Great Plains 40-Acre Plot Plan
The Midwest offers some of the best hunting action around and a few management tips can maximize those opportunities and create year-round habitat
Tip 1: Think forestry first
The Midwest is blessed with abundant hardwoods dominated by oak, hickory and other mast producers. While hardwoods are generally not in short supply, they can be poorly managed for wildlife value. Most hardwoods in the Midwest are too old to provide for most game species.
Managing hardwoods so stand canopies don’t become closed and shaded is critical to maximizing wildlife value. Active timber thinning operations that retain the most prolific mast producing trees, while allowing ample sunlight to reach the ground are not only extremely valuable to wildlife, but can add economic value. Contact a professional forester well versed in wildlife management to help you with your timber planning. In many states, the NWTF’s biologists and foresters can help you at no cost.
Streamside Management Zones (SMZs) where hardwoods have been retained along waterways for habitat value and water quality are also critical. These are important spots for travel, sediment filtration and winter cover. Leaving an area of hardwoods 10 to 30 yards wide on each side of any major stream is considered a best management practice, but if you really want to maximize wildlife value manage ,these corridors and maximize the understory diversity of shrubs and herbaceous plants.
Timber stand improvement in these hardwood areas increases the wildlife value. Select preferred species like oak, hickory, persimmon, beech, walnut, cottonwood and dogwood. Mark these trees with a non-permanent method and leave most of them for wildlife habitat. Remove species like sweet gum, maple, poplar, sycamore, black gum, locust and ash using a chainsaw or by chemical control. The hack and squirt method is excellent and cost effective.
Tip 2: Manage for diversity
Different aged timber stands provide all the habitat needs for many game and nongame species. A professional forester or wildlife biologist can quickly lay out a plan that provides different age classes over time and does not decrease timber value or activities. Try to have four to five age classes in relative abundance at any given time on your property. You may have some clear cuts that are 1-5 years old, an adjacent stand that is 5-15 years old, and manage selected mature stands for mast production. It’s a long-term process of thinning, management and commercial removal. Add a prescribed fire program and you’ve got the recipe for excellent hunting.
Tip 3: Foster fields and grasslands
Midwestern grasslands are important for cover, food and brood rearing habitat. Planting, managing and maintaining quality fields and grasslands is key to maximizing wildlife populations on your property.
Conducting prescribed burns on a two- to three-year rotation and rotational disking are inexpensive and effective. Burning removes matted grass that chokes out understory vegetation and controls low quality hardwood species that invade open areas. Rotational disking stimulates valuable understory species like native lespedezas, beggar’s lice, ragweed and blackberries. These plants provide important browse, seeds and cover for many species, especially deer, quail and wild turkey. Breaking up your fields with rows of mast and cover producing shrubs like dogwood and Hawthorn, then rotationally disking between these on a three-year rotation can create awesome wildlife habitat.
Tip 4: Year-round food plots
I am an advocate of having multi-season, year-round food plots as part of a wildlife plan. If you have flat, easily accessible areas suitable for tilling and planting, carefully plan what and when you will plant. It’s hard to go wrong in the Midwest by planting a multi-season, multi-year perennial plot like the NWTF’s Triple Threat Clover mixed with chicory. This plot provides not only tremendous forage all year, but excellent brood rearing habitat and hunting opportunities. If you really want to sweeten these plots you can no-till drill forage oats and wheat every fall to provide more temptation for deer. If your plots are large enough, plant a strip of Turkey Gold Chufa and Roundup ready corn beside the perennial clover mix for a turkey hunting bonanza.
Tip 5: Native warm season grasses = awesome cover
Native grasses are an often-overlooked part of a complete wildlife plan in the Midwest. Using native warm season grasses to create a soft edge along woodlands and food plots is extremely effective. These areas provide vital cover for wild turkey and quail and important fawning cover for white-tailed deer.
Plant a mixture of two or three tall grasses with plenty of native forbs thrown in and you’ve got a recipe for excellent wildlife habitat and hunting. Check out the NWTF’s selection of native mixes or call us for a consultation.
Tip 6: Wetlands for water quality and wildlife
Good stewardship doesn’t stop with the wildlife. Sustainable forest and uplands management enhances water quality and quantity, as does providing shallow wetlands and ponds. Wetlands and ponds not only act as a great place to hunt waterfowl and fish, but filter out contaminants and sediments that can harm streams and water quality. If you have a suitable location for creating a shallow wetland or a system of shallow ponds and wetlands, it will greatly improve water quality and availability.
Tip 7: Create a sanctuary
Think of the thickest, most inaccessible habitat on your property or places you’ve hunted and you’re likely identifying where the most mature bucks spend the majority of their time. Identifying a sanctuary ensures you will have deer on your property during hunting season, perhaps even encouraging a real wall hanger to stick around.
Eastern red cedar, while not a desirable species for open lands management, can provide excellent thermal cover and a great sanctuary. — Scott Vance, NWTF assistant vice president for conservation