If you want to both help the local wildlife populations and improve your hunting prospects next fall, here are three projects you can implement during the coming months. Besides helping the habitat, they'll make the time pass more quickly until hunting begins again this October.
Put in native warm season grasses. This not only keeps more bucks on your property, it also benefits quail and songbirds. Switch grass is the easiest to grow, but other species are also good such as Indian grass and Big and Little Bluestem. A mixture is ideal.
These grasses grow to heights of 5-7 feet, providing great cover for does and bucks. You can plant warm season grasses by broadcasting the seed and covering it very lightly. The best way of all is to rent a drill or hire a local farmer who has one to put it in for you. Since this is a strong conservation step for the land, often government programs such as Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and others can be used to help finance the seed purchase (up to 75 percent) and arrange planting.
You don't need a large field. Even a half-acre patch, if strategically located, will hold bucks. A better bet is to plant a couple of acres, and long narrow fields are especially good. Don't hunt the switch grass. It should be a sanctuary area to hold deer on the property.
Build a bedding area. Bucks might travel through your land. They might come on it to look for does as the rut approaches. They might visit food plots you've put out. But you'll never have a whitetail hotspot without bedding cover. Fortunately, that's easy to make.
First, find a choice spot. Locate it far from human traffic, close to the center of the property, preferably up on a shelf, bench or hillside. Bucks like to bed high and move low in the afternoon to feed or chase does.
Take a chain saw to an area that doesn't have many valuable trees and begin cutting. Don't fell everything, but cutting a number of trees and leaving them lie is a perfect way to create a jungle-like bedding spot that big bucks will love. Focus on diseased, low-quality or bent trees.
Wear ear protection, goggles and a hard hat and learn safety rules of logging before you start. If you prefer, you can hire a professional to do the chore for you. Sell him some of the better logs, but get him to cut and leave on the ground many of the low-quality trees to create the bedding area.
The fallen trees aren't the only part of the cover you're creating. Allowing more sunlight in by removing the overhead canopy lets bushes and food-bearing shrubs grow up such as grapevines, honeysuckle, raspberry, greenbrier and blackberries. That makes a thick, jungle-like area that also has quite a bit of food.
Maple stumps will generate shoots that bucks munch on and saplings will begin to grow, creating more cover still. Since you create this bedding area, you'll know exactly where it is and can quickly learn trails and travel routes deer use as they head for it in the morning or leave it in late afternoon.
Plant a pine grove. This project offers multiple benefits for bucks. A thick grove of pines offers bucks thermal cover and protection from strong winds, snow and cold rain in winter. It also offers security cover.
When hunting pressure builds on surrounding lands there's nothing a buck craves more than escape and seclusion. A grove of thick pines in an isolated spot is just what he's looking for. Species can vary with what's available, but white pines are hard to beat.
You can order these very economically from the Virginia Forestry Department in bulk. Space the trees 10-12 feet apart and plant as large an area as you can -- from one-quarter acre up to several acres. If you want to create this cover more quickly, buy larger trees from a commercial nursery.
As hunting pressure increases around your property or bad weather rolls in, deer will flock to these pine groves. Leave them as sanctuaries, only hunting occasionally on travel routes the animals use to reach the secluded stands of evergreens.
-- Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.