Combination Wildlife Cover and Forage fields—part II

Hi neighbor and friends

In part I we covered a combination wildlife cover and forage field, we touched on why cover is the number one key to have deer, especially bucks, living on your land during daylight, why cover should be tall, especially for bucks and how you can create your own cover that has many values. This cover is native warm season grasses, NWSG’s. We mentioned how this cover can be enhanced to encourage deer and other wildlife to use it year round by including long living and competitive perennial forage in its planting. We cannot overemphasize the importance of having deer, and this applies primarily to bucks bedding on your land during daylight. Bucks, especially the mature brutes, demand dense cover for their security, while does and fawns have a much less standard for their loafing areas. All deer will bed as close as they safely can to their chosen forage of the season. This needed safe feeling changes with the seasons. The bedding sites for bucks as they establish their pecking order within their summer bachelor groups are many times open fields of medium height grasses. Yes, wide open fields where the bucks are quite visible from early June through the month of September. Then we call it the doldrums of mid October, where all of a sudden bucks disappear from the bow hunters. They didn’t evaporate into oblivion they just did what they always have been doing since their creation several million years ago. They changed their natural habits from bedding and moving about in the open during daylight to dark, dense, and as deep into heavy cover that it takes to make them feel secure. They do this naturally and it has nothing to do with you spooking them into hiding. Well, maybe a little. If you do not have this tall, dark and dense cover on your land you will not have the more mature bucks bedding on your land. You can plant and grow the sweetest sugar beets this side of heaven, which are a buck’s favorite, but if he beds two miles away, forget about seeing him during legal hunting hours, AM or PM.

You have a choice, with a strong knowledge and sense of hunting within you and a good pair of legs you can go after the deer with consistent success or have the deer come to you to your created dark, dense and tall bedding areas. You made their bedding spot, you will know if a deer is using it and where. You will also know if that deer is a buck and his age. With planning and much thought put into your hunting site location, having secure access and exit to it, including your created irresistible travel lanes leading from your created bedding area past your kill site and being scent free, you now not only narrowed that bucks movements, you know his movements. It’s called, ‘Control of your destiny’. Friend, what is your choice?

The subject of cover and NWSG’s chosen for your created field of wildlife security is rather extensive. We cannot do it justice even with several articles. May I suggest a very fine book that covers the subject in detail. My friend, professor Craig A. Harper and associates of the University of Tennessee Extension Service have put together a 190  page book with extensive pictures in color. It is called Native Warm-Season Grasses and can be purchased by calling The QDMA National Office, 800-209-3337. Many of the words expressed here comes from Dr Harper’s research.

Native Warm Season Grasses recommended for wildlife cover

Let’s look at several NWSG’s that are recommended by most Natural Resource Professionals for wildlife cover in northern locations. NWSG’s takes up to three years to reach maturity and all are aggressive in time. Figure on a long life of 30-40 years or more. Do not despair if it looks like you have a seeding failure the first two years. NWSG’s especially switchgrass starts out very slow but just may come on big time in time. They can compete with most other vegetation except the very aggressive cool season grasses such as tall fescue, brome and orchard grass. Timothy is one exception in that it also grows in bunches and allows much competition to grow alongside

Big bluestem

Big bluestem like many NWSG’s grows in clumps, which is exactly what we want. This gives wildlife, large or small the opportunity to skirt around the field with some ease yet the tall, 8-9 feet, grass gives the smaller animals aerial security from flying predators. You will see this grass starting to grow in April but it really takes off after the first of June. The leaves are long and flat with the stem being purple. This grass is very forgiving in that it grows in a wide variety of soils from droughty light types to a low Ph of 4.0. Some varieties have roots that reach 12 feet deep. The seeds are light and fluffy and need special planting equipment for accurate seeding. There are several no-till planters, (Truax and Great Plains come to mind) which have separate seed boxes for the fluffy type seeds. Truax makes an effective hand seeder for these lighter seeds. Rountree and Niagara varieties will grow throughout Michigan.

