feeding on them. I guess my pigweed crop is too "robust" for my deer herd to keep them under control...:D
Norway and white spruce will do the trick if you don't want red cedars to contend with...;)
I've already put in 225 norways and 100 whites. :D Not sure I'll put more though because I just don't have room.
Some of Walt's oaks are already peeking out the top of the Protex tubes!!

Those trees were 2' + tall when we got them from the Iowa State Nursery however, so the hybrid oaks were only 6" high but are catching up!

We have had some fierce straight line winds that took down trees but the tubes have at worst leaned a little and none have opned up thus far. The hybrid oak in this tube is likely to clear the top by the end of summer!

Difficult to really get a good view from the top but one thing is clear...the leaves are very healthy and robust!

A few of the fall planted Dwark Chinkapin Oak acorns finally did sprout at Walt's also

and where they did not I started filling in with some Rootmaker grown DCO's

Big difference in growth between the fall planted and rootmaker grown seedlings and I am curious as all get out how long term growth will compare but...I have an idea which one will win out...;)
I walked in to set up a cam for a friend of mine and couldn't help notice the open park like atmosphere

compared to a hinge cut area we had worked on last winter...I didn't want to get closer but you can see the sunlight shining in and simply the fact that one cannot see "forever" as you can in the areas not hinged.

Many of the new cams nowdays will operate for a year on lithium batteries and hold thousands of pictures on 8G or larger cards. Makes it nice to slip in and set one to monitor and area but not have to be tramping around in there frequently.

I always prefer to set up cams in the same funnels were I will hunt because it allows me to stay away from bedding areas yet monitor deer traveling through the funnels. Since cams can be left for very long periods of time now they can become an accurate means of doing a survey without disturbing deer.

Checking trail cams can become addictive so one must use caution to keep them from interior areas that might hold mature bucks yet still be able to know with certainty what is living and using both your property and bedding areas.

Just like with hunting, use natural screening cover to travel to and from cam setups so that the liklehood of spooking deer will be minimized. Edge feathering along timbers edge can help provide such a natural screen and funnel deer right past a trail cam at the same time. Remember it is impossible to do accurate cam surveys if deer have dozens of runways traveling in and out of your bedding areas and hunting those runways will prove just as frustrating.

Hinging trees to create funnels makes both hunting and trail monitoring via cams much more successful, accurate and rewarding... ;)
Now that the hay is off I took a few pics of an edgefeathered field edge (hinging trees along the field edge). This edge was hinged nearly three years ago although I have done a little work on it each winter since.

The edge is clearly impenetrable and a 1/2 dozen runways were effectively closed off when I had finished working on it.

Deer follow the edge right to one remaining runway, feeding on the browse along the field edge but deer on the other side cannot see into the field.

The ensuing jungle that erupts along the edge creates a solid screen that makes deer feel secure in bedding areas on the other side and allows me to slip in and out unseen.

I always leave a tree with overhanging branch at the entrance to the runway and they have kept this scrape active for years now. Note the trail cam that accurately monitors movement and gives a better idea what mature animals might be using my property.

a few dollars worth of trace mineral salt tells me about the deer I have and then I monitor the funnels and bottlenecks I have created with hinging to see where they are actually traveling

Mature bucks are nocturnal and elusive creatures but hinging to "bottle" them up sure narrows the odds... ;)
How effective is edge feathering in its first year?
If you hinge the trees in late winter...it will explode with new growth in spring! If you "hinge with a plan" you can effectively block off runways right then and there...mission accomplished...:cool:
How effective is edge feathering in its first year?
I have a plan. Unfortunatly it has to wait until after the 2010 season to begin. My food plots took up alot of time and hampered my other habitat plans. In a way it might be good, because now I got 6 months or more to learn.
If you hinge the trees in late winter...it will explode with new growth in spring! If you "hinge with a plan" you can effectively block off runways right then and there...mission accomplished...:cool:
Echoing Paul, it's very effective. I've had white ash put up 1/2-1 dozen 4'-5' shoots and chest/shoulder high black raspberries and black elderberry. Don't forget about the hinged trees that stay alive as well. Without a doubt the quickest way to have an impact on habitat is with a good chainsaw in late winter/early spring.
How effective is edge feathering in its first year?
That atrazine treated dogwoods from Big Rock Trees are still very clean and very much alive!

I've learned something new from this myself and will probably use atrazine more on tree plantings.

While most of our Oust/Simazine treated tree plantings are very clean...this planting ended up a sea of pigweed! :eek:

Oust must be applied at 3-4 ounces per acre to successfully control pigweed but that will kill shrubs and even one ounce caused severe injury to some shrubs in this planting. We tilled up the centers to plant milo and used atrazine on that area and it had the same effect as the Oust/simazine combo...zilch control of pigweeds!

