Beyond the Food Plot: Managing Your Land for Total Hunt-Worthy Health
While food plots remain a popular land management method for deer hunters to provide nutrition to the landscape and attract deer, a more successful approach involves improving the quality of the overall habitat located on their property. As iSportsman covered in the recent article, Manage Your Land to Minimize Coyote Predation, time and energy spent on trapping predators is often better directed into improving the overall landscape so wildlife has a better mix of forage and hiding cover.
And it turns out those efforts go beyond just avoiding predation; wildlife is naturally attracted to well-balanced ecosystems. So what does that mean exactly? Well balanced encompasses the availability and right mix of places to raise young, pollinator attractant flora, water sources, cool-season grasses, nesting structures, releasing trees and much more. All the necessary steps to creating a nurturing environment are too lengthy to fit into one article, so instead we picked our top three game species and offer a brief rundown on how to better your land to their benefit.
1. Wild Turkeys
A well-balanced habitat can support one bird per 30 acres, according to the American Forestry Foundation . Wild turkeys need a large stomping ground. Properties spanning 1,000 acres or less won’t necessarily hold flocks year-round. Rather birds will wander on and off the land. Prime lands for turkey habitat include a mixture of forested areas that provide cover and roosting sites and open field-like brush for feeding, mating, nesting and rearing their young.
Turkeys are omnivores, and cool-season grasses and legumes such as Kentucky bluegrass, orchard grass, red clover and white Dutch clover harbor insects that wild turkeys eat, particularly poults as they develop. Likewise, species of trees and shrubs that grow berries or soft mast provide the tender green vegetation, fruit and nuts that comprise a large part of their diets.
2. White-tailed Deer
Deer can be wanderers, with ranges varying from 60 to 1,600 acres annually depending on the age, sex and habitat of the deer. However, by providing the most appealing habitat possible, the chances of making your area a space deer come back to eat and bed is more likely. Deer prefer a well-balanced mixture of cover, with woody vegetation but not completely covered in timber.
The white-tail’s food preference depends on the season. In the spring during winter recovery, deer will seek out higher protein food sources. Given the varied nature of deer’s preferred feeding methods, multiple assets can be added to boost the appeal of your land. Assets such as planting wildflower, which provide forage for deer. In addition, wildflowers also attract pollinators which can help maintain the healthy return of such plants year after year. Deer also prefer cool-season grasses and fruit producing trees such as black cherry, elderberry, blackberry or dogwood. Finally, herbaceous forest openings—openings in the forest canopy that allows sunlight to reach the forest floor and support the growth of vegetation—provide both feeding and cover for the whitetails on your land.
Elk range across incredibly large areas of land, and for those lucky enough to live in elk country, managing your land to attract this game animal will take not only your own personal effort but most likely the effort of neighbors. That being said, the time and energy necessary to bring elk to your property pays off in both natural beauty and hunting opportunities.
Elk thrive in disturbed forests, which have been subject to prescribed burnings or thinning. While deer are browsers, elks are grazers and prefer plentiful grasses, leaves, plants and bark. Also, different than deer, who retain most of their water supply from the food they eat, elk need more plentiful water sources. Ensuring that your land’s water supply is protected from erosion or road run-off is a must for elk attractions. Most importantly, ensure that the food sources you plant are native, whether it be seed, fruiting plants, berries or nut giving trees.
Interest in attracting popular game to your land is a dedication that goes beyond a singular hunting season. When all is said and done, your efforts will result in better spaces for future generations of both humans and animals. To begin the journey of improving your own land’s ecosystem you can download iSportsman ARX for free for the first month, to begin mapping and organizing land features on your property to protect, enhance and track your success. Other resources include reaching out to local resources , such as your local extension office, state forestry office, wildlife biologists, wildlife management services, foresters, and more.
Thank you to David Beckmann at USAG Fort MccCoy for this article suggestion. Have a suggestion of your own? We'd love to hear from you! Please reach out to us at: 757-777-4310 or at [email protected] .