Gerald Almy: Creating habitat offers many benefits to wildlife

Gerald Almy

This is Part II of a series on types of cover you can add to a property to improve its value for wildlife. These tips can improve the habitat on any piece of land ranging from a quarter-acre to hundreds of acres. They can also improve your hunting success.

Annual cover crops: Planting species such as Egyptian wheat, sorghum, and Sudan grass can offer a quick way to create cover for strategic goals. Say you have a food plot site but it’s only accessible across an open field from buck bedding cover. Sow a strip of these plants in spring or early summer to create security cover that will draw mature deer out earlier, in shooting light.

Another use is for creating a screen for an access route so you can approach your stand or blind without being detected. Yet a third instance where these tall-growing annuals can be of value is to shield the view from cars on roads.

Shrubs: This is often a forgotten element in creating cover for deer. Chances are you already have quite a few shrubs on your land. Some are likely valuable as food and cover. Others just cover. But as long as they’re not invasive species or harmful, I like all the shrubs I can have. Deer love to bed down in these low-growing plants either all day or temporarily as they approach major feeding fields. And the edible ones also offer extra food value.

Try to identify those you have and daylight some of the beneficial ones if they’re becoming too shaded or expand them with a bit of tree clearing. (Most shrubs thrive in partial sunlight and don’t grow well in dense mature forests.) You can also fertilize some of them with good effect because of their shallow root structure.

It’s also worthwhile to plant shrubs, but I like to do so strategically. For instance, a creek bottom might serve as a prime travel corridor for deer between a bedding area and feed field, but it’s too open. Planting a few rows of shrubs along it, perhaps mixed with some pines, can give just enough cover that they’ll use it during daylight. And having created it, you’ll know exactly where to hang your stand.

In another situation, a potential staging area may be a bit too open. Adding a few shrubs will help make this gathering area more attractive to mature bucks earlier in the afternoon.

A wide variety of shrubs beneficial for wildlife is available from commercial nurseries such as nativnurseries.com or state forestry departments. Some good species include Allegheny chinquapin, plum, native honeysuckles, raspberry, blackberry, American beautyberry, strawberry bush, and gray or red osier dogwood.

Hinge cuts or dozer-felled trees: This type of cover has received lots of coverage in wildlife and hunting magazines recently, so we’ll just touch lightly on it here. Done correctly, this tactic can create some great whitetail cover.

Just know what species you’re hinge cutting and follow all safety rules. And don’t try to hinge-cut large trees. Stick to smaller to medium trees up to about 8 inches in diameter. Cut just through far enough that the tree falls or you can push it over, at waist to chest height. The tree will continue growing for a while and provide both cover and valuable browse for deer.

You can create bedding areas this way or pockets of security cover or even block routes you don’t want deer to take so they will travel past your stand. Cut a lot of the trees at a right angle to the path you want them to take and a few parallel to it. And leave a few escape slots. Deer don’t want to feel totally “trapped” by your funnel.

If you have a dozer or want to rent or hire an operator for a day, you can also knock down small trees, so they’re almost growing parallel to the ground. This alternative often results in the tree continuing to grow close to the ground where it offers more cover and potential food in the twigs and leaves that are now at “deer mouth” level. Have a plan, though, as to exactly which tree species to cut and where to create the movement-channeling effect you want.

Next Week: More ways to build cover to help wildlife.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.