As hunters and wildlife enthusiasts we tend to focus on wildlife behavior and biology during hunting season but tend to forget about them during the summer months. But the summer months are very important to our population numbers. Hunting season includes mating season, but now the babies are hitting the ground and the real fun is in full swing.
Whitetail deer are busy growing the new crop of fawns and growing antlers (for the bucks). Bucks lose their antlers in the spring after rut and grow new ones this time of year. For the most part, bucks grow bigger antlers each year until they peak around age 5-6. Several factors enter into antler growth including age, genetics and nutrition. You can’t change age or genetics easily but you can supply good nutrition as they are growing new antlers right now. The added nutrition will also help the does that are fawning and nursing those fawns right now.
Wild turkey hens are busy raising their poults alone. They breed and nest in the spring each year. It only takes about 28 days of sitting on the nest for the eggs to hatch. The poults are learning how to eat and groom themselves as well as how to roost and get away from predators. Poults that have survived to this point have a good chance of making it to adulthood. They will rejoin the larger population in the fall.
Warm season supplemental nutrition provides food sources when population numbers are at their highest. Deer are nutritionally stressed due to antler growth and fawn rearing. Turkey hens are finding places to feed their poults. This supplemental nutrition can come in the form of grains provided in wildlife feeders or in food plots. Food plots during the warm season are an underutilized nutrition source. We can grow many highly nutritious forage crops for wildlife during the summer. Some great choices include millet (brown top, pearl, dove proso), sunn hemp, clay peas, cowpeas, hairy indigo, perennial peanut, Aeschynomene Americana, alyceclover and more.
Wild Turkeys in Chufa planted in Gadsden County – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Wildlife management continues to be an area of growing interest on our local farms and ranches and has the potential to generate significant additional income to the farm enterprise. It is also an opportunity to practice good stewardship of the natural resources that we have in abundance here in the Panhandle. Each spring I get many phone calls from landowners wanting to know what they can plant to encourage wild turkeys to utilize their property more and to enhance the quality of their wild turkey habitat. Chufa is one such plant that wild turkeys love like most of us love ice cream and it is easy to grow and will provide feed for turkeys for several months.
What is chufa? Chufa is an African variety of the native nutsedge, which is a warm season perennial plant. However, chufa is not as aggressive as the native nutsedges and typically will not create problems with succeeding crops that you might plant after it. The actual foliage of the plant is not utilized by wildlife, but turkeys, hogs, ducks, and raccoons love the underground tubers that the plant produces. Each individual plant can produce 10 to 75 peanut kernel sized tubers (see photo 1) that wildlife utilize. These tubers are high in carbohydrates and protein, and they are also edible by humans, having a sweet taste similar to almonds or raw peanuts.
Photo 1. Chufa seed for planting – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
Turkeys will usually begin to dig the chufas up in early fall as soon as the above ground leaves turn brown. In Florida, they will dig and eat the nuts from fall throughout the winter and into spring. (see photo 2 of turkeys feeding in a spring chufa patch)
Photo 2. Turkeys scratching up chufas – Photo by Shep Eubanks UF IFAS
If you are considering planting chufa there are several considerations to take into account. The chufa plant typically grows well anywhere that field corn can be grown. You should soil test the area you intend to plant and lime to a pH between 6.0 – 6.5. On most soils this requires 1 ton of lime per acre. Recommended planting dates are April 1st through June 30th in the panhandle area. Earlier plantings will provide higher yields, whereas later plantings typically will provide foraging for wildlife later into the following spring. To maximize use by turkeys into the spring I would recommend looking at planting in June. Chufa can be planted later than June 30th some years but remember that it takes the plant approximately 90 days to produce mature tubers and this must be accomplished prior to frost/cold weather. Plant the seed into a well prepared and fertilized seedbed. The seeding rate for chufa is 40 – 50 pounds per acre broadcast or 30 pounds per acre drilled on a 36 inch row spacing. Strive for a coverage of 3 or 4 seed per square foot. When broadcasting the seed, set your disk to cut about 4 inches deep. This will cover the seed to an approximate depth of 2 inches which is ideal for chufa. Normal fertilizer recommendations would be 200 pounds of 17-17-17 per acre or equivalent at planting. When the plants are 6 – 12 inches high (approximately 1 month old) you should top dress with 100 pounds of actual N per acre (300 pounds of ammonium nitrate) to maximize yields. With high costs of fertilizer this may not be as desirable, but yields will be smaller if fertilizer rates are reduced. For weed control options on chufa plantings consult with your local County Extension Agent for up-to-date recommendations.
