THE QUALITY LAND QUALITY DEER CONNECTION
Are you in the market to buy or lease hunting property? Do you expect to sometime in the future? 75% of all the deer in Michigan are on private property. For those of you who already own property or have longtime access to private property for deer hunting, you probably are not going to relocate, but maybe you don't have to. Lets find out.
How much land do you need. Here's another one of those answers that begins with "it all depends", your pocketbook, your choice of land type, your time spent in the woods and your hunting intensity impacts acreage needed. As far as how much you want to spend to buy or lease land, that's your call. If I offer any suggestion it's this. Early in my farming experience I asked an old hand in the game how big of a tractor should I buy. His advice was right on. He said "figure out the biggest tractor you can afford to buy then buy the next size larger". Your choice of land type is a critical decision. If you had a choice of obtaining a forty acre parcel of prime deer habitat that had good soil, a drainage that supplied year round water, varied topography and vegetation that contained a good mix of hard and soft mast trees, hardwoods, conifers and heavy cover along with open areas versus a 160 acre piece that has a history of low deer productivity and quality, suspect soil, minimum topography variation leaning to a single plant type of wooded vegetation and the neighbors have the water sources for the same money, pick the forty. More on why later. If you elect to go with the larger piece due to number of hunters using it or any other reason and you expect to compensate for the poor area by intensely managing the land be prepared to accept the fact that you can only do so much in poor habitat. Fertilization, putting in food plots, a good timber cutting program along with providing free choice minerals will help but pale in comparison with the same input done to the forty acre parcel. 40 good acres can out produce a poor 160. Your time spent in the woods and intensity of your hunting will affect the number of acres needed to maintain a quality hunting experience throughout the hunting seasons. If your deer camp consists of firearm hunters only and most just hunt hard the first couple days and have designated blinds with no one roaming, this is pushing it, but you might get away with 10 acres per hunter in very good habitat. On the extreme other end with hard hunting roaming types who hunt both bow and firearm 40 acres per hunter in good habitat or 100 acres in poor might not be enough. Your pocket book might force you to adjust. If you have the acreage and you bow and firearm hunt you might consider your firearm area untouchable until 6:00 a.m. Nov. 15.
Okay you have your property even though its not big enough, it never is. What can you do to enhance it, to hold in deer, to pull in deer, and to protect deer. If you are a gal you'll probably listen to what I have to say and weigh your options. If you are a guy like me you'll probably only half listen, do your thing and learn the hard way. I haven't the space so my suggestions will be in general terms. One of the first things on your list should be to walk the property thoroughly including your neighbors, with permission of course. Take note of the lay of the land and specifically the drainage's (Whitetail Deer tend to favor depressions when traveling and are drainage animals in nature). Check out and note the type, age and location of the different vegetation from mature oaks to the tag alder or cattail swamps. Note clearings and what is growing in them. Also check the vigor of the plants in the clearings. There is a direct connection with plant size and population density to soil fertility. As you are cruising the property note the amount of browsing and specifically what is being eaten. You may need to familiarize yourself in identifying different types of vegetation and the deer's preferred browse. They don't eat spruce except ones growing on or near deer trails. If you find an exception to this you may have identified a potential problem. The greater diversity in vegetative growth on your property the better it is for the deer. It is commonly known that deer are browsers (that is they eat buds, leafs and stems of woody growth). This is true but it is mainly because they prefer woods and their edges to live in, and that's where the woody growth is and it is a supply of forage year round. If they had their choice they would prefer a wide variety of broadleaf plants (weeds) as their main diet throughout the year. Yes, they would still eat the woody stuff even during the summer and this is necessary as the great variety of vegetation consumed by deer aids in digestion. Take note of the last comment as you might want to promote the growth of broadleaf plants (food plots) in your clearings. Now get an aerial photograph of your property and tally your resources. There is no hard rule as to what percentage of different types of vegetative growth you should have but cover is very important and 30% as a minimum should be your goal. The thicker the cover the better. This includes travel corridors. Plant it if you don't have it. Fast growing conifers are a good choice. Your forage should be of a high nutrition year round source. This means a variety of plants in your clearings, hard and soft woods, conifers, brush, hard and soft mast and even your cover if of certain plant types could be forage. In your wooded area you should keep at least 20% of it in 10 year old growth or younger. May I suggest you make it easy on yourself and hook up with a certified forester with a wildlife background. Work out a plan and stick to it. Don't be surprised if a good portion of your timber cuttings are recommended to be clear cut, checkerboard in location and small 5 to 10 acre lots. You should have clearings and preferably toward the center of the property. Between 10 to 30% clearings works well. If water is seasonal you can dig a pond or install a dam. Think about safe areas. Location of them is best central on your property but not as critical as food plots. Use the better part of your property, more than one location is okay and I recommend about 20% of your property be a sanctuary. Honor it except to retrieve that trophy buck. Finally as suggested earlier you can put in food plots if your finances allow and you have the commitment to maintain them. The following are important points to consider for food plots. Think of them as not only attractants but mainly as good sources of nutrients and with different varieties planted, deer could have year round access to good nutrition. Carefully consider the plant types, size, number of and locations of food plots. Think like a deer. Would you walk 100 yards across a clearing from your cover to munch on some clover during daylight? Again work with people who can help you stay clear of mistakes, and these people come free. You can contact your DNR wildlife biologist, DNR forester, Michigan State Extension Agent, Federal Conservation Experts and the Federal Fish and Game Department.