Little bluestem

As with big bluestem this stuff is also a bunch grass but grows only to a height of 2-4 feet. This would be classified as a short growing grass and we need short growing vegetation for structure. The stem has a reddish tint to it, turning to reddish brown at maturity. Little blue stem grows on a wide variety of soils and is quite attractive during the latter part of the growing season. The Aldous variety originating from the Flint Hills of Kansas is suitable for Michigan. Yes, little bluestem has fluffy type seeds and needs special planting equipment.


Indian grass is similar to big bluestem in several ways. It spreads by seeds and underground rhizomes, it grows in bunches, it has a deep root system making it drought tolerant, it starts to grow in April and can reach 7 feet in height. Indiangrass is an attractive looking grass, it’s seed head has a golden color. The Rumsey variety originating from Illinois is adaptable to Michigan.

Note; Big bluestem, Little bluestem and Indiangrass are all fluffy type seeds and should be seeded together in the separate seed boxes designed for these light seeds in special no-till drills mentioned above. You will be given a big range of answers from different sources for the proper amount of seed per acre, expect the largest number from seed dealers. The advice we received from respected professionals has turned out perfect for us. Plant Big bluestem and Little bluestem at ½ lb per acre maximum, with Indiangrass at no more than ¼ lb per acre. Blend and mix all three seed types together and seed through the no-till drills mentioned or the hand seeder made by Truax.

Canada Wild Rye

We covered short and tall warm season grasses, now we need an intermediate height of NWSG. Canada wild rye grows to a height of 4-5 feet. When you have all three in your blend you will have structure. Structure is important in several ways. The lower grasses help support the taller grasses, give security cover to different height animals from bedding to standing position along with security for ground nesting birds with the help of the shorter grasses. Virginia and Canada wild rye both will do well in Michigan. We chose Canada wild rye due to its northern origin, seed size and weight. Nothing wrong with Virginia rye if you prefer. It will need to be seeded with the above three light and fluffy seeds due to its larger size and lighter weight.

Cave in rock switchgrass

Now we have the major ingredient in our NWSG blend recommendation. Cave in rock originates in Illinois and can reach eight feet in height. Most other tall NWSG’s will bend over and lodge, lay flat on the soil and stay there with a heavy snow, while switchgrass will spring back and stay tall all winter long. There are many varieties of switchgrass with this important feature of standing tall, but Cave in rock is the tallest variety and very aggressive in its growth. Another very rigid one is shelter but at 4-6 feet of height We choose Cave in rock for as mentioned many times, “The taller the better for mature bucks”. All switchgrass grows in clumps and it is these clumps that we need to address. We want these clumps to be large in size, 9-12 inches in diameter. These large clumps are what the doctor ordered for wildlife movement through your field of cover and forage. You have planted aggressive perennial forage, especially 100-year life Russian Kura clover, along with the NWSG’s. There should be a stand off between the Kura clovers growing between clumps of Cave in rock. The Kura clover feeds nitrogen to the Cave in rock keeping it healthy and tall for extended periods.

Getting back to these large clumps of Cave in rock. We need to seed all NWSG’s moderately and this above all includes Cave in rock. We want these clumps to be wide spread to grow in size over time. A heavy seeding rate will put a monkey wrench into the plan. You will have many clumps but small in size and exceptionally crowded with a heavy seeding rate. This makes it difficult for all wildlife to move about and don’t be surprised to find deer in it but mostly at the edge of the field, not in the middle. If you ever walked in a switchgrass field that was heavily seeded, you know the story. Best you had a complete physical first. Again, professionals we trust tell us to not seed switchgrass over two lbs per acre, especially if other NWSG’s are included. One lb per acre is all you really need in optimum growing conditions. Switchgrass seed is small in size; we recommend 1.4 lbs of Cave in rock seed per acre. Be forewarned, you may have a recommended seeding rate as high as 10 lbs per acre from others.