Small plantings are feasible (less than ¼ acre) if wild hogs are not present. It has been my experience that best results are obtained with ½ acre or larger plantings. Chufa is a plant that will do a good job of reseeding itself, sometimes for several years. Reseeding can be accomplished by simply disking the area of the previous planting between April and the end of June and following fertilizer recommendations for the initial planting. For most locations it is advisable to move the chufa plot to a different location after the second crop to avoid problems with soil pests. (see photo 3 of typical planting).
If you have never planted chufas before for your turkeys, you may want to pull some up or disk a row up in the fall after the tops have died back. This will assist the turkeys in finding the plants if they have never encountered it before. Once they do find it you can expect to find tremendous areas of scratching. Quite often the plots will literally look like a mortar or bombing range where the turkeys dig down to get the chufas!
Five Year old Shumard Oak. Photo courtesy the author.
One of the keys to bagging a deer or mess of squirrels or just enjoying an afternoon viewing wildlife is to locate their preferred food source. In the Panhandle, this often means finding a natural stand of oaks or other mast producing trees. However, the concept of attracting animals to mast trees isn’t exclusive to natural areas; it can be replicated by hunters and wildlife enthusiasts to attract whitetail deer, squirrels, turkeys or any other game. (Don’t let the terminology confuse you, “mast” is just a term meaning “fruit from a tree”. “Hard” mast refers to nut producing trees -think Oak, Hickory, etc. Soft mast is just that, soft-fleshed fruits – think Pear, Plum, etc. This piece will focus on hard mast trees.) Regardless of semantics, the takeaway is that planting mast producing trees as winter wildlife attractants have several benefits.
Enhanced habitat. Planting diverse groups of hard mast producing trees provides wonderful cover for deer to browse, squirrels to nest, and turkeys to roost. Also, groups of trees planted in open areas can help to create desired edge effects, see this publication on benefits of “edge” from Auburn University.
Excellent nutritional supplement to winter food-plot forages (winter food plots are defined here as open areas planted in the cool season with small forage grains like oats, clover, or ryegrass). If a diversity of species is planted, hard mast trees are an excellent, season-long (approximately October-January) source of proteins and fats. They produce high-energy nutrients deer and other critters need to get through the winter months.
5 year old Sawtooth Oak in December 2019, inter-planted in winter forage plot. Photo courtesy the author.
Reduction in time and money needing to be spent maintaining annual food plots. A well-designed grove of mast producing trees can be as effective in attracting deer and other animals as winter grazing plots and a whole lot cheaper. A study done by the University of Tennessee Extension in 2008 found that hunters spent about $200 per acre on winter food plots (seed, fertilizer, equipment, time, etc.), an expense that will happen EVERY year. And as many of you know from personal experience, $200 is a VERY conservative number, particularly if you value your personal time at all. Replacing half an acre of cultivated winter forage with mast trees will likely be more expensive in year one when you initially buy and plant but remember, if you do it right, you only have to do it once.
With those benefits of mast trees for wildlife attraction in mind, let’s address what and how to plant. Always select trees with desirable characteristics: long-lived, disease-free, and high-quality mast production at an early age (you don’t want your heirs to get all the benefit!). In the Panhandle, Oaks (Quercus spp.) fit this bill best. There are two groups of Oak to pick from, Red and White. Red Oaks generally have dark, ridged bark, leaves with pointed lobes, small to medium-sized acorns that mature in two seasons, and tend to crop reliably each year. White Oaks possess lighter colored bark, leaves with rounded lobes, large, “sweet” acorns maturing in one season, and tend to produce heavily in alternate years. Plant some of each group to ensure an acorn crop each year and maximize wildlife benefit! However, not just any old oak will do; the Oaks that most closely fit all the above characteristics are:
5 year old Nuttall Oak. Photo courtesy the author.
Nuttall Oak (Quercus nuttalli) – Red Oak Group. Rapidly growing, attractive tree, very early producer of good-sized acorns (5-6 years). Drops acorns late, providing needed fats and carbohydrates for bucks through much of the “rut” in the Panhandle (Late November-early February). Tolerates flooding and bottomland areas well.
White Oak (Quercus alba) – White Oak Group. Long-lived, stately tree. Relatively early producer of very large, sweet acorns. Acorn drop is earlier than Nuttall Oak. Grows best on moist upland soils.
