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Make the most of dozer work

Few own a bulldozer, but this workhorse for land management can do in a few hours what it would take months to accomplish with a farm tractor. The key in saving money is to have a plan before hiring a bulldozer operator.

bulldozer clearing land
Photos by John Howle

A D5 Caterpillar bulldozer with ample power for food plots and firebreaks. This dozer is pushing brush into a burn pile.

Take care of wildlife and your wallet

You’ve probably already created two plans for your property: one for wildlife management and one for timber management. For timber sales, you may have decided to hire a dozer operator to clean up, create food plots or construct firebreaks.

Tommy Strain, of Randolph County, Ala., has operated dozers in his construction business for 40 years, and he has completed just about every facet of land management that can be accomplished from the dozer seat.

“First, you have to match the dozer for the job,” said Strain. “If you are working in tight spots, a smaller dozer works better, but the smaller dozer won’t be as effective if you are trying to push stumps out of the ground.”

Though there are different size classifications based on dozer manufacturers, Caterpillar, for years, has set the size classification so most folks will know what size dozer you are referencing. For instance, a Caterpillar D4 is one of the smallest dozers, used primarily in tight spaces or for finishing grading work.

“A D4 does a great job of smoothing a pad or finishing grading,” said Strain. “However, you want a larger D6 to pop pine stumps out of the ground after clearing timber.”

The larger D8 and D9 dozers are meant to move large amounts of dirt quickly.

“If you want to build a 1-acre pond, a D6 is ideal if you don’t need to push dirt more than 200 feet,” said Strain.

“If you are taking dirt farther than that, I recommend using a pan, which is a dirt-hauling implement that attaches to the dozer.”

Sometimes less is more

One of the most common dilemmas when hiring a bulldozer operator is paying by the hour for a dozer that is too small for the job. Ultimately, you are paying more because the smaller dozer may not be designed to handle larger jobs efficiently. Look at the jobs you want completed. If you are creating firebreaks, the smaller D4 is sufficient. If you are smoothing a pad for a hunting cabin, the D4 provides ample horsepower for the job.

Larger dozers have higher horsepower and can handle big jobs with fewer passes of the blade, but there are drawbacks.

“A D8 or D9 is a much bigger machine, but it also costs more to buy the machine, and there are extra costs to move the dozer and buy fuel,” said Strain. “Ultimately, the landowner has to cover the extra costs of the bigger machine when a D6 could have completed the same job.”

Clearing limbs by hand
Photos by John Howle

If you’ve ever stacked a lot of brush by hand, you might be willing to pay a dozer operator to complete the task quickly.

Timing helps

If you have thinned or clear-cut harvested pine timber, you’ll likely be left with plenty of stumps. Strain recommends waiting at least two years before clearing land where pine forests were previously.

“In two years, pine stumps will loosen the feeder roots by rotting and they can easily be pushed up with the dozer blade,” said Strain. “You can push up to the stump with a D6, push up on the blade, and the stump will pop out.”

If you are hoping to remove hardwood stumps with a dozer, you may have to wait a few years or hire other equipment, like backhoes, to dig around the stumps.

“The toughest stump to remove is hickory,” said Strain. “It takes years for hickory stumps to rot.”

Firebreaks and food plots

Know in advance where your firebreaks should be and where you want brush piles pushed. If you have a written wildlife or timber management plan, this saves time and money when the bulldozer operator arrives since most dozer operators charge by the hour. Hourly rates can start at $75 per hour.

For most wildlife land improvements, Strain recommends using the smaller D4 or D5 category bulldozers.

The land manager usually ends up with lots of brush after a timber clearing or thinning. In log landing zones where logs have been loaded onto the trucks, there will be a lot of debris left by the machines. Strain recommends pushing the debris into one large pile with a firebreak cut around the pile for later burning. In addition to having an ideal spot for a food plot, the area where these burn piles are located will experience the by-product of improved soil as a result of the ash left behind. — John Howle