I routinely receive calls about “failed food plots.” My normal response is to ask about soil testing first. If they performed a soil test and applied fertilizers according to the test, I move on to more questions about the planting methods. I ask what was planted, how was it planted, when was it planted. In some cases, we don’t find the problem even after all these questions. This leads me to my next question: Did you put exclusion cages on your plot?
Exclusion cage in food plot with heavy deer feeding. Photo Credit: Jennifer Bearden
In my experience, I have seen wildlife feed so heavily on the food plot that you think it has failed. This can happen when you have high populations or where non-target animals feed on the plot. In one case, I saw turkeys feeding on newly sprouted plants so heavily that we had “bald spots” in the plot. In another instance, I was called to check a chufa plot that wasn’t performing well. When I arrived at the plot, there were rabbits digging up the chufas and eating them before they sprouted. In the photo here, I am showing heavy deer feeding on a demonstration plot with exclusion cages. Without exclusion cages, I would have assumed a crop failure.
Exclusion cages are simple structures that allow you to see what is growing in the plot versus what the wildlife are eating. They are easy to create and put in place. I use field fence with small openings. I use a piece that is about 5-6 foot long by 3-4 foot high. I roll the fence and make it into a circle that is about 18 inches in diameter. Then, I secure the cage in the plot with landscape staples or rods/posts. I normally install these directly after planting and fertilizing the plot.
Exclusion Cage in food plot with more normal deer feeding. Photo Credit: Jennifer Bearden
Exclusion cages are just another tool to use in evaluating food plot success. These simple tools allow us to see what is growing and compare that to what the wildlife are eating. This allows us to evaluate the food plot. I would also recommend using visual observation. Look for wildlife sign in the food plot. What tracks do you see? Do you see evidence of feeding on the forages? Game cameras are also helpful in determining what wildlife are feeding on the plot. Use your tools wisely to evaluate food plot success each season and adjust accordingly.
The FWC asks people who plan to hunt deer, elk, moose, caribou or other members of the deer family outside of Florida to be vigilant in helping reduce the risk of CWD spreading into Florida. An important step is to be aware of and follow the rules that prohibit importing or possessing whole carcasses or high-risk parts of all species of the deer family originating from any place outside of Florida.
Under the new rules, which took effect July 2021, people may only import into Florida:
Finished taxidermy mounts
Clean hides and antlers
Skulls, skull caps and teeth if all soft tissue has been removed
The only exception to this rule is deer harvested from a property in Georgia or Alabama that is bisected by the Florida state line AND under the same ownership may be imported into Florida. For more information about the new rules, see this infographic and video.
These rule changes continue the FWC’s work to protect Florida’s deer populations from CWD spreading into the state.
I don’t know about you but I’m getting excited about planting cool season food plots! Now is the time to get those soil samples tested and start planning for this upcoming hunting season. Once we get our soil pH adjusted and our forages chosen, we need to turn our attention to weed management. There’s nothing more disappointing than growing weeds instead of what we planted.
Clover Food Plot Photo credit: Jennifer Bearden
A simple strategy is to start with a burn down treatment with a non-selective herbicide such as glyphosate. This is a safe and effective way to kill most everything growing in the food plot area. We want to apply the burn down treatment 2-4 weeks prior to planting. This will allow sufficient time for the herbicide to move into the plants and kill them.
Next step is preparing the seedbed. If the site is very weed infested, you may switch up these first two steps. Till first and wait a few weeks for new plants to emerge, then burn down weeds that emerge with a non-selective herbicide. Either way, we want a clean seedbed to plant into.
Next comes planting our desired forages. Remember that weed control becomes more difficult when we mix broadleaf plants with grasses. It’s not impossible however. Planting rate has a lot to do with weed control. If our planting rate is too low, we allow spaces for weeds to establish. Plant forages using the upper end of the seeding rate to help control weeds.
Follow up weed control options will depend on the planted forages, weeds growing and forage growth stage. We can use strategies such as mowing, selective herbicides and weed wiping with non-selective herbicides. When planting just clovers, you can refer to the following publication for chemical control options, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/wg214. When planting small grains, 2,4-D and dicamba are good options for broadleaf weeds. These need to be applied when small grains have fully tillered but have not jointed. We get better weed control when we apply herbicides to younger weeds. Weed wiping is a great option when weeds are taller than the desired forage. Here’s a good publication on weed wiper technology and use – https://www.noble.org/globalassets/docs/ag/pubs/soils/nf-so-11-06.pdf.
For help identifying weeds and control strategies, contact your local county extension office.
Spring can be a busy time of year for those of us who are interested in improving wildlife habitat on the property we own/manage. Spring is when we start many efforts that will pay-off in the fall. If you are a weekend warrior land manager like me there is always more to do than there are available Saturdays to get it done. The following comments are simple reminders about some habitat management activities that should be moving to the top of your to-do list this time of year.
