Tractorless Habitat Management

No tractor? Don’t worry. You don’t need a tractor or even an ATV to give the critters on your land more food and more places to hide. Food plots are fine, but the wildlife on your land needs more than a single food source. They need abundant cover along with a variety of food that’s available all year.

First, kill the fescue. Cool-season grasses like fescue and Bermuda grass provide no benefit to wildlife. They grow so dense, they choke out good plants and make it difficult for young quail and turkeys to get around. 

Small fields of cool-season grasses can be treated with a backpack sprayer filled with a selective herbicide that just kills grass. Larger fields need the help of your local farmer’s cooperative. They have sprayer trucks that can cover a few acres in a matter of minutes.

Native plants will flourish once the grass is gone. Ragweed, trefoils, wildflowers and other plant varieties that have been lying dormant will thrive. Those are the same plants deer and other wildlife have been eating long before anyone planted a food plot.

Next, control invasive plants. Along with fescue, trees like tree-of-heaven and sweetgums can crowd out beneficial trees and plants and create a monoculture. Diversity is good. Make a few cuts in the tree with a machete and then spray the scars with a full concentrate of non-selective herbicide like Roundup.

Hinge-cut trees along field edges to create cover for quail, rabbits and songbirds. By cutting part way through the tree and pushing over into a field, you create a living brush pile. The tree will survive and last years longer than a dead tree.

Plant shrubs like indigobush, bi-color lespedeza and other seed-bearing plants that provide food and cover. Use them to create field borders and corridors through open ground. Seedlings are available through many state forestry departments and private nurseries that sell them in bulk.

Fruit-bearing trees like plum, crabapple, pear and apple benefit a wide variety of wildlife. Consider planting some in strategic locations throughout your property. They only produce fruit at certain times of the year, but the more options wildlife have, the more attractive your property will be.

Be patient, though. A food plot can start drawing deer and turkeys within weeks. Tractorless improvements can take years to pay dividends. But they will last much longer than a patch of clover. 

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