Combination Wildlife Cover and Forage fields---part III

In the first two parts we covered a few basics of what a combination wildlife cover and forage field consists of and why you should consider having it on your land. We discussed the value of this type of field, the major Native warm season grasses, NWSG’s recommended, the long living and competitive perennials added to the seed blend as forage and lower field structure plus the natural draw it will have for deer to make it a major part of their living quarters year round. Yet this type of field is much more than a draw for deer, it can be inhabited by a host of game birds and song birds along with small mammals such as rabbits and other cherished wildlife. Certain practices need to be in place in order to make this field a true all-inclusive Wildlife cover and forage field.  

NWSG’s planted by itself will certainly provide cover for much wildlife but not much else. It can be a desert without forage. If the lower structure consists of thick cool season grasses and other impenetrable plants small creatures will find it very difficult to move about to the point of leaving for more suitable habitat. In fact all mammals and ground nesting birds need space to move about and this includes deer.

Well begun is half done

There is no one best plan for any type of habitat. In fact the options are endless when making a site layout. The most important part is making a plan with much thought before the first shovel of dirt is moved or the first tree cut. Let’s go through an exercise of a created plan. Any plan must take into consideration the existing habitat on and around the land being considered.

Let’s say you inherited a square forty acres that has been in the family forever. It is open land surrounded on three sides with woods, with the fourth being a road. The historical and present use is a hay field. It has a few low areas and a few higher small hills also. One low area near the middle has cattails growing. A neighbor farmer approaches you and asks if he can continue to make hay. You know that the area is known for deer being seen and taken but not very many being taken in this field due to it’s openness. You would like to hunt there but you don’t have a dislike of money either. So, you sat down and made a plan.

The plan

You tell the farmer that he would be allowed to make alfalfa hay on twenty- five acres. You tell him that you will work with him to locate the most productive acreage, yet you will decide the final location, size  and the shape of the several alfalfa fields. You dig out that cattail low area to create a year round source of water. You use the diggings of that water hole to build up a raised mound around the water hole. You plant a variety of nut and fruit trees plus some brush and spruce on that mound, with protective fencing around each nut or fruit tree. You design a ‘V’ style food plot with the ends on each side of the water source and each side being 100 yards or more in length. Make the bend and sides of the V 20 yards wide. The ends next to the water hole being a round design about 40 yards in diameter. You will plant a different food source in each side yearly, (annuals), with the bend being soybeans planted in mid July. Now you spend much time laying out the location and shapes of that farmers alfalfa fields and they can be several or more in number for they will all be hunted and hunted with the deer feeling secure as they munch away. These alfalfa fields will tend to be winding, long and narrow. You will also add a few small food plots in addition to the V plots and alfalfa fields. We will not advise the forage planted for you will by then have read our book, ‘Ultimate Deer Food Plots’.  In your plan of well designed, located and properly distributed alfalfa fields and food plots you will always keep in mind the planting of a ‘Combination wildlife cover and forage blend’ throughout the forty acres without a single piece of land not used. The entire field is now one fine hunting spot for several hunters and within three years without waiting for trees to grow. You created access lanes to your sites that are used for only that purpose. All fields are concealed from the road or neighbors eyes. Your blind can be located next to an alfalfa field, your food plot, which can be a small bow site or a long firearm shooting lane that you made or one of the alfalfa fields that you designed. How about that bend in the V, which can serve as a bow site or firearm blind as you sit on a chair or milk crates but backed into the forage and cover field. You are well concealed in that eight feet tall cover field, with additional camo or small tent if desired. You make small openings in the tall grass for viewing and shooting. This works, for many years I placed my self a few feet into a cornfield bordering a soybean field using my bow to take a good number of deer. The above plan is just one of many that would work. I bet each of you saw something that could be improved.  As my friend and consultant Tony LaPratt will tell you. “You need to have the deer bedding on your land during daylight. This is a major goal of land management that is designed to control the movements of deer. Only through the control of the movements of deer on your land will your kill success become consistent”. The above plan helps achieve exactly that.

Please read the above paragraph again and try to visualize the many alfalfa fields, the small and or long food plots, the water hole surrounded with a nut and fruit grove and the V food plot and how they would be almost useless without being surrounded by that tall “Combination wildlife cover and forage blend”. It wouldn’t make any difference what forage you planted or the lushness of that farmer’s alfalfa, the deer would not be there during the day without the cover of the tall NWSG’s surrounding the many erratic alfalfa fields and kill plots. All kill plots, whether they are large or small, (preferred for bow) should be surrounded with tall cover or planted deep into existing cover. The above plan simplifies the need to have critical travel-lanes connecting the food plots to each other, to bedding areas etc. This is due to all areas, which were seeded into alfalfa or food plots including the water source are adequately separated by tall cover, which you designed into the site layout during your planning stage. These separations are the deer’s travel lanes, their loafing areas, fawning areas and certainly their secret bedding spots  ‘Think tall dense cover as the key, with variety of plants adding to its draw’.

Why NWSG’s

Why indeed plant native warm season grasses? Most who read this article are interested in deer. First, cover is the key, with tall cover being the goal for deer. Does tend to have fawns in medium height grasslands, (ask any farmer who cuts hay in early June). They tend to claim fields of five or more acres for their fawning areas. Having separated NWSG fields of five or so acres encourages several does to choose your fields. Tall NWSG’s is a natural cover for deer and they gravitate to it. All deer will bed in this tall cover from individual mature bucks to doe family groups. The tall standing cave in rock switch grass will bend over a bedded deer during a winter storm giving them great cover and protection from the biting winds. When planted with a variety of structure, (tall, medium and shorter grasses) deer have total security. NWSG’s grow in clumps and if planted conservatively, (low seeding rate) these clumps are larger in size with ample spacing allowing easy movement within the field. This low seeding rate allows native forbs and brush to also get established, (staghorn sumac, goldenrod, ragweed, blackberry etc). If planted with long living and competitive perennials the deer and this especially includes does and their fawns have access to great forage at the right time, while being secure within cover. Having NWSG’s as cover and bedding within your land, will allow your deer to not only bed in it but have access to your food plots within a short time of leaving their bed. Remember, deer demand a secure bedding area, (especially mature bucks) for they will travel more than a mile to find it and this means you have lost control of these deer and not likely to see them during daylight. The older the deer the later they leave their beds in the evening, (except for a few bucks during the rut) and the earlier they return to their beds in the AM. There is no minimum size of NWSG fields for deer as there is no maximum size.

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Keep the fun in hunting! 

To order the book "Ultimate Deer Food Plots ", click here.

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

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