Aquatic Weed Management – If you had problematic weeds in you pond last summer, chances are you will have them again this summer. NOW (spring) is the time to start controlling aquatic weeds. The later into the summer you wait the worse the weeds will get and the more difficult they will be to control. The risk of a fish-kill associated with aquatic weed control also increases as water temperatures and the total biomass of the weeds go up. Springtime is “Just Right” for Using Aquatic Herbicides
Cogongrass Control – Spring is actually the second-best time of year to treat cogongrass, fall (late September until first frost) is the BEST time. That said, ideally cogongrass will be treated with herbicide every six months, making spring and fall important. When treating spring regrowth make sure that there are green leaves at least one foot long before spraying. Spring is also an excellent time of year to identify cogongrass patches – the cottony, white blooms are easy to spot. Identify Cogongrass Now – Look for the Seedheads; Cogongrass – Now is the Best Time to Start Control
Cogongrass seedheads are easily spotted this time of year. Photo credit: Mark Mauldin
Warm-Season Food Pots – There is a great deal of variation in when warm season food plots can be planted. Assuming warm-season plots will be panted in the same areas as cool-season plots, the simplest timing strategy is to simply wait for the cool-season plots to play out (a warm, dry May is normally the end of even the best cool-season plot) and then begin preparation for the warm-season plots. This transition period is the best time to deal with soil pH issues (get a soil test) and control weeds. Seed for many varieties of warm-season legumes (which should be the bulk of your plantings) can be somewhat hard to find, so start looking now. If you start early you can find what you want, and not just take whatever the feed store has. Warm Season Food Plots for White-tailed Deer
Deer Feeders – Per FWC regulations deer feeders need to be in continual operation for at least six months prior to hunting over them. Archery season in the Panhandle will start in mid-October, meaning deer feeders need to be up and running by mid-April to be legal to hunt opening morning. If you have plans to move or add feeders to your property, you’d better get to it pretty soon. FWC Feeding Game
Dove Fields – The first phase of dove season will begin in late September. When you look at the “days to maturity” for the various crops in the chart below you might feel like you’ve got plenty of time. While that may be true, don’t forget that not only do you need time for the crop to mature, but also for seeds to begin to drop and birds to find them all before the first phase begins. Because doves are particularly fond of feeding on clean ground, controlling weeds is a worthwhile endeavor. If you are planting on “new ground”, applying a non-selective herbicide several weeks before you begin tillage is an important first step to a clean field, but it adds more time to the process. As mentioned above, it’s always pertinent to start sourcing seed well in advance of your desired planting date. Timing is Crucial for Successful Dove Fields
There are many other projects that may be more time sensitive than the ones listed above. These were just a few that have snuck up on me over the years. The links in each section will provide more detailed information on the topics. If you have questions about anything addressed in the article feel free to contact me or your county’s UF/IFAS Extension Natural Resource Agent.
Archery season for white tailed deer opens this Saturday (10/24/20) in FWC Hunting Zone D (basically the Panhandle west of Tallahassee, see figure 1). Before you go hunting be sure that you have a plan in place for logging and reporting your harvest. Last year FWC implemented a mandatory harvest reporting system. That system is still in effect this year but with some modifications.
Figure 1. FWC Hunting Zone D myfwc.com
The most notable change to the harvest reporting system this year is with the associated smart phone app. There is a new app this year – Fish|Hunt Florida. This new app will replace the Survey123 for ArcGIS app that was used last year.
In my opinion, the logging and reporting function on the Fish|Hunt Florida app is simpler to use than the previous app. Additionally the Fish|Hunt Florida app has many other useful features. A few highlights include; the ability to view and purchase hunting and fishing licenses/permits through the app, interactive versions of hunting and fishing regulations, and several other handy resources for sportsmen including, marine forecasts, tides, wildlife feeding times, sunrise & sunset times, boat ramp locator and a current location feature. Screenshots from the app are included below. The Fish|Hunt Florida app is available for free through the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
Remember, the current regulations state that your deer harvest must be logged before the animal is moved. Take a minute or two to install the app on your phone before you go hunting. Using the app allows logging and reporting to happen simultaneously. The app can be used for logging and reporting a harvest even in areas where cell service is poor. Harvest information will can be saved and the app will automatically complete the process as soon as adequate cell service is available. The alternative to using the app is a two-step process, the harvest can be logged (prior to being moved) on a paper form and then reported by calling 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (888-486-8356) or going to GoOutdoorsFlorida.com within 24 hours.
Follow the link for specific instructions for logging and reporting a harvested deer using the Fish|Hunt Florida app; don’t worry, it’s easy. Fish|Hunt Florida app instructions
For more information on the Fish|Hunt Florida app and the FWC Deer Harvest Reporting System visit myfwc.com.
Screenshot of the Boat Info tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Fishing Tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Home screen from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
Screenshot of the Hunting tab from the Hunt|Fish Florida App. Click on the image to make it larger.
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.