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The First Step in Building a Habitat Plan

Ok so now that we know what tools we have available for building a habitat plan and the basic habitat requirements for 3 of the most commonly managed for species, we can begin to build that plan. As I mentioned previously, any project requiring large investments of time and money should be planned out to the best of your ability from day 1. Making large scale changes to a property that don't meet your goals can both be hard to reverse and can negatively affect your hunting strategy going forward.

Let's be honest very few of us are buying a property that is perfectly set up and has everything that wildlife needs to reach optimum population levels. So the 1st planning step is to list out the deficiencies in our property. Let's take a look at my own personal farm. We purchased Maple Hill Farm in September of 22'. While too late in the year to implement any habitat projects, that in itself be a good thing. Getting a feel for what your current wildlife populations are and how they utilize your property is very helpful in developing that plan. Most of our properties are NOT going to be the complete home range for many species. Learn what your neighbors have and don't have in terms of wildlife habitat and how it might affect your property.

aerial photo of Maple Hill Farm
Maple Hill Farm

Maple Hill Farm (solely named for the several large maples that are in the yard around our house) is comprised of just under 90 acres. For some property owners that might seem like a good-sized piece of land, but again in terms of wildlife home ranges, other than quail it is safe to assume that the neighbors' properties will also lie within the home range of the deer and turkeys that utilize our property. When we purchased it there were no "man-made" food sources.

In terms of native food there are a few scattered red and white oaks as well as a few hickories on the property. Other than some very limited woody browse (green briar, buckbrush, dogwood and honey suckle) there was very little food available. While there are 3 very small ponds on the property none of them are utilized by wildlife to a high degree, in fact during the summer of 23' two out of the three actually dried up due to the drought. Pasture areas were over grazed cool season grasses that were being invaded by Honey Locust and Eastern Red Cedar trees.

Habitat issues at Maple Hill:

  • Very little food for deer and turkey, none to speak of for quail. Adjoining properties contribute nothing different than what our own farm has in terms of food.

  • Almost no natural tree seedling establishment of desirable species due to closed canopy and over grazing by livestock and browsing by deer.

  • Lack of secure watering sites

  • No likely roosting trees for turkey. Due to high tree density in the timbered areas very few trees have lower branches suitable for roosting and it is also difficult for birds to fly up.

  • No brood rearing habitat for turkeys or quail. Cool season grass with very low forb percentage.

  • No suitable quail nesting habitat.

  • Limited woody escape cover for quail.

  • While not directly habitat related. The presence of several neighboring homes hinders wildlife movement.

It is not all doom and gloom! Every piece of property has positives, if nothing else hopefully you have "Space" which then means you have a blank slate to design a complete habitat project.

Habitat positives for Maple Hill.

  • 3 blocks of timbers that can provide secure bedding areas for deer.

  • Previously farmed ground that can be converted into food plots.

  • Some brushy fence lines that can be enhanced for turkey nesting and quail escape cover.

  • Decent deer population and enough of a remnant population of turkeys and quail to hopefully serve as a foundation for population expansion.

  • Decent property layout in terms of topography and hard structure habitat to allow for hunting stand access.

  • Neighboring properties can provide some good deer bedding cover and potentially turkey roosting sites.

Have you identified what your property is lacking? What are your property's strengths? Here is a general list of what every property should have. Incorporating these into your plan will help assure your plan will be successful.

Bedding/ roosting cover

Food sources - both native and food plots

Water sources

Hunting access plan

Stand locations

Invasive plant control

Possibly sanctuary areas for deer bedding

A timeline for maintaining long term vegetation types

Once you have a "grocery list" of the good and not so good things about your own property you can begin to formulate that habitat plan in terms of actions you need to take. In the next blog I will outline the plan for Maple Hill Farm, what has been already accomplished and what is on the calendar for this year.

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