Let me go back to why I would pick the 40 acre parcel over the 160 acre one. My personal opinion is that the single most important ingredient in creating the good habitat for a healthy and productive deer population is soil. Look for topsoil to be primarily in the loam type. For you college graduates topsoil is the stuff you walk on. It should have a decent water table level, somewhat moderate drainage and organic content of 2% or more. Some might say there isn't any left, its all in agriculture. That's a clue for you. I often recommend to look for wooded property near to or adjacent to farms. Many times this property wasn't cleared due to its varied topography (which would be a plus for you) or was necessary in earlier times for use as a sheltered pasture and/or a wood fuel source, and yet has a similar soil type as the cleared area. It is important to test your soil whether you plant food plots or not. Try to get your soil PH at least 6.0 (7.0 is neutral). This means applying calcium if its below 6.0. A soil too acid or to alkaline restricts the plants root system in absorbing minerals. A soil testing high in phosphorus is also important. It is generally recognized by biologists that phosphorus plays a major role in deer health, especially in antler development. An easy answer to supply the deer's mineral needs would seem, create a top grade mineral lick. You won't go wrong doing this and studies have shown an increase of as high as 20% in antler size in poor soil areas. However if you want to go first class, in addition to your mineral lick, work on putting the nutrients into the plants deer eat. A very large percentage of mineral particles in the free state are too large to be absorbed by the deer's digestive system, and these free state mineral particles usually carry a positive electrical charge which hinders absorbtion. The plants root system only absorbs the smallest mineral particles and through photosynthesis these particles are changed to a negative electrical charge. These most important minute negatively charged mineral particles are then made available throughout the animals system through the distribution capabilities of vitamins.
For individuals who are interested in enhancing their hunting property with food plots from large multiple acre size done with farm type power equipment to small 1/8 acre hot bow hunting sites or very effective shooting lanes for the firearm season done by hand held equipment, come to the QDM seminar September 12th and pick up your free food plot literature, proven from 16 years of trial and error. It's probably just a matter of time when baiting will be sharply curtailed.
The Quality Deer Management Association QDMA is having a promotional program till December 31, 1998. They are offering the latest QDMA video (value $14.95) at a cost of $4.95 to cover shipping and handling when becoming a member of QDMA. In addition to the video as a member you receive the highly acclaimed and informational quarterly publication of Quality Whitetails and free membership in the Mid Michigan Branch QDMA. The Mid Michigan Branch will host the 5th annual QDM educational seminar September 12, 1998. There is a bi-monthly meeting at Jay's, a bi-monthly news letter and a Mid Michigan Branch internet page. A new membership costs you $20.00 for a total of $24.95 with video. For membership information contact Boyd Wiltse: Secretary Mid Michigan Branch, phone #810 231-9560, internet page address: firstname.lastname@example.org or see us September 12 at Gladwin High School.
Keep the fun in hunting,
Ed Spinazzola, President Mid Michigan Branch QDMA
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© 1996 Mid-Michigan Branch Quality Deer Management Association
© 1996 Mid-Michigan Branch Quality Deer Management Association