Heavy constant rainfall didn't help because it moved residual herbicides deeper into the soil and the Oust "washed" into the centers and killed 90% of the milo. The pigweed could be easily killed with 2-4D but it's not worth the risk of killing the trees so I'll probably end up mowing it. Some areas we sprayed atrazine and crop oil on the pigweeds and that did help but again, constant rainfall kept us from spraying when the weeds could have been easily killed at 2-3" high.

Dual II Magnum is a very safe and very effective herbicide that is safe on trees and provides awesome broadleaf and foxtail control so next year this planting will be treated with an atrazine/Dual combo that will be safe for both trees and Concep treated milo.... ;)
The trees in the Rigid Tree Protectors are doing fine but many of them have grown right thru the mesh , making a tempting target for marauding bucks this fall.

So far I am really like the Protex tree tubes and many of the oaks will be out the top of the tube by September 1st!

I have concerns about hardening off trees in tubes so I'll be following that along with bucks working them over. The smooth surface will be far less attractive to hormone charged bucks the the Rigid protectors but sometimes they are not fussy... ;)
Hunting season is barely weeks away for many of us so habitat work will largely come to a screeching halt while we enjoy the fruits of our labors. One thing that should never stop however is OBSERVATION

We hinge trees to help create thick areas that become safe secure bedding areas that will hold whitetails year around and for the most part we are not going to be invading those areas. Depending on how your land lays however you can use hinging to create travel corridors through narrow natural bottlenecks leading between bedding and/or feeding areas.

I have been lucky enough to harvest a buck or two that showed himself in the waning moments of daylight at a field edge but by and large mature animals are more likely to be killed inside the timber where they feel safe moving in daylight hours. In Iowa where draws and narrow ridges or fingers are common it's fairly easy to set up and not have to be anywhere near their actual bedding area.

Bill Winke and Don Higgins have both written great articles on the importance of creating safe sanctuaries that are by and large left alone especially on small properties and then using great care to hunt the edges or connecting points rather then be tramping in and out of the timber. I follow those same principles and hunt only narrow corridors or creek beds so I do not infringe on a bucks safe area.

Even at that however, a corridor may be 60-80 yards wide allowing an animal to easily pass by out of the range of the average bowhunter leaving one frustrated and dissappointed. I have learned to "cure" that by hinging trees with a plan that funnels deer to a natural narrow area that I can cover with my bow. Those same narrow areas are also easy to slip in and out of and rarely used by bedding deer and that brings me back to my thoughts about observation.

Regardless is you have begun working on creating funnels or not....hunting season is when you learn by observing. If you started work on creating a funnel there may be flaws in it and if your merely curious about starting a project this winter...fall is the time to observe buck movements and problems that you encounter.

I have a trail cam on a corridor that has been up all summer so I slipped in to check it, change the batteries and swap cards.

Standing in one spot I took a pic of the thick hinged area on one side....

and the open area that deer use for travel

and the well worn trail that is evidence of how heaily deer are using the runway

Now keep in mind that this is NOT a bedding area but a narrow area leading between two bedding areas. The thick hinged area provides screening cover and an impossible tangle that deer prefer not to walk thru and that is especially true during the rut when bucks only want to get from point A to B! They are not interested in stumbling around in the brush but instead follow a safe well screened path inside of enough heavy cover that they can feel safe during daylight hours.

I don't have dozens of stands but instead a few well placed stands (for different winds) in narrow areas. I often have only to walk a few feet into these travel corridors and that insures I don't leave a "mark", yet I am still able to hunt deer where they feel safe...in the timber and not on a field edge.

As your hunting this fall...think about how you can utilize hinging, screening and other habitat improvments to funnel deer by you without entering their sanctuary. This winter you can begin to make positive changes that will up your odds of harvesting a mature buck the following fall....:cool:

If you would like a link to more detailed info on hinging trees to create bedding browse and bottlenecks just shoot me a PM and I'll be happy to send it to you...:)
September 1st 2010

A year ago at this time you could see clear across this draw...now you can barely see more then a few yards in from the field edge! This hinged tree has sent up probably hundreds of shoots from the stump and entire length of the trunk providing both cover and browse!

It's a little difficult to see through the shadows but there are a whole series of trees hinged here creating a plethora of screening cover and reachable browse.

Those trees were hinged in very early April of 2010....there is very little a landowner can do to improve their property as quickly and inexpensively as one can by simply getting out the chainsaw... :cool:
My pin oaks have responded to the protex tubes in a BIG way!

Here is a typical pin oak seedling without being tubed

Here are the typical pins in Protex tubes!

I only tubed about every 3rd tree and the difference is consistant right down the row so it's not a fluke or a "one tree" thing!

The white oaks have responded to the tubes but not as dramtically as the pins and some reds.:cool:

These trees were planted as seedlings but if your interested in collecting, storing and planting acorns there are some things you should know. Shoot me a PM and I'll be happy to send you a link to deatiled information on starting oaks from seed...:)
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