By Gerald Almy
With hunting seasons winding to a close, it's time to think about activities to fill the days before fishing swings into full gear. Outdoor shows are one answer. Another way to spend the time is improving the habitat on land you own, lease or have permission to hunt. Every step you take to improve the land will result in healthier deer and better hunting in future years.
In this column and the next one, we'll look at several ways to make the area you hunt more likely to attract and hold bucks and grow healthier does and fawns. Food plots are important, but it's too early to start on those, so most of these projects emphasize improving cover and improving the amount and quality of food that the natural habitat provides.
No matter how lush a clover or wheat field is, older bucks aren't going to use it or even stay on your land without prime cover as well. They need it year-round for security. They also need it in winter for thermal protection from wind, rain, snow and cold.
Constructing cover does more than make your land hospitable to deer, though. Since you make it, you can put it in just the right spots to help your hunting strategy based on access to stand sites, prevailing wind direction, sun angle and other factors. Knowing where the different types of cover are that you created and how they are laid out lets you plan your hunt knowing how the deer will travel and where they will bed as they make use of it.
Create a big buck travel corridor. Most land is too open for prime deer habitat. Find a natural potential travel route from bedding to feeding areas or between doe bedding areas and make it appealing to bucks by planting bushes, shrubs and low-growing trees. Many of the species you use will also offer food, making the travel lane doubly appealing.
Say there's a small stream or drainage ditch flowing through an area that might normally be a big buck travel route between doe bedding areas, feed fields or blocks of timber, but it's too open. Lacking cover, only does and yearling bucks will use it during daylight. If you put in a swath of bushes that grow 4-8 feet tall, though, mature bucks will use it, too.
Many species will work for this project. Some good ones to consider are: rem red honeysuckle bushes, dogwood shrubs (gray, silky or red osier), crab apple, Chickasaw plum, chinkapin, viburnum, indigo bush and lespedeza.
Plant a staggered row of these bushes, preferably three or four wide, about 6-12 feet apart. As they grow, you want a buck with a big rack to still be able to walk comfortably through them. For variety, you can mix in a few pines and apple, pear or persimmon trees.
Create an edge. A food plot may be attractive to deer, but if they have to go straight from a mature, open forest into it, they may hold back until almost dark when shooting light is gone. By adding a border or transition edge of cover between the field and the forest, older bucks will feel comfortable hanging out in this area and approach the plot in daylight.
Basically you'll be creating a "staging area." If you don't over-hunt it, this is a prime place to hang a stand.
Saw down some low-value trees along the border of the woods and let them lie to create a jumble of brush. Cutting some of the trees chest high and leaving them partially attached to the stump makes even more valuable cover.
Vines and honeysuckle will grow up the fallen tree and form thick shelter that big bucks crave, especially as they approach an open feeding area. Add a few bushes from a nursery to fill in spots that are still too open, and you'll soon have a staging area bucks feel comfortable using well before dark. The edge should be at least 60 feet wide; two or three times that would be better still.
Next week: three more habitat improvement projects.
Harrisburg Sports Show Cancelled
Reed Exhibitions has cancelled the upcoming Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa. They had attempted to ban assault rifles (ARs) and accessories from being sold or displayed at the show. Hundreds of show exhibitors and sponsors began canceling or saying they would boycott the show because of this decision. For the first time in 50 years, Reed decided to "postpone" the show, slated for Feb. 2-10.
Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.