While all living creatures need water to some degree should you bother with including water sources on your habitat plan? I say yes. Just like cover and food, water can be a great addition to your property. I really hadn't given permanent water sources much thought until this past year. I don't believe many habitat managers ever think much about water. However, a permanent water source can be highly used on your property, especially if located in a strategic location. Do you have permanent water sources on your property? Are they used by wildlife? If not, why not? On Maple Hill Farm we have three small ponds. In the summer of 2023 two out of the three ponds dried up due to a drought we were in. The other pond is located in a cattle pasture with no real Cover within 100 yards of it. Besides that, due to heavy livestock usage and erosion in the past, the level of deep mud around the edges makes it difficult for deer to even access the water. We do have a random area or two that will hold a bit of water after a heavy rain for a couple of days. Deer and turkeys both utilize open water sources when provided. The published literature varies a bit as to the "need" of open water for turkeys, mainly as a result of the local weather climate and their predominate food source at the time. If weather is hot and the turkeys are feeding on drier seeds, then water is required. Studies have found that when comparing similar habitats within close proximity to each other that the turkeys will favor those with free standing water. Often turkey nest locations favor areas with water sources as well. Quail are not overly dependent on permanent water sources, they are very good at removing water from the foods they are consume. That is not to say they will not utilize free standing water. So how do we provide water to wildlife if it is lacking on our property? How do we put it in locations that improve our hunting plan?
If you need to add water to your property you have a couple of different options. You could either build a pond or install water tanks. While ponds have other benefits besides just providing a water source for wildlife (potentially fishing, swimming, waterfowl usage, etc) they are costly to install, the topography and the soil type of your property might not allow for the construction of one. Besides that, your land topography is "telling" you where to install the pond, which may not necessarily be in the best location for wildlife usage or your hunting strategy. Water tanks while not large enough to provide anything other than a permanent water source for wildlife to use are far less costly, can be located specifically where you want them and are not entirely dependent on naturally occurring precipitation to fill them. Depending on how you install them and their size you may very well have to add water to them from another source. I have become a fan of water tanks over the last year. I certainly enjoy all the other things that ponds provide, but if you need water sources on your property from a deer habitat perspective, tanks are hard to beat. Providing a water source to birds like turkeys and especially quail can be more challenging with a tank as the water surface can be more difficult for the birds to access. Tanks buried at the ground level may allow more precipitation to run into the tank and allow birds to access the water easier. Always keep a board or larger tree limb in your tank to allow smaller animals an escape means should they fall into the tank. I suppose that limb could also serve as a potential perching location for a bird to drink from.
Locating your water source(s) where it will be used by wildlife the most and where it can potentially add to your hunting stand locations are just as important as where food and cover are located on your property. Knowing that deer prefer to stay close to cover, locating a tank in the middle of a large open area is not likely to be well used. I personally think the best location for a tank is between bedding areas and food sources. We already know that deer will be traveling those routes, and the tank serves as a focal point for the deer along that travel route. During the rut bucks cruise the perimeter of good bedding areas trying to locate receptive does. We added a single tank in the Summer of 2023 and I was shocked at just how much the deer as well as other wildlife used it. This year we will be adding 2 more tanks to the farm. Our tanks are located where deer can utilize them as they travel to feeding areas or back to bedding areas. Tanks are also located where we can readily access them in order to add more water if needed. Tanks are all located within bow range of hunting stands.
Like water tanks, hunting stand locations need to be well thought out in advance of making your habitat plan and implementing it. Making changes to your wildlife habitat without considering how you might access areas to hunt can make it almost impossible to hunt areas of your property successfully. If you want to rely totally on scent lock clothing, an ozonics machine, or perhaps a well-sealed enclosed blind be my guest. The only way to successfully out smart a deer's nose 100% of the time is to hunt with the wind in your favor. You still need to be able access stands as well without alerting deer to your presence. Having multiple hunting stand locations allows you to choose stands where you can avoid alerting deer to your presence. Take into account predominate wind directions on your farm and the time of day that deer will likely be close to your stand locations. Topography of your property can also come into play as to naturally occurring pinch points where deer are funneled into a fairly narrow travel way, giving you closer shooting ranges. Now is a great time of year to be out walking your property, document where deer trails are and areas that are being chosen for bedding. Buck sign from the Fall is also pretty obvious as well. Finding that deer sign can give you a better idea of how deer are currently using your property and how you can use that to your advantage.
In the next blog I am going to begin looking at individual habitat improvement practices, how I am implementing them on Maple Hill Farm and how those same practices can make your farm better.
P.S. The last day to order cover crop and food plot seed for Spring delivery window is Jan 31st!