Swamp Chestnut Oak (Quercus michauxii) – White Oak Group. Large tree with flaky white/gray bark. Relatively early producer of massive, prized acorns. Acorn drop occurs around the same time as White Oak. Prefers moist upland soils like its cousin the White Oak but will tolerate periodic flooding.
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) – White Oak Group. Non-native. Medium-sized tree with heavy branches, often full to the ground. Very early and reliable producer of large, sweet acorns (begins producing at 5-6 years). Begins to drop acorns in September – often the first Oak to produce mast in the season. Grows best on moist upland soils.
Chinese Chestnut mast in October. Photo courtesy the author.
Chinese Chestnut and Chinese/American Hybrids (Castanea spp.) – Not oaks but worthy of inclusion. Non-native or native hybrids. Medium-sized, spreading trees. Earliest producer of mast (3-4 years from seed germination). Highly sought-after by deer. Tolerates poor soils well but best production is in moist upland areas. I’m particularly partial to the newer American/Chinese Chestnut hybrids like ‘Dunstan’ and ‘AU Buck’.
It is important to remember that success starts at planting. Select healthy container or bare-root trees in the dormant season (December-February) and plant soon after to ensure the rootball doesn’t dry out. Dig planting hole the same depth plants are in containers or to depth of topmost root and backfill with native soil. Do not amend with compost or potting soil! After planting, the trees will need supplemental water, a few gallons per week, unless significant rainfall is received. Water regularly until establishment (when they no longer need your help, generally three-six months after planting).
4′ tree grow tubes are effective at protecting young trees from deer browsing. Photo courtesy the author.
Also, recently planted seedlings will need protection from deer browsing. Unfortunately, deer don’t realize these trees will directly benefit them in a few years and will do their best to destroy them by eating the tender new growth or “rubbing” with their antlers, girdling the trees in the process. I’ve found that either a small 4’ high wire cage held together with zip ties works well, as do plastic grow tubes sold by many wildlife providers. If you opt to use grow tubes, secure them with a substantial staking material such as PVC, always carefully look inside when working around the trees as tubes are magnets for wasp nests, and be vigilant in keeping fire ants out (they enjoy building their homes inside the tree tubes, the nests will often reach several feet up the tube, causing major problems for the tree!) Finally, to maximize growth rate of your trees and expedite the mast-producing process, remove competition from the base of trees by pulling weeds or herbicide application and fertilize regularly (when growth emerges in the spring, again in early summer, and again in late summer to early fall).
As always, if you have any other questions or want more information, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office. Happy planting!
‘Bobwhites in Pine Savanna’ Workshop Set
For Jan. 30 in Marianna, Florida
The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) and partners will host the Tri-State Bobwhite Symposium for professional land managers and landowners Thursday, January 30, 2020, in Marianna, FL.
It is the second Working Lands for Wildlife–Bobwhites in Pine Savanna workshop funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and is expected to draw attendees from three states. The program goal is to restore pine savanna on 82,000 acres across seven states using thinning, prescribed fire, and native grass restoration. Federal funding is available to landowners who choose to pursue pine savanna management on that designated landscape.
Bobwhite quail are popular with many hunters and management is trying to restore them. Photo: USDA
“Private lands are a critical and necessary component for landscape-scale restoration of wild bobwhites, which is what NBCI is all about,” said NBCI Forestry Coordinator Steve Chapman. “Active management of pine forests on those lands, while still meeting landowner objectives, is a key NBCI strategy, and 82,000 managed acres will show the dividends of this approach.”
Dr. Jess McGuire, Quail Forever’s Working Lands for Wildlife bobwhite coordinator, added that “in order to achieve this level of restoration, wildlife professionals must be trained in the nuances of bobwhite management.”
The workshop will be from 9am–2pm at the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) office, located at 2741 Penn Avenue, Suite 3, Marianna, FL 32448. Preregistration by January 23 is required by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or online at http://bit.ly/tristatequail.
Additional partners include Quail Forever, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy, University of Florida Extension, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Through multiple agreements, NBCI, in collaboration with Quail Forever and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources/University of Georgia, will provide at least one of these workshops in each of the seven states identified in the project geography. Those states include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Partners will also produce educational materials detailing management techniques and the results of intentional, targeted pine savanna management for bobwhites as part of the overall project.