Climax timothy, a cool season grass recommended for wildlife cover

We mentioned several times that timothy is a bit different than other cool season grasses. It is a bunch grass and allows other vegetation to compete well, yet it is a cool season grass and normally cool season grasses are not welcome for wildlife unless we are talking elk. Timothy being a cool season grass means it is growing and has some height in mid may while the NWSG’s may be only a couple inches tall in our northern reaches. Farmers that grow hay know the following. The average fawning date is June first as is the date for pheasant chicks to hatch. NWSG’s will not be at the right height for security in our mid to northern Lower Michigan areas, while timothy is just right. You are creating a field that takes care of your wildlife year round from fawn birthing to winter cover along with all wildlife having a bite to eat as they visit you. Being a good host to your guests is a noble thing. We recommend no more than ½ lb of Climax timothy per acre.

We add the Canada wild rye, Cave in rock switchgrass and Climax timothy to our reformulated Ultimate perennial blend shown below, which together can be seeded through a standard drill or a no-till drill using the front small seed, clover, alfalfa etc, hopper. The Canada rye seed is about 3/8 of an inch long and medium weight, which causes us to have a flute opening of 7/16 for accurate seeding. A 7/16 seed opening will give you a seeding rate of 12 lbs per acre for our wildlife cover and forage blend. Block every other seed opening with duct tape and you are in business, with a recommended six lb per acre seeding rate. That double spacing now creates seed rows 14 inches apart, which is a plus in that larger clumps of Cave in rock switchgrass are encouraged to grow. Remember, we still want natural forbs and bushes to grow within our combination cover and forage field and that low seeding rate plus the 14- inch row spacing just happens to encourage this.

Total recommended seed blend for a wildlife cover and forage blend

The following seed blend has taken several years of trial and error to get to a comfort zone. You are more than welcome to duplicate it or as you wish. I’m sure it can be improved and invite all to do so. The recommended seeding rate is only six lbs per acre and it is tempting to inch it up 50% or even double the seeding rate. I find no need to do so.

Note; you can add the Big blue stem, Little blue stem and Indian grass for a more complete NWSG blend and no-till drill it in or broadcasted at the seed rate noted above. Do not add to the blend shown below. Seed it through the special seeding box designed for these fluffy seeds. You can seed the blend below through the standard small seed hopper and the fluffy seeds through the special fluffy seed box at the same time. You can seed an additional 8 lbs of buckwheat blended with 8 lbs of forage sorghum per acre through the large seed back hopper set at 3/16 flute opening for a first year forage and tall cover crop if seeding in June.

Deer Attraction
Combination Wildlife Cover and Forage



Net weight 6 lbs.
Total area coverage:
1 acre broadcast or drilled

Winter Canola 5.0

Important nurse crop for the first year’s growth

Cool Season Grass
Climax timothy 8.6

t is there for fawning and chick hatching time

Warm Season Grass

Cave in Rock Switchgrass

23.4 This is the one
Canada wild rye 5.8 Need intermediate height NWSG
Falcata Alfalfa 11.6 100-year life and aggressive grazing type, deer love Alfalfa

WL-326 GZ Alfalfa

2.9 Aggressive and grazing type

Kura Clover

14.4 100-year life, aggressive, & palatable

Kopu II White Clover


Long life and very aggressive

Jumbo Ladino Clover


Deer like ladino

Starfire Clover

5.8 Short lived but a good nurse crop for the slow growing kura

Alsike Clover

5.8 Long life and wet tolerance

Norceen Birdsfoot



It grows when nothing else does

Oasis Chicory 2.2

Deep roots and a mineral mining machine



Keep the fun in hunting!

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Ed Spinazzola
Chairman of the Board, Mid Michigan Branch QDMA
Board of Directors, National QDMA

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