Headquartered at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture/Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, NBCI is a science and habitat-based initiative of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate bobwhite quail recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a coordinated, range-wide leadership endeavor to restore wild bobwhites on a landscape scale. The committee is comprised of representatives of 25 state wildlife agencies, various academic research institutions and private conservation organizations. Support for NBCI is provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, state wildlife agencies, the Joe Crafton Family Endowment for Quail Initiatives, the University of Tennessee, Park Cities Quail and Roundstone Native Seed.
Eastern Wild Turkey Gobbler in Gadsden County – photo by Shep Eubanks UF/IFAS
The above picture of a strutting Eastern Wild Turkey is a sight that many hunters look forward to seeing every spring here in the panhandle of Florida. In order to manage wild turkeys and their habitat it is good to understand some basic facts about their biology.
Wild turkeys are considered a generalist species, meaning that they can eat a wide variety of foods, primarily seeds, insects, and vegetation. They prefer relatively open ground cover so that they can see well and easily move through their surroundings, but they aren’t picky about where they live as long as it provides them year-round groceries and safety. They are also a very adaptable species. Turkeys prefer low, moderately open herbaceous vegetation (less than three feet in height) that they can see through, or see over, and through which they can easily move in relatively close proximity to forested cover. Such open habitat conditions help them see and avoid predators and these areas will typically provide sufficient food in terms of edible plants, fruit, seeds, and insects.
Wild turkeys are considered, ecologically, to be a “prey species” and have evolved as a common food source for numerous animals—seems everything is trying to eat them. Turkey eggs, young (i.e.,poults), and adults are preyed on by such animals as bobcats, raccoons, skunks, opossum, fox , coyotes, armadillos, crows, owls, hawks, bald eagles, and a variety of snakes. Being prey to so many different animals has shaped the turkey’s biology and behavior. Turkeys experience high mortality rates and don’t live very long, on average, <2 years. They are particularly vulnerable during nesting and immediately after hatching. Because of this high mortality, reproduction is really important for turkey populations to replace the individuals that don’t survive from year to year. Wild turkeys have adapted to being a prey species in part, though, by having a high reproductive potential. Hens have the capacity to lay large clutches of eggs. If a nest is destroyed or disturbed, especially during the egg laying or early incubation period, the hen will often re-nest. Turkeys are also polygamous, with males capable of breeding multiple females, which further boosts their reproductive potential.
Turkey hen with poults foraging in a grassy field in Gadsden County – photo by Shep Eubanks UF/IFAS
Newly hatched turkeys, referred to as poults, need grassy, open areas so they can find an abundance of insects. Such areas are usually the most critical, and often the most lacking habitat in Florida. Under ideal conditions for turkeys, grassy openings would occupy approximately 25 percent of a turkey’s home range. Additionally, it is of equal importance to have such openings scattered throughout an area, varying in size from 1 to 20 acres such that they are small, or irregular in shape, to maximize the amount of adjacent escape cover (moderately dense vegetation or forested areas that can provide concealment from predators or other disturbances). Large, expansive openings (e.g., large pastures) without any escape cover are not as useful for turkeys since they generally will not venture more than 100 yards away from suitable cover.
Good habitat allows turkeys to SEE approaching danger and to MOVE unimpeded (either to move away from danger or simply to move freely while foraging without risk of ambush). In other words, good habitat provides the right vegetative structure. When thinking about habitat for turkeys, it’s good to always think from a turkey’s point of view….about 3 feet off the ground! Turkeys like open areas where they can see well and easily move.
Burning pine land in Gadsden County to improve wild turkey habitat – photo by Shep Eubanks UF/IFAS
One of the best management techniques to manage vegetation structure and composition is prescribed fire. Fire can be very destructive, but if properly applied, fire can be quite beneficial to wildlife and is one of the best things you can do for wild turkeys. When applied correctly, fire has many benefits. Some of the benefits of fire to turkeys and other wildlife include: control of hardwood by setting back woody shrubs and trees in the under story; improving vegetation height and structure; stimulating new herbaceous growth at ground level; stimulating flowering and increased fruit production in some plants; it improves nutritional value and increases palatability of vegetation. All of this leads to increased insect abundance and fewer parasites in the environment. Prescribed fire also has benefits for the landowner. Applied properly and regularly, prescribed fire will reduce risk of catastrophic wildfire which can destroy a timber stand. It reduces hardwood competition so favored pines grow faster and healthier; and reduces the risk of disease, particularly after a thinning or timber cut, by removing logging debris that would otherwise attract insects and disease-causing agents. It can also help control invasive species, and best of all it’s the least expensive option on a cost per acre basis.
Gobblers in pine stand after burn – Game Camera photo by Shep Eubanks
Another good practice is simply mowing or bush-hogging. Even in areas that aren’t super thick (such as around forest and field edges, or seasonal wetlands), mowing and bush-hogging alone, even without fire, are beneficial as they have much the same effect on the habitat as fire. Basically, you’re removing grown up vegetation and allowing light to reach the ground again. Within pine plantations, roads often provide some of the best, or only, turkey habitat simply because the surrounding vegetation becomes too dense so roads are used for feeding and moving throughout the area. In this regard, wide roads increase the amount of open habitat which provides lots of insects, seeds, and edible vegetation. They also reduce the opportunity for predators to ambush turkeys which can readily occur on narrow roads. Having wide roads is a good land management practice that lets roads dry-out quicker so that they can hold up to traffic better.
If you have pine dominated timber stands on your property, proper thinning is not only good for turkeys, but it’s good for your stand. Young pine stands, particularly those in sapling or early pole stages, are often too thick for wild turkeys, except as escape cover. They get so dense that they shade out everything underneath. They may produce some pine seeds when they get older, but for most of the year, there’s nothing to eat and nothing to attract turkeys to the area. For turkeys, thinning opens up the canopy and allows sunlight to reach the forest floor, which in turn stimulates plant growth of grasses, forbs and soft-mast producing shrubs.
If you have an interest in turkeys, do most management activities outside of the nesting season, which generally runs from the middle of March through June. From a practical standpoint that is not always possible, so on the positive side, if a nest is destroyed (whether by predators or management efforts), a hen will quite often re-nest. Also, the overall importance of management will often outweigh the loss of 1 or 2 nests. The time that turkey nests are at a premium is when a turkey population is low or just trying to get established into an area. In such cases every nest is valuable.
There are new regulations this season involving mandatory reporting of all deer harvested in Florida. Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Deer hunting season here in Northwest Florida officially started this past Saturday (10/26) with the opening of archery and crossbow season; muzzleloading and general gun season will both open later this month. If you are fortunate enough to find success hunting in the woods, it is important that you remember substantial changes have gone into effect regarding the mandatory reporting of harvested deer. The following is a only a summary of some of the new regulations – complete official hunting regulations are available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The primary new regulation, put as simply as possible (again, this is only a summary):
All hunters must log their harvested deer prior to moving it from the point of harvest andreport their harvested deer within 24 hours.
A hunter may log a harvested deer on a paper 2019-2020 Deer Harvest Log or via the FWC Deer Harvest Reporting App. The app allows a hunter to log and report a harvested deer, completing the process. If a hunter logs a deer on the paper form, they must also report the deer by calling 844-392-DEER (3337) between 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. ET or reporting online at MyFWC.com/HarvestReport. When successfully completed, either of these options, calling or going online, will result in a confirmation number. The confirmation number must be recorded on the Deer Harvest Log for the process to be complete. Note: using the app also generates a confirmation number that is automatically saved in the “sent” folder within the app. Follow the link for step-by-step instructions for using the FWC Deer Harvest Reporting App.
All harvested deer must be logged (on paper form or with the app) prior to being moved from where they were originally found.
All harvested deer must be reported (phone, online, or app) and confirmation number recorded on the paper log (or automatically on the app) within 24 hours of harvest**.
**Hunters must report harvested deer: 1) within 24 hours of harvest, or 2) prior to final processing of the deer, or 3) prior to the deer or any parts of the deer being transferred to a meat processor or taxidermist, or 4) prior to the deer leaving the state, whichever occurs first.
Hunters should be prepared to log and report harvested deer before they go hunting. They should have a copy of the 2019-2020 Deer Harvest Log with them, or have the FWC Deer Harvest Reporting App installed on their mobile device. In order to successfully log and report a harvested deer the hunter will also need the following information:
Name (first and last name of the person who harvested the deer)
Date of birth
FWC Customer ID number (CID)
Date of harvest
Time of harvest
Public or private land
Deer management unit
Wildlife management area (if applicable)
Method of harvest
Antlered or antlerless deer
Number of antler points (if antlered deer was indicated)
Antlerless male or female (if antlerless deer was indicated)